The last time I saw Kelly, he'd been dead for more than a year. In yet another dream, he was sitting next to me on a bus. "You have to let me go," he said.
When I first met him in 1966, Kelly was a junior in high school (I was a soph). He was outrageous, audacious, charismatic and sexy as hell. His blue eyes, dark hair and wide dimpled smile were irresistible. I remember studying chemistry that year, but I really learned about that branch of science from him. It was nothing short of a heart-stopping attraction that made my stomach flutter.
One night, Kelly and I and a group of kids went to see Cream and some other loud bands that I don't remember. What I do recall (and will never forget) was that we sat next to each other, and with the music and my heart pounding, I turned to look at him, my eyes begging for a kiss. He leaned in. We moved up a few rows, past the dope smokers in the balcony, and spent the rest of the concert engaged in the sunshine of our love.
Kelly pretended to be asleep on the way home. And guys being guys, he didn't acknowledge my presence the next time I saw him, or the time after that.
The following year, I saw him at a party and the electric-blue bellbottom outfit I was wearing caught his eye. He drove me home, we kissed in the car, and then he took off. I waited for the phone call that never came.
Still, I was drawn to him, helpless. His spirited laugh, twinkling eyes, those strong hands, that husky voice. I looked for him everywhere, pining for more. I didn't get it and finally moved on.
The following summer, after I'd broken up with a bad boyfriend, I wrote Kelly a plaintive letter in the form of a short story. It recalled a magical evening in the upper balcony during a Cream concert. A few days later, I got a reply—a poem illustrated in his unique style. He had a way of drawing letters that made them appear to ooze and flow into one another. A work of art, just for me.
We began seeing each other after that. We saw all there was to see, actually, spending sweet hours tangled up together. He told me that the graceful curves of the rolling hills where we lived reminded him of me. Then, one night, I went to his house and down to his room, and by the light of a candle dripping wax down a wine bottle, we went to bed. I wouldn't call it making love exactly—it was more frantic than romantic—but that's the way things worked back then.
After that, we spent most of our time horizontal. I smoked his cigarettes and thought we were a couple. But then things changed. There were lies. Some awkward moments. I had heard that he was seeing another girl. And there was his drinking. So one night, over the phone, I told him it was over. I cried for an hour.
After he graduated, Kelly joined the Coast Guard and shipped out to Alaska. Since he wasn't going to college, it was the best way to avoid the draft. In the meantime, I had started dating someone else—a guy who deftly caught me on the bounce and gave me a shoulder to cry on. He was a much more attentive boyfriend, and patiently waited for my heart to heal.
Kelly wrote me from his ship and his letters were wistful, beautiful and poetic. I kept them all in a special box.
It was inevitable that we'd see each other when he got back in town. One night at a party, he grabbed me by the arm (away from my boyfriend) and pulled me outside.
"Tell me what I did wrong!" he howled. "Please—just kiss me one more time!"
He was roaring drunk, but I did kiss him. And then I told him how he'd lost me. He turned around to pee and I just left him there.
A few years went by. I married the boy who rescued and adored me. We heard Kelly had gotten particularly drunk on our wedding day.
I saw him at the local market a couple of years later. He saw me too, and ducked down another aisle. "Norwegian Wood" wafted through the store, adding to the awkwardness of the situation.
Kelly died in a car accident in the spring of 1977. Seeing our old friends at the church, gazing at his flag-draped coffin, I was overwhelmed by a huge wave of grief.
The dreams started then, and they were pretty much the same every time, until I had the dream where we were on the bus. Just like at the concert so long ago, I turned to him feeling the heat of longing, only this time it was me saying, "What did I do wrong? Kiss me one more time!"
"You have to let me go," he said and I immediately woke up.
My time with Kelly was just a few short months, decades ago. I have only one picture of him: head tossed back in laughter, dark hair falling into his eyes, that dimpled smile—basking in the sunshine of my love.