I was getting a pedicure today 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.
"You know the greatest loves of all time are over now"
It was 1992 when 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 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.
During my first six months there Jim was the reason I thought I'd have to leave, or I'd be fired. I couldn't read his writing. He was by far the number one salesman and gave me the most work and I could not read his handwriting. And I had to transcribe his handwriting into letters, marketing materials, proposals, and official quotations. And if I couldn't read his writing eventually I'd be fired.
About a year later Don brought Murray, the owner, over to my desk and told him to ask me what the hell was on a paper Jim had handwritten. I was able to do it at a glance. I somehow became the Jim-whisperer.
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 Murray the owner 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 half in love with someone else who worked there. Someone younger. His name was Don.
And I just thought Don was the funniest most awesome guy ever. The way you do when you are young. And Don and I grew very 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 marriage thing was just the last straw. I had a conversation with Tom in the office about Don that Monday. And Tom told me that all of the guys spent a long time trying to figure out what Don's issues were, but nobody ever knew. And that Don lived on another planet. I really wanted to understand and plaintively asked Tom "but which Planet?"
And Tom then gave me some of the best advice I have ever received.
"It doesn't matter. It's not your planet."
I remember nodding and repeating "it's not my planet". And everything changed right there and I knew my decision to walk away from whatever that year-long thing that wasn't even a thing was the right thing to do.
For a long time I knew I was physically attracted to Jim. And he was so my type physically. I never pursued it because of Don. And because I knew Jim's rep 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 fuck it.
So it was that on a Friday night in the 90's I went to Heffrons in Hauppauge, fully intending to have a fabulous night of flirting, dancing, and drinking with Jim Armann.
Because that was his name. James Armann.
And maybe an hour in, 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 Jim was actually a really good dancer, which is something you didn't see too much at my then-age. 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."
I remember the next week Jim asking me if everything had stopped when we kissed on the dance floor. And I said yes. And I told him how I felt as if we had kissed a million times before and would kiss a million times again. And he nodded.
It changed everything for him too. His reputation as a womanizer, well-earned btw, would be used against us when others found out. But he became a one-woman man from the moment of The Kiss.
Don caught us making out in the parking lot one afternoon. I went out to lunch with the only other women at SJS, Sue and Gail. When we pulled into the back parking lot upon our return, Jim was just walking out. I made an excuse to get something from my car. They returned to the office, I did not.
I hadn't given Don a thought since The Kiss. And I guess I didn't realize he was watching me. When he saw they were back and I wasn't, he simply walked to the back of the building, and out the back door to see where I was.
And I looked up and saw him standing in the doorway with a shocked look on his face. He caught my eyes and went back inside.
"Omg Don saw us." I told Jim.
"Good," he said.
Jim and I would spend the better part of the next decade together. He was almost definitely the love of my life and I of his. We made a baby together and lost it, and 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 in, and 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 mean, I had never tried to before, when I got pregnant with Jim the first time it was an accident. And I would never try again after Jim and I split. So I'll never know. But I know neither of us made a baby before or after, and that neither of us ever tried to before or after.
So many nights Jim and I just spent staring into each other's eyes. I never had that before or again. I can'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. Another thing I've never done and never wanted to do. Only with him. 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, but I don't know the how. We both should have fought. Neither of us did. Honestly, I always thought I'd see him again. But then, I never sought him out.
I was happy again after Jim, and at times, for long periods, incredibly so. But...I've never loved anyone the way I loved Jim.
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 reached the point where I realized that, almost unbelievably, we weren't suited. And that the things he said drove me crazy. That's when the fact that we were of two different generations came out, reared its head, and demanded to be heard.
And then I met someone else. A university professor named Michael. And there was some overlap, but not too much, and not physical. I left Jim about two months later. 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 had the easy air of a long-time couple and I doubt anyone looking at us would think we weren't one. We always kissed goodbye on the mouth. Kissing each other's cheeks would have been ludicrous, I suppose.
Eventually he married. A woman his own age. And the dinners stopped. And we lost touch.
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 often had played there when we were together.
Early this year I had another dream about him. 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 this week when 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 1992, and I never saw him again after 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 fucking around like this (not sexually, nothing to do with women, Jim never touched another woman in all the years we were together), 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 know 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 didn't exist 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 young, at only 71. The Jim I knew worked out 5 times a week and kept himself in shape. He was that way when we met too. But I know after we broke up, but were still having those dinners, he was diagnosed with diabetes. And I bought him a book about cooking for diabetes and asked him to take care of himself. Because he also had the heart condition. So maybe I do know.
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 Armann was so good to my family and anytime they needed anything, he ran. To this day my sister-in-law will say there were things she couldn't have gotten through without Jim.
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. That was the kind of astounding thing he would do. To tell me how connected we were. That I was the one. That for him, as for me, there had never been anything like this before, and never would be again.
And he took me to the best places, showed me things I had never seen. He was sophisticated. 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 loved golf and was great at it. He was great at almost everything he did actually. He was my best friend.
We grew apart at a faster rate than usual because of the age difference. And neither of us had the tools to overcome the character flaws we had during those fateful moments in time. In hindsight, in retrospect...but that's not how it works. In that moment in time, our character flaws played themselves out, the way they will. When he might have wanted a second chance I was with Michael, when I might have wanted a second chance, he was married to someone else. And neither of us ever tried to cross that divide again.
But I loved him. And he loved me. And that existed. And that will always exist.
Till we meet again, Jim. Because of course we will. That was something we always knew, from the moment of The Kiss.