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.