You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling
“I love you.” Three simple words that can pop the bubble wrap around a heart, words that dreams are built upon, for which you might do stupid things to hear. Words that prove you're not alone. In the case of Dan, I can’t recall if we ever actually exchanged those words, but I know I felt it. Mad, crazy love. Re-route your path around campus for a glimpse kinda love. And I think he felt it too. For a time.
But I should have known what was coming when I walked to Dan’s dorm room the night before school closed for Christmas break carrying his present wrapped in green foil paper and tied with a silver bow. We both had exams the next morning, but we’d planned a romantic pre-holiday dinner. I’d been thinking about our date for days, what I’d wear, where we might go, the sex afterwards. I’d planned my study schedule to ensure I was prepped for my final final well in advance. I wanted to be fully present for my present. To me, no test was as important as the last night the two of us would be together for three whole weeks.
Dan had Paul Newman eyes, exotic Northeast sensibilities, a love of sports and a way with words. He told me once that he loved girls in pink and the scent of Obsession perfume drove him crazy. He wrote a sports column for the college paper and I spent hours studying the rosters of his hometown teams so I could chime in when we watched football on Sundays at his fraternity house. “Jim Kelly hasn’t thrown like that since he was MVP in the Peach Bowl for Miami!” I’d casually throw into the conversation as I reached for a Dorito.
But that morning, Dan pushed our time back. Then he called a couple hours later to say he didn’t think dinner would work after all. “Maybe we can just exchange gifts after the holidays?” he said a little too casually, as if the last three months weren’t the best months of his life. Well, I couldn’t have that. “How about I come over?” I suggested brightly, “I really want you to have your gift before you leave!” And that was true. I needed for him to have the carefully framed collage of photos of us together so he could share our love with his family back in New York. There were images of us with our faces painted at the Duke football game, smiling arm in arm under the dome of the Old Well, and toasting at a table at Spanky’s. I wanted to make sure he remembered that I was one of the best things about fall semester and would be the best thing about coming back in 1988.
So I showed up at his dorm wearing my newest pink-striped sweater and a solid spritz of Obsession. Our hug was, well, not as affectionate as I might have liked. We sat on his twin mattress and I handed him his gift. He opened and it and put it on his desk. “You could bring it home,” I suggested, “In case you miss me.”
“Ok,” he said rather flatly as he handed me my gift in an equally flat paper bag. “Sorry, I didn’t have time to wrap it.” Clearly, it was a book. And when I opened it, I found a thin paperback with a pastel cover, a book of mediocre poems edited by Susan Polis Schultz. The kind of book you’d find at a car wash. “Don’t Ever Give Up On Your Dreams.”
“Thank you,” I said feigning appreciation as my heart sank. My dream was Dan. His gift didn’t mirror of my feelings. This was not Wordsworth, Neruda or Keats. These were not love poems to span the ages. And it was clear we would not be curling up on his bed to read them together that night.
Dan needed to get back to studying, he said, and before I knew it, I was walking back to my dorm alone on a cold dark night, carrying only a sliver of hope in that sliver of a book in a brown paper bag. When I got home, I found the receipt from the drug store on Franklin Street. Not the bookstore. The drug store. $3. Purchased around the time we were supposed to be on our dinner date.
Christmas of 1987 was miserable. I spent most of my time staring at the phone, picking up the receiver periodically to see if it was still working. But Dan never called. A week went by. I baked cookies, sang carols, wrapped presents, played in the dusting of snow with my sisters, but I never strayed too far from the phone, just in case it rang and it was Dan.
Christmas Eve came and went. I played with my sisters and their new American Girl dolls and sullenly listened to my new Hysteria and Joshua Tree cassettes on my Sanyo Walkman from Santa as the hours of Christmas day ticked by. Finally, I decided, it’s a holiday and therefore totally appropriate and not at all needy for me to call Dan.
Heart pounding and hopeful that it was just that he was busy, what with a big Catholic family he’d not seen since August, I dialed slowly, willing Dan to answer. But a woman’s voice came on the line, “Merry Christmas!” she said brightly. There were voices in the background.
“May I please speak to Dan?”
“Oh honey, he stepped out for a bit, may I give him a message?”
“Sure,” I tried to sound cheerful, “Just tell him Suzanne from Carolina called.” I hoped my name would sound familiar and perhaps this person who was likely his mother would say, “Oh! Suzanne! He can’t stop talking about you.” But there was no familiarity at all. “Ok, will do. You have a nice evening, now.” And the conversation was over. And Dan didn’t call back.
Three days went by before I heard from Dan. Yes, the holidays were nice and yes, he’d been really busy with his High School friends and extended family and short trips into the city and how was I? Of course I didn’t share that I was miserable, that I missed him desperately because I didn’t want to seem desperate. So I feigned equivalent busy-ness and casually suggested we get together as soon as we’re back at school and exactly when would that be for him?
So we made a plan. My spirits lifted as I imagined seeing him mere hours after my return to campus in less than a week. I had renewed energy as I reconnected with my High School friends for New Years Eve. “Yeah, I have a boyfriend. He lives out of state.” I shared with feigned confidence.
But then, it was the first week of January and there I was back in my dorm room waiting. Dan was late and hadn’t called. I finally reached him and he said he was heading over now. I fluffed up my hair and spritzed a little extra Obsession and there was a knock and there was Dan, handsome as ever…and backed by three of his fraternity brothers. Before I could say anything Dan filled in the space with, “The guys wanted to join us. I told them you wouldn’t mind.” He’d brought back up! I did mind. I didn’t say anything, though. I grabbed my coat and we all walked together to Four Corners, my favorite bar across from campus.
There I sat in the booth trying to catch Dan’s eyes with an occasional witty remark, but he was focused on his friends. I slipped away from the table and grabbed a bar stool where I knew I’d get attention from a bartender friend whom I’d known a lot longer than Dan. An hour went by and the bar was packed. Dan never left his booth. He may not have even noticed I was gone. After a while, I caught a glimpse of him at the far end of the bar, my friend filling his pitcher. The jukebox was blaring George Michael’s Faith and a dance floor bloomed between bar stools. I squeezed my way through the masses and tapped Dan on the shoulder. “I think we need to talk,” I said, “Can we go outside?” “I don’t want to leave my friends,” he said, “But I need to tell you that I got back together with my high school girlfriend when I was home, so I don’t think this is going to work.” This? What me? Us? We’re a “this?” And Dan walked off with his pitcher of beer as tears filled my eyes. The jukebox was playing “You’ve Lost that Lovin' Feeling.” And I wanted to be gone. Gone. Gone. Whoa-ah.
My friend, came from behind the bar “What happened?” he asked. I was only partly through my answer when he said “That is NOT cool.” He marched over to Dan’s table and told him to leave and never come back. Dan was not yet 21. He only got in because he was with me.
My heart was broken but I felt loved as my bartender buddy wrapped me in a bear hug and I watched Dan walk away through the window. Alone.
As shared at Story Salon on December 7, 2022.