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The Very Long Thaw

February 13, 2012

Can we ever outrun our past selves? No matter how far away you move, how many lessons you learn, how many friendships fall away and are replaced, no matter how many wrinkles and grey hairs appear, must we always carry the weight of our pasts, with all that we’ve done and left undone?

This past week, my little backpack of past caught up with me.  I had to stop and unpack it, see what was inside that was weighing me down, throw out some of the heaviest trash, and repack what was left, so I’d have easy access to the things I needed – like the realization that I don’t know the first thing about what I think I know when it comes to people, the knowledge that things that have never been dealt with never really go away, and a tiny mirror that shows what a boring, undeveloped person I would be had I always done the right thing, had never gone searching for myself at the cost of others, had never made a mistake.

In my college days, I had a boyfriend whom, for the sake of whatever anonymity I can scrounge on a blog read mostly by people who know me personally, I’ll call ….Jeremy.  Jeremy was different than other boyfriends I had. In my previous post, The Cosmic Woman, I wrote about how I had spent my earlier years seeking validation through men. The better-looking, the more desirable the man, the bigger boost my confidence took. Jeremy was different – he was a big guy, tall and a little overweight, a pleasant face and very pretty eyes, but not handsome enough to even cross my radar for the first few years I knew him. Plus, he had a fiancée, placing him even further out of my circle of desire.

Jeremy and I were both theatre students at the same college. In his senior year (my second), we suddenly both found ourselves single.  In spite of my best efforts to try to fall in love with a very good-looking freshman actor, I couldn’t stop thinking about Jeremy. Why? He had an intelligence that was mesmerizing. He was solid, stable and mature – rare in the world of acting students. I started talking to him more often. He had a way of speaking in fits and spurts, like the ideas were coming too fast for breath. By the end of our first date, I knew I wanted him to lose his breath talking to me. And he did. He was one of the first men who ever really got turned on by my brain and not my breasts. He validated me to my very core, and in a way for which I was unprepared.

The chemistry between us became something of a legend in our department. People would walk in a room where we were and comment on the electricity. We had conversations where we would just stand in front of each other silently, knowing we were both getting it, the shared thoughts too quick for words. We’d hang out in his apartment, talking music and plays for hours, the discussions sexier than anything I had ever done with any other boyfriend. Physically, I was so comfortable. Knowing that he was responding to me in such an unbodied way allowed me to drop the femme fatale persona I had worn, and respond to him honestly.

Then, as was my way, I started to screw things up. A beautiful, unattainable classmate, the one that everyone wanted to date, crossed my path one night. Flattered that it was me he wanted, I cheated. This kind of validation, though, isn’t effective unless people know about it. I was somehow perversely proud of what I had done, and I ran to confess to Jeremy.  He forgave me, and we continued on for a little while….until I ended up making out at a cast party with my costar in the play in which Jeremy was directing me. Still, he took me back. I continued to push him in other ways, to see how much he would let me do before he would decide I just wasn’t worth it.

He graduated, and moved to another city for a job. I went to England for a summer. When I came home, we met again. All the good stuff was still there; just a little tattered by distance and pain. We made a decision to try to stay together despite living in different cities.

Several weeks later, I got a late-night phone call. “I’ve met someone,” he said. “I think she might be the one.” So, I let him go, feeling sickly satisfied that finally, I had driven him away.

It took a while before I realized he had frozen me out of his life completely. Having been able to remain friends with all my exes, I assumed that Jeremy and I would, in time, be able to turn the mental connection into a friendship, at least.  But, my phone calls started going unanswered, my messages ignored. I heard news of him from classmates and friends, of shows he was directing, things he was doing. Each time, I put on a big smile as if I had been in touch with him and knew all. Then, several short months later, I was drinking with classmates after a rehearsal, and somebody said, “Jeremy’s getting married. Did you hear?”

No, I hadn’t heard. I hadn’t heard a thing. For the first time since our breakup, I was in absolute, heartbreaking pain. It wasn’t because I had lost him. It wasn’t because I believed that he actually really belonged with me. In fact, I was, in the very back of my heart, happy for him.

It was his silence that ripped into me. I had thought that, in time, in the very small Newfoundland Theatre world of overlapping acquaintances and shared projects, he would come around. I thought about him constantly, even though I had moved on to another boyfriend. The fact that such happy, huge news, news that he must have known would affect me, was not enough to make him pick up a phone completely undid me. Everything good he made me believe about myself became a lie. The man who could set me on fire with his words had decided I wasn’t worth talking to.

I saw him once more in the months following my graduation. He was directing a show, and I dragged my reluctant, gorgeous boyfriend with me, so that I could show Jeremy none of it mattered to me. At intermission, I found myself in a strained, polite conversation with Jeremy. We talked of bad actors and his infant son (another big news story I heard from someone else), and there might as well have been a cement wall between us. Not a spark of who I might have been to him crossed his eyes.  I went home with the pretty, long-haired boyfriend and somewhere, between the hours of 5 and 6 am, released Jeremy from my heart.  I didn’t talk to him for the next 17 years.

Then, along came Facebook, of course. Sure that enough time had gone by, I requested his friendship – twice, I think. He completely ignored me.  My third, last-ditch request was accompanied with a note: “Add me, Dammnit!!” He did, and I sent him a polite message, thanking him and complimenting him on his very lovely-looking family. Again, I got nothing but silence – for another couple of years.

Suddenly, last week somebody posted something on Facebook that caught my attention. It was the word “Sapiosexual” with a definition: A person who is sexually attracted to intelligence in others. I liked it so much; I reposted it on my wall. And yes, it made me think of Jeremy, as well as a rare few others. The next day, I saw that Jeremy had “liked” the post. I imagined him sitting in front of his computer, tickled far enough out of his hatred of me to hit the “like” button. It was the first spark of connection I had from him.  I decided to run with it.

I composed a message, apologizing to him for my mistreatment of our love, for being the record-holding Shittiest Girlfriend Ever.  I told him how much I missed the friendship that never manifested afterwards, and how I hoped that someday, somewhere there would be a stiff pour of whiskey and a conversation that would bring it about. In spite of all the evidence that I shouldn’t, I hit “send”. I wasn’t even sure he would read it. So many years of silence made me sure he despised me. It made me even surer I deserved it.

A few hours later, I got an answer. He had just turned 45, he was reflecting on things. He spoke of regrets, apologies of his own and could we, someday, get that drink?

And just like that, someone I believed lost to me was back in my life. The truth is he never went away. Every hurt we inflicted on each other, me during the relationship and him after, still rang through us like far-away bells. It was done, but it wasn’t over. There had never been a funeral for our relationship, never an autopsy. How could we not be haunted?  I don’t know yet why he turned his back on me, exactly, and I don’t think he knows either. Yes, he may have been rightfully angry and proud. It most likely was the momentum of silence.

After reading his reply, I went into the living room and looked at a photo of myself that was taken in my last year of theatre school. Yes, that girl was cruel, wasting a heart as earnest as Jeremy’s. Yet, she had an impossibly vulnerable soul,  believing she was worthy of scorn, that she could only hurt those who loved her, and that her breasts were still the most interesting thing about her. Strutting around in her boots and bodysuits, her tuxedo jackets and crazy curls, she was just a little lost. In a way, moving halfway around the world, putting on weight, straightening my hair and giving up all theatre, I was ignoring that girl just as Jeremy had ignored me. She had never been dealt with. She wasn’t worth talking to.

Is it odd that reconnecting with him has let me forgive myself for the mistakes I made back then, with him, with myself? My marriage has been incredibly healing for me, mostly, and I thought that through figuring out how to make it work, I had made peace with all the versions of myself I’ve shown to the world. Still, I have only to look in a mirror, still see the weight, the straightened hair to know that there’s more work to be done.

But for now, I am celebrating the return of a very long-lost friend and the insights and understanding that lay around the corner. And I am talking as much about myself as I am Jeremy.

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7 comments

  1. A beautiful reflection of how someone can reflect back at you and then you, at yourself.


  2. Wow. Riveting.


  3. Your stuff always touches a chord in me. This time it’s Mistakes i have made…people i have treated badly, love that could have turned out differently. It’s the stuff i’d rather not dwell on, but it’s in there crawling around just beneath my skin. I have so much to regret…so many failures. And what do i concentrate on? Who? The wonderful woman i married in my last ditch effort to be straight? I sure screwed up that time. Luckily we were very honest, moved on and each of us has found a great guy. What about that smoldering unrequited love? Me just too timid and afraid of being rejected, but burning and longing and suffering for so many years of uncertainty. Did he really wrap my arms around him, or was that one of many, many dreams about “us”? How many lies have i sold myself? Can i ever really admit what actually happened…what ridiculously and obviously crooked paths i’ve started down? Can i ever truly own my stupidities? Or will i just reinterpret my past relationships until they are finally bearable, finally acceptable, until i can breathe and lie to myself that now i am at peace with what i have done?
    Butch and i met 44 years ago. We were 18. We were marines. He came to me. I was scrubbing clothes at the cement wash tables. Infantry training…50 caliber machine gun school. Everybody realized that i was just too small tomaster the weapon. I felt ashamed of myself. I scrubbed, blue. Butch just appeared in front of me. “i saw you at boot camp. I’ve wanted to meet you. Now i’ve found you. What are you doing? Washing your clothes?”. We fell in love. It wasn’t much of a love. We were tough guys, marines. Our kind of love meant a bad conduct discharge and irreversible disgrace. So we had tobe careful. We had to hold back. We had to accept that what we wanted was just not to be tolerated. But i adored him, and when i graduated third in my class and he second from the bottom, i followed him to a rough duty station so that i could be near him. And there, the bad guys found me: the guys who sold LSD and pot on base. I had grown up rough, very rough, and it seems i have a stamp on my head that identifies my familiarity with the darker tings in life…. So the bad guys started coming around us with their crimes and their bragging and their blown out toughness:teen aged gangsters are the gaudiest bad guys. Butch who grew up cleaner than clean, was swept away by the tough talk… I hated it. I hated these tough guys. I hated that they’d “read me”. I hated that Butch was being sucked in by the glamour of the darkness. We had plans for when we got out of the Corps. We had dreams of our possibilities together. We imagined a little cabin way out in the middle of nowhere where we could be together in ways that were forbidden to us now. We were young men, but we were serious about one another, but here he was, intoxicated by these druggies who wouldn’t be anywhere near him if it weren’t for me. I was ruining this wonderfully decent, clean man because my past was so indecent, so dirty.
    And so, behind his back, i volunteered to go to Viet-Nam. When i told him, he was angry, confused, even more angry. I had ruined everything. I did it to save him. I figured the bad guys would depart with my departure, and he’d be fine again, clean. But how do you make the one you love understand why you are leaving them? And so, i broke our hearts, and i made him hate me….my Butch, my first true love.
    Where is he today? Who knows? Years ago i searched for his name at the Viet-Nam Veterand memorial. It wasn’t there. He may be alive. We might have been. Did i do the right thing?


  4. Thank you, my regular readers and commenters for sticking with me in spite of it being so long since I had posted. I have been writing regularly, but have been focusing on fiction and poetry. It felt good to get back into proper blogging over the past couple of days. Your encouragement and comments motivate me, incredibly.


  5. John,

    Thanks for sharing, and for posting your story. It made me cry with its sincerity and sadness. And yes, you did the right thing. Any mistake left unmade would make you a different person today, and we wouldn’t want you any other way.


  6. That was beautiful. xo


  7. Wow. I am so deeply moved by the raw honesty, in its beautiful presentation, that I just read. How courageous a thing it is, to look with your eyes wide open on your past; and how inspiring it is to hear, and feel it resonate, that this past is an ever-evolving layer of color on the canvas of our lives.
    I am thinking of all the paths and choices that were taken or not, in order for my life to have met with yours, and I’m grateful for them, for this.



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