Maybe it’s a mid life crisis.
Maybe that’s what it is that is forcing me to be looking back into my past and find resolution, find peace. I am, after all, in my early forties now, and searching all of the time for where I am going, what I am doing with my life. Which is likely why I found myself last Sunday evening sitting in a bar next to another person whom I loved in the past. For those of you keeping count, that’s twice in less than a month that I’ve reconnected with someone who figured large in the story of my life.
This time it was Dennis. Dennis, whom I had drunk Googled a few months back, and then later, screwed up my courage and called on the phone. The conversation was easy and flowed as if the years of silence had hardly existed. We exchanged emails, and he told me that I should let him know when I’d next be in town. When I made plans to travel out to see my family during my kids’ Spring Break this week, I let him know I’d be in the area. We made plans to meet at a local bar and grill, as we’d done so many times in the past.
Five hours (!) later, when I drove home far later than I’d anticipated doing, I had a smile on my face. It was just like old times. We’d talked about the years we’d missed in each other’s lives, we talked about teaching and politics and all the things I’d loved talking about with him way back when. And we talked about us, our relationship, and what had happened to end it. “I’ve been loved,” I whispered, as I slowly navigated the dark streets of my past.
“You know there are all sorts of ways of loving a person. There’s that instant attraction, love at first sight,” he’d said while sipping his beer, which had followed a martini. I nodded and held my glass of cabernet, slowly turning it in endless circles. “But it wasn’t like that with us. You were fifteen when we met, of course. With us, it was like a friendship that just grew and grew. And by the end, you know, I was falling in love with you.”
I had known that, of course. He’d told me that after I’d broken up with him. But still, it was nice to hear it repeated, all of these years later. It was still true. He still thought fondly of me. He still used the word “love” when he talked of those times. It made my head spin, a bit. I knew I’d still felt that way, that the emotions were never tainted by the ending of our relationship; it was nice to know he felt the same.
“If you recall,” I said slowly, looking into the dark red of my wine glass, “That’s of course why I broke up with you. Because I was falling in love with you, and I knew that it would have to end. You weren’t going to leave your wife, and you didn’t want more kids. You were always very honest about that, and I was changing the rules. It would have ended the same way eventually, no matter when I did it. I was always going to want more than you were able to give.”
He took another swig, and looked at me squarely. He’d always been able to do that, be utterly honest and direct, without pretense or shame. “True. I definitely did not want more children. Sure, I might have ended up with you if we’d continued on, and left my wife. But I still would have not wanted more kids.”
I nodded, hearing in my head the same story I’d told myself for the 19 years since our relationship happened. Love, yes. Wait…what?
I replayed the sentence in my head again, realizing it did not jibe, it didn’t match. In my story, he had been clear that he would never have left his wife. And I had even told myself since reconnecting with him that it had been true; after all, he was still married to her now. But here he was, telling me that perhaps indeed there might have been a different future that could have existed if I hadn’t split with him all those years ago. That part, I didn’t remember. That part, I don’t think he ever admitted.
I pulled apart the half eaten quesadilla in front of me, a nervous action that I used in an attempt at covering up the emotions bubbling too close to the surface. A whole different future, a whole different life. What would that have been like? I clamped my wandering thoughts down, trying to stay in the moment with him.
“Well,” I said finally, groping for words. I had to be honest, to give him the gift of truth as he’d just given me. “I have never regretted that we shared that time together, that we explored that part of who we were to each other. In fact, I’ve always looked back and been very glad that we went down that road together.” There was more, much more to say, of course. I took a sip of the cabernet in the space in between what I was able to say freely and what I struggled to put into words.
“Good,” Dennis responded quickly into the pause I had created. “Me too,” he said simply, thus answering one of the most burning questions I’d wondered about in the time since we’d lost touch. And then he smiled, so reassuringly that I couldn’t help but break into a smile myself.
“I guess the only regret I have now is that I couldn’t have just allowed myself to be happy with you a little while longer,” I responded. It was as far as I could go with the topic aloud, in his presence.
But later, as I drove back to my sister’s house, the thoughts recurred. I’ve been loved, I thought. What a wonder that is, after all of this time. To know that there was love, that a different path could have been there for me, had I chosen differently. I was thankful that I had a twelve hour drive to endlessly mull the question before I reentered My Current Life back here at home. You know which one I am talking about.