Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ick! An Emotion! Make It Stop!

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, 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,



  1. Ah, sometimes a good cry is absolutely needed. I've read that tears actually contain toxins that are washed out of your body...I don't know if that's true, but it sure does make you feel better, doesn't it? :) (Well, at least most of the time.)

    Another of my blog buddies wrote this week about "what if?" she had taken another path in life. It must be the fall...I think that the change in seasons makes us really reflect upon our lives.

    Anyway, I'm glad you had the good cry that needed to be had for so long. :)

  2. What Miss Healthypants said. I'm happy you got to reconnect and have you long-deserved cry. I spent a lot of time wondering "what if." I don't anymore. Not a defensive tactic, I just can't waste the time.

  3. There are times when I wonder what if I had done something different in my youth, what difference would it have made? Would my life be better or worse? I think it would be the same. We go through our lives and learn the lessons we need.

    Okay, that is being more optimistic than I would usually let on--almost religious or something ;~) but it's the best that I can tell myself since really everything is conjecture anyway...I want my life to have meaning therefore I give it meaning.

  4. Ahh honey, it's ca;;ed closure and sometimes it really sucks.
    Being the meany I am, let me tell ya someting.
    Sometimes I cry watching a fucling commercial.
    Such is the joy of being Bi Polar and not being able to control yer emotions at times.
    On another note, a hundred and eighty degrees from your emotional carnival ride, I have recently hooked up with a lady from my way back, twenty five years ot so and we have been having wild monkey sex.

    Sometimes fate is a cruel bitch, sometimes it's just unexplainable good fortune.

    Good luck to ya honey and go screw the brains out of Math Man.
    I think ya got a purty good thing going on there.
    What's past is past, turn out the lights and get it on with the one ya brung.

    Smooches, Busted

  5. I dunno if I want to see too much of my past. Memory is so often a Crayola or a Pink Pearl and fact and fiction become garbled with years - some things are better left alone.

    I suspect your tears were cathartic and something of a final rinse. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is unknown - and so we plod along.

  6. Wow. Amazing what a moment's reconnection can do to a grown woman. I was gripped with every word. But why did you suddenly leave and never re-connect? How did you only find each other now? I think this story deserves a Part Deux...

  7. Crying is normal. Not crying or being unable to do so should be cause for concern.

  8. revisiting the hopefulness of youth, perhaps, stings. Fantasy, illusion, desire, all of it still trapped in the image of what might have been. Grieving the loss of who you once were...getting older is a bitch...
    Let the tears flow--I once heard a quote from some wise person who said 'when your heart is breaking, let it break--the breaking opens it wider.'
    so maybe your heart will become larger than you've ever thought it could...
    oh, and what Busted said about Mathman--

  9. And so, you have had the enjoyment of having him in your life twice and gone twice. Do you grieve at the end of the first time of love? Or at the realization that dreams, just like nightmares, have an end?

    All the supposings have no answer. I had a longtime 'soulmate' as I called her, who I always wondered about. Had our circumstances not compelled us to different life paths, where would we be today?

    Most anything that ends too soon or anyone that dies young, the imagination idealizes. It is good that you can grieve honestly. But never cheat yourself out of the possibilities for tomorrow to honor the transient gleam of yesterday.

    Joy, after all, is an equally vital emotion that honors the permanence of you.

  10. Thank goodness for the internet. It can be a great thing to reconnect with people we thought we lost or knew we missed.

  11. Ohhh ... the ones who got away; the old flames who leave a perpetual ember in the heart.

    ...gulp ... I have one too. Haven't been in contact for over eight years now. He's the *one* man I occasionally pine for with regretful wonder: What might have been?

    My Sweet Man -- my husband -- and I got together about seven months after my last conversation with Colin. I'll call him Colin 'cause he looked a bit like Colin Firth ... sigh ...

    I'm totally with my husband; I don't want anyone else; I feel *mated* to this man in a singular way. I didn't feel that with Colin -- we never got the chance to explore that far. But he's the one person I still long for, almost reluctantly, every once in a while when I'm up late and Moby's song "Porcelain" comes up on my playlist. Then I'm a goner. For a while.

    There were two other old flames ... but the embers of feeling for them have gone the way of the gentle mourning that I feel for everyone I've lost ... I will always love them ... and thank them for what we lived together ...

    Lisa ... It's no surprise you burst in the car ... and the full force of feeling has a funny way of sideswiping you out of the blue ...

    I share your "Ick! An Emotion!" reaction ... I used to say (with fangs bared) that "need" and "feel" were four-letter words. I still struggle mightily to feel ... anything. Lifelong depression does that to a girl, eh ...

    But I know that emotion is the force that bonds us and juices us up ... it's the power of presence ... and what you've felt -- all of it -- is beautiful [though messy ;-) ] ... because it's so *real*.

    What a gorgeous, evocative story you've scribed here. Thank you so much xoxo

  12. Glad you could reconnect with an old love. Tears are good for cleansing the soul. I've often wondered about "what if" but you can't go back only forward.

  13. That was fine.

    Tears are good for the spirit.

    Thank you for writing this. (Remembering recent weeping.)

  14. Yeah, what they all said. Cryin's good sometimes. And yes, I like to say that I don't have "regrets." But this is definately a "what if" which is what I call a regret, if I don't want to call it a regret. Very sweet story, sweetly written....

  15. Despite the pain and old stuff it brings up, it's good to put "what ifs" to an end...I'm glad you got that opportunity...and you must be too....

  16. Sure, the sentences may be a bit shorter than as required by law, but goddamn if that wasn't Proustian in the best sense of the word. Man.

    I mean, emotions are icky like girl cooties.

  17. I found an old love recently on Facebook. It was kind of odd because we had parted on not so great terms - and he sent me a message that I looked "hot" and "should post more pictures". This was a bit disturbing as he was recently married...

  18. I know what you are describing. Intimately.

    I'm glad you didn't do the dangerous thing.

  19. I'm glad you are friends. The might've beens are so very hard.

  20. So many of us ask ourselves, "What would have transpired if...?"

    I can't count the many times I've wondered along that line. It's the not knowing that bothers me most.

    I'm so glad that you had a chance to re-connect with your friend.

    I feel that swallowing our feelings and emotions is so destructive. I notice when I do that, my physical health goes to sh*t. It creates a sort of emotional log-jam.

    You deserve to experience what you feel; no two ways about it.

  21. I envy you the opportunity to get back in touch and discover the years between can melt away. There is one person in my life with whom I would love to have such a chance, but I doubt it will happen.

    At least I know you've been busy with all sorts of substantive things, not laundry, the past few days.

  22. It must be our age. I do a lot of "what if" these days, much more so than I used to. I need to stop that. I'm glad you got to reconnect if only for peace of mind.

  23. i have no wise words (or any words really) to offer other than I'm glad the cry made you feel better.

  24. I must say most of the former boyfriends I've encountered over the years since simply made me cry later in relief that I hadn't continued down that particular road. Hell, I could have been in a harem in Saudi Arabia.. something I'd really rather not contemplate ;-)

  25. I was so intensely focused on your story of love, I barely breathed all the way until the end, when I too cried at the words in french I can only imagine...

    I too had one of these but alas, he is gone this world all together and we never got to say goodbye either and never saw the parting coming besides...such is the way of living in this world of compromises and heartache mixed with ecstatic joy..sometimes it even keeps me a little sane to know that some things are best left to whatever besides me is making things go, even if that's nothing but the wind...and there's always the knowing that all things are temporary and fleeting.

    so know I hear you and feel that piece, that jagged edge within that still has the power to bring you to your knees and always will...if only.

    but would you change a thing to make it go away? my guess is no.

  26. Happy birthday, Lisa! Is there any cake left? ;o)

  27. I'm sorry for your pain, but glad you got to get some of it out. I had a dear opportunity to express these things to my "one who got away" at a class reunion last year and it was both painful and cathartic. It seems to be one of those "learning to live with it" things. I so wish crying made those emotions go away. Though I am a big time crier, the font never seems to run dry. I love you.

  28. All memories are part fact and part fiction. What's the use in having them otherwise? ;-)

    I enjoyed this post. Wish it would happen to me but I've given up trying to find him...

  29. Yes, a good cry is justified - so glad you were able to tie up loose ends and reconnect.

    To me our past is all a tapestry (shades of Carole King) with different strands that weave into who we are today. Without what you had with your long-ago love, you wouldn't be the person Mathman fell in love with. And remember we always want to go back to the past "knowing what we know now." But then you wouldn't be the same person you were back then. It's all kind of mind-bending.


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