Deanna: A Story of Love and Change
© 1997, 2017, All Rights Reserved
By Ken K. Gourdin
April 10-May 24
In a most ironic twist, despite my intention to keep that letter private, I received perhaps the most surprising phone call I’d ever gotten the very day after I finished writing it when my phone rang. I picked it up.
“Eric?” the young lady on the line asked. The voice wasn’t quite familiar, and yet . . .
Recognition had yet to dawn and I asked, “Yes?” It was only then that I began to realize, Hey, this girl sounds like—But as soon as the thought occurred to me, I dismissed it. Nah! Couldn’t be.
I still didn’t believe what I heard next, even though it confirmed my “impossible suspicions.” “It’s Deanna.”
Incredulous, I said, “No way!”
“Way,” she assured me. “How are you doing?”
“Great,” I said, and now that I’d finally heard from her, I was.
It would be an understatement to say that I’d missed her. It would also be an understatement to say that I was glad to hear from her. We talked, and she told me about her new surroundings, her new friends, her new job, and her new life. I was really happy to hear how well she was doing, but what impressed me most about our whole conversation was how different she actually sounded.
“You know what?” I asked. “You sound totally different.”
It was her turn to be surprised. “I do?” she asked. “How?”
“Well, it’s tough to put a finger on, but your voice, it’s completely different—brighter, somehow. You wonder why I didn’t believe it was you at first? Well, that’s how different you sound.”
“I’d never stopped to think about it,” she admitted.
“Well, it’s true. You know how you can tell when a person has had a load lifted off of his shoulders because of the way he stands and walks differently?”
“Well, that’s the way you sound. It has a lot to do with the changes you’ve made in your life. You used to mumble a lot. It was hard to understand you. Now your voice is so much clearer.”
“Hmm, that’s interesting,” she mused.
“Well, it’s true,” I insisted. “And I’ll bet you look like you’ve had a burden lifted off of your shoulders.”
“Probably because I have,” she said. “People have told me I look different now than when I first came here.”
“Remember in the Book of Mormon when Alma said that people are reborn when they repent?” I asked.
“And remember when he said they have the images of Christ in their countenance?”
“Well, while you were here, you carried your own cloud around with you, and it cast shadows over everybody you got close to. Now, I’ll bet you almost glow. I can’t quite see it, but if you can hear a glow, I can hear it.”
Before I had a chance to really consider—and to censor—what I was saying, I blurted out, “It’s ironic you should call today, of all days.”
Curious, she asked, “Why is that?”
I found it hard to explain.
“I didn’t expect to hear from you,” I began. I found it hard to continue.
“I know,” she said.
“I’m not complaining, though,” I assured her.
“I’m glad,” she said, laughing—a bit nervously, I thought.
“I didn’t know how to finish the story of our relationship,” I said. “I didn’t want to intrude on your new life, so even though I had no intention of sending it, I decided to write a letter addressed to you as its final chapter.” I gave her the option of hearing me read it over the phone or of having me send it to her—or both. I should have known which one she’d choose.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Go for it,” she agreed.
In spite of myself, I got emotional at several points while reading the letter.
There was silence for several seconds after I finished.
“Thanks, Eric,” she said quietly.
“No,” I said, “thank you.”
* * *
She gave me her new address and phone number. I knew I could only be a limited part of her new life because of the distance between us, but at least it was a start. We talked on the phone a few days later, and I assumed a third-person point of view.
“You know,” I said cautiously, “Eric’s a good friend of mine, and he asked me to tell you that he’s missed Deanna very much.”
She took the cue. “It’s interesting you should say that. I know Deanna really well, and she’s missed Eric a lot, too.”
“I think it would be neat for Eric and Deanna to get together sometime. He told me he’s heard a lot about the change in Deanna from her other friends, and I think he’d like to see it for himself.”
“I think she’d like that, too.”
“Eric’s got a long weekend coming up for Memorial Day. Maybe you could ask Deanna what her plans are.” I held my breath.
“She’s free as far as I know.”
“It’s a date, then?”
“It’s a date.”
After we said our “see-you-laters,” I hung up the phone and punched the air excitedly.
* * *
When I thought about it later, though, I wondered if I’d looked before I’d leaped. My feelings for her hadn’t changed, because no one had filled the void created by her absence. It was obvious, though, that she’d gained more than she’d lost by leaving. What if she didn’t feel the same way about me anymore? What if there was someone else?
And even if she did feel the same way about me as I felt about her, I couldn’t expect her to visit me—or for me to visit her—just every once-in-a-while until we decided where I fit into her new life. I couldn’t blame her if she wasn’t a big fan of long-distance romances, because neither was I.
Finally I decided that the only what to find out what was “in the cards” for us was to go ahead with plans for my visit. And no matter what happened, I did want to see her again.
She called me a few days later.
“I’ve been thinking,” she said. Just when you think you know where you stand with a woman . . .
“That makes two of us,” I answered.
“Maybe seeing you isn’t such a good idea after all.”
Oh, no you don’t. I’m not letting you push me away so easily this time. Besides, let’s not forget who made that first phone call!
“Maybe we don’t have anything in common anymore except my past,” she continued, “and I’m not sure I want to be reminded of that.”
“I can understand that,” I said evenly. I don’t want to reopen any old wounds. If I’ve dwelt on the past, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to remind you of who you were before. It’s just that I think it’s a miracle you’ve become who you are now. In fact, the girl you are now is the girl I’ve always known and loved, you just didn’t know it.”
“I never thought of it that way,” she confessed.
“Well it’s true. But if you don’t want me to call or write or anything—“
“No, no, it’s not that.” She interrupted. It’s just that I—”
She broke off and I finished her thought for her. “Don’t know where I’m supposed to fit into your new life?”
“Exactly,” she agreed.
“Well, I don’t know any better than you do, but if you still want me to be a part of it somehow, there’s only one way to find out.”
“Well, I’m not a big fan of long-distance love affairs,” she admitted.
“Neither am I,” I agreed. But do you have any idea where either of us is going to be in a few months?”
“No,” she said.
“Neither do I, but things will work out however they’re supposed to work out—for you, for me, and for us. Okay?”
“So, maybe we still have something in common besides your past after all, huh?” I asked.
“Maybe we do,” she agreed.
“So I’ll see you Memorial Day Weekend, huh?”
* * *
Finally, it was here. The day we’d looked forward to for so long—the Friday before Memorial Day—was here. I woke up early, and even though my body knew I needed the sleep because this was such a big day, my brain couldn’t seem to get the message.
I felt like a kid on Christmas morning who couldn’t wait to unwrap the presents under the tree. The anticipation was almost too much to take. It would be a reunion for us in a way, since we hadn’t seen each other in nearly four months. But in another way, I felt as though I was going to meet someone for the first time. Today, I was finally going to meet the girl I had called The Real Deanna Lopez.
I could only imagine the kind of person she had become now that she didn’t have to face what had been holding her back when she was at school—her own low self-esteem and the people who took advantage of it.
But I wouldn’t have to imagine it for much longer. Finally, I would be able to see with my own eyes what I’d heard over the phone for the first time a little more than a month earlier. That month had been both short and long: on the one hand, it was hard to believe that a whole month had gone by; on the other, it was hard to believe that only a month had gone by.
I was awake, showered, shaved, dressed, and packed at a ridiculously early hour. It wasn’t that I didn’t have better things to do. It was just that I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. The minutes seemed like hours, and the hours seemed like days. Time couldn’t pass fast enough before it was time for me to leave.
I got to the airport and checked my luggage with more than enough time to spare—almost too much time to spare, in fact. I had brought along my favorite author’s latest best-seller, which was more than thick enough to keep me occupied until my flight was announced—if I had been able to concentrate on it.
Finally, my flight number was announced. Since I had been the first person to get a boarding pass, I was the first person to board the plane. I wish I could say that enabled us to leave sooner, but it didn’t. Everyone else had to get on the plane before we could leave, no matter how much I wished they didn’t.
I knew the flight attendant’s pre-flight instructions were important and might possibly end up saving my life, but I didn’t hear a word. I was hardly aware of the captain’s traditional “welcome-aboard-this-is-your-captain” speech—except for one thing: “Our flight time to Las Vegas today will be a little over an hour.”
Over an hour? Can’t you drive this thing any faster than that? I wondered. I sure could. Maybe I’ll ask the flight attendant if I can have a tour of the cockpit and then . . . Nah! That would never work.
Speaking of flight attendants, I was only vaguely aware that one of them had been trying to get my attention. I wasn’t aware of how long or how hard she had been trying to do that until I was yanked out of my own little world long enough to realize that we had already taken off.
“Sir. Sir? Sir, would you like something to drink?”
“Oh, yeah.” No sooner had I asked for a glass of apple juice than I was off in la-la land again. Looking back, I wonder how many of my fellow passengers noticed the dreamy, far-away look in my eyes—and assumed I must be high on drugs. I was high, all right, but drugs didn’t have anything to do with it.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re beginning our descent. Please make sure that all tray tables are fastened securely in the upright position and that all carry-on items are stored securely in the overhead compartments or underneath the seat in front of you . . .”
I’m usually not in a big hurry to get off of airplanes, since the aisles are narrow and I might end up killing someone with my crutches if I’m not careful. Today, because of the good seat I had chosen thanks to the low number on my boarding pass, I wouldn’t have to worry about that as much.
Still, I couldn’t get off of that plane fast enough after it landed. If I could have gotten off in midair, I probably would have floated down to earth. I’m glad the only people who had the misfortune of being in front of me were the patient, polite flight attendants. They would have been deserving of more than a little of my parting courtesy on any other day. Today, I barely returned their farewells as I exited the plane.
I collected my carry-on bag and made a beeline for the gate. There was a crowd of onlookers all waiting for their loved ones. My eyes waded through that sea of faces.
And then I saw her.
It couldn’t be real. I had to be seeing things. She seemed to float toward me like something from a dream. In a roomful of ordinary people, she seemed to glow—especially now that she’d escaped the things which had thrown shadows over her when I’d seen her last.
I had replayed the scene a thousand times over in my mind in the past four months. It had been a great fantasy then, the kind that makes you feel warm all over—but it had only been a fantasy. I held out my arms tentatively, as if I expected the substance of the dream to escape them like it had every time in the past.
But my imagination, even at its best, hadn’t come close to recreating this, because it was no dream. This time, she wouldn’t escape the hug I had been saving for her since February 1st, because it was real. I actually held her in my arms. Time stopped again, just as it had when we’d hugged on Julie’s doorstep after Pref.
“Hello,” I whispered in her ear.
“Hello yourself,” she replied in mine.
We lingered there, not wanting the moment to end.
“Long time no see,” I said.
“Too long,” she agreed. “Way too long.”
I wouldn’t have traded what I had at that moment for anything else I’d ever wanted.