I have a story to tell that makes me sad to my core and I don't know what to do with the feelings. It starts in September,1973 when I was in graduate school at Wichita State University, where I had the unusually named major, Logopedics. I was a Jewish girl from the Metropolitan New York City area and interestingly enough, I wound up doing my graduate work smack in the middle of the middle of the country. I liked it. I liked being different, feeling unique. I liked having a different accent than most of the other people around me and that people noticed my accent. I liked having done my undergraduate work at an Eastern School, where most of the other students had done theirs in the Mid-West. I even liked being Jewish in an environment where Catholicism was out of the ordinary; so being Jewish was akin to being a Martian. Who would not be interested in a Martian in their midst. This meant I would be noticed, maybe even really seen for who I am.

As an undergraduate, at Syracuse University, I had a few major unrequited crushes. By crushes, I mean that I obsessed over these guys, but never spoke to them. They had no idea who I was. I guess I had my share of dates and perhaps a few so called boy friends, but I had not had a truly significant relationship. At WSU, there were actually a few guys in my department, which was and continues to be quite unusual in the field of Speech Pathology. One of them was Michael. I remember our phone conversations. I was living in an on campus apartment in which I had my own bedroom and shared a kitchen. My apartment-mate (from the other side of the kitchen) was nice enough, but during one of our very first conversations, she described to me a shopping excursion she'd recently had, where she'd done her best to "jew down" the proprietor. She had no sense that she said something that might offend me, but I guess my expression suggested otherwise. I did my best to educate her, but at the same time, realized that we were not apt to be close friends.
I mention this because my telephone conversations were in the shared kitchen, being that this is where the telephone was and in 1974 not only did we not have cell phones, I did not even have my own private phone. Fortunately, the apartment-mate and I gave one another space and privacy.

I remember those phone conversations with Michael feeling very private, very sassy and very, very satisfying. Michael had a way with words and our conversations often felt more like repartee from a well written play than ordinary chatting. It was verbal banter, not verbal babbling. It was exactly what most turned me on in relating to a man and this man had it. He was witty and intelligent and warm and I really liked him. It was a mutual feeling, but unfortunately it was an unbalanced mutual feeling. He had another woman in his life (why do I still remember her name...Wanda?). That, at least was part of it. What the rest of it was, I can't really say. It was just one of those things. I left Wichita, Kansas in December of 1974 and started my first job in Providence, RI in January of 1975. I'd love to say I never looked back, but the truth is that I never really stopped.

I think I remember receiving a few phone calls from Michael while I lived in Providence, but I do not remember anything specific about them. I left my job in Providence after two and a half years and went to Israel to study at an ulpan, work and, as it turned out, to meet my future husband. He and I returned to NJ to get married and for a few months I was still receiving mail at my family home. I remember going to the mailbox one day and finding a letter from Oklahoma. I knew immediately who it must be from and I was right. It was a funny card from Michael and all I remember of what he'd written was something about my shiteating grin (not exactly a love letter, which was probably for the best since I was married). Still, I would be telling a lie if I didn't say it was a thrill receiving the card.

Fast forward about 16 years. I had now and again done searches on the Internet for Michael, but always came up short of finding him. Then in 1995, on April 19, came the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. It was horrifying and profoundly disturbing news, and though I grieved for all of the Oklahomans, my thoughts and concern were never far from Michael. Then four years later, on May 3,1999, after the tornadoes hit Oklahoma City and the surrounding area, I was besides myself wondering how these disasters may have affected him and his family. I had his parent's address in Oklahoma City and I wrote them a letter of concern, explaining who I was and asking for news. Shortly afterwards, I received a letter from his mother with explanations of both tragedies and how it all affected them, their neighbors and family She also sent several pictures of the destruction after the tornadoes. She gave me Michael's address in Edmond, Oklahoma and of course, I wrote him, but received no reply.

In the past ten years I have thought of Michael now and again and looked for him here and there, on yahoo, google, facebook and most recently on Twitter, always to no avail. Last Sunday, Mother's Day, when I returned home from our family festivities, it occurred to me to do a search for several long lost friends, including Michael. So I googled Oklahoma and Michael Knol (remembering to type one, not two l's, as he had made a point to inform me that the spelling of his name was Knol not Knoll), and to my surprise, no, shock, several hits came up. including the following...
Putnam City teacher still missing: Police report says door to home was wide open. John Michael Knol, 59, was first reported missing Monday when he didn't show up to work at Putnam City High School, police Master Sgt. Gary Knight said. He was last seen at a school gathering Friday morning.

I knew Michael as just Michael, but I also remembered his father's name was John, so it was apparent to me that this might be him. His age, 59, was another give away since that is my age (in October) Then when I looked at the picture that accompanied the article, I was certain beyond any reasonable doubt that the Michael I had known so many years ago and for whom I had carried a torch all this time, was the same Michael in the article. I soon found another article declaring that the missing Putnam city man was found dead in the woods near his home. The likely explanation was that Michael had gone out to search for one of his dogs that had gotten free. He apparently died of a heart attack.

What does one do with this knowledge? With the exception of a few friends who I knew from my WSU days, who know about my friendship with Michael, there is no one currently in my life who shares this grief. Having read as much as I could find online, it seems apparent that Michael's parents are no longer alive and that he left behind two sisters. I guess in my hear of heart, it is with the sisters that I wish I could communicate. I am not looking for comfort (though that would be appreciated), but more so the opportunity to share the grief and to connect with someone who was connected with Michael. I understand that my carrying the torch for him all those years served no useful purpose and I know that though I'm sure Michael had some fond memories of me, I was not a part of his life and that was the way he wanted it. But knowing this does not help me to hurt less My memory of him was real and alive and I really did think that somehow, somewhere our paths would once again cross and intersect. Like Michael, that hope is now also dead.


Nancy said...

Thanks for this post!! I can so relate with it!!

All my best wishes!!

This is Nancy from Israeli Uncensored News

Anonymous said...

There are those we freeze in time and carry in our hearts, loving not just them, but who we were when we knew them. I recently found one of my college crushes and was faced with the reality that I had no interest in this middle aged man. The man I had the crush on was 23 and I was 22 anytime he popped up into my heart.

The good news is that you can keep the young Michael forever. I'm sorry the older Michael did not survive or write you back. I understand your grief, having lost several people from my own college years in the 80's. Death is ruthless and random and sometimes almost too much to bear.

I send you my love and share with you the part of my heart that loves "way back when..."


Sherril said...

Thanks, Diane. Even at the time, the feelings were not exactly mutual. He had a Christian girlfriend from his part of the country. The strange thing that I know now is that Michael not only never married, but it looks like he lived a life alone in a way. I so wonder what was happening for him in those many years. My heart still aches even when I write this.


Rob F. said...

Sherril, I'm going through the same thing right now. My story reads almost exactly like yours. It's been 40 years. I connected with her last year. She now has cancer and may be terminal. I open my email software with dread.

Rob F.

Sherril said...

As much as it always feels good to know that others can really relate to one's situation, I am so sorry that you are feeling that dread. Perhaps if you call her and talk more to one another, it will better prepare you for her passing. Having never had the chance to reconnect with Michael was part of what was so hard in hearing of his death. Sigh. The sadness floods me once again.