I felt the bone break the moment I ran into the swing set. Bonnie Baumgartner, a girl who was three years older than me, and a foot taller, decided she was going to give me my first kiss. Contrary to her plan, I decided to run for cover.
At eight years of age, all boys know that kissing girls causes babies to be born and I was certainly not the least bit interested in becoming a dad at eight.
Bonnie had it all planned out. School let out at 3:15 sharp, and she knew which door I would exit when the bell rang. I never had a chance.
I hit the door at a full run, Bonnie, and her herd of Marsha Brady lookalikes, came after me with a vengeance—all of them yelling how they were going to ‘kiss me all to pieces.’ The sheer horror of telling my dad I had at least ten babies coming caused me to run faster.
Sadly, an eight-year-old boy running at top speed is no match for an iron swing set pole sunk securely in concrete. I woke up to find myself, ‘kissed to pieces,’ so I cried my eyes out. It was about an hour later that my heart pain subsided and my broken collarbone pain cried out for attention.
Broken bones equal no school; at least you don’t have to go to school. In my case, a wispy classmate named Sandy showed up with all the day’s schoolwork I had to do. It was for this reason I hated her arrivals.
For three weeks Sandy would come in and talk to my mom (about me, I would later learn). Mom loved her to pieces and hinted that I should think about taking her to church. Of course, Mom didn’t know that she would soon have almost a dozen grandkids with at least that many Marsha Brady lookalikes calling her “Mom.” Sandy was a non-interest for me—at least up until it was time for me to move away.
My parents loved to move. One day everything would be fine and then the next day we would be packing to move across the country. When Sandy heard we were leaving, she showed up at my doorstep in tears with an odd-looking yellow flower in her hand. Mom told me to go out and talk to her, so I did.
Sandy was a tiny thing with wispy blonde hair that always seemed to be floating in constant motion around her head. She told me how much she loved me and how heart breaking it was to see me leave. She gave me the odd-looking flower and, in my fear of crying with her, I threw it on the ground and told her she was just a dumb girl. To prove my point, I stomped the flower deep into the ground.
Sandy ran away crying so hard that I felt it. That thing that guys of all ages refuse to accept, that inner tugging that makes us want to run after the girl whose heart is broken, that thing I had no idea existed until later in life when another girl cried and ran away from me. This time that girl was my wife of twenty years.
That illusive thing was manhood. I learned it years too late and in sorrow, I remembered the wispy girl named Sandy who, decades before, I shattered her heart. I wanted to find her and tell her I was sorry, so I flew across the country and visited my old town.
Things change in forty years, especially the names of every girl I went to school with. I called every last name in the phonebook that sounded familiar with no leads and then I saw the name “Baumgartner” with the initial “B” beside it. Surely that “B” couldn’t be the Bonnie that once hunted me down like a tube of lip-gloss, but it was.
After all these years Bonnie never forgot me, she also never forgot Sandy who for many years lived next door to her. Bonnie wouldn’t talk about Sandy over the phone; she insisted that I meet her at a park near where my old home used to be.
Bonnie turned into a very beautiful woman. Four ex-husbands couldn’t tame that indomitable spirit that almost broke my neck. Bonnie was a girl who knew what she wanted and she had no trouble getting it. When she saw me, she broke down and cried.
We stood in a park that was built after progress demanded the demolition of an entire residential neighborhood. Yes, my old home fell to the blade of a bulldozer. With the landscape so drastically changed, I didn’t know that Bonnie had me meet her in what once was my old front yard.
She told me how Sandy loved me and how for years she took care of the willow tree I had planted in remembrance of our love. Bonnie raved at how precious a love Sandy and I had for each other. She went on to say that in every one of her marriages, she hoped that she would find a love that would grow like her friend Sandy’s willow tree.
Sometimes things just don’t turn out like you expect them to. Sandy refused to let her love for me die and Bonnie showed me the willow tree I planted by stomping its seedling flower into the ground. Once again, I felt that tugging desire to run after Sandy.
Bonnie turned to me and said she wondered how different life would’ve been if I hadn’t left and Sandy hadn’t married the man that beat her. I asked her where Sandy was now and Bonnie said we were standing on her memorial.
The man Sandy married was a drunk who lost control of their car and killed her. Sandy’s dad owned the savings and loan, and built this memorial park around the tree Sandy watered with her tears.
Bonnie said Sandy’s dad was still alive and would love to meet me. I told her I had to go and I couldn’t stay. She made me promise to come back, but in the world of broken hearts and bones, I added a broken promise that said, yes, I would come back soon.
…I’ve been hiding ever since.