Monday, April 21, 2014

No. 45 – Fields of Gold

Performer: Sting
Songwriter: Sting
Original Release: Ten Summoner’s Tales
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: All This Time, 2001.

This song is ranked this high because it’s me and Laurie’s song. That simple. I like it fine anyway, but if we were to break up, this song would go spiraling down the list quickly. That Fields of Gold is about remembering a past love—not a current one—matters not at all.

There comes a time in every new relationship when you decide either to take it to the next level and start thinking long term or you go your separate ways. Laurie and I reached that point in March 2005.

We’d been dating, more or less, for four months and both had used the L word to the other, but … something was missing. Neither of us could put our finger on why, but we both felt it.

After I got back from Cooperstown, I couldn’t wait to see Laurie. It had been five weeks since I’d seen her, but the visit in March didn’t go so well. It wasn’t that we quarreled or anything like that, but I definitely got the sense that Laurie wasn’t really over the uncertainty she first expressed on my second visit, the previous Thanksgiving.

I was ready to move on to the next phase of my life, whatever that would be. I already had done the Clippers thing, and it had been idyllic, but I was committed to doing it again. The second time doing something is never as good as the first, and I was a little miffed that Laurie had asked me to stay in Columbus for another summer and then seemed to be pushing me away. Maybe I should’ve made my break to L.A. when I had the chance.

Well, I can do it just as easily at the end of the summer. I mean there have to be worse things than spending another summer going to the ballpark, right?

That was the backdrop when we agreed to see each other the final weekend of March, which coincided with Opening Day the following Monday. (Opening Day for the Clippers would be in another two weeks.) When I left that Friday, I did so with the expectation that it would be my last trip to Chicago.

I figured Laurie and I would have “the talk” on the day I left. I didn’t really have the money to spend on date weekends in Chicago, and I was tired of driving six hours each way.

As I drove, I geared myself up to call it quits, and I just got more and more angry. It reached the point where I decided I wasn’t even going to stop for flowers, like I always did, in Merrillville. At the last second, however, I talked myself out of that. Look, you’re still a guest in her home. Do the honorable thing, and take her flowers. You’ll be glad you did. So I stopped.

Doing that didn’t make me feel any better, however. The thing getting my goat now was how Laurie wanted “to change things up” by meeting not at her place but at a neighborhood bar. I didn’t want to do that. I was tired from the drive, and I just wanted to relax back at her place when I arrived.

I parked the car, stuffed the bouquet under my jacket and hiked to the bar, which was about a half-mile away from Laurie’s apartment building. My disgust continued to build. It wasn’t enough that I drove six hours to be here; now I have to walk another half-mile. I’m tired and cranky. This weekend was not going to go well at all, and I was already ready for it to be over.

The bar was the Hop Leaf on Clark in Andersonville. It’s a real hipster hangout—the craftier the beer you buy, the cooler you are. Geez, right up my alley. OK, time to drop the attitude and get your game together. I opened the door and saw that it was packed. Every table was full, as were all the seats at the bar. A few folks even stood by the bar like it was a Wrigleyville joint.

No one paid me any attention … except for one person. Toward the back of the room, standing and looking my way was Laurie. She was smiling, not unlike at Jin and Paul’s wedding the previous September (good ol’ No. 120). And everything—my anger, my sense of foreboding—just let go.

I was so happy to see Laurie again. I gave her a hug and a quick kiss, and revealed what I had hidden under my coat—flowers. She loved that.

We stayed for only a single beer and talked about Return of the Native, which was our first book club choice. I think I mentioned this, but we decided to read a book together on our own, so we’d naturally have something to talk about when we were together. By the time we got back to her place, all the misgivings I’d felt after the previous visit were wiped away. We were connecting.

The next day was even better. We started with brunch at a cajun place downtown called Wishbone. Laurie had an audition nearby (thus the choice), so I hung out at Wishbone while she ran her errand. After that, we headed out to the day’s main event on the agenda: The Morton Arboretum.

Even though it was a gray, drizzly Saturday, Laurie still wanted to go. She just wanted to get outside now that it was warm enough to do so, and I was fine with doing whatever she wanted to do. Laurie loved walking in parks, but so did I, and The Arboretum was tailor-made for nature lovers.

As we made the long drive out on the Ike, I pulled out All This Time. Laurie had it among a few CDs in her car, and I’d never heard it before. We were able to listen to the whole thing by the time we rolled into the parking lot at The Arboretum’s welcome center.

The Arboretum is large enough that it’s a good idea to drive to spots around the park and then hike on the paths therein. Laurie wanted to go to the Big Rock. That was in the back—southeast—corner of The Arboretum, so we drove there, stopping at various groves along the way. There wasn’t much to see in the way of flowers or leaves, but I just like being around trees, as does Laurie.

At one point, we hiked through a forest of maples until we arrived at a fir grove, not unlike those at Torch Lake. It was incredible—a grand cathedral of evergreens amid all these deciduous trees that didn’t have their leaves yet. It was mystical and wonderful.

Finally, we reached the starting point to the hike to the Big Rock. It wasn’t more than a couple miles through the woods. After a while, we reached an opening onto a huge field of gray. No plants were growing, and beneath the leaden sky, it appeared as though we stumbled upon Hardy’s Egdon Heath itself. That just made the walk even better.

At the end of “the heath,” we came upon the Big Rock. That’s what it is—this gigantic granite boulder surrounded by trees that apparently farmers a century ago dragged from what had been farmland to the edge of this forest, after glaciers deposited it there thousands of years before. It’s about 6 feet tall and 20 feet long.

As we hiked around it, it started to rain a bit harder, cutting through the canopy above us. I’ll never forget how Laurie looked then, her wool hat pulled down tight, her hands in the pockets of her fleece jacket, rain dripping on her smiling face. I was so in love with her that moment and said as much, and she said it back. Right then and there, I no longer had any doubts about us.

After that moment, I remember almost nothing about the weekend. I couldn’t tell you where we went to dinner that night, although I think it was the first time we went to Dave’s Italian Kitchen at its new(er) location in Evanston. I couldn’t tell you what we did later. I have no recollection of what we did the next day. I remember being in the library downtown, because it was Opening Day. The Reds won on an Adam Dunn home run. I know because Scott called to celebrate with me.

But none of that mattered. What mattered was that Laurie and I agreed: We were going to go forward. This WAS going to happen … us.

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