A friend of mine contacted me to tell me that a former boyfriend from 37 years ago contacted her recently. A long four-hour telephone conversation revealed that he isn’t happy with his life and admitted that really, he hasn’t been since they broke up in the mid seventies. They only dated for a few months–he was her ‘transition boyfriend”, but he never knew that and I don’t think it would have mattered if had an inkling. He loved this woman, warts and all and knew what she didn’t: that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
And he would–from a distance and it was with a view that was no better than a few stolen glances over the shoulder of his rebound wife. Yes, irony of ironies, the “transition boyfriend” married his “transition girlfriend”. Of course his marriage to her would be unhappy, for the most part. Oh, there would be glimmers of happiness; a joyous birth or two, but in the back of his mind, piercing through every smile would be those damned feelings for ‘her”...THEE girlfriend. The one that got away.
My friend is currently in a relationship herself. She says she’s in love. He’s a man she maneuvered into her life so the move from wife to divorcee would be seamless.
“I could NEVER ever t involved with (insert name here) again. Ewwwwwww!”
I’ll lay odds that as her marathon conversation with this specter from her past winded down, visions of a life him in some form or fashion crossed her mind. How could it not? Name me one normal red-blooded sentient woman who couldn’t let her mind roam down the back alleys of her imagination as she’s being told she was/is the love of someone’s life. That her absence has been felt every day for almost four decades. That losing her was and always will be his life’s singularly biggest regret.
I had one of those heartaches. I had one of those relationships that I let haunt me. I allowed a simple, acne-faced 15-year-old boy who broke up with me four days into my Freshman year of high school dictate me emotionally for 39 years. He was there, always present, seething in soul , gripping like a vice. In some form or fashion, he was there on every date, every uttered “I love you”, every break up, every holiday.
After high school, he went straight to work. No college for him. He was a simple guy. He found a job in the oil patch and never looked back. He married a women he met in a small town where he’d landed a job; they married and had kids and last I heard, he had a couple of grandchildren added to his family tree.
Bully for him.
This was the guy who broke up with me before every major gift giving holiday. I could always count on heartache two to three days before Christmas, my birthday and Valentine’s Day. Easter,too. Once, I accused him of being a Jehovah’s Witness, a reference that moved his bangs as it flew over his head. Yet, I loved the little SOB. He was my first boyfriend; my first love and at age 12, no less. In the two years that we were together, he gave me a yellow smiley face lollipop (which I kept as long as I can remember), a small black pocket comb with greasy kid stuff still in it , a very well-worn green and white cap with just as much greasy kid stuff in the inner lining, but the pièce de résistance???? He gave me a corroded silver-colored ring (I’ve yet to find the particular metal ANYWHERE on the table of elements) with green colored stones and three were missing. He explained that the ring was in his jeans pocket when an impromptu game of backyard football broke out in the neighborhood.
As for the corrosion? I shudder to think what might have started THAT scientific process. He found it, I’m sure but what did that matter? I didn’t care. HE gave it to ME.
I was lucky in that I was able to talk to him a few years ago. A few weeks of phone calls, that’s all. In that time, I was able to ask him why he left me so suddenly, without a real explanation and without ever really talking to me and he told me that he did so because I was in high school and would probably want to start dating and based on my upbringing he assumed that meant dinners and movies which took time and money–both of which he little of—and he was too embarrassed to tell me. So, he did the sensible thing and broke up with me.
I can remember going silent at the end of the explanation, the reality that I was devastated by reverse snobbery was sobering. I don’t remember what was said or even how much longer we talked, but I do remember this overwhelming feeling of release immerse me. When we last spoke I had no money, only a half ass job, no boyfriend, certainly no modeling contracts or Academy Awards, the Pulitzer had eluded me, as did motherhood and marriage, but even in the face of all those perceived negatives, I had one bright, shiny positive: I had an answer to the single most pressing question of my life.
It made up for all the deficits during those holidays 43 years ago. It was the best thing; the ONLY real thing of value he ever gave me: the gift of closure.
This, I explained to my friend, is pivotal. She should meet with this guy from her past that still holds the torch for her or at the very least, send him an email or something that could free him of the hold she has had on him.
“He told me he’s miserable and his marriage is nothing more than a joyless business arrangement. He’s not happy because it was never what he wanted.”
Of course it failed. He settled.
Then, I explained it to her as I saw it, from someone who was haunted by a lost love for so long. Emotional closure is vital for anyone who’s loved too long and all alone. My God, is THAT a horrendous way to exist.
Sometimes it takes a gentle shove….a nudge….sometimes a major kick in the ass, but easing the pain is so important. Not that it’s my friend’s responsibility, not that it was my ex boyfriend’s either, but being told the real reason–even though it hurt a bit—was incredibly worth all risks, all feelings….everything. I could stop the doubting; the incessant wondering how and why.
But the truth is, I was a lot like Dorothy Gale of the Oz and Kansas Gales. I had the power to free myself of my emotional enslavement all along, but I never really knew it. Perhaps, I did but it served a good purpose. I used it like a protective layer; an impenetrable fortress. Nothing gets near me; I am safe. But confines like that also allow nothing in either. But I used it for as long as I used it–it kept me from getting too close to a lot of people. So when I finally got the answer to a question that became rhetorical, 39 years ago, I let go. I suppose it was time.
My life has changed since the big release, in that he’s really no longer in it. I rarely think about him anymore. Oh, he’ll creep in when a song comes on that sweeps me back to 1972, but only in a certain fondness. I don’t revisit unless a memory is triggered, and lately that trigger has a very secure safety on it. As for the smiley face sucker? I kept that for a long time, but eventually mice or other critters who forage storage spaces for food, destroyed it and I would imagine the comb and cap met the same fate. The ring, you ask? I still have it. It’s in a jewelry box somewhere and there it sits, just as it has for the past 42 years but I would imagine these days, it contains a few less green stones and the curious setting is now probably a lovely rust color.
The idealization of who he was and what he had all those years ago has long dispersed. And that is a very, very good thing; a process that has taken a very long time. I am free. I now have a few well sorted memories that I keep in a memory bouquet. I comprised it like one would order off a menu at a Chinese restaurant: I’ve taken a few memories from 1971, a couple from 1972 and one or two from 1973 just to complete the triad of years.
“Please set him free”, I begged my friend. “You have to do for him what he can’t for himself. Write him, phone him, telegraph, send a carrier pigeon. How you do it is your choice, but please, just do it.”
She replied, “Why should I? I owe him nothing. It was a lifetime ago!”
My answer came surprisingly quick.
I told her when spend most of your life, loving someone in your past and it’s that all-encompassing love that burns as it cools, races as it rests; leans as it stands tall and straight, you have no traditional concept of time. Any prisoner will tell you a 42 year sentence takes forever to endure, but amazingly, when you look back on it, it takes all of 42 seconds relive. And in that time, which transpires quickly then slowly, then back again, all you can think about is being free from its clutches.
Freedom. And sometimes, for the damnedest of reasons, freedom isn’t a choice….. but in some cases, it can certainly be a gift.
She assures me, he’ll be receiving her email soon.