The Turning Tides of Time

© Lynne den Hartog 2000

As I carefully applied my make up I ruefully thought back to the days when
a touch of lipstick and mascara had been all I needed to meet the world.
Running a comb through my hair I looked at my reflection in the mirror and
sighed. My new dress seemed to be doing its job of concealing the extra
pounds but it was a far cry from the mini-skirts and tight tops that I'd
favoured in my youth. It was painful to admit there was so little left of
the pretty teenager with her perfect figure and brash certainty of youth. A
lot of things had happened in twenty years, and they had left their mark.
And not only on the outside. Once the eternal optimist, events had taught
me that things didn't always work out as you wanted. A messy divorce and,
more recently, a fruitless relationship with a married man, had left me
with my self-esteem in shreds.

I'd been looking forward to the reunion with both excitement and dread.
Logic told me that the ravages of time would have affected my fellow
schoolmates too, but I had to admit that I was more concerned about what
the years had done to me. And then of course there was that one thought
that I'd been trying to ignore ever since I had opened the invitation.
Would 'he' be there?

'He' was Peter McDermott. My college sweetheart. At least...perhaps that
wasn't quite the right term. Actually there was no perhaps about it. There
was little point in lying to myself. My college one-night-stand was a far
more accurate description. My mind travelled back over the years.

Peter was a loner. He'd arrived in the middle of a term and no-one knew
where he had come from. The usual rumors circulated around the college
grapevine. Some said he'd been expelled from his previous college for some
terrible unknown crime. Others that he was a famous diplomat's son who had
to remain incognito for national security reasons. Of course it was far
more likely that his parents had just moved house in the middle of term -
but that was far too ordinary for the gossip mongers. Whatever the cause -
he wasn't telling. He had no close friends - and didn't seem to want any.
Despite my popularity he had been one of the few boys who didn't seem to
realize that I existed. Though it was nothing personal. He wasn't
interested in any girls. And of course that meant that he was the one I
wanted. I used all the tricks in the book to gain his attention - and none
of them worked. Most girls would have given up, but I'd never been "most
girls." And then he disappeared. At first I thought he must be sick, but,
as the weeks went by I realized that he wasn't coming back.

If it hadn't been for a strange twist of Fate I would probably never have
seen him again.

A friend of mine had organized a girls' night out in a newly opened local
club. None of us had been there before and we were in for a shock. When we
walked in we were struck by the dim lighting. As our eyes became accustomed
to the gloom we were aware of curious eyes turned in our direction. It
wasn't surprising as our bright party clothes formed a garish splash of
color in an otherwise dark environment. Every other person in the place was
clothed in black. Strains of Black Sabbath filled the room

"What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black that points at me.
Turn around quick and start to run."

The words seemed pretty appropriate. This was no place to hold a party, and
we decided to make a rapid retreat. I was just about to go out the door
when something made me turn around. Sitting alone at a corner table was a
familiar figure. Peter. He was staring at me with dark, pain filled eyes. I
hesitated.

My friends called to me to hurry up but I suddenly didn't want to leave any
more. I didn't like this place but I couldn't resist the call of those
sorrowful eyes. Telling my friends to go on without me I slowly made my way
across the darkened room to the corner table. When I reached it I realized
to my horror that I didn't know what to say. Peter didn't help. He just
continued to stare at me. Clearing my throat I opened my mouth to speak. I
wanted to ask him why he had left but stupid platitudes like, "Do you come
here often?" flashed through my mind instead. I dismissed them rapidly and
whispered a hesitant "H...hello." My throat was dry and for once I wasn't
my usual confident self. It was doubtful he could hear me at all above the
music but I took a slight nod as an invitation to continue and asked, "Do
you mind if I sit here?" Again that slight nod - and, hoping that didn't
mean that he did mind, I sat down on the chair opposite him.

"Come on, help me out here," I thought as we stared across the table at
each other. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat and realized that the onus
was on me to start a conversation. Although Peter wasn't giving me the most
enthusiastic of welcomes I had an eerie feeling that he didn't want me to
leave. Perhaps it was the hopelessness in his eyes, or the vulnerability in
his pale, haunted face that called out some deep need in him. He looked
like a boy who needed help but didn't know how to ask for it.

"People running 'cause they're scared.
People better go and beware."

The notes of "Black Sabbath" faded away to be replaced by "Paranoid" and I
saw the figure before me tense. It was obvious that he was listening
intensely to the words of the song and I listened too.

"Finished with my woman cause she couldn't help me with my mind
People think I'm insane because I am frowning all the time
All day long I think of things but nothing seems to satisfy
Think I'll lose my mind if I don't find something to pacify
Can you help me? Are you for my brain? Oh yeah!
I need someone to show me the things in life that I can't find
I can't see the things that make true happiness I must be blind
Make a joke and I will sigh and you will laugh and I will cry
Happiness I cannot feel and love to me is so unreal
And so as you hear these words telling you now of my state
I tell you to enjoy life I wish I could but it's too late."

To my horror I realized there were tears rolling down Peter's face.
Instinctively I reached out my hands and clasped his in mine. They were icy
cold to the touch. And then he spoke his first words to me, "Can you help
me?" His voice was lilting and musical with a strange accent I could not
place - and full of despair.

"I...I don't know. ISI'd like to. But I don't know how. What do you want me
to do?"

"Help me find love. Even if it is only for a blink of an eye. I can't stand
this eternal solitude any longer." As he spoke his fingers gripped mine
urgently. I winced but resisted the impulse to snatch them away. Instead I
returned the pressure and for a few moments we sat there silently, our
hands entwined in a painful embrace. The music surrounded us, veiling us in
despair. I began to share his cloak of depression. It was as if the music
and his dark thoughts were combining to rob me of my personality.

Terrified I shook myself and said, "If you want me to help you we've got to
get out of here."

He looked puzzled. "Why?" he asked. "This is the only place I have found
where I feel at home. There are no bright lights and laughter here to show
me what I'm missing."

"And no love," I murmured. "And if you stay here there never will be."

I could see he didn't believe me but it was a sign of his desperation that
he made no protest when I pulled him out of his chair and towards the door.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief as we emerged into the well-lit street.
Peter however seemed to shrink even more inside himself at the sounds of
late night revelers filled the air. A young couple passed us, their arms
wrapped around each other. I saw a look of envy flash across Peter's face.
Gently I took his arm and placed it around my waist. He looked at me in
astonishment - and - although he didn't resist - I knew that he felt
uncomfortable. I wondered what had happened to make him act this way but
was afraid to ask. I had a feeling it was something he was loathe to talk
about.

As we walked down the street my mind was in a turmoil. Peter had again
returned to his haven of silence and I, too, was at a loss for words. I
noticed how he flinched when anyone passed within a few feet of us. I knew
I had to find a more private place if I was to stand any chance of reaching
him in his dark sanctuary. But where? I couldn't see my parents reacting
well to Peter. He was the personification of any mother's nightmare, with
his long black hair, leather jacket, and rock star good looks. I had a
sudden image of my mother offering him milk and cookies to be greeted with
that morose stare and impenetrable silence and winced.

I racked my brain to think of an isolated place - and then it came to me.
The college grounds. At this time of night they should be deserted and
would make an ideal setting for a quiet talk.

It was quite a walk. By the time we arrived the pain in my feet was almost
unbelievable. My high-heeled shoes may have been fashionable but they were
certainly not designed for comfort. Gratefully I sank down on a bench and
slipped them off, wriggling my toes in relief. Peter had still not spoken
and was staring at me with glazed eyes. The disconcerting thought occurred
to me that he might be on some kind of drug. For the first time I felt a
hint of doubt. What had I got myself into? It was all very well admiring
someone from afar, but my erotic fantasies about Peter had never entailed
anything like this. I'd been attracted by his good looks and air of mystery
but was completely unprepared for the deep melancholy of his personality.
The desperation I sensed in his soul frightened me. For a moment I felt the
overwhelming urge to run back to the bright lights and comfort of normality
but knew I had already gone too far. His tortured eyes held a longing I was
powerless to resist. He had asked me to help him find love and I had given
him hope. I couldn't just abandon him. Yet with my eighteen years I wasn't
even sure I knew what love was. Sighing helplessly, I reached out and
pulled him down next to me. Sitting hand in hand we stared at the dark
night sky.

"Look at the stars. Aren't they beautiful?" I whispered. It was trite and a
cliche but anything was better than the silence.

At least, I thought it was, until he replied, "They are only there to serve
the darkness between them."

I was shocked at the torment in his voice. "Oh, Peter! How can you think
like that? You can't just look at the dark side of life. It will drive you
mad."

As soon as the words were out of my mouth I regretted them. It was obvious
from the expression on his face that he already saw himself well on the
road to madness.

I ached to help him, yet knew that words were not the answer. At least not
mine. Perhaps a priest or a therapist would have better luck, but I was
neither. It needed something far more powerful to reach him. I saw that his
lips were trembling and, instinctively, I leaned towards him and pressed my
mouth onto his. His whole body tensed and I thought he was going to pull
away from me. Then the moment passed and, with a deep sigh, he pulled me
closer. His arms snaked around my neck and I felt his tongue forcing my
lips apart. Yet his wide-open eyes showed no sexual passion, only a wild
desperation that frightened me. The thought struck me that I was making a
terrible mistake, but I couldn't ignore the effect the kiss was having on
my own body. My heart was racing and my senses were reeling. Like a swimmer
caught in an undertow, knowing they are about to drown, I was powerless to
escape.

Peter was tearing at the buttons on my blouse and I wanted to tell him to
stop but I knew it was already too late - for both of us. I had ignited the
fuse and could now only wait for the inevitable explosion.

Peter's cold hands encircled my breasts, drawing the heat from my body. I
shivered. Pulling away the last remnants of material he exposed my naked
skin to the pale glow of moonlight. I could see him staring at my erect
nipples and felt the urge to cover myself with my hands but Peter grabbed
my wrists. He bowed his head and I gasped as his tongue frantically flicked
around my nipple. I arched my back and pushed myself into his mouth. Peter
sank to his knees onto the grass. Releasing his grip on my hands he reached
under my skirt. Discovering the moist crotch of my panties his hand slipped
inside and his fingers began to explore. My legs began to tremble and I
found myself holding my breath. In the silence of the night my heartbeat
was like a drum-roll filling my ears with a cacophony of sound.

Suddenly his powerful hands grasped my thighs, pulling me off the bench.
Laying half-naked on the cold grass I felt insubstantial and vulnerable.
Looking up at Peter I yearned for him to speak to me. To say some word of
reassurance that would rid me of the discomforting feeling that I was doing
something wrong. Instead I saw that he was unzipping his jeans. If any
words were to be spoken they were going to have to be my own. Yet what was
there for me to say? I had been the initiator. I couldn't ask him to stop
now. From the expression in his eyes I doubted if he would. Sinking down on
me his hands began to frantically knead my breasts. I could hear his breath
rasping in his throat. His eyes, inches from my own, never blinked. They
were filled with a crazed desire and I realized that he was no longer in
control of himself.

I could feel his erection against my thigh. He was as hard as rock. Then,
with an animal growl, he tore away my panties and pushed himself into me.
My fingernails dug deep into his back as he began to pound into me. To my
astonishment I found myself responding, matching the thrusting of his hips
with that of my own. Could it be that this was what I had wanted from the
very first moment I had seen him? The orgasm growing deep within me seemed
to prove that it was. I screamed as I came. With a last desperate lunge
Peter reached his climax and then collapsed on top of me. For a few moments
all that could be heard was our heavy breathing. And then I heard another
sound. One that tore into my heart. Peter was sobbing quietly. And then he
eventually spoke. Words I didn't understand but would never forget. "No.
That wasn't right. It's not as it should be." However much I questioned him
he wouldn't, or couldn't, explain his words. And that was the last time I
saw him. At least in the flesh. I had dreamed of him many times since then.
Asking myself what I had done wrong. But never finding the answer.

One night, so many years ago. Why had it made such a deep impression on me?
I didn't know. All I knew was, that how ever many years had passed I still
longed to see him again. And perhaps this night, however unlikely it was, I
would.

With a final fatalistic glance in the mirror I walked out of my room. As
the door shut, the strains of Carly Simon's "You're so Vain," floated out
of a nearby apartment.

I walked into the reunion and the butterflies in my stomach did a samba. My
legs were trembling and the broad smile I'd been practising in the mirror
all week was plastered onto my face like a grotesque mask. I felt my lips
twitching and nervously passed my tongue over them.

At first conversation had been slow - people were unwilling to let down
their guard - but then the drink began flowing freely and inhibitions
slowly began to disappear. I chatted with a few old friends.

It was amazing to see what time had done to my fellow classmates. Who would
have thought that the shy, awkward eighteen year old who never opened his
mouth unless asked a direct question would become a famous celebrity? Or
that the silent figure in the corner, morosely surveying the crowd and
cradling a drink as if it were a lifeline, had been the person voted most
likely to succeed in life? It was a surprise to find that the top football
star and the chief cheerleader has actually tied the knot - and even more
surprising that they were still very obviously together. Unfortunately a
close observer would have seen the covert glances that the pair were
casting at any reasonably good looking person in the room.

Towards the end of the evening old connections had been rekindled and new
ones forged - and I was beginning to give up hope. Every time the door
opened and new arrivals turned up I found myself holding my breath, but
eventually I had to resign myself to the fact that Peter wasn't coming. It
had been idiotic of me to think that he would. What reason could he
possibly have to return to a place where he had known nothing but
unhappiness? How unbelievably egotistical of me to have hoped that he would
remember our one night together and share my longing to meet again.

People began to drift away. I made some hollow promises to meet up with
some of my old friends, but I knew I wouldn't keep them. The past was
another era and couldn't be relived. I had been a fool to think it could.

Soon only a few hangers-on were left. They included the lonely individual
in the corner who, like me, had been casting furtive glances round the room
all evening. It seemed I wasn't the only person who was waiting for
someone. And with as little success. With a last surreptitious glance at
their watch the figure eventually stood up and left the room.

As the final strains of music faded away so did the last of my hopes and I
left the room with dragging feet. Crossing the deserted campus I had to
accept the fact that my dream had finally died. Yet there was one last
thing I had to do. I found myself walking towards the place where I had
lost my virginity so many years before. Preoccupied with my memories my
mind played tricks on me. As I approached the deserted bench I could have
sworn that I saw two figures lying on the grass beside it, entwined in each
other's arms. I could hear their heavy breathing and even smell the heavy
scent of sexual musk. And then, with a gasp. I realized that it wasn't my
imagination. There really were two people there, naked and writhing in
ecstasy on the ground. I shrank back into the shadows. I had no intention
of disturbing them and was just about to creep silently away when one of
the figures raised his head, muscles tensed in the grips of climax.

I gasped. Despite the passage of years there was no mistaking that face. I
found myself staring into black eyes, filled with indescribable joy.

As I walked away I finally knew the answer to the question which had been
tormenting me all these years.

The two men, engrossed in each other's bodies, didn't see me leave.
 
© Lynne den Hartog 2000
 

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