By Dom Cioffi
Many years ago, just prior to my wedding day, I engaged in a ceremonial act that I assumed would bring closure to the preceding chapters of my life.
The ceremony was of my own creation – a spur-of-the-moment act that was done initially to lighten the load of an impending residential move. But once things got rolling, it started to feel oddly cathartic.
The ceremony revolved around a nondescript cardboard box that contained the written remnants of my entire dating life. I am an admitted memory hoarder so it wasn’t surprising that I had saved every note from every girl I had ever been involved with.
Housed in this box were birthday cards, love letters, a few long-winded missives and an endless pile of classroom notes all written by romantic interests in my life. They were folded in creative ways, housed in scented envelopes, and adorned with an inordinate number of smiley faces and hearts.
Since I was about to be married (and therefore officially beholden to one woman), I felt obliged to rid myself of these diatribes of love and adoration. It just seemed like the chivalrous thing to do.
So one afternoon I grabbed the large cardboard box out of my apartment’s attic crawlspace and placed it in my car. I then drove out into the country to my grandmother’s farmhouse where there was a large, metal, 55-gallon drum that my grandfather used as a burn barrel.
Once I removed the box from my car, I gathered some newspapers and bits of kindling and started a robust fire. When the flames were strong enough, I opened the box and proceeded to burn the contents – one precious memory at a time.
These “memories” spanned the course of my dating life, from roughly middle school until my last relationship prior to meeting my wife (the term “dating” being used loosely for those earlier years).
I didn’t read every one, but I opened several that looked interesting. I laughed at some and took long, deep breaths over others as memories of particular events and individuals careened back into my mind.
As I was mid-way through the burn, I happened to notice a small, light blue envelope with a faded address scribbled on the front. I pulled it out, opened it, and read the contents.
The letter was from a girl that I met while visiting my grandmother in Florida back in the 1970s. She had written it after we had spent two weeks playing, swimming and gathering seashells together. There was nothing romantic about our time together other than I remember distinctly liking her. I liked the way she looked, the way she talked, the way she laughed. And I especially liked the fact that she seemed to like me back.
We wrote to one another a couple more times and then, like so many other fleeting relationships, it slowly dissipated.
I returned to visit my grandmother for several more years, but the girl had moved on, her old apartment building having been torn down to make room for luxury condominiums.
She is now lost to memory – other than her letter, which I slipped into my back pocket while I burned every other item in the box. When I got back to my apartment, I tucked it inside another box where it remains to this day – a tiny reminder of that first time when being friends with a girl started to mean something entirely new.
I recently drove to Florida with my family and on the way there I made a slight detour to the townhomes where my grandmother used to stay.
As we pulled into the courtyard my eyes scanned the area as the memories came rushing back: there was the canal where a lone alligator used to roam; there was the expansive pool (minus the high dive); there was the shuffleboard court still being used to fan the competitive flames of seniors. And there were the luxury condos where the very first girl who ever caught my eye had once lived.
We roamed the grounds for several minutes, took a few pictures and then hopped in our car to leave. As we were pulling away I glanced in my rearview mirror to see my son staring out the window. And that’s when it dawned on me: he’s almost the same age as I was when I met the aforementioned young lady.
My son and I went on to have a blast playing together on the beach later that week. And I have to wonder whether my level of engagement with him was intensified out of an unconscious fear that I may lose him to his own young lady before too long.
This week’s feature, “The Longest Ride,” is also a story about young love and the fear that accompanies the commitment that’s involved.
Based on the novel by Nicolas Sparks, “The Longest Ride” intertwines the burgeoning love affair of a young couple with the aging wisdom of a dying man and the dangers of being a world-class athlete.
Like all Nicolas Sparks’ storylines, this one attempts to pull at the heartstrings. Unfortunately, it pales in comparison to other more popular Sparks’ adaptations in that I never bought the premise nor the character’s commitment.
Check this one out if you’re a sucker for sappy, cliché-ridden scenarios. And if you’re at all inclined to tear up when things get sentimental, be sure to bring a supply of tissues. There’s a good chance your eyes are going to swell.
A bullish “C-” for “The Longest Ride.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at email@example.com.