‘It Must Have Been The Wrong Time . . .’

Her name was Bonnie. I can still see her on a springtime day of memory, laughing with her blonde hair blowing in a light breeze as she and her co-workers made their ways from St. Cloud State’s Centennial Hall toward the student union for a coffee break. I thought she was lovely. And I remember wondering, as I watched her walk between the two buildings on that springtime day in 1973, if I’d ever find a way to talk to her again.

There was a divide, you see. I was a college student, a sophomore at the time. She worked in the cataloging department in Centennial Hall, the college’s learning resources center (earlier known as the library). Now, she wasn’t that much older than I was, maybe a year, if I recall correctly. After I met her, I’d prevailed on my dad to tap his sources in the college’s bureaucracy to find out her age for me. And if she’d been a student, that one year likely would have meant very little. But she wasn’t a student; she was a member of the working adult world, and in my young eyes – I was nineteen – that made a large difference.

For one thing, it made it more difficult to find a way to have a casual conversation. Except for rare occasion, the only time I ever saw Bonnie was when she was in the company of her co-workers heading out for lunch or coffee. The cataloging office was in one of the back rooms on Centennial’s first floor; it wasn’t a place where a student could wander through casually, hoping to strike up a conversation with the blonde girl whose desk was near the back of the room.

Yes, I knew where her desk was. The walls that separated the cataloging office from the audio-visual equipment storage room – part of the equipment distribution office where I worked ten hours a week – were only temporary barriers with regular gaps about a half-inch wide. Every once in a while, as I pulled a projector from the shelves or wrestled a portable screen out of its storage space, I’d see a flash of blonde hair through the gap nearest Bonnie’s desk. And whenever my duties took me into the storage room, I looked for a glimpse of blonde hair. I didn’t sit there waiting for those glimpses; that would have been difficult to arrange, not to mention a little creepy. But as I hauled equipment in and out of the storage room, I’d glance over at the wall and think about how to approach the young woman whose desk was on the other side.

As I indicated earlier, we had talked once, briefly. I don’t recall what we talked about, but I remember meeting Bonnie near the card catalog and talking for a few minutes. I remember that something I said made her laugh. And I remember that her laughter and her smile delighted me. Being unattached and in a nearly year-long stretch with no dates at all, I was interested.

There was, however, that gap, that gulf between the student world and the worker world. Maybe the importance of that gap was only in my head. Maybe if I’d been braver and more resourceful, more foolhardy and less timid, I could have approached her and found that she’d have welcomed my attention.

I actually think that might have been the case. Fourteen years later, in 1987, I was working for St. Cloud State’s public relations office and I was researching a piece on the advising services the College of Business offered to small businesses in St. Cloud. One of those businesses was a small grocery store just around the corner from my folks’ house on Kilian Boulevard, a store where over the years I’d bought candy and toys and pop and cigarettes and Playboy magazines.

I was finishing an interview with Norb, the store’s owner, when the door opened and the attached bell rang. We both looked up as a mid-thirties blonde woman came into the store. I recognized her immediately.

“Hi, Bonnie,” Norb said as she grabbed something from the shelf and brought it to the counter. Smiling, she greeted Norb and then looked at me. I could see her searching her memory just as clearly as I could see the wedding ring on her finger.

I told her who I was and that I’d worked in Centennial as a student. She nodded. “I remember you,” she said.

“For pleasant reasons, I hope,” I said. “I had a crush on you.”

She nodded. “I know,” she said. “You never said anything.”

“I was too shy, I guess.”

She got her change from Norb and picked up her bag. “You should have said something, you know,” she told me as she headed for the door. “Or done something.” And as she left, she gave me that smile I’d first seen fourteen years earlier.

Well, maybe. I’ve long thought that as we go through our lives, we get what we need when we need it, and over the years, I’ve come to believe that the barrier I perceived between Bonnie and me served a purpose. At the time of our first conversation, when I was intrigued by her laughter and her smile, I’d been accepted to go to Denmark the following academic year but I had not yet committed myself to go, either financially or emotionally. Had that barrier not blocked me and had I begun a romance with Bonnie, would I have been able to leave that behind to go to Denmark? I don’t know, and I’m glad, forty years later, that I didn’t have to face the dilemma. Because, as things played out, I ended up – then and now – in the right place.

And here’s Doctor John, whose “Right Place Wrong Time” was at No. 82 in the Billboard Hot 100 forty years ago this week.


2 Responses to “‘It Must Have Been The Wrong Time . . .’”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    Or, as Duane Eddy didn’t say: “Bonnie Came Back.”

    Great story, whiteray.

  2. Paco Malo says:

    An prevalent story well told.

    Mine was named Wendy. (sigh). Long, heart-felt conversations in Mac Rebbenack’s New Orleans before I left for a semester in Italy.
    Then in Italy there was Megan, the un-pursued lass you told me I should have said something. Life’s funny that way. “If I don’t do it, somebody else will.”

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