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Dear John,

It’s been about ten years, at least, since the last time I talked to you or even heard a peep out of you, and even longer since I’ve seen you. Thought since we’re coming to the end of another year, it would be a good time to check in and let you know how I’m doing. Of course, you can probably guess what brought this on.

There I was, minding my own business in the juice aisle of the grocery, trying to figure out which of the 87 varieties of cranberry juice was the most cost-effective and urinary-tract-infection-preventative permutation. Ocean Spray? House brand? Traditional? Cocktail? That’s when it tapped me on the shoulder as it wafted out of the Muzak.

"…and the moon and the stars are the same ones you see.
It’s the same old sun up in the sky,
And your voice in my ear is like heaven to me,
Just like the breezes here in old Shanghai."

Shit. One of my favorite songs from the one and only John Denver album I’ve ever owned. The one he put out right after he split up with Annie. The one you played for me the year I was a senior and you were in your first year of grad school. Why do I always have to hear this in the middle of the grocery?

As if that weren’t enough, the very next damn song was a Fogelberg.

"Lucky at love, well maybe so.
There’s still a lot of things you’ll never know,
Like why each time the sky begins to snow,
You cry…"

You know what’s the worst thing about getting emotionally involved with a guitar player? You never end up with just one "our song," the one that later constantly stalks you. The one that appears out of nowhere in the elevator, rips your ribcage open and clamps onto your heart with a vise grip. No, when you fall for a guitar player, who then actually lets you sing with him for a while, you end up with a whole jukebox full of the damn things.

A smattering of Denver. Most of the Fogelberg catalogue. A goodly portion of early Neil Young. (I gotta hand it to you, John – you sure as hell sang ‘em better than Neil did!) I can’t get away from them.

"Still I wish you’d change your mind if I asked you one more time,
But we’ve been through that a hundred times or more…"

So anyway, I just thought I’d write to let you know – not to rub it in or anything, but I went and married me a REAL guitar player. I’ve always said that every woman should have at least one guitar player some time in her life. I’ve had two, and THIS one is for keeps.

Sorry about the implication that you’re not a real guitar player, but you must admit, in all the time I knew you, you never so much as took your precious Guild acoustic (what did you call "her?" "Sarah?") out of the living room of the dorm. You never even got up to play at an Open Mic Night in the student union. Just you and me in front of the fireplace, in the side lounge off the main lobby, into the wee hours of the morning…

My NEW guitar player started playing out in clubs at the tender age of thirteen. He was filling in for his guitar instructor while the instructor was off pulling weekend National Guard duty, back in the mid-‘60s. His mom had to drive him to the gig, which was at a club on the not-so-savory side of St. Louis. His job was to play rhythm guitar for a local R&B band called The Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

Do you know what happens to an adolescent boy who spends an evening on stage standing BEHIND Tina Turner? I’m still reaping the benefits of that experience of his. (Actually, he claims he just spent the evening terrified that Ike would kill him if he screwed up.)

So, you’re no doubt asking, if he’s such a great guitar player, how come I’ve never heard of him? Well, he DID eventually go to New York to audition for a record company, and they DID offer him what they said was the standard music industry contract. He read it over the phone to his uncle, the attorney. They figured out that the more records he sold, the more money he would end up owing the record company. He said no, thank you. Clive Davis told him he was a smart kid. (He’s had many other brushes with famous figures in the music biz, but you wouldn’t believe me if I told you half of them. My husband – the musical Forrest Gump.)

Then there was his real dream job, at the recording studio in Chicago. He lost that gig because of his drinking – the drinking that eventually left him living under a highway overpass. His family rescued him and "poured him into the hospital" back home in St. Louis. It took him two tries to get through rehab and get it right, and after the second stint they gave him a job there as an orderly to keep an eye on him. Geez, it’s straight out of "How to Succeed in Business…" – he worked his way up until he was (temporarily) running the place. He missed counseling drunks, and he hated the administrative bullshit, so very soon he got out of the business entirely. He’s been sober 26 years now.

Of course, he got married (not to me yet) way too soon after sobering up. That wife eventually insisted they move to Ohio to be near her aging parents. He went to work for his brother-in-law as a real estate appraiser, or, as he likes to call it, a "real estate novelist." They built their dream house, complete with a home recording studio. Then she dumped him and took off with their son to California. (He’d even quit smoking until that happened. Oh, well.) Had to sell the house as part of the divorce settlement. I always figure that if she didn’t drive him back to drink, he’s probably pretty well out of the woods.

It all worked out for the best, though. If he hadn’t gotten stranded in Ohio, he never would have found me.

I was freshly divorced (Did you ever even meet my first husband? I don’t think so.) and getting confirmation of the truism I’d first suspected in college: Dating sucks. I’d just had my heart broken again, this time by a cuckolded husband who’d been separated (I thought sure he was fair game) but who ran back to his philandering wife like a shot as soon as she kicked her boyfriend out of their house. What the hell – I couldn’t compete with her: she was (flip hair, sigh deeply, and gaze soulfully into the distance) a poet.

The friend who’d introduced me to the cuckolded husband felt kinda bad about how it had all turned out. She thought the least she could do was hook me up with a potential Rebound Man. He was a friend of hers – a guitar player, and his bar band was playing soon in a nearby town, she said. I should go check them out to cheer myself up. She gave me his phone number so I could get directions to the gig. I think it took a couple phone calls of a couple hours each to finally get those directions. We kept talking about all kinds of other stuff.

Tomorrow – New Year’s Eve – is the tenth anniversary of the night we first met, and today is the ninth anniversary of the day we made it legal in the office of the outgoing mayor. (Thought we’d save on our income taxes for the year if we could file as married/joint. HAH! Shows you what WE knew about finances!)

Wouldn’t you know, John, somewhere along the line this guy got the idea into his head that I could sing. (Of course, he’s partial. Completely partial.) He gave me a hand drum for my birthday – a doumbek, the hour-glass shaped Middle Eastern drum. We started playing and singing together, eventually scoring a few bar gigs but mostly just coffeehouse stuff. We do a mix of folk, classic rock, blues, and the occasional quirky country song. For lack of a better pigeonhole, we call our style "bad attitude folk." We’ve hosted our share of Open Mic Nights at a little place in a small town north of here. As a result, we’ve gained a small circle of friends from among the regulars who show up to play. It’s been really cool watching a lot of them evolve from living-room strummers into real performers. We’re proud to be their backup band.

We’ll never make any money doing this. No chance of ever quitting our day jobs! Hell, we can’t even afford to buy a house or a condo because my New Real Guitar Player spends all his disposable income on more guitars. He’s got a couple dozen at the moment – we can’t turn around in the place without tripping over them. Yet somehow, we’re about as happy as clams. At least, I am. And he doesn’t kick me out of bed no matter how often I eat crackers.

When I got home with the groceries yesterday, my New Real Guitar Player helped me put them away. (Finally settled on the house brand, traditional –style cranberry juice. Bad move – tastes more like grape juice. Ick poo.) Then we went straight to bed and had really, really hot sex. Thank you, Tina Turner, wherever you are.

So that’s how I’m doing. How about you? Last I heard, you and your wife were expecting a baby. Was it a boy or a girl? How old is he/she by now? Are you and your wife still together after all these years? Do you still play your guitar in the living room? I don’t recall that your wife sings. Do you have anyone to sing with anymore, or do you just sing alone? You know, you and I came close to it, but we never actually had sex. (I wanted to, but you resisted.) We did, however, sing together. That’s a much deeper connection.

"It's hard to say where love went wrong.
It's hard to say just when.
It's hard to walk away from love -
It may never come again..."

A while back, I Googled your name, along with the name of the city where you were living the last time I talked to you. Unfortunately, your name is just common enough that I can’t tell if any of the results are really you. I don’t really expect we’ll ever run into each other again.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a reminder of the closest thing we probably ever had to an "our song."

"Four strong winds that blow lonely, seven seas that run high.
All those things that don’t change, come what may.
If our good times are all gone, then I’m bound for movin’ on.
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way…"



Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. - Groucho Marx

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The following comments are for "Saw My Old Lover in the Grocery Store"
by LinnieRed

sentimentally fooled
was just talking about the Fogleberg "Auld Lang..." song yesterday. My girlfriend and I have pulled into a friend's driveway, and sat there while the song finished (and our friend's watched from the kitchen window wondering what the hell we were doing).
About your story: I think it works really well as a correlation to the song. There are emotions that the song evokes that one feels are almost to trite or common to feel, but the song still gets you every time. Feelings of love lost, and never going home again hit every, except the most hardened, soul.
I like the way you framed this tale and agian your details are irreplacable. But...if you took a cue from Fogleberg, you might be able to say what you wanted in about half the space. Having said that, I'd be hard pressed to tell you what to take out (but that's your job!) I just think the emotional hit would be harder if it was tightened up.
"And snowed turned into rain..." Sniff.

( Posted by: brad [Member] On: December 31, 2004 )

I absolutely loved this story in its entirety just as is. Sure you could take Brad's advice and tighten it up....but then i think you would lose alot of the narrative that adds so much to this telling tale.
Excellent work, keep it up girl...and i am now going to peruse what else you may have posted here. As i thoroughly enjoy reading you.

( Posted by: CJHerlihy [Member] On: December 31, 2004 )

Guy's take vs. Gals' take re: Old Lover
Thank you all for your kind comments!

Brad, I can't disagree with you about the length. I WAS conscious of that in the home stretch, but I was scratching my head as to where to cut. Part of the prob: Timing (which is, of course, EVERYTHING in this business!) - the grocery store incident really truly did happen on Dec. 29, and I was eager (perhaps too eager) to get the story validated and posted by New Year's Eve, for obvious reasons. After I walk away from it for awhile, I may be better able to see places where I could trim it up. In particular, describing my hubby's convoluted path through life (a book in itself!) I think my Tristram Shandy Syndrome flared up again. Besides, when a chick's talking to The One Who Got Away, she can't help bragging to him ad nauseum about The One Who Didn't! ; )

CJ and D: Glad you liked it as is! Notice the gals don't mind the length, but the guy coulda stood it shorter? Have I accidentally written the literary equivalent of a chick flick/date movie? The gals love wallowing in the sentimentality and having a good cry. The guy likes it - maybe more than he'd admit to another guy - but he's ready for it to be over sooner, 'cause, well, it's got his girlfriend feeling all romantic and he's just itching to ask "Ummmm.... Your place or mine?" as soon as the screen fades to black! ; )

[CJ - Sorry you find much more writing from me yet. Santa only just brought me my "writing voice" for Christmas this year. 'Bout time! I distinctly remember asking for one since I was a little girl! It's either been on back order all this time, or Santa really does know how naughty I've been!]

( Posted by: LinnieRed [Member] On: December 31, 2004 )

What Gets Away
Well, damn, Linnie. For a brand new writers voice that's less than a week old, you've certainly got something really amazing, here. You must have been extraordinarily good this year or is Santa making up for your outrageous Christmas Past?

I'm the odd chick out, I guess, because I do concur with Brad on this. The bragging on the new boyfriend aspect of your story makes up the significant portion of this piece. It's ironic because your Dear John almost becomes the White Elephant, the plot element which is understood best through everything which isn't said directly. He's viewed inversely as what your current boyfriend means to you and in that contrast everything he didn't do for you. I'd honestly be hard pressed to decide whether this works for you or against you. I think it adds a very human element to your story, especially as it's written as a letter; yet there's a part of me which is curious as to the how and why this guy has you protesting so passionately how well you're doing without him ten years later.

"She was (flip hair, sigh deeply, and gaze soulfully into the distance) a poet." Ouch. But Linnie, my passionate poet's heart protests, the exagerrated mythology of poetry is the only real remuneration most poets get in this lifetime. If you don't believe me just count the number of shelving units dedicated to poetry and compare them to the number dedicated strictly to fiction the next time you're at Barnes and Noble. Good grief, even in February maps and calenders get more shelf space than poetry books do.

Obviously, by virtue of the sheer length of my response, I was quite taken with this short story. You have a sharp ear for detail and an excellent story-telling voice -- I'd guess all your years of back-up work has done you well. Hope to see more from you soon. Happy New Year.

( Posted by: hazelfaern [Member] On: December 31, 2004 )

Very informative
Especially from the perspective you present. It was purely entertaining.

( Posted by: brickhouse [Member] On: December 31, 2004 )

Thanks again, Hazel!
Great analysis of the passages about which I WAS most ambivalent - the "New Guitar Player" bits. As I mentioned above, I will try to take another look at that aspect of the piece after I've put it out of my mind for a while. In the meantime, I keep getting other ideas...

I'm really sorry about the "poet" thing! PLEASE don't take it personally! (I have a bad attitude!) That particular poet was, IMHO, trying to exploit her reputation as a "free spirit" and an "arteest" to excuse some really cruel behavior toward others. All will be revealed when I write the sad story of that whole sordid little love quadrangle. (Rubs hands gleefully) In the meantime, getting to know some of the folks here at Lit is giving me a MUCH better experience with poets as neat people! : )

( Posted by: LinnieRed [Member] On: January 1, 2005 )

Saw My Old Lover in the Grocery Store
I'm a tough marker. An eight for you. I couldn't tell if this was a real letter or a story. Slightly ditzy and slightly beautiful. What a treat to read. Thank you!

( Posted by: imagecarver [Member] On: January 4, 2005 )

Verrrry Interesting....
I'm playing catch-up here, after finally finding out what Linniered was doing at her computer for such extended periods. And, I must say, I'm tickled with her work, and impressed, too.

In this instance, it's interesting to see this story from her POV. After all I'm the Musical Forrest Gump with a weakness for guitars who was there for a lot of this. Yes, the writing runs on a bit, but it really has been a delightful and fascinating ten years, with real-life twists and turns that are the stuff that stories are made of.

Two comments: Yes, folks, she really can sing and our voices blend very well together. And any letter I'd write to any of my exes (whether we got legal or not) probably wouldn't be fit for publication :-/

( Posted by: TomTerrific [Member] On: February 14, 2005 )

Dear John: Dan's Dead. How are you?
Dear John,

I just heard on the news that Dan Fogelberg died today - much too young at the age of 56.

Made me think of you again, of course. For all I know, you may be dead too. I hope not, but I imagine I'll never find out.

Hope you're alive and still playing your guitar. I'm still singing with my guitar-player hubby - gigging again on New Year's Eve Eve Eve (AKA Dec. 29th - do the math.) Is Dan still singing and playing his guitar somewhere? We may never find that out either.

Early today, the snow turned into rain.

Merry Christmas.


( Posted by: LinnieRed [Member] On: December 16, 2007 )

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