When I first met Edna Merle she was a shy, skinny, dark-haired brat who, at 11 years of age, wanted to hang out with the hip, cool, more sophisticated older men like me. I was 17. Yet even in her brat state I saw a wonderfully mysterious smile, two dark eyes with flakes of green-gold floating about, and a voice that would seduce an angel. She didn’t talk much but when she did it usually came out as desperately serious or unintentionally funny.
She was the best friend of my best friend’s little sister. They would occasionally show up wanting to listen to the latest from Led Zeppelin or Jefferson Airplane. If we allowed them to stay, the two of them would sit like two little Buddhas and listen intently, then put their heads together to talk or snicker about what they had just heard. We’d send them off after a while, satisfied that they had just crawled that much closer to being real grownups.
There was not one inkling in me that one day Edna Merle would be my wife.
We were never close but on a few occasions she and I had brief encounters where I respected and admired her, and sometimes I would lust after her, in a friendly, non-threatening way. She usually responded with a cool acceptance of me. Later, when we were married, she would say that she always loved my heart and knew that I was a kind person who always would listen to her. I didn’t know that there were few people taking the time to listen to her, even her parents, and it is their loss that I mourn. There is still that brief moment of uncertainty that comes over her face now when I think she is afraid she is not being listened to or understood. But it quickly goes away.
For some reason I remember her fashion sense. She normally was dressed unlike anyone else, even in those hippie days where fur vests, multi-colored pants and tons of beads were the norm. She wore these amazing colors that blazed intensely, probably because of her dark hair, eyes and skin. Often she wore these oval blouses that covered her little body and made her look like an umbrella when she put both her arms out. Edna Merle reminded me of a Cherokee princess even then, so it was not surprising when she told me just before our marriage that she was part Cherokee and part Romanian gypsy. Now I sometimes call her my Gypsy Woman.
My Canon camera became my constant companion just after I got out of college. It was at my best friend’s house that I saw Edna Merle again after a few years and she was more beautiful than ever, although to me she was still that pleasant brat who made me smile. We went behind the house to a small brick wall where she posed for me for the first time. In her mock superstar model poses you can see her not trying to smile yet smiling demurely, her eyes looking straight into the lens. It is as if she were saying, “Here I am. Take me or leave me because I’m not going to change.”
Another time I convinced her to pose on my friend’s big downstairs couch, complete with flat furry pillows where her delicate hands lay in portrait-like perfection, a stone wall that made the scene almost Medieval, and a metallic lamp burning behind her. Edna Merle’s angelic, faultless smile dominates her face. The only thing that lets you know it is a modern image is her multi-colored velour blouse, but it, too, is of another time somehow. It was and still remains one of my favorite all-time photographs. It now hangs honorably in our hallway.
We went driving in my VW Bug that night — Edna Merle, her friend and I — to retrieve some more film from the sorry house I was renting way out in Austell. While she should have been intimidated by being taken to an older man’s house, she was now 17 and I was 24, she entered it as if it were her own house and immediately flopped down on my bed. This is the only time, until more than 30 years later, that any sexual thoughts about her entered my head. If her friend had not been there I would have tried mightily to entice her clothes off so I could enter her body. I had to make up for it by taking several photos of her on my bed and when I look at one now she seems so young, so innocent with her hair pinned up, that I cannot imagine how it might have been.
The last time I saw Edna Merle, before I vanished into my void and she vanished into her confinement, she was still the cool beautiful dark-haired girl I remembered. We laughed and talked like old friends when she showed up at a party at the house I shared with two other roommates. Then she showed up a few nights later just to visit and to find some cocaine. I never really liked the stuff. My roommate loved it. So off she went and came back a few minutes later with enough coke to keep us up all night. But for some reason I slacked off about 2 am and went to bed, thinking she was more interested in my roommate than me. I was very surprised the next afternoon when she had left and my roommate had not gotten laid. “Didn’t you know she wanted you,” I told him. “No,” he said, “She never wanted me.”
And that was it. Edna Merle never came around again. I went off and got married to a red-haired woman who controlled my life for the next 17 years. It was to be my self-made prison.
Edna Merle showed up one more time about 10 years later. I’ll never forget it. Sitting in my den with the TV on and the volume low, I was waiting for a show to come on, idly watching the local news. Suddenly, there was a picture on the screen, a face I knew but couldn’t immediately place. It was a sad, scared face. And then it came to me: Edna Merle. What was the announcer saying?; Couldn’t make it out. So I turned up the volume to hear that she had caused an accident that killed two people.
The next day I talked with her friend who told me Edna Merle was going to prison. What? Why? We talked for a while longer, me getting sadder and sadder, and by the time we hung up I had promised myself that I would send her a letter or something. But then my life got in the way and I forgot about her. It would be 14 more years before I was reminded of the skinny little shy girl I would soon marry. Her friend told me Edna Merle was getting out and a few weeks later a Facebook message asking me to be friends said “Hi, remember me?”