Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No. 562 – Misunderstanding

Performer: Genesis
Songwriter: Phil Collins
Original Release: Duke
Year: 1980
Definitive Version: the studio version

Unfortunately, not all stories have happy endings, of course. And in February 1987, I had a feeling that my story with Beth would be one of those.

As I mentioned, the night I went with a friend to see Fion the Fair, I had a feeling that Beth had met someone else. That feeling didn’t come completely out of the blue.

I knew, because she had told me, that she was going to visit a friend of hers at Bowling Green—Beth attended Ohio State—and that her friend was holding a party on this particular night. Beth looked good; she would be prime party bait. It didn’t help that we had been going downhill—generally, not from anything in particular—for a while.

Well, Spring Break was coming up, and that would change that. The plan was I’d drive down to Columbus, we’d celebrate St. Patrick’s Day there and then Beth and I would come up to Chicago for the rest of the week. The ruse was, as it had been on a previous visit, that Beth would be rooming with a pair of female friends from Medill, so, of course, nothing untoward would go on, as far as the parents were concerned.

I was looking forward to showing Beth around to more things I had discovered about my new city in the interim from when she had visited in the fall. But maybe something else was going to happen.

Mom had given me her engagement ring, and I was starting to toy with the idea that this was the year I would finally pop the question to Beth. After all, we had been dating for more than four years. It probably wasn’t going to happen on this trip, I had more or less concluded, but I also didn’t rule it out in case the romance of a particular night on the town overwhelmed.

And it was with that thought in the back of my mind when everything changed. It was a Sunday, and I was heading home the next day when Beth called, undoubtedly to firm up plans for getting together the next night.

We talked for a while before Beth asked—almost out of the blue—whether I was planning to maybe give her a ring when I brought her up to Chicago. I played coy, saying, well, you never know …

Well … don’t. See … I’ve met someone else, and …

I felt all the air leave my lungs as though I had just been punched in the gut—and to a certain extent, I had. I was right. She HAD met someone else that night. I knew it! I felt it! And, yet, I couldn’t believe it. My mind reeled, and I thought I’d get sick.

I told Beth I had to get off the phone RIGHT NOW and hung up before collapsing in a heap on the floor of my bedroom, just trying to breathe.

I had to get the Hell out of there—just run away as fast as I could. I grabbed my coat and proceeded directly to Lake Michigan, which was my nighttime place for quiet contemplation among the rocks that lined the shore along Northwestern’s campus.

As I sat there and felt my world collapsing, I thought about my favorite band at the time—Genesis. I had discovered and fallen in love with Duke my senior year at Wabash. Back then, this song was part of the story, of course, but it was more famous as a poppy radio hit. Now, sitting by the lake, the lyrics came through in a way they never registered before and turned this song on its head. It was light and poppy … and absolutely miserable. He was just leaving, all right. Then I cried.

When I finally got everything out of my system—at no time did I ever seriously contemplate jumping into the icy early spring waters—I headed back to my room and a future that was far more uncertain than it had been an hour before.

My roommate said I had three phone calls—two from Beth and one from a friend in the dorm whom Beth called to see whether I was still alive. I crumpled up the paper and threw it away. Soon after that, the phone rang again. It was Beth. She was calling back to try and talk me off the ledge, even though it was her who had put me out there. As I recall, the phone call was something of a mixed bag, and I didn’t feel much better, even though she still wanted to see me on St. Patrick’s Day.

Needless to say, I had a lot on my mind during my six-hour drive home the next day.

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