I often wake up with music playing in my head… usually some old forgotten tune, maybe one I hadn’t thought of for decades. Yesterday the song that came to me was an old bittersweet Tony Bennett ballad called Once Upon A Time.
Once upon a time
A girl with moonlight in her eyes
Put her hand in mine and said she loved me so
But that was once upon a time,
Very long ago.
It immediately took me back to a day when I was in college. It was supposed to be just an ordinary day with nothing special to do. I was just hanging out… looking forward to the long bus ride from South Bend, Indiana, to Scranton, Pa, where my girl was going to college.
The phone rang. She was on the line…
“Hey, she said.
“Hey, you okay?”
“Well, yes. I found it!” she answered. “And it’s perfect.”
I laughed. “You sound really excited.”
“It’s just what I’ve been looking for.”
“Great. Only… what is it?”
There was a pause and a little giggle. “The ring,” she said, “our engagement ring.”
I stopped and took a deep breath. This was really fantastic news except… I had never really asked her to marry me.
So, I took that long bus ride from Indiana and Pennsylvania, and there was my moonlight girl, smiling at me so eagerly. Together, we found the ring and I bought it. At Thanksgiving, we met with my father’s friend, who really was in the diamond business, and we got a real bargain on a one-carat diamond. We placed the order and then, of course, it was back to school.
Two days before Christmas, I rode with her parents to the bus station. I had the ring in my pocket. The diamond was set; it really was gorgeous. I knew she’d like it. And that’s when her mother turned to me and pretty much drove a stake right through my heart.
“What are you going to do if she says, ‘no?’” she asked.
Totally deflated. I didn’t know what to think. Had my girl changed her mind? Did her mother know something that I didn’t? Fortunately, a few minutes later, when she got off the bus and I saw her smile and those sparkling eyes, I knew my fears were unfounded. She came running up to me and kissed me. That evening I got down on one knee, proposed to her, and gave her the ring. Six months later, we were married… But that was once upon a time, very long ago.
How the breeze ruffled up her hair
How we always laughed as though tomorrow wasn’t there
We were young and didn’t have a care.
Where did it go?
Where did it go? Well, there was married life wasn’t there, jobs to find, bills to pay, corporate battles, kids to raise, arguments to settle, college to pay for. It was never easy, and sometimes there were long nights when I’d ask myself, if it was all really worth it? Was it ever really worth it… even once upon a time?
Once upon a time
The world was sweeter than we knew.
Everything was ours
How happy we were then.
But somehow, once upon a time
Never comes again.
I shook my head sadly as I remember the words and thought about life. And then I looked up at that moonlight girl sitting across the breakfast table from me, and I took her hand.
“Know what?” I asked her.
“It doesn’t have to be that way.”
“No, it doesn’t,” she said, not knowing what I was talking about at all. “What doesn’t?”
“Once upon a time,” I said, “never coming again.”
She got up and kissed me. “Of course not,” she whispered.
The good news is that ‘once upon a time’ can come again. It often does. Sometimes for just moments in the middle of daily life, but it most certainly can be there when all that child-rearing and career-building and financial complexity is over.
Then you can sit back and look at your partner, your friend, your lover and you just might be overwhelmed by all those feelings you shared way back when it all started. She’ll give you a once-familiar look, a bit of a smile, or just some small gesture, and you’ll recognize your moonlight girl from once upon a time... very long ago.