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140| My Pity-Wanting Pain: A Tonka Tale

Neal Whitman


One day his woman ran off with another guy
Hit young Rocky in the eye . . .

Her name was Magill, and she called heself Lil,
But every knew her as Nancy

Rocky Racoon, lyrics by Paul McCartney

Call me Rocky. In my tale, let’s call her Nancy. She did not run off with another guy, but she ran from me. Like the lover in Sonnet 140, I was a testy sick young man. This is high school. Framingham High School, Class of 1965. I am a love-sick boy in his senior year. She is a junior, slated to be yearbook editor and a National Merit Scholar – in many ways too good for me.­ She also is, as all the boys would say, “built.” And, she is cruel. She runs hot and cold. I never know what to expect on a Saturday night: slow dancing to The Greatest Hits of Johnny Mathis in front of her living room fireplace or her tirade that, “Men are cruel, mean, rotten and savage.”

When I leave for college, 90 miles west at the University of Massachusetts, I tell her I will write . . . and I do . . . but she does not reply. I tell college friends that I left a witch behind.

Fall semester, 1969: I am a first-year graduate student at the University of Michigan. In my postal box a letter from . . . Nancy. She tracked me down. Nancy had been packing up her old bedroom in Framingham where she found a condolence letter I sent when her Dad died in 1966. Now she wonders how I am doing.

How am I doing? That boy in high school, a mediocrity (and short, to boot), got his growth spurt in college and grew into a Big Man on Campus. This is before the invention of e-mail. We exchange two or three postal letters a week and make plans to spend New Year’s Eve together in Boston.

As I wait to see Nancy, I think back five years to the madness of our courtship. Though it was torture not to ask about the past, I hold back because I am playing the long game. What if this is meant to be the Love of my Life? Would my obsession with the past wreck any possibility of a future together? So, I choose to speak only in the present tense. And I get the worst of both worlds. My desire to learn what our high school romance was all about is thwarted and, by the end of the week, I am bored, bored, bored with Nancy. I cannot wait to get back to Ann Arbor.

on the Self-Help shelf,
next to Dating for Dummies,
Dating Old Photographs
I put it back in Antiques
and move on to Poetry

Neal Whitman took up writing general poetry in 2005 with now over 200 poems published and haiku in 2008 with over 400 in publication. He and his wife, Elaine, combine his poetry with her Native American flute in recital.

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