I was getting a pedicure when a FB message popped up on my phone. I really have to change those settings.
"I'm very sorry to have to tell you my brother passed away in March 2018."
And that is how I found out that one of the great loves of my life was dead.
It was in the 1990's that I was first hired to work at SJS Signal and Communications in West Babylon. I went for an interview and never left. They didn't let me. They were under the impression I had been sent by a friend of one of their employees to start work that day. And I was sent by that mutual friend...for an interview.
But I really needed a job so I sat down and started working. I was hired to be a sales admin, and I assumed I'd be there a very short time. Until I found a position as a copywriter or something else that suited. I was wrong about that.
Jim was the head of sales and one of the four salesmen I worked for. And I don't even remember the first time we were introduced. My first clear memory of Jim is when he handed me something by the fax machine and said "Thank you Karen."
I nodded and when he turned to walk away I called out "Jim?"
He smiled and nodded. And never called me Karen again.
I knew Jim was attracted to me because it wasn't something he hid. In the 90's we were in a post-Anita Hill period, and these things were frowned upon, but...not as much as today. And the fact is that SJS existed in its own universe. I mean, you weren't supposed to smoke in most offices by then, but everyone at SJS smoked, starting with the owner, Murray, who walked around with a lit cigar shoved in his mouth all day long.
But Jim was much older than me, and even though I was still in my father figure phase, I knew he had quite a reputation in the industry. And I was infatuated with someone else who worked there. Someone younger than Jim. His name was Don.
And I just thought Don was the funniest most awesome guy ever. The way you do when you're young and crushing hard. Don and I grew close and one night at a company happy hour he scribbled "will you marry me?" on a cocktail napkin. It's funny I don't remember much more about that night. I know I got drunk, that Don drove me home, and that somewhere during that ride home he told me he couldn't have a relationship with me and I decided right there I was done.
Too many mixed signals and the crazy napkin proposal was just the last straw.
For a long time I knew I was attracted to Jim. And he was so my type physically. I never pursued it because of Don. And because I knew Jim's reputation and I didn't want to be his latest office fling. He was after all, my boss. And I loved working there.
But... the next company happy hour, probably only two or three weeks later, I decided I was going to have a fling with Jim anyway. I was so attracted to him, and with the *idea* of Don gone, the way was cleared. I just decided to hell with it. Jim really didn't come to the company happy hours, but this time, I asked him if he was going to be there, knowing that a word from me would assure his appearance.
So it was that on a Friday night sometime in the mid-90's, I went to Heffrons in Hauppauge, fully intending to have a fabulous night of flirting, dancing, and drinking with Jim Armann. In a million years I didn't expect to fall in love with him that night. Nor did I even suspect he was already in love with me.
Maybe an hour into the evening, Jim leaned over to me at the bar and whispered in my ear
"there's an attraction between you and me. or maybe I'm wrong."
I nodded. Signaling that he wasn't wrong. He took my hand and guided me to the dance floor. And someplace on that dance floor he kissed me. And the strangest shit ever happened.
Everything stopped. And I know people say that but I always thought it was bullshit. Certainly it never happened to me. But then it did. And not only did everything stop but in the middle of a huge crowd, in a noisy club, I didn't know anyone else was there.
And the weirdest thought came into my mind. That I had kissed Jim a million times before, and would kiss him a million times again...but it was simultaneously the newest, most physically exciting kiss I had ever had.
And it was the kiss that changed everything and would forevermore be referred to in my mind, simply as "The Kiss."
Jim and I would spend the better part of the next decade together. Certainly, I had never experienced a love like that, and even though he had many years on me, he told me he hadn't either. He often told me I was the love of his life. As for me all these years later?
I absolutely never experienced a kiss like my first kiss with Jim, feeling as if I already knew him and forever would. So if there is such a thing as a soulmate, then our souls knew. It is for certain that our physical bodies knew. I believe he was probably the greatest love of my life so far, but not the most life-changing one. That's difficult to explain, and doesn't matter here anyway. Also, I like to think I have a lot of life left. But of course, no one knows their future. Either way, I highly doubt there will ever be another kiss like ours. Many people never even get one of those. For ours, I am grateful.
We made a baby together that didn't come to fruition, and later, spent years trying to get pregnant again. Years. We even bought one of those ovulation trackers, and back then they were new and cost a lot of money.
But it never happened again. Jim had his first heart attack a few years into our relationship, and right in front of me. He had to go on a lot of different medications, and I'm sure that had something to do with it. And maybe it wasn't easy for me to get pregnant. I would never try again after Jim and I split. So I'll never know. If I was going to have a child, Jim was going to be the father. I thought he would have been a great one. After we split, my desire for a child dissipated into the ether along with our relationship.
So many nights Jim and I just spent staring into each other's eyes. Before him, I couldn't even imagine wanting to stare into anyone's eyes for that long. What the hell were we thinking, looking at, doing? I don't know. But I know hours would pass and we wouldn't know it. We were so lost in each other.
Every time I put my hand out Jim was there to take it. We held hands everywhere, which isn't usually my thing. Would the two people we were for the first years of our love have ever let each other go? No. And I don't know why we did. I know the why, actually, and know it like the back of my hand, but I don't know the how. We both could have fought. Neither of us did. Honestly, I always thought I'd see him again.
Since his death, people have asked me if I could go back and do it all over again, would I change anything? And like anyone else, sure there are things I would change, I suppose. But not many. And not our relationship, including its ending. I couldn't trade the other experiences, changes, and loves that have shaped me after Jim, and that I'm still experiencing today. Had we stayed together I would be a very different person, and I'm not sure I would like her. And frankly, I don't think that in any alternate scenario we would have still been together.
We would have kept in touch, even sporadically and I would have went to see him while he was ill. We would have had our goodbye. That is the one real change I would make if I could. That is my regret.
Knowing that you could never have really done till death do you part with the likely love of your life is a strange place to be. But if I had to guess, I would guess it's not a unique place either.
I wonder what Jim would say? I always thought I'd ask him one day. After we both had time to gain perspective.
We weren't compatible long term. Isn't that crazy? But we weren't. Because Jim was older than me, and I grew during the years we were together and he didn't. And neither of us put in the work to change it. I think that's because it was unchangeable.
I reached the point where I realized that, almost unbelievably, we weren't suited. And that the things he said drove me crazy. And the things I said and believed drove him crazy. That's when the fact that we were of two different generations became impossible to ignore. Or, we just had very different values all along. It's probably that. Great romantic love can sweep a lot of things underneath the carpet, but they will resurface eventually.
And so we took a break during which I very unexpectedly met a university professor named Michael. And the break became permeant. It broke my heart. I think we both knew it was coming.
Jim and I didn't talk for maybe nearly a year after our split, but then we did. And we were friends again. We even had dinners together many times. I never told Michael, whom Jim never failed to refer to derisively as "Doctor Mike." I doubt Jim told whomever he was seeing. We really didn't talk about that. About the people we were seeing. We always kissed goodbye on the mouth. Kissing each other's cheeks would have been ludicrous, I suppose.
We had the easy air of a long-time couple and I doubt anyone looking at us would think we weren't one. Although, we were taken for father and daughter at times. In particular, I will never forget the Asian takeout place we used to frequent. I am a vegetarian and always have been, and would order the Moo-Shu Vegetable. When Jim went there alone to pick up our food, the owner would hand him the vegetarian dish and say "for your daughter." If it bothered him, and it may have, he never told me.
There came a time we could have reunited, but though there was a part of me that wanted to, I couldn't let go of my new relationship with a brilliant (or so I then thought), leftist, professor. Years later, after a very on-again, off-again relationship, the professor and I would split for good over his delusional obsession with Bernie Sanders. I swear to God I'm not making this up. LOL. But at the time, I just couldn't let go of him. I knew in my heart that Jim and I were no longer compatible. We had such different ideas about the world. And we were at such different stages in our life by then. Because of his age, our dreams of starting a family and building a new life together had such a short window. And that window had closed. Jim knew it too. He was winding down and I was winding up.
Our song was "The Unchained Melody." It took me years to be able to listen to it again, and even now, I really don't care to. It was to be our wedding song. The last song we ever danced to together was "Unforgettable". He sang the words into my ear and told me he would think of me whenever he heard it for the rest of his life. I can still hear him singing. We were already split up for probably two years at the time. And yet, it was still a beautiful night. And yes, Jim too, was unforgettable.
At some point, he met a woman his own age. And I was with Michael, and then started my own business and was consumed by a completely new life. I wasn't even the young girl he had met years before. There were a lot of seeds of who I would become in that young girl, she's certainly not unrecognizable to me, but...she fell madly in love and some of her got subsumed.
We lost touch. I'm not sure either one of us could bear to stay in touch any longer.
I dreamt of Jim from time to time. And whenever I did I would google "James Armann obituary" and nothing would ever come up. So I assumed he still existed on this planet.
And sometimes when riding my bike on the Bethpage Bike Trail I would look over at the legendary golf course there and wonder if Jim was playing. Because he had often played there when we were together.
Early in 2021 I had another dream about him. He was sitting next to me and we were holding hands, and nothing happened except a feeling. An overwhelming feeling of mutual love. And it was so real. I googled again, and again found nothing. But I couldn't shake this.
So I FB messaged his sister.
And months went by without an answer until the day I was sitting in a nail salon having a pedicure and her message popped up on my phone and into my life, and I couldn't unknow it. Before I even opened it, I saw "I'm very sorry to have to tell you" and I knew.
"I'm very sorry to have to tell you but my brother passed away in March of 2018."
But there is no obit. I didn't ask. It's not my place. I didn't know Jim Armann prior to the early 90's, didn't know him well until the mid-90's, and I never saw him again after about 2006.
I only know the years in between. And those years are my place.
I remember once in the beginning of our relationship we were fighting. And I told him that if he kept messing around like this (not sexually), one day we were just going to end and that years from now one of us would run into someone who would tell us the other was dead.
And I honestly don't remember why I said that. But I remember how he stared at me, with a truly horrified look on his face.
"No, don't say that," he told me. "I just got chills when you said that."
A moment of mutual prescience? I don't know.
But I know that decades later, I didn't run into anyone, but I found out that he no longer walked this earth on an iPhone that hadn't existed when we met. And I know he has been coming to me in my dreams. We were always connected in our dreams. It was one of our things.
And I know he has no obituary and I don't know why, and though I'm not qualified to write one for the many years I didn't know him, I want to write about what was once one of the greatest loves of all time. I want to mark it down.
I don't know how he died so relatively young, at 71. The Jim I knew worked out 6 days a week and kept himself in shape. He was that way when we met too. But I know after we broke up, and were still having those dinners, he was diagnosed with diabetes. And I bought him a book about cooking for diabetics and asked him to take care of himself. Because he also had the heart condition. So maybe I do know.
In those years during which his health went downhill fast, I was taking 26 mile bike rides, jogging, and hiking. Would things be different if we had stayed together? We always worked out together, at World Gym in Ronkonkoma, which by the way was recently torn down to build Alston Station Square, where I now live. Isn't that something? But you can't change the past and we all move towards our destinies.
Jim Armann was really funny. My God he used to make me laugh. I don't know how many people knew how funny he was. I don't remember anyone in our office really saying that. But Jim Armann always made me laugh.
Jim was so good to my family and anytime they needed anything, he ran.
A gold cross and chain that he wore around his neck for many years lays beneath the earth, in my own father's coffin. Placed there by Jim, at my dad's funeral. I didn't know he was going to remove it and do that until he knelt next to me at the coffin. I remember I started crying.
Jim Armann was sophisticated. He took me to the best restaurants in Manhattan. He was an amazing dresser. He loved Italian suits, French cuff shirts, and gorgeous, colorful silk ties. He could fix anything. He could build anything. He lifted weights and was really muscular. He loved golf and was great at it. He was great at almost everything he did actually.
He studied architecture in college, and that was actually what his degree was in. Post-college, he got sidetracked by sales, because, just starting out, he could make a lot more money there. But he never lost his eye, or his interest in architecture. We went to many museums together, and he loved anything about Ancient Egypt. We strolled the great halls of the MET in NYC, hand-in-hand, many times.
Jim was the only man I ever met who could make me enjoy camping. Because he built the campsite, erected the tent, and did everything else. I just sipped wine, sat by the fire he built, gazed up at the stars, and whispered into his ear. For him, that was enough.
During the years we spent together, he was my best friend.
We grew apart at a faster rate than we otherwise would have because of the age difference, and our vastly different worldviews. And neither of us had the tools to overcome the character flaws we both had during those fateful moments in time. In those moments, those flaws played themselves out, the way they will. And, I believe, the way they were meant to.
But we loved each other madly. And that existed. And it always will.
Till we meet again, Jim. From the moment we first kissed, we always knew we would. I wouldn't have missed you for the world.