When Somebody Loved Me
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I was listening to Sarah McLachlan's "When Somebody Loved Me."
Then, I thought, "Hmmm... Not only could this apply to old toys and their owners who grew up and forgot them... This could also apply to childhood friends who drifted apart!"
And just like that, I was writing this.
The scene at the very end where Emmylou gives Sam back the ring he gave her when they were children was inspired by Andrew Lloyd Webber's brilliant "Phantom of the Opera" where Christine gives Erik back the ring. The inspiration for Sam's editor Mr. McCain was my editor at the college newspaper, Mr. McKean. And all of the kids in my story were inspired by my childhood friends.
When somebody loved me, everything was beautiful
Every hour we spent together, lives within my heart
And when she was sad, I was there to dry her tears
And when she was happy, so was I, when she loved me.
Hello. My name is Sam. And this is my story. A story of love. A story of friendship found and lost. When I was eight, my family and I moved from our NYC home to a nice little neighborhood in Vermont. I felt I was alone. Sad. I missed the friends I had made in New York. We had been friends since we were in our cribs and playpens. That is until I met Emmylou Hamilton, her brother Jacob, and their friends. Then everything was beautiful again. But the most beautiful of them was my Emmylou.
I met her in the schoolyard during recess, one day. I was there, sitting on the swing, not in the mood to join any of the games the other kids were playing. The next thing I knew, Emmylou was approaching me.
"Hi! My name's Emmylou," she said, smiling, tucking a stray strand of her blond hair behind her ears. "What's yours?"
"Sam," I said, smiling back. I was drawn to her by her cuteness. Her dimples, her blushing cheeks. "I haven't seen you before."
"My brother and I always sit in the back of the class," she said, smiling, showing a beautiful set of milk teeth (beautiful in a childish way, of course—I thought it was cute at the time). "You should meet him."
"Awesome!" I said, giving her a high five. So started a beautiful friendship that lasted for six years. That day, I met her brother Jacob, their friend Will and his brother Sebastian, Joey Singh and his brother Stefan and their sister Eunice.
The following week, Jacob and Emmylou moved from the back to the front. I told them I had a hard time seeing because I was the shortest kid in the class and because of my eyes (I wore glasses—still do). Then we started sitting together at lunch. Our friendship grew, until finally, I developed a crush on her. I cherished every moment I spent with her, and it's all here in my heart—where they live.
At age nine, we were glued together at the hip. It was at age nine that tragedy struck. It was at age nine that I discovered I loved her. We were sitting on the steps of her front porch, anxiously waiting for news of "Panda", the missing family dog. But she called him "her dog."
Her head was down, buried in her folded arms. I was comforting her as best I could. We both looked up when we heard their white picket fence gate creak. My heart sank with hers as we watched her parents walk up to us with a slow, sad gait. I knew it was bad news and I gripped her hand—tight.
"Honey," her mom said, kneeling in front of her and cupping her face. "Honey, I have to tell you something."
At that moment, her lips and chin began to quiver and I saw her eyes water. Tears were threatening to spill over. She knew what her mother would tell her.
"No!" she wailed, prying her mom's hand from her face and trying to break free from my grip. "NO!"
"We found Panda," her dad said, head bowed.
"No!" she screamed, the tears that threatened to fall awhile ago finally spilling from her eyes and down her alabaster cheeks.
"We don't know how to tell you this—"
"NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!" she said, finally breaking free of my hand, and running into the house, up the stairs, and into her room. A few seconds later, I heard her door slam shut. I turned to Mrs. Hamilton.
"I'll talk to her," I said, sighing.
I went inside, up the stairs, until I reached the door to her room. I knocked. No answer. But I heard sobbing. I opened the door and entered without her permission. I sat down on the edge of her bed and my tears fell.
"I'm sorry," I said, sniffling. She sat up and buried her face in my shoulder, sobbing. I pulled away briefly and lifted her face with my index and middle fingers. Then I wiped the fresh tears that fell with my thumb. Then I kissed her cheek.
"Thank you," she said, smiling. "For being here."
"Let's go," I said, taking her hand. "We'll be having luncheon after the funeral."
"We could bake cookies," she said, smiling. Nothing ever came of baking those cookies. We ended up on the kitchen floor, laughing, flour, sugar, chocolate chips, and dough all over the place. We had a food fight using the ingredients. She was happy. I was happy.
She loved me. I know that. It was Valentine's Day. Every year since we were eight, we've exchanged valentines. But one particular year (we were 10), I didn't give her a valentine in return. I returned her valentine to her. It was a beautiful card with candy hearts that said, "Be My Valentine." She almost cried when I handed it back to her. She was crestfallen. It reminded me of the day her dog Panda died—and I was about to repent of my tactics. But then she smiled when a plastic ring fell from inside the card as she was putting it away. I picked it up and told her to open the card. Inside, I wrote, "Marry Me?"
"Yes," she said, smiling, as I put the toy ring on her finger. We were "married" under the oak tree in the front yard of their house. We carved our names on the tree after the ceremony, carving two intertwining hearts around them and the date of our "wedding."
One time, when our families (us, the Hamiltons, the Singhs, and the Larsons) went camping, I got up earlier than the others and went out to look for Emmylou. I found her sitting on a log, pulling the petals of a daisy out and saying, "He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me…"
I smiled and sat down beside her. Immediately, she threw the daisy away and tried to act like she was doing nothing. Of course, I knew just what she was doing.
"What are you doing?" I asked, smiling, prodding her.
"Nothing!" she said, defensively. "None of your beeswax." Then she giggled and I laughed. Then she giggled again. And again. And again. Until that giggle turned into a laugh and we were rolling on the grass, laughing. Stefan came out of his and Joe's tent and told us to quiet down. Then I heard him gasp. What we heard next made us both blush and I could feel my face heating up.
"Sammy and Emmy, sittin' in a tree! K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Emmy with a baby carriage!" he teased.
"Shut up!" Emmy shouted and threw a twig at Stefan, which he dodged. But the way she blushed and smiled sheepishly made me smile. It let me know that she loved me.
Through the summer and the fall, we had each other, that was all
Just she and I together, like it was meant to be
And when she was lonely, I was there to comfort her
And I knew that she loved me.
We saw each other every day at school, but summer was what we looked forward to the most. Summer meant more time with friends like Will and Sebby, Jacob, Joey and Stefan. But most especially, it meant more time with Emmylou. We would spend our summer days looking at clouds, trying to see what shapes we could find. Sometimes we'd spend it in the park, chasing each other. Sometimes in the backyard of our house. Sometimes we would spend hours and hours inside the Hamilton Treehouse, which we nicknamed Musketeer Headquarters. The Singhs copied the Hamiltons when they heard they had built a treehouse. Theirs was the room on their loft, with a sign "VIP ONLY" in big, black, bold letters. There was a list of VIPs too. Of course, I and the Hamiltons were members. But I digress. Back to Emmylou and me. At night, we would be on the roof, talking or trying to identify constellations. Sometimes, we would just sit together, under the tree where we got "married," doing nothing. Saying nothing. We just held each other when we had nothing to say. And for the longest time, I thought it was meant to be. Even our parents said we were good together.
Fall was the same. We'd roll around among the leaves any chance we got. Then came Halloween. It was her favorite time of the year. Dress up. One Halloween, we dressed as a king and a queen. Another time, we dressed as Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Thanksgiving was my favorite though. We always had Thanksgiving dinner at the Hamiltons. We were like family to them. My dad would always say he was thankful for friends like the Hamiltons, to which I would add, "And for friends like Emmylou."
I'd watch her blush.
There were times in our childhood when she would just feel like she was alone. I let her know she wasn't. I would always remind her of our "wedding" under the tree, the names, hearts, and date we carved… The valentine I returned to her… She would stare at the ring lovingly, smile, and hug me.
I knew she loved me then.
So the years went by, I stayed the same
And she began to drift away, I was left alone
Still I waited for the day, when she'd say, "I will always love you."
I wish everything in our past was happy. I wish it could last forever and we could remain kids. But adolescence came and Emmylou grew up. I didn't. The change happened when we transitioned from 12-year-olds to teenagers. By 13, she had already made new friends and was putting on makeup. She flirted with other boys. And every time I reminded her of the vows we shared under the oak tree as innocent children, she would brush me off and call it a silly childhood fantasy. Nothing more. I was hurt. I felt as alone as when I started out here in Vermont. It felt like I was eight again. I guess she hated the way I was still up to my old, childish antics.
Still, I waited for the day when she would come back to me and tell me she never meant it. That she would always love me. That day never came. We turned 14, and she moved away. Her dad got a new job in Minnesota and they were to live in their ancestral home. We were ripped apart. We had been glued together for so long; it was like gluing a saltshaker and peppershaker together, letting the glue set, and leaving it like that for six years. Then one day, someone decides to pull the two apart. What would happen? Of course, the containers would break, that's what! I was shattered. Shattered like that saltshaker. The day they left for Minnesota, I could see she was shattered too. I saw it in her eyes. But she tried to hide it. I knew she was shattered like that peppershaker. But she wouldn't admit it and left, leaving me in tears and alone.
We all drifted apart after that. Will and Sebastian didn't hang out with me as much as they used to. The Singhs removed the "VIP ONLY" sign from the door of their loft room. The list was gone now too. Joe reasoned it was time to move on. The Larsons stuck around until our sophomore year of high school (Seb was a freshman; Will was a sophomore like me). So did the Singhs. But somehow, we just didn't seem to talk anymore.
I was left alone.
One day, in my last year of high school, I received an email asking me if I could fly to Modesto (where the Larsons had moved). Sebastian had died of leukemia. Now I felt more alone than ever. I was devastated. I talked to every teacher I had and told them I was going to be absent for a few days. I flew over there with my parents, and I met Emmylou at the funeral. I thought we could comfort each other but she just gave me the cold shoulder. As if I wasn't there at all. It hurt. I guess she thought I was still the same immature little twit. Maybe I was. Our eyes met once, then that was it. She kept dodging me the whole time.
Lonely and forgotten, never thought she'd look my way,
She smiled at me and held me, just like she used to do,
Like she loved me, when she loved me
8 Years Later…
At 25, I was one of the youngest reporters in the L.A. Times. I was a rookie. But my editor was confident I could bring him a story. And I did. They called it "The Sacramento Scandal." Chief McCain said it was our local version of Watergate. And it was important that I finish what I started. And because I was quite young, according to Mr. McCain, I could do it. I was subjected to sleepless nights and caffeine-induced highs. I worked my fingers to the bone. It came to a point where I would walk tipsily like a drunken man. I almost got arrested once. They thought I was drunk or on drugs or something. And so it was that my dependence on coffee grew.
One day, as I was waiting for my order at Starbucks, I heard someone call my name.
"Sam!" came a familiar voice from behind me. "Sammy!"
I smiled but tried to hide it. Then I turned and looked at her, feigning confusion.
"Who are you again?" I said, scratching my head. "I don't believe we've met."
She punched my shoulder. "What! You don't recognize old friends?"
Of course, I did. It was just payback for what she did to me when we met again eight years earlier. But I was happy to see her.
"Remind me again," I said, scrunching my forehead in mock confusion.
"Remember? Second grade? In the schoolyard?" she said, smiling. I remember that smile. Though, of course, now, they were solid, permanent teeth. "Remember our first kiss under the tree? Our 'wedding'? The hearts and our initials?"
I saw a pained expression in her eyes.
"Emmylou?" I shouted, laughing. "Emmylou? Is that you?"
She laughed too, and hugged me. Tight. Her laughter was like music to my ears. Music I hadn't heard in a long time. Her touch was heaven. It felt as if we were children again. Under the oak tree. Sharing our first kiss. Rolling in the grass and among the fallen leaves. Looking up at the night sky.
It was as if she loved me again.
"How've you been?" she said, giggling. "It's been a long time."
But before I could reply, we were briefly interrupted by the barista. My latte was ready. I picked it up, blew on it a few times, and took a sip. Then we resumed our conversation. I sat down at her table and tucked my pad into my pocket. I didn't need it. What I needed at the moment was Emmylou's company. We talked a lot, catching up on things. She told me that her brother Jacob was now a banker, Will was a preacher in Chicago (we all thought he would be in the Navy like his dad), and the Singhs were back in India.
"How 'bout you?" I asked. "What have you been up to?"
"I just recently graduated. Got my degree," she said, smiling proudly. She was always proud of her accomplishments. Typical Emmylou.
"Oh, yeah?" I said, smiling back, "Congratulations! What's your major?"
"Intercultural Studies," she said, nodding.
"Interesting," I said, genuinely pleased and happy for her. She was always into that. "I hope you excel in your field."
"Oh, you bet I will," she said, smirking.
Our party was cut short, however. I saw the door open and saw a man heading our way. He looked suspiciously at me.
"Babe?" the man said, standing behind Emmylou. "Who's this?"
"Oh, this is my childhood friend, Sam," she said, motioning with her hand towards me. Childhood friend. The words stung. We were childhood sweethearts. "Sam, this is my fiancé, Andrew."
"Pleased to meet you," I said, extending my hand. He took it, but his attitude towards me was cold.
"Pleasure's all mine," he said, insincerely.
"You never mentioned you were engaged," I turned to Emmylou, raising an eyebrow. Final Lair from Webber's Phantom of the Opera was playing in my head.
"I would've said so had we not been interrupted," she said, flashing me her "I'm-getting-snarky" smile. "Besides, haven't you noticed the ring on my finger?"
I looked at it. So that was the reason why it looked like it hurt her to mention our little mock wedding when we were kids. I must've seen it earlier but I wasn't paying attention (good job for a journalist there!). My heart broke. In my mind, I saw a painting of that moment under the oak, and dozens of other paintings depicting our childhood. Then in my mind, I saw Andrew splashing it with some sort of strong chemical, washing away the paint, dissolving it. I was snatched out of my reverie by Andrew's voice.
"Let's go, babe. We're going to be late." There was something in his voice that warned me "She's mine."
"You go on ahead. I'll follow."
"No, we have to go—now."
"Wait for me in the car! That's plain enough English!"
"Looks like you'll be the one who'll wear the pants in the relationship," I teased. She laughed.
"Give me your address. I'll stop by your place," she said, smiling.
I tore a piece from my notepad and wrote down my address and phone number. Could there still be hope? I knew it was childish and selfish of me. But I could dream, couldn't I? I could dream that she'll always love me.
When somebody loved me, everything was beautiful,
Every hour we spent together, lives within my heart
When she loved me.
7:30. The doorbell rang and I opened the door. I smiled, my heart racing. I was nervous. Had she come to choose me and not Andrew? As it turns out, she didn't. She came to say goodbye.
"There's something I've been keeping for years now," he said, her lips quivering. Then her chin started to quiver. I could tell this was hard for her. It was reminiscent of the day of Panda's death. It was hard for me too.
"What…is it?" I said, with difficulty, my throat dry.
She took my hand, fumbled in her purse for something, and put it in my hand. It was our mock engagement ring.
"Keep it safe for me," she said, a pleading look in her eyes.
"I will," I said, nodding, swallowing hard. What she did next made it even harder for me. She leaned over and whispered in my ear.
"I will always love you, Samuel Ihle. You'll always have place in my heart." Then she kissed my cheek. For some reason, I doubted it. Part of me wanted to believe her, but another part of me told me it wasn't true. And as I stand there in the open door, alone, I think about how beautiful life was when Emmylou Hamilton loved me. And with tears streaming down my cheeks, I remember every hour we spent together…
When she loved me…