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Return to Sender

I was working with headphones on, because without music there'd be coworkers and reality and all that horsecrap. When my radio played Elvis Presley's "Return to Sender" from the ‘60s, I reached to turn it off or change the station, but — no, I deserved this. It was my punishment.

Flashback. I was about 20 years old, and a complete dweeb. I’d never had a genuine girlfriend, but I’d gone out with Cathy, four times. Hamburgers and movies, mostly. We hadn’t pronounced ourselves a couple, and we hadn’t done anything more than kissing and some slight petting, but I liked her, and the feeling was mutual — more than mutual, I guess.

Where we'd gone I can't remember, but we’d come back to her apartment, and the radio was playing in the background, and that song came on. It was already a golden oldie, and Cathy said, “Oh, I love this song!” She sang the first line, and we kicked off our shoes and danced in our socks on her living room floor. It was sweet and so was she. Five minutes later, we were sitting on the couch. Five minutes after that, we were over.

I was scared shitless when she sat me on the couch after Elvis, and started talking about love and marriage — loving me, and marrying me. I stuttered and stammered in response, ended the evening as quick as I could, and then I hot-potatoed her. I stopped calling, didn't return her calls, and dropped her without a word. It probably broke her heart, a severe penalty for liking me more than I wanted to be liked.

Cathy phoned the next day, and I let it ring until the answering machine clicked on. She left a message, beginning with giggles and saying, “I hope I didn’t scare you away,” before saying more of the stuff that had scared me away the night before.

I didn’t pick up the phone. After she’d finished I turned the answering machine off. For a week I didn’t answer the phone at all. What an asshole I was.

Like a stupid, stupid little boy, I was scared, so I hid. That's a fact, but not an excuse — there is no excuse. She wanted to be Mrs Me, but I didn’t even want to be me, and I sure as hell didn't want someone seriously with me.

When I’d thought it over and wanted to explain and apologize, it was too late. Cathy's phone didn’t answer, just like mine. I called again, but not often, and never got through. On my fifth or sixth attempt, a few months later, I heard, “We’re sorry, the number you have dialed has been disconnected.”

My conscience still shouted about it sometimes, so one afternoon a year later I opened the phone book. Cathy’s last name was very common and there were about twenty of 'her' listed. I called all those Cathys, but none of them was her, or if one of them was her, she (understandably) didn't want to talk to me. There was almost a full column of listings in the book with the initial 'C' and her last name, and one of those C’s might have been Cathy, but I gave up.

There aren't many things I've done that I'm out-and-out ashamed of, but vanishing on Cathy is near the top of the list. I wouldn’t do that again, and I'll never have the chance. Nobody's ever fallen for me like she did, and nobody ever will.

I hate that song, “Return to Sender.” The lyrics tell a sad and cruel story, set to chipper, upbeat music you could dance to, and we did. It was months later when it dawned on me, in a Twilight Zone moment, that what I’d done to Cathy — dumping her without a word of explanation — is almost exactly what the song is about. Only difference is, I didn’t do it by mail.

Every time I hear that Elvis song, I will always remember and regret what an ass I was, to someone who didn’t deserve it. There's nowhere else to say it, so I'll say it here, where of course she'll never see it: I am sorry, Cathy.

From Pathetic Life #2
Wednesday, July 27, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

 

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