Unfolding the Map
We are rapidly reaching the end of Blue Highways. As William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) skirts Cincinnati in Ghost Dancing, I recall my first girlfriend who moved to Cincinnati to get a PhD after we broke up and after we graduated from college. If you want to know where Cincinnati is located and see just how close we are to finishing this journey, please see the map.
"At Cincinnati, I looped the city fast on the interstate and came to Indiana 56, where corn, tobacco, and blue-sailor grew to the knee, and also wild carrot, fleabane, golden Alexander. Apples were coming into a high green, butterflies stiched across the road, and all the way the whip of mowers filled Ghost Dancing sweetly with the waft of cut grass. Each town had its feed and grain store, each farm its grain bin and corncrib. Rolling, rolling, the land, the road, the truck."
Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 4
I associate Cincinnati with my first girlfriend. I would have had no other reason to pay attention to Cincinnati as a place except for the fact that she went into a graduate program in psychology at the University of Cincinnati. She moved to Cincinnati about a year and a half after we broke up, and I think I still had hopes that we might get back together sometime. However, I had my own destiny to fulfill, and I moved to Milwaukee around the same time to do volunteer work.
Our relationship had been one that developed over time. When I look back at my time in college, I realize just how troubled I was. I came out of a terribly dysfunctional family, and I had a horrible self-esteem problem. I had never had a girlfriend, and desperately wanted one, but as you may imagine my personal issues kept me from connecting with women on a deeper level. I was everyone's friend but that was it. I blamed the world because I didn't understand how I was limiting myself. I didn't realize how desperate I must have seemed, and how leery that might make people.
Into that world she stepped. We got know each other slowly. I actually had a major crush on her roommate (who was unattainable for a variety of reasons) but that developed a lot of time that we were together. Eventually, by my third year in college, we were in a relationship. I had a girlfriend! She was warm and kind, one of the nicest and most caring people I ever met. We had good times together. But my demons stepped in again. I was somewhat possessive, and I made the worst mistake that one can make in a relationship - I put her on a pedestal and convinced myself that I couldn't be happy without her. When, as in the course of most college relationships, she felt the urge to move on I was crushed. Unfortunately, this experience didn't teach me much - I would make the same mistake again and again before I started to learn to be less needy.
We kept in touch - she in graduate school in Cincinnati and I in my Milwaukee volunteer work. We both talked about the connection we still had with each other. I think that I was convinced that sometime we would get back together. It was not too long later that she told me of her engagement and invited me to her wedding.
I think I was depressed for a day or so, and then resolved to get on with my life. Life in Milwaukee as a full-time volunteer was stressful in itself. I threw myself into my work. But I couldn't bring myself to commit to attending her wedding. I went back and forth. I didn't want to admit that she was getting married. Finally, in a bit of irony, the woman who eventually became my wife told me to go because otherwise I would always question myself.
That was two days before I was supposed to be there. I had no car, so I bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Cincinnati. My wife-to-be-though-we-didn't-know-it borrowed a car to drive me to the bus station. I knew the name of the hotel where the wedding party was staying and I hoped I'd be able to find it. I arrived in Cincinnati, took a taxi to the hotel, and was able to contact my ex-girlfriend's parents who very nicely offered me a sofa in their suite. My ex-girlfriend came back from an errand a little while later and was very suprised to see me. She seemed gratified that I came, even amidst my excuses. It was strange staying in the bridal suite, but I made it work. I think it was important for me to have been there, because I was able to put behind me most of my pretentions. As I saw her at the front of the chapel in her bridal dress alongside her new husband, I realized that the past was the past and that I could move forward into the rest of my life.
Since that time, we have pursued our own lives. We remained friends, and she returned the favor by attending my wedding in 1995. She moved to Connecticut and took a job as a professor of psychology. For awhile I saw her somewhat regularly because my work took me to the East Coast a few times a year. However, our contact grew less and less. Her marriage ended a few years after her wedding, and she eventually remarried. She became a respected and much-loved professor at her university, where she introduces young women to gender issues and, from what I can tell, really has a talent for empowering them. I last saw her about ten years ago, when she traveled to New Orleans for a conference when I was living there. I don't think I've spoken to her since then, although we do the Facebook thing every so often and, like so many people do, say we'll get in touch with each other by phone. It never happens.
If we do happen to speak to each other again, I'd tell her how thankful I am to have known her. I would thank her for sharing a relationship with a deeply troubled young adult. I would apologize for any hurts or misunderstanding that might still linger, and how happy it makes me to see how much of an impact on people's lives she has had. I would tell her that I don't think that our lives have been too dissimilar in general, though maybe somewhat different in the specifics and details. I'd tell her I miss talking to her, and that I enjoy the snippets of her life I see on Facebook. I'd tell her that I believe I'm finally becoming happy after learning a lot of lessons and taking some wrong turns. And I'd tell her, if she wanted to know, that for the first time in my life I think I'm becoming the person that I'd like to believe that she saw in me so long ago when she let me be a brief part of her life.
If you want to know more about Cincinnati
Campbell's Scoop (food blog)
Cincinnati.com (news site)
Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau
Cincinnati Herald (newspaper)
City of Cincinnati
CityBeat (alternative newsweekly)
Livin' in the Cin (blog)
Make Cincinnati Weird (blog)
University of Cincinnati
Wine Me, Dine Me (food blog)
Next up: New Harmony, Indiana