A few days ago I wrote about how depressed I am about:
I hedged a bit at the end, acknowledging that there is one thing I’d really like to do before I die but that it’d be hard to explain and that I’d sound like a loon if I tried.
But then I thought about it and realized that that ship has pretty much sailed anyway. Anyone who knows me halfway well knows I’m eccentric (a polite way of putting “annoying as hell and needy for attention”)… and probably is tired of hearing me talk about my “daddy issues” (“my dad beat me and never had a kind word to say about me, oh no!”) So, yeah, I probably can’t surprise anyone at this point.
So here goes:
When I was in my second year of graduate school, I had no girlfriend and no real expectation of getting one. Newsflash: A guy with ultra-low self esteem doesn’t attract women.
Inexplicably, though, when I least expected it I did meet someone. Someone smart, pretty, fun to be with and as far as I was concerned, way out of my league. I developed a severe crush on her.
It slowly dawned on me that she had developed quite the crush on me as well. (Even after I spotted a post-it note on her office phone with all four phone numbers — home, work, academic department, academic department study lounge — that could be used to reach me, I still found myself thinking, “naaaaw”. I’m an idiot.) We wound up talking daily on the telephone, for hours, and I used any excuse I could to spend time with her in person. We had dinner out together a few times. We met for coffee now and then. But, because I’m me and because I was just as much of an bonehead then as I am now, I still found myself doubting that she really, um, you know, liked me. That is, until one night when I found out in extremely convincing fashion that she did.
That autumn was probably the happiest time of my life. I kept thinking that at any moment I was going to wake up and find out it was all a dream. People who knew us could tell just by glancing at us how utterly head over heels we both were and thought it was kind of cute, kind of funny.
(Parenthetically, this all happened during the fall of 1989. Between the San Francisco World Series earthquake and the fall of the Berlin Wall, some would say it was a pretty momentous time. Well, from my point of view, it was more “who cares about the end of the Cold War? I’m in love.”)
There was only one problem. She was married. Very unhappily. She’d asked for a divorce once already and her husband had begged and pleaded with her to stay and had promised to change. But he hadn’t. He was emotionally cold, was not physically interested in her at all, and I hated his guts without ever having met him. The problem was compounded by the fact that she’d grown up in a pretty conservative family in the upper Midwest. She alternated between being deliriously happy and being utterly miserable with guilt. She just knew that seeing someone (me) on the side was WRONG WRONG WRONG no matter how awful her marriage was and no matter how happy I made her. But rather than leaving her husband for once and for all, she developed a complex where she had an imaginary scarlet letter on her forehead and she “knew” that if she DID leave him for me, everyone would know what we’d been up to and she couldn’t bear that shame.
Heeeeeey, guess what? I’m not the only insane person around!
We wound up in this crazy cycle of “c’mere, c’mere, c’mere, get away, get away, get away.” We both acted pretty irrationally. Some days it was just like nothing had changed. Some days she acted like she was shocked at my familiarity. Drove me bonkers. I got a little crazy too. Eventually my wistful puppy-dog eyes got to be too much — she couldn’t stand knowing how desperately I wanted her and knowing how much she wanted me back — and she cut off all contact. Then she and her husband moved away. I got on with my life.
End of story?
Well, yes and no. I spent two and a half years sunk in depression, before I met Carole and decided to get my act together. And I’ve been very happy with Carole. (We’ve been married 21 years and we’ve been together for almost 23. I’d better be happy with her.) But there’s this part of me that still thinks about … Her. And wants desperately to talk to her one more time before I die.
I know it’s just totally batshit that I think this way, that I want to somehow be friends with her again. As it happens, I know where she lives, I know that she’s still married (and never had kids), where she works, and so on. Google is your friend. (Yes, I’m pathetic.) I’ve even sent her a letter or two or three over the decades, apologizing for anything and everything I can think of. No response. Probably for the best.
It really really really sucks to have a subroutine in your head that just won’t let go of memories of one’s first love. Carole has something of the same thing going — she had a boyfriend in college that she would happily have spent the rest of her life with. Problem was, she was young and stupid and took the relationship for granted and … then she didn’t have that boyfriend any more. And she still thinks about him from time to time. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that a lot of people have the same problem we do — living in the past, dwelling forever on the mistakes that cost them someone they cared for a lot.
But that’s the one thing I wish I could have, that I wish I could accomplish, and that I know that I’ll almost certainly go to my grave without achieving: I’d like somehow, someway, to repair that long-ago damage that we did to each other and somehow be friends again. Just friends. We used to have these long wonderful talks on the phone about this and that and the other and, well, I miss them.
I’ve been able to make amends to some of the people I’ve fallen out with over the years. I’ve tried to right wrongs where I can, and I’ve tried to be a better person. I’ve tried to let the people I care about know that I care about and value them. I don’t want to wind up on my deathbed with a long ledger of things I never got around to resolving.
I guess, though, that I’d better get used to the idea that I’m going to die with the biggest loose end out there left dangling.