I started writing a story and I ended up bursting into tears on I20 heading east into Atlanta.
I don't like to give myself over to that dreadful emotion sadness. I have long viewed crying as a sign of weakness and I take pains to avoid such a common display of despair. I do the big eye stretch, the yawn, the look away, the lip chew, the long, deep breath and the try to think of something funny maneuver. That one works, especially when the something funny includes bodily functions and famous people.
My family is rather dysfunctional emotionally. As my brother is fond of saying "anger is the only emotion with which our family is comfortable." We can be founts of fury, veritable volcanoes of venom. We create spectacular verbal fireworks colored by coarse language once our fuses are lit and our hair trigger tempers are tripped. Some of us vent loudly and are over it quickly, others of us are legendary grudge holders.
So why the tears today? What caused me to allow the salty, hot moisture to overflow from my eyes and run down my cheeks as I swiped at them with the back of my hand in between shifting gears in the stop and go traffic of this raining morning?
Like any individual's emotions, the causes were both complicated and simple. The quick answer is that I finally allowed myself to grieve, to release an emotion that had been bottled up inside me for the past twenty-two years. The longer, more complex answer involves regret, choices, mistakes, misunderstandings, language barriers and matters of the heart.
Last night, I spoke with and saw someone who had all but disappeared from my life back in the late summer of 1987. With this person, I had shared an immediate connection, an intense love affair and a wrenching apart that was both practical and victimizing. In an instant, the last twenty-two years melted away and when I heard his voice and saw his face, I wanted to reach through the computer and squeeze him like he squeezed me all those years ago.
See - we never said goodbye. Circumstances beyond our control separated us, as did an ocean. And as easy as it might be to say "well, silly, it was 1987, not 1887" it wasn't as simple as that. We were both college students without much money and expiring visas. His parents were as unhappy as mine were that the two of use wanted a future together. Phone messages were never relayed, letters were never forwarded and then, in a need to move on without a proper ending, I plunged into a relationship that turned into a marriage that has lasted, albeit bumpily.
Last night's conversation was a chance to ask the question why? Why did you leave? Why didn't you ask me to stay? The air was heavy with longing for those kids we once were. We each confessed that we'd searched for the other over the years and it seems as inevitable that we would reconnect one day as it was that we would connect the first time. For the knowledge that he is alive and well, I am grateful to Facebook.
The memory of that conversation over Skpe will last just like the memories of August 1987 that are captured in my journal. For posterity, I will collect the details that seem of little consequence today, but down the road may serve as markers that what we shared - now a friendship - was real. He drank whiskey, I had red wine. He looks just the same, but wears glasses for close up work. I am heavier and my once auburn hair is now gray and longer. His shirt was a polo the color of the daytime sky. I was wearing a brown tank and shorts with a hole in the pocket that my cellphone always falls through. I turned to my old Collins Robert French dictionary when I couldn't understand something and he tried very hard not to wince at how horribly I mangled French verbs, inventing new conjugations as I went.
We caught up on the old places, the people we both knew. I showed him Fiona the cat and he showed me his guinea pig. We talked about our kids and discussed our careers. He joked me that I'd changed the course of his life when I vanished. Perhaps I threw a wrench into his plans to become the first Moroccan born Prime Minister of France. When the conversation got too close to the subject of what might have been - what would our shared life had been like? Where would we have lived? What would we be doing for a living? Would there have been, not the children who do exist, but others? When we got too close to that, we glided away, toasting each other or asking some harmless question like "so what kind of music do you listen to these days?" I think he even shouted at me in French to show him my boobies, but I can't be sure. He may have been asking me what the weather was like here in Georgia. It's been a long time since I was fluent.
So the tears....today, I finally let myself have that good cry I should have had in 1987. And I refuse to feel silly for it. As I drove and let the pain of loss come this morning, I considered what it would be like if we had the gift of going back. Would we really want to? Would we want to sacrifice what we have now in order to see what might have happened? It's an old question with no answer. It's safe to say that I regret that I didn't do more to stay in contact with this person, to see what could have been had we been able to make a life together, but I cannot regret the lives that have been created because of the choices we made long ago. And I cannot mourn the future that never materialized.
I shared with my friend the parts of the story that include him and he told me that he enjoyed reading it. I can only imagine how it translates into French. For him it is a little bizarre to have his past handed to him in prose. I laughed when he told me that. Even more bizarre is the fact that to make the story work, I'm mixing fact with fiction. Since he was not the obsessive diarist I was, he'll just have to take my word for it when I tell him which parts are history and which parts are embellishment.
I've been lucky to love and be loved by some amazing and wonderful men in my life. Because of our unfortunate and abrupt ending, he was always more of mystery than the others. And now that my tears have dried, I can tell you that I am glad that he is part of the story.
Pour Abdel, avec l'affection.
Until next Wednesday,