I Once Had a Girl

I once had a girl. We met at a jazz club on the Upper West Side. My friend Lane had dragged me there, telling me I would really dig the sax player. I didn’t want to go because I was broke and I was embarrassed that Lane always picked up the check when we were out. But he persisted, so I agreed to go with him on that warm August night.

Lane and I were from upstate New York and had been friends since high school. We were both going to be writers and write the Great American Novel. And here we were, a few years later; Lane wrote copy for an ad agency, and I wrote short stories no one would buy.

I was twenty years old and had just dropped out of college. I did not think college was the way to go about becoming a writer. I figured the only way to be a writer was to write. So I headed for the Big City, found myself a roach-infested apartment, and opened my laptop. I got lucky and sold my first story to a weekly newspaper. It was a free paper, but on occasion they’d print a piece of fiction if they had space to fill. They paid me all of twenty-five dollars.

After that, I figured it would be only a matter of time before I had The New Yorker knocking at my door. Well, things did not work out that way. Six months later, I had not sold another story. The newspaper that had bought my first story was long out of business. I was nearing the end of my savings and something would have to break soon or I would have to get a job.

Unbeknownst to me, Lane and his girlfriend, Sally, had set me up with a blind date. When we got to the club, Sally was sitting at a table with a good-looking blonde. I grabbed Lane’s arm and said, “Hold on, what’s the deal? If Sally’s trying to set me up again, I’m leaving. You know I can’t afford to date. I can barely feed myself.”

With a shocked and completely phony look on his face, Lane said, “No, no, it’s nothing like that. It’s just that she’s in from out-of-town and doesn’t know anyone. Sally’s mother and her mother were friends. Don’t worry; she’s not your date. And she’s got plenty of money; she can pay her own way.”

What the hell. I was already there. With a sigh, I said, “Lay on, Macduff.”

We seated ourselves and I was introduced to the blonde. Sally started right off yakking away, but I heard nothing she said. I was looking into the most beautiful green eyes I had ever seen. But they were sad eyes. She was good-looking in a not-glamorous sort of way, and there was something about her. Something that made me want to put my arms around her and tell her everything would be all right. Her name was Karina.

We talked, ignoring both the music and Lane and Sally. When Sally saw where things were headed, she nudged Lane and said they had to go, but that we should stay. As they left, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lane hand some money to our waitress and point our way. He had made sure I would not be embarrassed for lack of funds.

The music was really too loud to carry on a conversation, so I suggested we go somewhere more conducive to getting to know one another. I had no hope that she felt toward me as I felt toward her, but I just couldn’t let her walk out of my life after such a short interlude. I had to know more about her.

We settled in at a Starbucks on 65th Street and talked until the early morning. Her parents were both dead and had left her relatively well off. She was from Norway and had come to the States to sell a cabin she owned up in the mountains of North Carolina. At twenty-two, she was two years older than I was. I prattled on about my writing and she said she would like to read some of my stuff someday. As I walked her back to her hotel that night, she slipped her arm through mine and we walked on in silence.

As we said goodnight in the lobby. She looked at me with those big, sad eyes. “Please, may I see you tomorrow and read some of your stories?” Normally, I would let anyone read my stuff at the drop of a hat, even if I had to drop the hat myself. But in this instance, I was reluctant to say yes. I didn’t want her to see how I lived. I mean, she was staying at the Plaza, for God’s sake! After a momentary hesitation, I told her I could bring my laptop over the next day and I would be proud to have her read a few of my stories. She would have to read them off my computer because I did not own a printer.

Well, the short of it is, it turned out she was as smitten with me as I was with her. She postponed her trip south and stayed in the city. We saw each other every day. Sally must have told her about my financial situation, because Karina always insisted we go someplace that wouldn’t hurt my wallet. We hit the art galleries and the museums, among other venues. Central Park was our favorite. As we walked through the park, the sunshine would ripple in her soft yellow hair like waves upon a sparkling ocean. At the end of two weeks, we both knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.

Karina liked my writing and told me I should be writing a full-length novel. Then, when that sold, I could put out a book of my short stories. No wonder I loved her, she believed in me more than I believed in myself.

One day, as we lay on a blanket in the park holding hands (we still had not made love), Karina asserted herself. She told me in no uncertain terms that she was taking me to her cabin in North Carolina. She would cook and clean for me while I wrote my novel, and then when it sold, I could take care of her. I was hesitant and told her I would have to think on it. She would have none of that. She insisted this would be the best way for me to get some serious writing done without any distractions. I did not need much persuasion, so I accepted her kind offer. After that was settled, we hurried back to her hotel and made long, slow love all that afternoon—and then again all that night.

We hit the mountains of North Carolina as the leaves were changing. It was the perfect metaphor. Our lives were changing; we were melding into one entity.

As the snows came, I wrote and Karina loved me. Truth be known, I didn’t feel like writing. I just wanted to make love to my girl. But Karina made sure I stayed at the computer at least eight hours a day.

Over that winter, my book took form. Karina would read what I had written each day. She would give me input as to the characters and the plot and edit what needed editing. I would sit there in the evenings watching her read my daily output, the firelight reflected in her eyes. I was so in love.

By the time spring was in full bloom, I had completed my version of the Great American Novel. I emailed my query letters to agents. I got lucky, and within a month, I had a signed contract with one of the larger agencies. When summer came around, the book had been sold to a publisher and I had money in the bank.

It was August once again, almost to the day Karina and I first met. We were leaving the next day for New York. My agent had set up a meeting with my publisher. There was still work to be done. Writing the story is one thing, getting it out there is another. However, before leaving, I wanted to buy something for my love. I went into town and bought Karina a ring. Nothing fancy, just a simple band of gold. I couldn’t wait to get back to the cabin, get down on one knee, and ask her to be my wife.

Driving back to the cabin, I smiled all the way. Then, as I turned into the drive, I saw the flames and heard her screams. “KARINA!” I shouted as I jumped out of the car and rushed toward the cabin.

I pushed the door open and a blast of heat and flames knocked me on my ass. I got up; nothing short of hell was going to keep me out of that cabin. But I could not penetrate the flames. On my third attempt, smoke inhalation, the burns I suffered, and the resultant pain caused me to pass out. When I awoke, I was in a hospital’s burn ward.

Karina was gone and I was alone.

I sold the rights to my book. I couldn’t edit and work on it with anyone else now that Karina was gone. I took the money and bought a sailboat down in Miami. I had Karina painted on the sides in large letters, emerald green, the color of her eyes. I now sail the Caribbean, going from island to island, looking for peace … and not finding it.

I once had a girl. Karina was her name.

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