Wish You Were Here

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It was a familiar image, the startling blue sky, the sea and the pristine white buildings against that Aegean backdrop. It was an image he associated with her. Whenever she had opened up her locker at school he’d caught a glimpse of the posters lining the insides, the flashes of blue and white. Nicky Stavros – always surrounded by friends, always laughing, the center of attention, and the world at her elegant feet.

He sat there in the comfort of his leather couch, tapping his feet to the disco beats of 1987, sipping his ouzo and swiveling his head from floor to ceiling and wall to wall of his one room apartment. There she was laughing, pensive, sleeping, walking, running, dancing, bathing, dressed and undressed – the wallpaper mosaic a painstaking result of ten years of passion and obsession, his life’s work, his Nicky – his to have and to hold. He hadn’t found anyone; no one had ever matched up to Nicky.

There were several young women resplendent in bouffant hairstyles and satiny gowns with puffy sleeves in several shades of pastel – that was prom night, 1987. The planning had gone on for the past several months as girls looked longingly at the boys that were of interest to them. One by one they had all been asked to the dance. Sadly he had not been at the receiving end of any of these long lashed, veiled looks and coy smiles. And he couldn’t have cared less. He was mustering up the courage to ask Nicky. She was waiting for Mark to ask her; Mark, the tall and broad quarterback of the Langston Lions. That Mark would ask her to the prom was a foregone conclusion, no one else dared ask Nicky. And then Mark injured himself at football practice. He had several concussions and was in no shape for prom night. This was his chance. He had to summon up the courage to ask her, he had to make it happen.

That day he took pains over his attire, he wore his smartest pair of jeans and his favorite jacket. He even washed and brushed his long and usually stringy hair. Nicky Stavros was going to be his date.

He spotted them at the bench underneath the old maple tree. As always, she was surrounded by ten other girls, some eyeing her shoes, some her dress, the others just happy to be sharing her space and breathing the same air as her. He walked toward them with determined steps. He was going to ask her today. Before he knew it he had closed the gap and was now standing facing Nicky.

He stared at her perfectly symmetrical face, unable to tear his eyes away from her gaze. He felt he couldn’t breathe, he opened his mouth to speak but words failed him. He swallowed and then he opened his mouth and swallowed again. Then she spoke and her voice was like tinkling, shattering crystal – girls let’s go feed the fish – and they left…leaving him standing there, nervously tugging at the sleeves of his jacket as they walked away giggling. He felt humiliated, his ears felt warm, his face flushed.

He never did forget standing near the punch bowl all night, watching the shimmering colors of the disco ball above reflecting off Nicky’s radiant face and the more he looked the angrier he felt at his humiliation. He was torn between an intense desire to take her in his arms and never let go, to squeeze her so tight, so tight that her ribs cracked and her breath came out in gasps until it never came out again, at all.

That summer she didn’t notice him. It was Langston, PA, population 8,000. Everyone knew everyone else. She was all over town, riding around in her Dad’s Thunderbird or waitressing at the local diner and bartending at the local pub at night. She was still the talk of the town, flashing her baby blues and radiant smile at everyone. He felt like the only invisible resident of Langston, PA.

But invisibility has its advantages. An invisible photographer is never noticed, an invisible neighbor is never acknowledged, not when he rents the apartment across the street and not when he buys and trains a telescope at the uncurtained window of the most desirable woman in the town. He can watch her dress, watch her undress, sleep with her and wake with her. He can even follow her out of town, several paces behind the trail of confetti that litters the Greek Orthodox Church at the edge of town, invisible in his little utility van that quietly follows the car that loudly proclaims the “Just Married” state of the couple within.

He had spent many years of his life in quiet pursuit – the telescope his only companion, the darkroom his only real refuge – the one place where he could surround himself with Nicky. This was the tenth anniversary of his failure and humiliation and this was his chance.

The picture postcard was perfect – a photograph of the Greek landscape that graced the back wall of her bedroom – the fresco that her husband had so lovingly commissioned for her 28th birthday. Tomorrow she would open her mailbox to retrieve the perfect postcard that would read “WISH YOU WERE HERE” in a strange spidery scrawl that she would never recognize…

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