The One Who Got Away

jan flat tireFive years ago, I was broke, had no publication contract, and spent my days playing emotional whack-a-mole with challenges like the well pump dying, the state being late with my check, the kid losing her job, the truck’s spare going flat…

My consolation and coping mechanism was horses. I rode regularly, which kept me in great shape, and I had horses in my back yard, an enormous Belgian draft horse rescue and my daughter’s geriatric mare.

Mane Man 003Hay burners need hay, right? The guys at the feed store suggested a farmer up the road had exactly what I wanted–good stuff, but not too good, and reasonably priced. It took me a few weeks to get up my courage–I am shy, by the way–but one fine day my truck turned up the lane of the hay guy’s farm.

The hay guy was not shy. He was friendly, whipcord lean, about six foot four, with blue, blue eyes, and a merry, naughty smile. He was poetry on a hay truck, too, tough as nails, beastly strong, and could do anything with his hands. And my goodness, could he tell a fine story.

At the time I had been contentedly divorced for more than ten years, and in those ten years, I had not looked at a man. I wasn’t lonely, I wasn’t looking, I wasn’t even thinking about looking.

jan wall of hayI looked at this guy, I talked to him, I listened to him. He could toss hay bales with the precision of a major league pitcher and back a wagon to an inch with his eyes closed. He was a good listener, had a kind and open heart, and a great sense of humor. We casually mentioned getting together for lunch at the diner–I get together with various riding buddies at the diner–but I never nailed him down. Though I enjoyed every minute I spent in his company, when I moved my horses from the back yard to a stable nearby, I did not stay in touch with my hay guy.

In the intervening years, I’ve wondered: Why did I, a woman of notable particulars, turn my back on somebody who’s company I enjoy? Why didn’t I occasionally say hi as a friend? Why didn’t I drop in on one of my many trips past the farm, and explain that the horses had moved, but I’d like to stay in touch? Anything?

Cowboy silhouetteI’m not sure why I let the line go quiet. Maybe my intuition was working overtime, or my defense mechanisms. In any case, I let him get away, though in my mind, I owe that guy. He was a shot of happy over something as silly as buying a load of hay, he’d talked with me as old friends talk. I liked him a lot, and I’m pretty sure he liked me at a time when I was without many allies or resources.

And you know where this is heading. I recently learned that my hay guy lost the fight with cancer a few months back. Now there’s no dropping in on him, ever. No thanking him for being a bright spot in some tough years, no getting together at the diner. I’m endlessly sad for him, because he was as socialable and physically robust as a man can be, brilliant at what he did, a devoted dad and a gentleman. He should have had so many more years.

And he should have had lunch with me at the diner.

Who was the one who got away from you–friend, neighbor, coworker? Why’d you let them go? Is there somebody you should be meeting at the diner for lunch? To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card or a signed copy of The Captive, your choice.

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38 comments on “The One Who Got Away

  1. Ah, such an interesting topic for a Sunday morning.

    My Dad had a stroke, recovered and was hospitalized because he fell and gashed his forehead. Each night after work, I visited him. I remember speaking with my Dad about friendships and keeping in touch. He made me promise to keep in touch with my brother , sister and mother after he died. He was worried that we would go our separate ways after he passed. I think his words were”Susan, keep an eye out for your brother.” We talked about being a good friend, sister and father. I call my brother and mother often and text my sister.

    I think being a good friend is important. It’s a hard thing to do sometimes. People change, they move to a different town or they move away from you towards others. I have a dear friend who helped me out when my daughter was younger. She provided friendship, a cup of tea and advice when needed. We see each other in passing as we both work and have busy lives.

    Your blog has challenged me to give her a call to see if she wants to get together for a glass of wine next weekend! Thanks Grace!

    And congratulations on The Captives debut this week!

  2. Wow, that one I can not answer succinctlly. I am keenly aware of how much of my entire life I have let “get away,” I have had wonderful opportunities that I have slid passively through. I look back at all I didn’t do and wonder at my lethergy. This fits the description of depression I realize, but if that is the case, then I have been depressed since infancy.. My mother used to comment on what a sweet placid baby I was while my sister (older by 16 months) what rackety, time consuming and trying. Now there is one I DIDN”T let get away. After growing up with much wrong thinking, we managed to start forging a relationship in our 20s. Sis was the catalist to getthing this started and I thank her in my prayers and every time I think on it. By the time we reached our 40s we were extremely close where we remain to this day.

    I can not claim the same success with my male/female relationships. I can’t even begin to tell you how many possible friends or more “got away.” This is not because I have this long list, but because I was so completely unaware. There were a couple of guys who I wonder about what could have been if I had not lacked courage and made assumptions about my own lack of desirability. I am aware though of a few I had the good sense to accept and enjoy the friendsiip they offered during the time they were present in my life.

    For me it is essentially to embrace the successes in my social engagement life or I fear I will be at risk to succumb to despair.

    • Despair is the Undertoad, and that bad boy gets around. He swims after the cancer patients, the overwhelmed new parents, the elderly. He’s not welcome on my lily pad.

      I know what you’re saying about being oblivious to my own desirability, and I realize with Hay Guy, we were both fifty years old and happy to be independent. The whole gender specific silliness didn’t even have to come into it, and yet, I would not pitch. Would not.

      I have made a promise that hay guy in memoriam, that if ever I cross paths with another person whose company I enjoy as much, I will make that cup of coffee, shared pizza, or lunch at the diner happen. A joyous connection of any stripe is Undertoad repellant.

  3. A couple years ago, when my mother was in her last round of illness and I hadn’t yet accepted that a romantic relationship had evolved into friendship, I was sitting at a table enjoying a coffee at one of my favorite places. A slightly older gentleman — very serious and quiet, he was — came up to me, introduced himself, and asked if I would like to have coffee sometime.

    I was terribly flustered as (A) I had no experience with this kind of encounter (while I am often approached by strangers for directions and such, I had never been approached like this!) and (B) I still felt attached to someone else. So I smiled ruefully, said, “Thank you, but no,” and let him walk away.

    There have been other “ones who got away” in my life, but the rest have been people I’ve appreciated at certain times but knew wouldn’t be long-term friends as I grew into someone else. But I have often wondered what would have happened had I said “yes” to this fellow — or if we had encountered each other since then.

    • Yeah, that kind of moment. Somebody made an overture, and for whatever reason, the overture is declined, but.

      But you look back, and realize: I wasn’t spoken for at that point after all, though I hadn’t admitted it to myself yet. Maybe his simple request got the subconscious wheels turning in the direction of accepting the truth, but my goodness, you were dealing with a lot all at once!

  4. We all make decisions in life that later on we look back and ask ourselves Why did I do that? Your situation would make a good storyline for a future book. Any thoughts that you might write one like that?
    I have enjoyed all of the rest of your books.

    • One of my all time favorite romances, Angel In a Red Dress by Judith Ivory, starts out with the heroine a very young, pretty, wealthy debutante. The hero is an utter law unto himself caliber of wealthy, titled rake, and they meet in one of the dimly lit antechambers of a ballroom. She’s a puppy, and he treats her gently, neither disillusions her, nor mocks her as brutally as he might. The next day he sends her flowers, the same as he sends ALL the ladies he dances with flowers.

      He forgets all about the encounter, though it leaves her giddy for days. He later abuses opium, and one of his frequent pipe dreams is of the Angel In a Red Dress. When later in life the hero and heroine meet, he recounts this opium induced vision to her without even realizing that as a much younger woman, she was the inspiration for his angel. She tries to remind him, and he can’t quite recall the evening she’s describing.

      Judith Ivory is a genius, because she has about seventeen layers of symbolism going in fourteen directions. I don’t think I could pull it off!

  5. I broke up with a long time boyfriend, well we mutually broke up, but kept in touch for years, even though he had married and had children. All of a sudden he dropped off the face of the earth and I had no way to contact him for five long years. I thought about him often and was so afraid something bad had happened because he always kept in touch. The last contact was an email on my birthday, and then exactly five years later, I received an email on my birthday from him. He was now single after a long, unhappy marriage, and decided to contact me. Unfortunately, 6 months after we lost touch, I’d moved clear across the country so there really wasn’t a chance to rekindle a relationship, but we definitely are keeping in touch and have gotten together when I’ve gone home to visit. I regret that we broke up and that I moved so far away that getting together is impossible, but I treasure our friendship in the ways we can communicate for now and there’s hope that after I retire in another 4 years, I may be able to move back home. Then at least we’ll have our friendship, if nothing else, and can get together for lunch or dinner, etc. I do have several friends that I left behind when I moved and I’ve been able to get together with them when I’ve visited home as well. They’re all getting older, but I hope we can all hang in there until I can move home again and see them more often.

    • Barbara, that is a sweet, sweet story, and maybe a nice slow re-acquaintance is the best way to handle it for now. But who knows? If you extended in invitation for him to visit you, would he take you up on it? There are some pretty competitive air fares available at certain times of year.

  6. Several I suppose. But one that I do remember was someone I met right after my first big heartbreak. He was a fine young man and he wanted to marry me, but I just didn’t feel the passion for him that I did for “heartbreak guy” so, of course, I said no and we both moved on.

    I don’t know why he sticks out in my mind (I don’t even remember his name). I guess because he represented the “ideal” husband material I always thought I was looking for and never did find by the way. (smile)

    • I think the sweet guys tend to get overlooked, and that’s probably a disservice all around. LONG ago, I was known to say, “nice boys are dull.” Man, was that ever a reflection on me, and not a positive one. It bit me in the backside, too.

  7. Oh, your story broke my heart! I don’t know of one that got away. I’m a loner, so I’m not even sure that I think in terms of people that get away, outside of stories!

    • I’m a loner too, more or less. I’m happy with my own company, but I also enjoyed this guy tremendously. Too bad Clarence the Angel can’t show me what might have been. But then, what’s that line from John Greenleaf Whittier? “Of all sad words, or tongue or pen/the saddest are these, “It might have been.”

  8. There is a friend that I was very close to at one time. Things happen and she got married and her husband enlisted in the Air Force. They moved to Florida and in that time I had started dating my future husband. She started having kids and I was still dating my guy and enjoying being able to do whatever we felt like. Eventually I got married and between working full time and starting a family, I lost touch with my close friend. She then moved back home and went through a divorce, yet still we don’t have that closeness that we had as young women before we both settled down. I wish that we could get it back, but it is what it is. We still say hello and chat from time to time.

    • Give it a few more years, but not having marital status in common is a pretty big difference. I was only married for a few years in my late thirties and early forties, and my spouse never lived with my daughter and me, so I think I’ve been regarded by many friends as more spinstered than divorced. That’s not as hard a gap to bridge as married vs. divorced.

  9. Thanks for a reminder that time is passing for everyone and our friends and family won’t always be around for that get together that keeps getting put off.

    I’ve lost touch with my high school and college friends only talking through emails and social media – but that is easily understandable since I now live in a different state.

    I’ve also lost touch with a close friend and co-worker from the giant company I worked for before my children were born. Also, somewhat understandable since I was busy being mommy and she had older children and was busy with her career. Going out for lunch was different with small children and then we never could manage the timing. We recently reconnected, but our jobs and weekend family activities have managed to prevent actually getting together.

    I will have to work harder to reconnect….

    • One of my horse show buddies, whom I used to see only once a twice a year, but we hit it off, said to me that if you’re friends, it doesn’t matter how often you see each other. If the friendship is there, you pick up with a smile and it’s like you saw each other last week.

      A nice theory.

      My friend is used to the show judging circuit, where you’re thrown together with colleagues for a weekend here, a few days there, and the occasional seminar. They talk shop, they drink shop, they compare war stories, and it’s grand fun if you have the gene for it.

      I don’t think many of us do. We need the time together to keep the bond viable.

  10. You have made me think about my brother once again. My brother died in 2002. He was crushed under a jeep that he was taking parts off of and it fell on him. The day before it happened my Dad was getting up hay with both my brothers and I had a strong desire to leave work and help them. I decided that they could handle it so I stayed at work. The next day my brother was gone and to this day I still wish that I had spent more time with him. I especially wish that I had left work that day to spend time with him. I guess it will always be something that I regret.

    • I’m sorry, Kerri, that you lost your brother that way. I do think, though, in the intervening years, you’ve been more likely to put family first, to leave work on the desk at quitting time, to keep the job and the home life in better balance. That regret has made you wiser than many of the rest of us, and your brother would not want you to hang on to it too hard, or too long.

  11. Fear of eventual rejection, perfectionist tendencies and an excessively introverted nature have combined to allow me to let them all get away – in terms of romantic relationships.

    An outgoing, cheerful, loving personality and wise choices have combined to allow me to have deep, long lasting friendships with many people – including men I have dated in the past … and their wives!

    As I continue to learn more and strive to love myself, I gain hope of being open to someone one day. For now, I try to follow every prompting to reach out to someone when it comes.

    I’m beyond thrilled you are now published – reading your work and interacting with you through social media is a gift and a blessing. I’m sorry for the losses within your story – the person, the opportunities and the dreams. I wish many more for you in the future.

    • I love how you put that–you let them ALL get away. What I hope Hay Guy taught me was to own up to the good feelings when they’re present. Would it really have been such a big frickin’ risk for me to tell him, “You make it fun to stack a hay truck, and I didn’t think that could ever BE fun?’

      No, it would not. Alas.

      • 2e6…Y lo grave del asunto, querida Rebe, es que nos vamos convirtiendo en abusados-abusadores imencreptiblemeetp…Recordarás nuestra famosa pregunta: ¿de qué te das cuenta? Y cuando te empiezas a percatar y dices como tú bien mencionas ….”¿qué hacer?”Pues algo que puede hacerse es precisamente tomar el taller de “Sobreviviendo al Abuso”…entenderemos tantas cosas y tendremos las herramientas para darle un nuevo significado a estos procesos de víctima-victimario…Solito no se puede transformar…”hay que pedalearle a la bicicleta”…. Un beso y gracias por tu comentario, queridísima.MB

  12. My freshman year of college I became friends with a guy.
    Some of my girlfriends said “You should go out with him.”
    I asked him out. He said “Can I still keep my girlfriend in Houston?” I said “No.” I think he regretted not going out with me.

  13. I attended a small United Methodist 2-year college in TN and became part of a clique of outsiders (non-religious people, gays, liberals, non-theists and/or other non-conformist types). Our major interests of study covered just about everything from the arts to science and engineering, we were native born or from foreign countries, traditional and non-traditional ( right out of high school or older adults). During my sophomore year, I met Bill, a poet and musician. He was from the next town over, but still boarded in one of the dorms. I fell in love with him. We dated for most of that year, then I graduated and joined the Army. We wrote to one another faithfully when I went to Ft. Leonard Wood, MO for basic. When I was about half-way through basic, he wrote and proposed to me. I carried that letter everywhere.
    After my advanced individual training at Ft. Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, I was stationed at Ft. Carson, CO. He wanted us to have an “open” relationship, but remain engaged. I was so in love I would agree to anything. I asked Bill to transfer schools to one of the local universities, and I would work while he remained a student. He refused because he didn’t want his wife to support him. What a sexist attitude to take. It was the early ’80s, for heaven’s sake! So I continued my weekly letters, but within a few weeks, his letters trickled to nothing. I was still wrote to him, mostly begging for him to write back. Both of us did go out with others, though most of my dates were instances of a whole group going to the same place. He was going to school part time then, working and dating the boss’ daughter.
    One man at Ft. Carson, David, was persistent in asking me out, so we dated a few times and saw each other through work. I became quite fond of him. Then David got out of the Army and returned home to Wisconsin. Bill still wasn’t writing to me, but David wrote at least once a week, sometimes more, even though he was a full time student.
    A couple of months after leaving the Army, David wrote and said he wanted to come back to CO. I wrote back to remind him how much he had complained about living there. His reply was two sentences long: “Got your dear john letter. Call me collect”. I called back and we had a discussion about his returning. I was worried he would regret it, but he assured me he wouldn’t. So I said, “well okay, come on back.” He said with what sounded like pure joy, “you’ll marry me then?” I stopped breathing. I mean, David was a great friend, and I loved him, but I wasn’t IN LOVE with him. And technically I was still engaged to Bill. But did he consider himself still engaged to me? I told David I would have to think about it. He said his semester ended on Dec. 19th and he wanted to be married by the end of the year (tax advantage, you know). So I told him I’d think about it.
    I wrote to Bill and asked him if we were ever going to get married and to please answer ASAP. Nothing. I waited a week and wrote again. Still nothing. So I scraped together as much as I could spare to call him. Phone calls were very expensive in the early ’80’s, so it wasn’t easy to find that kind of money on my tiny salary. But when I called, he didn’t have time to talk and said he would call back. I waited a week and still nothing. I started planning my little wedding to David, which occurred on Dec. 23rd, 1982 at Ft. Carson with people from the 4th Finance Company in attendance. I didn’t talk to Bill until June, and he never wrote or called in all that time. Turns out a lot had happened in his life around that time, like his impregnating his boss’ daughter.
    I met Bill again after I’d been married for about 12 years. He had graduated from UT and stayed in Knoxville, while I had earned a couple of Bachelor’s degrees and lived in Germany and several places in the US. He had married and had a daughter of that union (he never had contact with the son he had fathered). I had my husband and son. Our individual lives were so dissimilar to what we had planned together.
    I’m friends with him again on FB, but I definitely feel the distance that mutual betrayal had created. Do I regret it? Well, I can’t regret my marriage, even though we only made it to 19 years due to David’s sudden death at age 43. I can’t regret my son. I can’t regret all the places I’ve lived. But I do regret the conversations, the music, and the geekiness we had in common. Maybe, if I’m ever brave (or stupid) enough to move back to the political backwardness that TN presently is, we can at least have those things as friends.

    • What an interesting tale, and an interesting road. I’m so sorry you lost Dave that young, but I hear ya on the backward politics. I’m a pretty good fit with Maryland, I think I’d be a better fit with Scotland.

      It’s interesting to me that the marriage you chose with Dave, that wasn’t based on a wild passion, turned out solid, but Mr. Love of My Life was up to tricks and playing out the line.

      Something in you chose the reliable partner over the rollercoaster ride, and I commend that.

  14. This is a response to the question that you had on Facebook today. I don’t have a Facebook account and I don’t want one. But I enjoy checking the Facebook postings that you have on this blog.

    When I retired and took up reading again I went straight to my favorite genre which is Historical Romance. At the same time I renewed my romance with the Public Library. And that is where I first found almost all of my Kindle and/or shelf worthy authors.

    The first two books that I read by you (The Heir and The Virtuoso) were Library books. After that I decided you were shelf worthy and started investing my money in your works. I now have almost all of them in either paperback or ebook form.

    • Mary, thanks for taking the time to come here and add your two cents to that long and interesting discussion. Is there anybody who doesn’t have good memories of the library? They do so much more for communities than lend books, so I’m glad to see them supported on general principles.

      Also glad you found my books!

  15. I read The One Who Got Away earlier today, and since then I have been thinking (a dangerous pastime, my friend says :)). I bet there isn’t anyone who hasn’t wondered “what if.” I thought about the boy when I was 19 who thought I was beautiful and wanted to spend every minute with me. He was adorable and intelligent and in college studying computer “stuff” before it was really a “thing,” so he probably has buckets of money by now. But I was unused to that type of adoration and I felt overwhelmed. So instead of telling him so, and telling him I liked him, but could we just take it slow, I broke it off. We parted with him thinking I hated him.

    Fast forward to the time I was about 34, standing in line waiting to order a bagel before work. A handsome man about 2 in line behind me was paying attention. He smiled, he used the excuse that I had lint on my jacket to touch my shoulder. He was friendly, not creepy, and interested. I smiled, I was polite, and I thanked him. Because I was completely oblivious and also doubted my desirability, it wasn’t until I was in the car, half way to work when it hit me that I was an idiot. Why didn’t I smile more? Why didn’t I engage in further conversation? What would have happened if?

    But what I wonder is, is it a missed opportunity only because hind sight is 20/20? What about the other person? Don’t they have a part of the opportunity? Could the collegian have come to my house and talked to me in person? Could the handsome 30 something have followed me out of the bagel place and asked for my number? Maybe many of our “what ifs?” and “if only’s” and “should haves” have really been “meant to bes.”

    I am so, so sorry about hay guy. I think that if a man wanted to share a bite with you at the diner that he would have found a way to make that happen. I am not being unkind, I just think that we are too often too hard on ourselves.

    • Thanks Ruth, I love the YinYang of both your and Grace’s comments…My mind was muddling through and answer and I was somewhat gaining on your particular perspective. You clearly said it better. 🙂

    • Ruth, you make an excellent point–there were two of us on that hay truck (or in that English class, coffee shop, etc), but I can only be responsible for my half, and I know I did not act on my feelings or even articulate them to him.

      Then too, I have four academic degrees, and even when I’m in horse-girl mode, that tends to show. Words, words, I love my words. It’s possible HE was doubting that I could have found him special company, in which case if I didn’t do some serious pitching, then he wasn’t about to make an overture.

      Woulda, coulda, shoulda, but five years later, I was still telling myself, “I wonder how Hay Guy’s doing? Maybe I should hop in the truck….”

      Ah, well.

  16. The one that got away was for me the opportunity to live in the college town I grew up in. College towns are in many ways a great place to grow up with culture, sports and the academic background not found in other small rural towns. There is also a binding sense of community found through the shared experience of growing up and going to school with other kids whose parents are associated with the university. This final factor is also to me the fatal factor, that is the cycle of students themselves. In some ways for those involved with the education system this factor keeps ones outlook on life young and energized by that constant replacement of eager young minds, especially in the realm of research with the constant striving for new horizons. But then most “townie” kids, especially those whose parents are university faculty or staff grow up to go into the university education system and while the time in college might be a happy time it soon ends…and then what? Most other graduated students go on back to from where they came (or near there) or they set out into the world with their new credentials to forge new careers. In order for the local kids to create a life in their hometown they are now in competition with their fellow grads for jobs or positions at the university or even at the local businesses with positions open for college grads, and if you’re not top tier with those credentials then your life-long connection to the town usually doesn’t count for much. There are a few lucky ones whose families have established businesses or who have the gumption and abilities to establish their own business, but for most, especially the middle of the road types such as I the options are limited. Quite often the kids who stay in such towns with limited options and no clear future become human trainwrecks. So seeing that happening to several peers I like many others headed out ( out west in fact) and forged a different and exciting career in an outdoor recreation endeavor where ones success depends on rising through the ranks, something I have done in good fashion. While I have no regrets and truly have had a great career, I’ve never been able to escape a feeling of exile from my hometown and some of the friends I grew up with. So it’s not so much the one that got away as the one who went away. I went away because I had to, because the something there that I wanted was plainly out of my grasp…the one I could never have would be the theme here, another common and related theme to the one that got away. The feelings when one considers the relationships I had to leave behind is a similar feeling one can have towards the one (or in this case the ones) that might have been.

  17. Although you posted this a long time ago, I am just finding it–and you. I was recommended to your books through one of those “if you like. __ (author)__ try…” and I am so glad I did! Even more excited because now I can read all your books!

    I am shy, very quiet and serious and mostly alone most of the time. And usually pretty content with that. I like to workout at the gym because even though I’m in my own head and world on the treadmill (usually listening to a book), it gives the illusion of being around people. And there is some great people watching!

    One time I was running, and when I was done, I turned (this was in the late evening and the large, warehouse-like gym was emptying of most exercisers) and I saw this man on a treadmill a row back. He was… Wow. Something about him made my heart race and my face flush and … Wow. Not conventionally handsome or beefy or strutty (you know you’ve seen those guys!) just.. yeah.

    So I try to keep my cool. I walk over to the paper towel dispenser, get the spray bottle to wipe down my machine. Come back, feeling tingly, and out of breath,… and start wiping.

    Then I look beside me and see that my waterbottle and iPod are on the next machine. I’m wiping down the wrong one! Eek!

    Blushing worse than ever, I switch over, and then as I go to throw out the paper towel, trip off the end of the machine.

    I was a mess, flustered. I grabbed my bag and booked out of there.

    I was head-down in the darkness of the parking lot going toward my car, and I heard someone call ‘hey’ but it didn’t register. Not until I was backing out, and in my rearview mirror, I saw the guy, standing on the curb 20 feet back, silhouetted by the lit gym.


    Autopilot took me out of the parking lot. It was really about 2 minutes later, on the highway, my brain caught up with me.

    It was 3 minutes and I still wonder, 3 years later.

  18. Grace, I’m just now reading this and feel so sorry for you and Hay Guy! What a treasure the two of you would have been.
    I guess you could say I let one or two get away, but the one I caught or he caught me, is the best that could have ever been. God knew just what I needed, so those first 2 guys just didn’t measure up to what God had picked out for me. At the end of this month we will have been married 49 years, and I would do it all over again!!!