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copyright © 2014 by H. Paul Shuch, All Rights Reserved

The email came from out of the blue, as completely unexpected as the homebuilt aerobatic biplane that Dan now flies. It read, simply, "Are you the same H. Paul I knew at Takhli AFB in 1968?"

Guilty as charged, I confess. Dan and I had been barracks-mates in the Air Force, and best friends in an odd sort of way, who had dated the same woman (who, subsequently, I was to marry). So, of course, his terse query brought back a flood of memories spanning the past 46 years. Memories good and bad.

Probably more bad than good.

Naturally, I had to ring him up straightaway, at the phone number provided: "C'est moi!"

His first question was both surprising and unsettling. Was I still married to her? He inquired about my ex-wife by her original name, properly pronounced in her native tongue. He had not forgotten. When I told him no, that marriage had ended a quarter century ago, Dan pressed me in follow-up emails. Did she ever remarry? Was I still in touch? Could I tell him where she lives?

I scanned and emailed to him the one photo I still have of the two of them together. He instantly replied, "I remember that photo!"

Of course he did.

Try as I might, I could not understand this seeming obsession with what-might-have-been. I was (and am still) too hung up in what-is and what-was and what-should-have-been.

So, I went seeking advice from a soul certain to console.

Avalon Eden, my first and favorite flight instructor, signed on as my copilot decades ago. Her life had been more turbulent than my own, so she always managed to put my problems in proper perspective. Only, this was all happening in the dead of winter (I can still see her wincing at the term); it was cold outside!

What has that to do with anything, well you may inquire? The simple fact is, Avalon only appears to me in flight. And Rotax engines just don't start in ten below. So, I kludged together a crude engine pre-heater, toasted marshmallows for an hour, then fired up the trusty Rotax, and was soon cruising, 95 knots at 5500 feet, waiting for Avalon to materialize in the vacant seat beside me. She did not disappoint.

How long has it been since you've seen Dan, Avalon inquired after the preliminaries had been thought aloud. Forty four years, I guesstimated. And how long since your ex has seen him? The same forty four years, I guess.

"You guess? You're still guessing? And second guessing? Isn't it time to put the past where it rightly belongs -- in the past?"

You don't understand, I stammered, you can't possibly understand, because fidelity was not so much a priority for you. But this was my wife we're talking about!

"Circle back in the holding pattern, Ace," replied Avalon, "and remind me of what attracted you to her in the first place."

So I proceeded to reminisce about my first wife, about how things had been in the beginning, of how she was the perfect 'sixties woman, confident and self-assured and actualized and liberated and independent, and how that had dazzled me.

"Apparently dazzled Dan as well," speculated my guardian ghost.

"Well, of course it did. And I was OK with it, then. Wasn't either of us monogamous at first, and this was the 'sixties, a culture where no person presumed to lay claim to another. But, that was then and this is now and in between there was all of that."

"Tell me," asked Avalon, "what was her favorite movie?"

"Sweet November, I suppose."

"And her favorite play?"

"Same Time Next Year."

"And what does that tell you?"

I was silent for a long time.

Yes, the 'sixties scene was -- well, different, Avalon allowed. Two friends sharing a woman was no more a big deal than them sharing a joint, and she rightly reasoned that he and I had done our share of that. "Only, it wasn't Dan broke up your marriage, was it?"

"No, and I wouldn't have blamed him if it had been. It was some other bloke. And I wanted to blame him, but I couldn't even do that -- I knew how irresistible she was. No, I blamed her."

For what, Avalon inquired?

"For never outgrowing the 'sixties. For not growing up, dammit!"

You know we don't much like that word, down there, Avalon replied, and I apologized.

"So," asked Avalon, "what are you going to do about it?"

"You tell me."

So, she did. "You're going to give him her number. They're going to reconnect, and then they'll discover that you can never go home again."

And I? I'm going to spend the rest of my days wishing you could. I was about to tell Avalon that, but when I glanced sideward, I saw that in her usual enigmatic fashion, she was gone.

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