Who’s Your Great White Buffalo?

Apparently, the term “Great White Buffalo” has been around for a while. In my very limited research before writing this, I discovered that it was a song in the late 80s, and it was also referenced in the movie Hot Tub Time Machine. Neither of these things I was aware of because alas, I am not a 80s music junky, as disappointing as that is, and I hated that movie so much that I blocked it out of my memory. Can you believe that was the first R rated movie I went to go see in the theatre? That’s the last time I let a 17-year-old boy talk me into a movie, but that’s a long story that I am still rather bitter about, so I’ll move on.

For those who don’t know what the term “Great White Buffalo” references and are wondering why I am possibly writing about a Native American spirit animal, here is the Urban Dictionary definition for your learning pleasure.

Great White Buffalo: A term for “the one that got away” or “first love.” Only whispered, and in repetition by all friends present.

Surprisingly, that was the exact way GWB (yes, I am going to be that lazy and abbreviate it) was presented to me in life. I was sitting at dinner with a group of friends. They were all visiting me at college, so they collectively knew, I thought, two people in town. Me and the man at the Shell station down the road that had given them two packs of cigarettes for the price of one. What a steal.

However, I quickly learned they knew one other person. Our waitress. I had never seen her in my life. She was tall, had long luscious brown hair and wore cute and quirky overalls which she pulled off. You always got to hand it to a girl who can pull off overalls when she is over the age of four.

After she took our order one of my friends started to freak out and nudge one of our friends. “Dude, that’s her! That’s Jake’s Great White Buffalo, isn’t it?”

When I first heard this, I was offended. If my friend thought she looked like a large fat animal, what the hell did he think of me. The conversation continued.

“Ohhhh man I think you’re right. He did say her name was Megan, and she lived in Milledgeville.”

Yeah, because there must be only one Megan in Milledgeville. That’s the quota. Every other Megan has got to go. Sorry, Megans.

Once she arrived back at that table, they asked her if she knew a guy named Jake. She did, and it was confirmed that she was in fact Megan from Milledgeville. And I soon learned, after she walked away and everyone at the table proceeded to whisper together like gossipy 13 year olds, that Jake had dated Megan for a little while and then royally screwed it up. The details were vague but I think there was a part about some drunken phone calls and bad timing, typical young adulthood tragedies.

Eventually, Megan just decided she couldn’t deal with it and broke it off with Jake. Jake was pretty bent out of shape about it and desperately waited for the perfect time for them to get back together, but alas, that time never presented itself, and she moved to Milledgeville and disappeared from his life. She was the one that got away. She was the one that, with the right timing and maybe in an alternate universe, could have been his forever. She was his Great White Buffalo, disappearing the moment it has been spotted. I’m guessing that is what the term means, or that the GWB is actually the ghost of a regular buffalo, and it just really important in folklore. Who knows.

But as I glanced across the restaurant at our waitress, with her perfect hair and pulling off those overalls better than I could pull off a normal pair of pants, I knew she had to be someone’s GWB. And it made me think if I was anyone’s GWB. Or if I had a GWB. I know there were a few guys who I would have loved to ask me out in the last seven years, but half ended up dropping out of school and the few other ones joined garage bands or moved to Europe. 

I can’t say what it is like to have a Great White Buffalo, but I can’t imagine it is fun. To know that you may have met someone who is your soul mate and have lost them seems like the worst thing to live with. I like to imagine that everyone is someone’s Great White Buffalo though. Especially when you imagine it was that one Ex you really just want to miss you even though you have no desire to get back together. You just feel like through all of that trouble, they should at least lose one night of sleep pining over you and thinking “I shouldn’t have let that one go” and then one sole teardrop will roll down their face as they fall asleep to any Michele Branch song.

But that ends up meaning that we will all have Great White Buffalo’s in life. Maybe it isn’t a person. Maybe it was a job opportunity that would have worked out if things were different. Or that one friendship you could have tried harder at but it just seemed to disappear. I’ve had a lot of GWB dinners that I have ended up fantasizing about. What if I had ordered the ravioli instead of the chicken? Would my life have ended up differently? Probably not, but it’s something I think about.


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