Love Is Where You Find It

Ron Karpinski  1997


For lack of a better definition, true love is the bonding of two souls always meant to be.  No matter how the script plays out, they will find each other, somehow.  It's written in the stars.

Searching for signs among the stars is not easy, however.  True love lives in a cul-de-sac at the end of a long and bumpy road, and a man can make a hundred wrong turns along the way.  A dozen false starts can mar his path, and each mistake compounds the last.  It is all part and parcel to that grueling process called the dating game.

*          *          *          *          *

Over the years, I dated a lot of women, and, a couple of times it felt like true love at first sight; but, looking back on it, true lust seems closer to the truth.  After the lust burned off, there wasn't much left.

For sure, when two people fail at love, there are two sides to the story.  As a man, I can only speak from the male perspective.  To hear the female version, ask any one of my old flames.  No doubt, they could all tell you a thing or two.

Trail and error take up most of this game.  Proper technique learned in the arms of one woman can get you a slap in the face from the next.  A man finds himself walking on egg shells, fearful of one false step.

*          *          *          *          *

Only one other man on the face of this earth knew the pain.  With him, alone, I could talk.  A legend in all-you-can-eat pancake houses and flower shops across the land, he was my best old friend, John.  The big man and I met in the army in the late 1970's.

Call us partners, if you will, in that grand old American pastime: flirting with waitresses at all night diners.  It didn't take much to get our hopes up.  A friendly smile or a kind word or two would do it.

As a rule, we preferred small quiet places where the waitress could take her time with our order.  If she were nice, we might order seconds, just so she would come back to our table again.  This we did for the sake of a smile, a wiggle, and some small talk.

Listening to horror stories of former husbands and boyfriends, we shook our heads in dismay.  "It's a good thing you got rid of that brute!" John said.  Of course, we were above such things, ourselves.  Dozens of army seminars on gender relations had forged us into sensitive men of the seventies . . . and, later, the eighties.

At the drop of a hint or a suggestive smile, we hung around until the wee hours of the morning.  Once, a waitress agreed to meet with us after work.  She could see that we meant no harm, just two nice young men starved for the soft scent of a woman.

When a new waitress came on shift, our sweetheart of the moment ducked into a back room to change clothes.  We waited . . . and waited.  Twenty minutes later, the manager came over and confided that she had already left by a side entrance.

It's not fair, the way they treat us.  Women are cunning, sly, and often evil, and they take advantage of a man's natural, easy going nature.  They use us, bleed us, and leave us to wonder afterward how we could have been so gullible.

One thing is certain.  Half the waitresses in America do not wear their wedding rings on the job.  It must interfere with carrying plates.

*          *          *          *          *

In 1980, while serving with the army in Germany, I dated a secretary for a while.  After three months of high hopes, things fell apart.

Drowning in the depths of despair, I called on John for moral support.  He sent a letter, a touching letter.  In it, he wrote all the usual upbeat phrases like "you are a good person; there is nothing wrong with you; it's her loss, not yours; and, blah, blah, blah."

Then something caught my eye.  "Ron," he wrote, "someday you will meet a woman who has a burning desire to be only with you.  When you meet that woman, marry her."

Wow, a burning desire to be only with me!  From that day forward, I searched for women with burning desires.

Late one night, a couple of months later, the phone rang.  John wanted to know if I still had that letter he had sent.  "Sure, it's right here," I said.

"Could you please send it back to me?" he asked.  "I just broke up with a lady, I feel awful, and I need some of my own good advice."

Women with burning desire, it seems, are sometimes too hot to handle.

*          *          *          *          *

In June 1983, John and I flew to Europe for three weeks.  We caught an air force cargo jet from the east coast and landed at a base near Madrid, Spain.  From there, we rode the train cross-country.

Stopping in Germany, we visited some old friends.  One of them arranged a picnic in our honor.  The weather turned nice for a change a rare sunny Sunday in Stuttgart.

Many familiar faces were there -- and a few new ones, as well.  A shy blonde school teacher stood out, Irmhild Rosemarie Scharna, twenty-seven years old.  John and I had the same thought:  "Hmm, nice curvy little figure there."

John, the boldest of the bold, zeroed in on the young Ms. Scharna.  He did most of the talking with her that afternoon.  No one else could get in a word.

Five feet four inches tall and a hundred and eight pounds, the young Miss Scharna seemed hardly a match for the six-foot-five John; but the big guy pressed on, inviting her to visit him in the states.  She listened politely and glanced about.

Our eyes met.  Those eyes, they seemed to tug . . . seemed to pull me toward the great unknown.  A glint, a tiny spark passed between us.  I felt no heat, no passion, no tingle down the spine, just the lure of that halting smile and the dim awareness of something yet to come.

*          *          *          *          *

John, that old rascal, beat me to the altar.  In the spring of 1984, his boss back in San Francisco set him up with a blind date, and it turned out to be true love.  Bright, witty, and attractive, she had a burning desire to be only with him.  She also owned a Porsche.

John had owned several Porsches himself over the years.  He used to fix them up and sell them for a profit.  He tried hard to get behind the wheel of this one, too, but Jill wouldn't let him.  Burning desire or not, she drew the line.

Jill was a career army nurse, a proud six feet, one inch tall.  She belonged to the local chapter of the Tree Toppers' Club.  That excited John, who had grown tired of short women.

Three weeks after they met, they decided to marry.  Big John didn't mess around.  He knew true love when he saw her.

The wedding took place on a warm, clear Saturday morning at the Treasure Island Naval Base in San Francisco Bay.  A grand affair, family and friends filled the small church.  A formal reception followed at the officer's club next door.

Jill's father had been a police detective, and she herself once worked for the San Francisco Police Department, so many of her guests wore fancy police uniforms.  John invited friends from his days with the fire department, and they too wore stylish uniforms.

When it came to a contest among uniforms, though, the army won hands down.  The groom and four ushers all wore dress blue's, replete with gold braid and cavalry sabers.  Next to the bride, they were the top attraction.

Last I saw of John and Jill, the happy couple stood on the rear deck of a slow-moving trolley car.  A string of gallon tomato cans dragged behind on the pavement, making a loud racket.  The keys to the Porsche dangled from John's hand as he waived good bye.

*          *          *          *          *

With John moving on to bigger and better things, I had to find a new source of advice for the lovelorn.  Doris Strong, wife of Colonel Ed Strong, stepped in to fill the void.  

Army custom calls for a colonel to act as mentor to the younger officers in his unit.  He is supposed to counsel them and help chart their career paths; but, in my case, Doris offered the best guidance.

Doris could solve any problem.  She gave freely of her opinions on the opposite sex, and you could rely on her frank and honest advice.  Sometimes, she offered help even when you didn't know you needed it.

Once, in the spring of 1986, we attended the same party in Atlanta, and I brought along a date.  As I hovered in the buffet line, filling my plate with hors d'oeuvres, Doris sidled up.  Grabbing my arm, she led me a few feet away.

"Ron," she whispered, "that girl you're with, she's not right for you.  She is no good for you." The alarm in her voice shocked me.

"Doris, what are you talking about?" I asked.  "Look at her, she's a knockout.  Check out those legs!"

"Ron," Doris lectured, "you've got to stop looking at their legs and start looking in their eyes.  That girl is not looking at you with loving eyes.  It's all in the eyes, Ron."

The eyes . . . what a concept!  "Thanks, Doris," I said.

No more burning desires or great legs for this boy.  From now on, it's going to be nothing but loving eyes.

*          *          *          *          *

If a man is smart, after a few affairs of the heart, he learns, more of less, what to do and what not to do; but there is one thing a man should never do, not even for the most loving eyes of all time.  A man should never make a career move for a woman.  She will leave him flat.

In late 1986, I passed through Heidelberg, Germany, on a business trip.  A friend set me up on a blind date, and the two of us hit it off pretty well.  She had big loving eyes.

She also claimed to be a baseball fan.  Someone had done a good job briefing her.  Two days later, on the Old Bridge spanning the Neckar River, we held hands and gazed up at the castle lights, vowing to find a way to live together.

When a man and woman vow to find a way to live together, it is generally understood that the man is to lift roots and move to where the woman lives.  I left a good job and a lot of friends in Atlanta, to follow that woman to Heidelberg.  It took almost a year to make it happen. 

At first, her letters came two and three a week, as did the phone calls.  We couldn't wait to live in the same city.  How grand life would be, when we were finally together once again!

That's the way long-distance romance works.  You live in a fairy tale world, dreaming of how it will be someday.  Deep inside, though, you wonder if you aren't acting a little too rashly.

Before I ever made it to Heidelberg, the romance cooled off on the other end.  Her letters became shorter and less frequent, and they lacked the steam of days gone by.  I couldn't seem to reach her on the phone anymore.

When the big day came, and I arrived at the Frankfurt airport, she didn't bother showing up.  That should tell a guy something.

A guy can sense when a woman is trying to give him the slip.  To paraphrase a line from an old Elvis song, she seemed to change, she acted strange, and why I'll never know.  Three months later, we were history and I lived alone in a strange new town.

*          *          *          *          *

After years of "walking point" in the jungle of love, I had enough.  Call it battle fatigue, but I needed a break.  I needed some time alone to ponder the meaning of life, to search for answers.

There is much to be said for living alone.  For one thing, there are fewer arguments.  You can spend your money as you like and come and go as you please; but, in spite of what people say, the carefree life of a bachelor is not all it's cracked up to be.

Being your own best friend can get pretty lonely at times; and the prospect of curling up on the sofa with a good book each night loses its appeal after a while.  After a few months, you start looking for ways to keep busy, burying yourself in work.

Loneliness is a pervasive disease that pierces even the hardest of souls; and, though we pretend it isn't there, we only fool ourselves.  Others can see it in our face, like a blinking neon sign.

Life, it seems, must reach its lowest ebb before it turns the corner.  Just when you are ready to throw in the towel and let the dark forces pull you under, something hits you square in the heart.  A word, a glance, a warm touch gives hope, and life has meaning once again.

*          *          *          *          *

In June of 1988, friends invited me on a hiking tour in France at a place called Mont Saint Odile.  Twenty-one folks would meet that Saturday morning in Stuttgart and drive in a convoy to the start point.  The hike would take several hours, with a break for lunch.

Rising early, I drove down from Heidelberg.  Pulling into the parking lot, I saw a small crowd milling about and joined them.  They were talking quietly, waiting for the leader to arrive.

Standing far to the rear, I stared at the ground.  Suddenly, a pair of pretty legs came into view.  Somewhere, sometime in the past, I had seen those legs before.

I looked up, and there stood the fetching Ms. Irmhild Scharna.  Laughing and joking, she no longer acted shy; rather, she appeared confident and outgoing the center of attention.

She didn't seem to recognize me, so I said nothing.  A minute later, the tour guide arrived, and the crowd broke up.  People piled into their cars for the hour and a half drive to France.

*          *          *          *          *

The hike began in a small clearing at the base of a ridge.  A winding path led through the forest and up the side of the mountain.  In single-file, we followed the footsteps of the person ahead, switching back and forth, slowly to the top.

After an hour, we arrived at an ancient monastery atop a high bluff.  The spot offered a panoramic view across the Rhine River flood plain, back into Germany.  Those with cameras took snapshots, while the rest of the group wandered about the grounds.

The day began on a warm and pleasant note; but, as often happens in that part of the world, the weather can catch one unawares.  It started to rain, a drizzle at first, and then a light sprinkle.

For some reason, I trusted the gods that day and wore only blue jeans and a polo shirt.  Trudging through the mud, eyes fixed on the person ahead, I felt a cold shiver down my spine. 

Then it began to rain harder, and the group took refuge under some trees.  People scattered, looking for shelter.  I stood alone under a large pine tree, water dripping down my neck. 

Ten feet away, Irmhild Scharna peeked out from under an umbrella.  She crooked her finger and motioned that I should come over and join her.  No one else stood near.

Me, did she mean me?  She nodded, as if to say, "Yes, you silly man, I mean you."  A second time, she motioned for me to join her under the umbrella.

Visions of evil women danced before my eyes women from the past mocking, taunting, jeering.  "Do not do it," I told myself, "it can only lead to disaster."

Then the skies opened up, sending a torrent of rain down my back.  I sprinted for the shelter of the umbrella.  Ms. Scharna clamped her hand onto my arm, and we walked off together.

Two hours later, the group wandered through the forest, searching for a small inn shown on the map.  Irmhild and I still strolled beneath the umbrella, talking.  Someone hollered, "Hey, you two, it stopped raining an hour ago.  You can come out from under that umbrella now."

Irmhild stretched her arm out and felt a single raindrop.  "No," she said, "it's still raining."  With that, she resumed her viselike grip, and we marched on.

*          *          *          *          *

Irmhild called on the phone a couple of times that summer.  We had pleasant chats, and she seemed like a nice girl; but I kept a safe distance, watched what I said, and stayed out of trouble.

*          *          *          *          *

Later that year, in October, the same group of folks met for a weekend in Paris.  We stayed in a small hotel near one of the main train stations, the Gare de Lyon.

The tall, narrow hotel looked ancient.  It stood five stories high, squeezed among a long row of similar brownstone buildings on a quiet tree-lined street.  Rooms on the upper floors had tiny balconies, with French doors, facing the street.

A steep wooden stairway led from the lobby of the hotel to the upper floors.  Two people of average size were hard pressed to pass each other coming and going.  If the stairway looked too narrow, one could take the elevator. 

An early model, the elevator had two speeds: slow and slower.  Cables, weights, and pulleys groaned under the weight of two people, but four folks could fit in if they were good friends. 

On the first morning, we trekked off to Notre Dame Cathedral and climbed to the top.  A hundred feet in the air, peering out from the parapets, past the gargoyles, one had a bird's eye view of the Seine River sweeping through the center of the vast city.

Later, we wandered down the Champs Elysees and other lesser known avenues.  Artists spread their works along the sidewalks, making it difficult to pass without looking.  At a small outdoor cafe near the Sorbonne, we ordered cafe au lait and croissants.

Crisscrossing the huge city, we visited the Sacre-Coeur, the Place de la Bastille, and the Hotel des Invalides.  The day wore on, and my feet grew tired.

At one point, I had the feeling that someone was following me.  I spun around, just in time to see a wisp of blonde hair vanish behind a tree.  Then the crowd filled in and blocked the view.

It went on like that for the next few blocks.  At each corner, I turned . . . and saw a hint of movement, but not enough to say for sure.  Still, the feeling persisted.

*          *          *          *          *

Shortly past five in the afternoon, the group reassembled at the hotel to freshen up for dinner.  Pouring inside, twenty tired pilgrims filled the tiny lobby.  A queue formed at the foot of the stairs, as people waited to climb, single-file, to rooms on the upper floors.

Lost in thought, I waited at the end of the line.  When my turn finally came, I took a stride forward and shifted my weight onto the first step.  As I did that, something or someone grabbed my belt loop from behind and pulled hard.  The force jerked me back a foot.

Stunned, I turned around; and there stood the sprightly Ms. Irmhild Scharna.  The others had all gone.  We were alone in the small wood paneled lobby.

Drawing a finger to her mouth, she signaled for quiet and pointed at the open doors of the aged elevator.  When I balked, she gave a gentle shove, forcing me into the cramped cabin.  She stepped in and closed the doors behind her.

I turned toward the wall, feigning an interest in the delicate pattern of the faded old wallpaper; but she would have none of that.  Spinning me around, she held me in her arms and stared hard into my eyes.

Those eyes, they pulled like a magnet.  I tried not to look, but she tightened her hold around my waist and pressed even harder.  Our faces drew near.

Her nose brushed mine, as she turned her face to one side.  Her breath felt hot on my cheek.  Our lips touched.

The old elevator squeaked, rattled, and groaned, as it crept up the narrow shaft.  We may have been alone only a minute or two; then again, it might have been half an hour.

By the time the bell rang at the fourth floor, we were in love.

*          *          *          *          *

Doris was right, of course.  It's all in the eyes.  A woman's eyes will tell you what she thinks of you, and that is the true measure of love.

Lost in the dusky depths and uncharted recesses of those steel-blue eyes, I let myself go and drifted with the tides.

After a while, I pulled free, to catch my breath.  Staring down at the woman in my arms, I smiled . . . and thanked the stars above.

Can you believe it?  This woman has a burning desire to be only with me; and she looks at me with such loving eyes.  Not only that, I couldn't help noticing that she also has great legs.


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