There were two other extenuating circumstances that second year that added to my load. First, I was still working one or two shifts a week at Sammy’s. Fortunately, given my parent’s contribution and my scholarships, I hadn’t had to take out any loans. But I was cutting it close and needed the money.

Second, there was now a boyfriend in the picture. For the first semester of school, the university computer spit out your schedule based on input following a consultation with an advisor. In my case, all my classes happened to be the same as one other person. His name was Tim Thompson, same last name as mine. He was from Eau Claire so he lived at home, and we walked together from one class to the next every day. We sat next to each other, had lab spaces assigned across from each other—the name thing—and usually ate together in the student center. His friends became my friends along the way, and it was lovely.

As we headed into second semester, we were allowed to create our own schedules. Without coordinating it, we ended up with all but one class together again. We were friends and enjoyed being with each other all day, every day. Every now and then a classmate would ask about whether we were dating, but we weren’t. I can’t say the thought had never occurred to me. I tried to kiss him when we were out at a bar called Shenanigan’s—yes, same owner as Houligan’s—on New Year’s Eve, but he didn’t kiss me back. So that was that.

That next summer was my first time staying in Eau Claire. Tim had moved out of his parent’s house and was living close to Water Street, a short bike ride from me. Actually, everything was just a bike ride away for my entire college career, because that was my only option for getting around Eau Claire, other than my feet.

I was using Jeff’s old yellow 10-speed Schwinn, which wasn’t such a bad bike back in the day. It sprayed mud up on my back whenever it rained, but all bikes do that. It had removable tires, which I knew about but hadn’t given a second thought to. That is, not until they were stolen from my front porch—a mere 20 feet from the head of my bed!—where I had chained the frame of the bike to the pillar, but had not chained the tires. It’s a hard knock life.

Tim and I started dating mid-summer after I started biking over to his place to say hello. We went to the fireworks together with his family, but he wasn’t all-in yet at that point. In fact, the turkey broke my heart when he pitched me over for someone else at a party. I didn’t know it then but his first real love was alcohol. Nonetheless, I had gotten under his skin and after a few difficult weeks, we met up one night in a bar and he confessed that he had feelings for me he hadn’t felt before. And they scared him.

Having gotten over that hurdle, we were once again walking to classes together the next year, but now holding hands. I came to realize that he had a nasty habit of dipping tobacco, which I had managed to not notice the entire previous year—him wiping it out of his lip and slinging it on the ground before packing in a new wad—since it wasn’t something I had seen or heard of before. I didn’t see it because I didn’t know what I was seeing. Plus he hid it reasonably well.

We studied together a lot, and since he was a manager at the McDonald’s on Water Street, I had space as well. Tim and I even sort of looked alike, and the Thompson Twins were a popular musical group at the time, performing a concert at UW-EC while we were there. It was all pretty darned precious.

Goofing around with Tim, he used a coat hanger wrapped in toilet paper to dress me up as the Flying Nun.

Caddy Shack had recently come out, and Tim and a friend listened to a cassette tape of that movie, over and over again. I still have way too many lines from that movie rolling around in my nugget. One line Tim liked to throw out whenever we got in his car was, “Move over Swanny, I’m driving.” Swanny stuck as his nickname for me, the only one I’ve ever been given.

Halfway through our junior year, a year and a half into our relationship, I called it quits. Tim had moved to another place further out in the country by then, with just one roommate and his own bedroom, which is not easy to find in student housing. But then he decided he wanted to buy a nicer motorcycle, so moved back into his parent’s basement. He traded in his little Yahama, with its rin-tin-tin engine and monster fumes that made my clothes and hair reek after even a short ride on the back, for a Honda Seca750. We opened it up one time on a country road and got up to 120 mph when the whole machine started practically levitating. What a rush!

So it’s not that I didn’t like the bike. And I thought his whole family was great, including his sisters Tami and Tisha; his mom Barb was especially kind to me; and his dad, who worked in some kind of iron forging plant, was strong as an ox and had a big heart. So the problem wasn’t his living with his family, but rather his priorities. I had seven roommates, so that nixed any place for us to be alone together. And maybe it was just time to move on.

A few months later we’d run it up the flagpole one last time, but it didn’t stick. “If you ever want to try getting back together again,” he said, “Don’t call me.” I’d hurt him deeply and was very sorry about that. Not long after, he would get in his car with another McDonald’s manager, before he finished his senior year—a real shame, as he was very bright and more than once bettered me on chemistry exams—and the two would drive to California to setup house.

Over the years, we contacted each other twice, getting updated phone numbers through stationary family members who were easier to locate. When I tried calling him back to say I would be traveling to his area, the number he had given me was wrong. Once the Internet came along, I tried again to find him, with no luck. There are a surprising number of Tim Thompsons out there.

In 2014, while living in Richmond, Virginia, I woke up one morning with the feeling he was right there in my room, that he’d shown up in my dream. I tried a cyber search again. This time I found the obituary for his mother, Barb. And that led me to the obituary for Tim. He had died three months earlier. By tracking down two of his old friends, including the Caddy Shack guy, I learned that his body had just given out from being, as they say, ridden hard and put away wet, one too many times.

I cried on and off for over a week. I just always thought one day I’d see him again. He was my first and I loved him. I always will.

Walker: A Spiritual Memoir by Jill Loree

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