Remember that old Dan Fogelberg song? When he runs into his old girlfriend on Christmas Eve?
Met my old lover in the grocery store. The snow was falling, Christmas Eve.
This just happened to me. Well, sort of.
Granted, it wasn't Christmas Eve. I wasn't in the frozen food section and we didn't share a six-pack in my car.
BUT, the rest was just like the song.
Not long ago, completely out of the blue, I received an email from an old boyfriend. It's true that right after my divorce I may or may not have tried to find him in the usual places: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I might have even Googled him. Oh come on. Don't judge. You've done it with your exes, too.
Anyway, back to the email. For once, his timing was impeccable.
Twenty-six years ago, in May of 1990, I had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in English. As I waited for the job offers to pour in (who doesn't want to employ a girl who can read a good book like a biatch?), I spent the summer waitressing at an old-fashioned summer resort and fell in love.
And I had the time of my life.
He was like Patrick Swayze (without those stretchy dancer pants they try to pass off as regular pants but you can totally tell they're dancy-pants) with a million dollar smile, great hair, and an Australian accent. He was a race car engineer. I didn't even know what that was, but his accent was so dreamy that when he talked about Midnight Oil, even though I knew nothing about cars, I could listen to him all night.
By August, I had packed my belongings and moved with him to San Francisco. I was high on romance, and a trek across America was the ultimate trip. I was ready for adventure. What girl didn't want to move to California with an Australian instead of get a regular job? I had big hair, bigger shoulder pads, and a red Cabriolet filled with mix tapes.
And although motorsports was an exciting lifestyle, it turned out to be quite stressful and unpredictable as well. After a couple years, I began to crave routine and security. My friends were marrying accountants and buying starter homes. We were long on love, yet short on money, maturity and wisdom. Good mix tapes only get you so far.
If we had met three years later, we may have had a chance. A darn good chance. But as he traveled and I went back to school, our dreams conflicted. He needed to be on the road. I needed to be in class. Love wasn’t enough, and eventually, through a lot of tears and hugs, we parted ways. That was over twenty years ago.
In his email, he explained he'd be in town for one night on business and invited me to dinner. Before saying yes, feelings of insecurity plagued me.
Would he still like my smile? My laugh? And the way I talk with my hands?
Would he hear resilience in my voice?
Would he see the extra weight I carry as armor against my loneliness?
Would my laugh lines remind him of my humor and not my age?
Would he see that under my tough exterior and crutch of humor there is still a great deal of pain from a hurtful marriage?
Seriously, I went on overthinking the whole thing for a good hour, asking myself these ridiculous questions, because before I do anything, I've got to complicate the shit out of it. In the end, I channelled my inner Stuart Smalley and said, "Yes."
The minute I walked through the door, I saw the same 20-year old with whom I fell in love. He wasn’t looking at my thighs or examining my wrinkles. He flashed that same toothy grin and I immediately felt decades younger. My heart warmed with relief as we hugged.
I told him about my boys, my writing, and my xxxxx, xxxxxxxx marriage (phrase redacted per wise divorce attorney). He was visibly surprised and concerned. Pouring out my heart to him was different than sharing with a long, lost girlfriend. Here was a man who had loved me very differently than my husband. Being in his presence again reminded me that I am worthy of goodness and that I can be a good judge of character. Not everyone is xxxxx, xxxxxx, xxxxxx (yep, she made me remove that part, too).
I listened as he told me about his mum, who I remembered fondly. He showed me pictures of his beautiful daughter and wife. It turns out he did find success as an engineer for a racing team and also became a world champion jet ski racer. (Seriously! Right!?!) He told me about the life he had built for himself. It all came together for him and I could not have been more happy for him. He was clearly content and fulfilled.
We reminisced for hours. We laughed about how I couldn’t figure out how to turn on our first vacuum cleaner and that time some pervert stole my underwear from the laundry room of our apartment complex. We lamented that the pay phone from which he used to call me had been taken down.
I hadn’t expected to reconnect so easily. The longer we talked, the fewer years seemed to have passed. For a moment, I could have walked right back into that life.
But that’s what love does. In my head I knew that chapter in my life was closed. He has a wife and I have… Well, I have my sons and they need me.
I fell into a funk in the days that passed. My loneliness seemed magnified and harder to manage. It had felt so good to sit across the table from someone who had loved me so much. Someone who could finish my sentences. Someone who didn’t take so much work. Someone who made me a better person. I had forgotten what that felt like.
I was teary, and before we parted he said, “You look exactly the same, except without the big shoulder pads.” And from that moment on, I knew I'd love him forever.
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