By the time you reach my age — the no man’s land between John Stamos and Tom Petty — you’ve had plenty of experiences with women and, particularly, with them blowing you off. Like the kind gal who gave me a phone number that turned out to be the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft. Or the hippie who said, “If we’re meant to meet again, it’ll happen.” These brush-offs were at least bearable.
What I never saw coming was when Casey, my first love, said goodbye. By email.
Somehow that modern missive hurt worse than if she had written me a long sad letter. It was so cold, so quiet, so modern. For weeks after, I felt like that most hopeless of creatures — the heartbroken teenager.
Casey and I first met when we were teens at prep school in 1971. I looked like an affluent grunge guitarist, complete with long hair, T-shirt and oversized Ralph Lauren flannel shirt. Casey was wearing suede clogs and designer corduroy jeans. She was in the student lounge, singing and playing the dulcimer, and when she’d finished Joni Mitchell’s “California,” I was a goner.
For the next three or so years, we became pals. We told each other stuff we had never told anyone else: about our parents’ drinking, their possible affairs, how we saw ourselves when we’d grow old and gray. Something occurred between us that rarely happens these days. Before anything sexual had taken place, Casey and I became good friends.
The nature of our relationship changed in 1974, while I was visiting her house during Christmas break. We were in her bedroom, watching Don Kirshner’s “Rock Concert,” and as the romantic sounds of Grand Funk Railroad filled the air, we finally succumbed and kissed. It was the most transcendent kiss of my life. Casey then said, “Would you like to spend the night?” I readily agreed.
By morning, one of us was in love.
It was a big mistake. Because now I had expectations. I thought because Casey had given herself to me, she was now my girlfriend. It was unthinkable to me that she might want to perform this sacred act with other guys. Let’s just say I was naive, idealistic and horribly confused.
Casey and I continued seeing each other, in dorms and motels. Each time we had sex, I fell more deeply in love. Casey liked our romps, but it certainly didn’t bind her to me. To my utter surprise and dismay, I discovered she was that most dreaded of mythical creatures: the free spirit. Casey had sex with other guys, and the more I pressed for exclusivity, the more I pushed her away.
Our friendship, however, remained intact. Until we turned 26, when things changed forever.
“I’m getting married,” Casey said in what would be a very short phone call. “We should probably stop this. Jimmy gets jealous.”
If there was an exact moment I knew my youth was over, this was it. I said OK the way Bogart use to, when he clearly wasn’t. I went on, painfully. Casey-less. She went on to have a daughter.
Fast-forward about ten or so years: I discovered my old friend was now divorced. Cue skyrockets. I thought, “OK, she’s living in Austin, but maybe we can be buddies again. Hang out occasionally. Email.” Rapture ensued.
That arrangement worked for a short while. We phoned and gossiped, but something was gone. Casey had gotten married, divorced and become a mom. I was writing and living by myself. I wanted to talk about pop music. She wanted to talk about finding a nanny. She’d grown up. I still hadn’t. One time, I asked her if she still played the dulcimer. She paused, and said she didn’t remember ever playing one.
I kept calling and emailing, but Casey’s responses grew shorter and shorter.
Then it happened. I had sent her a photo and it bounced back with a message that read, “The recipient is only accepting mail from specific e-mail addresses.” It was the shortest, most shattering epitaph I’d ever read. Our friendship — my youth — was over.
The months of heartbreak since have been rough, although the clouds have recently parted. I had dinner last week with a great woman named Lesley. She doesn’t play any musical instruments, but she does like Joni Mitchell. It’s a start.