I always thought I’d marry a girl from Texas. 

I even had one in mind, although she was already married to a guy who spent most of his time hammered in the ship’s casino.

I was a solo act on the first real rock cruise, and this guy was in one of the bigger bands on board. They had a hit song, which I suppose explained the strange dichotomy of being with the most beautiful girl in the world, or at least on the ship, while not spending much time with her.

She came to see me play one of those nights he was in the casino, her blonde hair leaking out of a burnt orange Texas Longhorns baseball hat. Her focus was locked on me the whole time, and I had an idea what the light in her eyes meant. By the time my set was over, we’d told each other an entire story.

One thing never did lead to another, with her being the Christian daughter of a Texas rancher and me being too shy to consider the actual mechanics. But she sent me an email after the trip saying how she’d loved hanging out with me, loved my songs, and would love to see me next time I was in Austin. 

I kept that email for years.

But not because I married her. I didn’t marry anybody. Mrs. Woodard proved elusive, and I guess I got used to my own company.

And maybe I was chasing the ghost of the one that got away.

A few years before I’d met that beautiful girl with the trainwreck husband, I was standing at a Seattle bar trying to get a beer when I felt a tap on my shoulder. The finger belonged to a woman who wanted to tell me that some guy was talking s*#@ about me, and maybe I should do something about it. 

The guy was a friend, so I allowed the transgression and followed her back to her table, where she was celebrating a birthday with her mom and her sister. She claimed to not have seen the show I’d just played, so that particular element of my temporary allure was unreliable, and I was forced to actually search for thoughtful words.

She’d grown up on the beach in San Clemente, a few towns south of where I was from, and by the end of the night, we both thought we’d found ‘the one.’

But we were also both young, in spirit and conscience and resolve and all the other things that galvanize over time to make the best versions of ourselves.

And so, she went her way and I went mine.

Her ghost would materialize every once in a while, in the shadow of beautiful girls with trainwreck husbands or in empty corners on solitary nights. I’d see the apparition out of the corner of my eye, but if I dare tried to face the stubborn reminder of the past head-on, the fragile fabric of could’ve-beens would disintegrate.

This happened for more than a minute. 

Almost a quarter of a century.

Until one year ago today.

I always thought I’d marry a girl from Texas.

But San Clemente had other plans.

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