I can’t find her. Springfield, Ohio, is on my mind, and I don’t know where Erin is.
In the fall of 1993, I moved to Springfield. This was a location transfer from my employer, and in my head I thought it was going to work out fine. I was separating from my wife and looked at Springfield as a fresh start.
Winter came quickly that year. It seemed like I was only there for a few weeks when snow and ice storms almost shut the town down.
The ice storms were the worst. I remember being stopped at a red light on one of Springfield’s main drags. I could feel my car sliding even when it was stopped. It was scary.
I was working at a manufacturing plant as one of the accounting people. I knew no one at work and no one in Springfield. That was OK. Right across the street from the plant was Chuck’s Rockin’ Ranch. I was more in the mood to drink than to have friends.
That’s where I met Erin. Turned out we both worked for the same company. She was a factory worker.
Erin was maybe 5 feet tall. She had short brown curly hair, a round face and brown eyes. She was plain looking.
She was drunk when I met her and was loud and funny. I found myself attracted to this woman who drank Jim Beam and Coke, one after another.
Chuck’s had a dance floor and a pretty good jukebox. Erin and I danced. We kissed, too.
Sometimes that winter, when the roads weren’t slick or icy, we would go to lunch together at the Wendy’s in Springfield. I would watch Erin’s hands shake as she ate her single with everything on it.
I think her hands shook because she needed a drink. We never talked about it.
A woman in the office — her name was Beth — took a liking to me and we started going out.
I didn’t hide Beth from Erin. While Erin said she had no hold on me, I could tell she was hurt. One of her friends in the factory told me Erin knew she had no chance with me. She was too blue collar.
Beth and I had dinners out, went to movies and made love in her bedroom. But sometimes when I was with her, I thought of Erin. I would wonder whom she was with and what she was doing.
When working, I could see Chuck’s Rockin’ Ranch from my office window. The factory workers got off at 4 p.m., and sometimes on those cold afternoons I would see Erin drive her rusty old station wagon into Chuck’s parking lot.
When she went into Chuck’s, she would leave the engine running, I guess to warm up the car. She would only be there for 10 minutes or so. I imagined she was having a few shots to help stop her hands from shaking.
I started seeing Beth less often. Sometimes I would go to Chuck’s looking for Erin. We danced and made out a lot in a back booth. One night, she got too drunk to drive. I offered to take her home.
I didn’t know where she lived and it turned out Erin was too drunk to give me directions. Frustrated, I drove back to my apartment and helped Erin out of the car. In my apartment, I laid her on my bed and then went back to the car to get her purse.
When I got back to the apartment, except for her socks, Erin had removed all her clothing and was lying naked while passed out on the bed.
I looked at her for maybe a minute and then felt guilty about it. I covered her up with a blanket and slept on the sofa.
Seeing Beth and my misadventures with Erin continued until winter turned to spring. When the leaves on the trees returned, that’s when I decided to move back to Cincinnati.
It turned out my head was wrong. Springfield wasn’t the kind of fresh start I was looking for.
I said my goodbyes to Beth, and we both promised to stay in touch. We didn’t. I told Erin after I got settled in Cincinnati I’d come back to visit her in Springfield. I did.
We hung out at Chuck’s. We drank, danced, laughed and afterwards went back to her place. This time, she wasn’t too drunk to find it.
We made promises to maintain a relationship. There were Reds games to go to in Cincinnati and I’d show her around the city and I’d continue to see her at Chuck’s. But it was basically just talk. I think we both knew this chapter in our lives was ending.
Now, winters later, I find myself thinking of Erin in Springfield in 1993. I don’t know where she is. She’s no longer at her old address. My former employer says she quit her job years ago and moved away.
If I ever find her again, I’ll tell her I’m sorry that I didn’t get to know her better. I’ll tell her I should have taken her out on those dinners and to those movies instead of Beth.
Maybe I could have somehow helped her shaking hands. I’ll tell her I made a big mistake.
When it comes to Erin, I should have followed my heart and not my head. I want her to know that.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org