I Once Had a Girl

karina iv

I once had a girl, her name was Karina. She was from Norway, but we met in New Your City at a jazz club on the West Side. My friend Lane had dragged me there; he told me that the sax player would really send me. I know, that is 60’s lingo, but Lane was a good friend, so I went with him that warm August night. It was a night that changed my life.

Lane and I were from upstate New York, we were friends in high school. We were both going to be writers and write the Great American Novel. And here we were, Lane wrote copy for an ad agency and I wrote short stories that no one would buy.

I was twenty-years-old, I had just dropped out of college. I wanted to be a writer and I did not think college was the way to go about it. I thought that 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 short story to a weekly newspaper. It was a free paper, but they did print fiction. They paid me all of $25.00 for it.

After that, I figured it would be only a matter of time before I had The New Yorker knocking at my door wanting me to write my genius fiction for them, and if not the New Yorker, then at least the Village Voice. Well, things did not work out that way. Six months later, I had not sold another story. The newspaper that had bought my first was long out of business as I contemplated my future. I was nearing the end of my savings and something would have to break soon or I would have to get a job. Something did break and her name was Karina.

Unbeknownst to me, Lane and his girlfriend (her name was Sally) set me up with a blind date. When we got to the club, I saw Sally sitting at a table with a blond girl. I immediately grabbed Lane’s arm and halted his progress toward the table. “What’s the deal?” I asked in a low voice. Then I added, “If Sally is trying to set me up again, I’m leaving. You know I don’t have any money to date.”

With a phony and shocked look on his face Lane said, “No, no, it’s nothing like that. It’s just that the poor girl is in town and doesn’t know anyone. Sally’s mother and her mother are friends. Sally’s looking out after her, that’s all. Don’t worry; she’s not your date. And she’s got plenty of money; she can pay her own way.” Lane was one of the worst liars that I ever knew.

With a sigh and a shake of my head I said, “Lay on Macduff.”

We seated ourselves at the table and I was introduced to the blond. Sally started right off yakking away, but I heard nothing she said. I was looking into the eyes of the blond. They were green, the color of emeralds, and they were sad eyes. She was good looking in a not glamorous sort of way. There was something about her, something that made me want to put my arms around her and tell her everything would all right. That night I fell in love, head over heels. To me she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. But it wasn’t her looks that got me, it was her soul. She looked vulnerable and she had those sad eyes. I know that’s a cliché, but that is what it was, plain and simple. I was hooked, and as you might have guessed by now, her name was Karina

We talked, and ignored both the music, and Lane and Sally. When Sally saw where things were going 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 that I wouldn’t be embarrassed for lack of funds.

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

We settled in at a Starbucks and talked until the early morning. Her parents were both dead and left her relatively well off. She was in the States because she owned a cabin in North Carolina, up in the mountains, and she had come here to sell it. At twenty-two, she was two years older than I was. But that was okay with me, I liked older women. I prattled on about my writing and she said that she would like to read some of my stuff someday. Someday? I wanted her to read it right then and there. But I held my tongue.

As I walked her to her hotel, she slipped her arm through mine and we walked on in silence. My feet never once touched the ground.

We said goodnight in the lobby of her hotel. She looked at me with those big sad eyes. “Please, may I see you tomorrow and read some of your stories?” Now 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 that I would be proud to have her read a few of my stories. We set a time and I left. We shook hands, we did not kiss goodnight.

Well, the short of it is she was as smitten with me as I was with her, why I don’t know. She postponed her trip south and stayed in the city. We saw each other every day and Sally must have told her about my financial situation because Karina always insisted we go someplace that cost no money. We hit the art galleries and the museums, among other venues, and our favorite, the park. As we walked through the park, I always saw a little bit of the sun in her hair and I fell more in love with her every time I saw that. By the end of two weeks, we both knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.

Karina liked my writing and she 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 that I loved her, she believed in me, more so than I believed in myself.

One day, a Sunday, as we lay on a blanket in the park holding hands (we still had not made love, I was so much in love, I wanted to take it slow), Karina asserted herself. She told me in no uncertain terms that she was taking me to North Carolina, to her cabin, and she would cook and clean for me while I wrote my novel, and then when it sold, I could take care of her.

I told her that I would have to think on it. She then stood and took my hand. I raised myself from the ground, and forgetting the blanket, we went back to the Plaza. We made long, slow love all that afternoon. And then we did it again 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. We were so in love.

As the snows came, I wrote and Karina loved me. I didn’t want to write, I wanted to make love to my girl, but she made sure I stayed at the computer at least six hours a day. The rest of the time was devoted to loving her.

As the snows melted and the leaves slowly returned to the trees, my book took form. Karina would read what I had written each day. She would correct my mistakes and give me input as to the characters and the plot. As I sat there in the evenings, seeing the firelight reflected in her eyes while she read my daily output, I fell in love with her all over again.

When spring was in full bloom, the book also bloomed. I had completed my version of the Great American Novel. I emailed my query letters to agents. Within a month, I had a signed contract. When summer came around, the book had been sold and I had money in the bank. Now I could take care of my Karina. But it was not to be.

It was August once again, almost to the day that Karina and I first met. We were leaving the next day for New York. My agent needed to meet with me and she wanted me to meet with my editor. 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, it was a simple band of gold. I was going to ask her to be my wife. I couldn’t wait to get back to the cabin, get down on one knee and tell her of my love for her.

I saw the smoke long before I turned into the drive to our cabin. Then I saw the flames. I pulled the car to a stop,
rushed to the cabin, and heard her screams. Those screams will never leave me.

“KARINA!” I shouted as I rushed the door.

When I pushed open the door, a blast of flames knocked me on my ass. I got up; nothing short of hell was going to keep me out of that cabin. And that is exactly what kept me out . . . hell. I could not penetrate the flames. On my third attempt, the burns and 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 to my agent. I couldn’t edit and work on it with anyone else now that Karina was not with me. I took the money and bought a sailboat down in Miami. I had painted on the sides “Karina” in large letters the color of her eyes. I now sail Caribbean, going from island to island, looking for nothing. Because I once had a girl and her name was Karina, she is all I ever wanted.

John, Kris and Me (A True Story)

johnny and kris

It was 1968 and I was eighteen-years-old. I was hitchhiking from Miami to New York and had gotten off the beaten track, so to speak. I should have stayed on US 301 (this was before the Interstate Highway System), but instead I found myself just south of Memphis hoping I could catch a ride into Nashville by noon and then catch a long haul out of that city.

It was early morning, the traffic was light and I wasn’t having any luck when suddenly a black Mustang screeched to a halt and the guy driving leaned over and said through the open passenger-side window, “I’m headin’ to Nashville, that do you any good?”

Of course, I said, “Yes,” and jumped in.

As he’s accelerating, he’s looking straight ahead and not at me. In fact he doesn’t say anything, which is strange, but not unheard of. So, I say nothing and stare out the windshield at the fast approaching skyline of Memphis. Then it hits me. I know this guy; I should have tumbled to him from the voice.

At that time in my life I was not into different forms of music, I liked rock n’ roll. Since then my taste in music has matured to encompass all types. But even though this guy wasn’t a rocker I knew him and his music, a couple of his songs had crossed over and were played on the top forty stations.

The driver was intent on what he was doing, but I think he caught me looking at him out of corner of his eye. I noticed he had a firm grip on the steering wheel, his knuckles were white. Finally after a few minutes he turns to me and says, “Howdy, my name’s John,” and raised his right hand from the wheel and stuck it out in my direction.

We shook hands, and I said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. Cash.”

Once John and I shook hands, he became more talkative. Hell, he became down right verbose. He told me about his hitchhiking adventures and asked me about mine. We were three hours out of Nashville and I don’t think there was another quiet moment the whole three hours. We just bullshitted about life, women, and we even got into metaphysical discussions. He told me about his army days and the time he was arrested in Texas. Just to keep it even, I told him about shit that had happened to me while on the road. We didn’t talk about his music or anything like that. I’d been around enough to know that if I came off as a gushing fan that would have been a major turn off for him. Besides, at the time, I was not a fan, gushing or otherwise. Well, to be honest, by the time we hit Nashville I was becoming a fan; of the man if not his music.

As we neared Nashville, he told me he’s just gotten married a few months back and was dying to see his wife. “I’ve been gone two days and it feels like two years,” he informed me. Then he said, “It’s about dinner time why not stop in and get something to eat and then hit the road. June’s a great cook.” Dinner is what country folk call lunch.

I accepted his kind offer and we got off the highway and headed for his home, which was only a few blocks away. When we got to his house, and as we were pulling into the driveway, he said, “Looks like June is out somewhere, but don’t worry we’ll rustle somethin’ up.”

I told him not to bother, that I could cadge a meal down the line. But he just looked at me and shook his head, and in that deep voice, asked me if I had any money. I course didn’t and I told him so. Then he told me that he’d been on the road and hungry, and that if I didn’t get my ass in the house pronto, he’d drag me in.

So we went inside and walked right back to the kitchen. John told me to sit at the table and then he opened the refrigerator and looked around for a moment before saying, “Ah ha, I knew it was still here when I left.” Then he pulled out a platter with a ham on it. I mean a real ham, bone and all.

I’m sitting there and he goes back to the fridge and comes up with a jar of mustard and a hunk of white cheese. I remember this because I was not a big mustard lover and it was the first time in my life that I had ever seen cheese that was not orange or yellow in color. Then John starts to slice, or maybe hack would better describe it, the ham. As he’s doing so, he told me where the bread and plates where kept and asked me to get said items, which I did.

When the sandwiches where made, two of them, he asked me if I’d like a beer.

“Yes please.”

So there I am, sitting in the kitchen of a man I’d meet only a few hours before, and I’ve got two thick ham and cheese sandwiches and a can of beer in front of me. Not a bad score and the day was still young yet.

I asked him if he was going to eat, but he said beer would do him fine.

Okay, enough already with my long winded shit. Now to the part you guys wanna hear about. We’re sittin’ at the kitchen table, me eating and John’s drinking beer. We’re both shooting the shit when the doorbell rings. John gets up and before he leaves the table, takes a long swig of beer. “Be right back,” he said. A minute later, he came back into the kitchen with this guy who was a little older than me, but his hair was longer. In those days you were judged by the length of your hair.

“I want you to meet a friend of mine. This here is Kris,” said John. I had my mouth filled with ham sandwich, so I mumbled hello. He waved and smiled, “Glad to meet ya.”

John then asked Kris, “How about a sandwich and a beer?”

The guy replied, “Just a beer, it’s my lunch hour and I’ve got to get back to work, but I have a new song I’d like you to hear and see what you think.”

By now, I’ve eaten my two sandwiches and was washing them down with the beer. I had nothing to add to the conversation so I figured I’d just finish my beer and get the hell out of there. But before I could say my thanks and hit the road, John leaves the room and returns a moment later with a guitar.

Prior to going any further, I’ve got to lay out the scene for you. We’re sitting at a round kitchen table. To my left is John and directly opposite me is this guy Kris Kristofferson. (At the time I thought he was Chris.) John and I were hitting our beers and looking at Kris tune the guitar. Then he picked at the strings and started to sing. Now I know ya’ all are going to kill me, but I don’t remember what the song was. I wasn’t really paying attention. In my mind I was rehearsing my good-bye speech to John.

When Kris was done, we all three sat there looking at one another. I didn’t say anything because it wasn’t my opinion Kris sought. Kris didn’t say anything because he was waiting for John to say something, which he finally did.

“It’s not bad. But I don’t know if it’s for me.”

I’ve got to hand it to Kris, he smiled broadly and said, “That’s okay, I just wanted you to hear it and get your thoughts.” Then he lifted his beer and said, “Prosit.” That was my cue to leave. I stood and told John I had to hit the road. He said he’d drive me back to the highway, but I told him not to bother, he had company and besides, it was only a few blocks. Kris said if I could wait a few minutes, he’d drop me off on his way back to work. I declined his offer. I didn’t want to wait around. I had a full stomach and New York City was calling to me. So I said my good-byes, walked out the front door, retrieved my case from the Mustang and headed off for further adventures.

Just one last thing. When I got to New York and opened my case Benjamin Franklin was there staring up at me from on top of my clothes. John must have put the C note in my case when he went to let Kris in.