I've known this boy since I was 17 years old, and he was 16. He was a pizza carryout guy and I was a busgirl. He wore Stryper t-shirts and really bad red and white high-top tennis shoes. I had a Poison t-shirt that I wore under my bus shirt, and unbelievably terrible bug-eyed glasses. We went to my senior prom together. He stole a bottle of Southern Comfort from the restaurant we worked in, we danced to some dumb song called "Two Occasions", and all of us, the whole group of us, watched 9 1/2 Weeks after, and LAUGHED THE WHOLE TIME, geeks that we are.
He was never my boyfriend, but he was the first person I truly, purely loved - and I guess you'd say my first heartbreak. We have been friends for almost twenty years.
I got his wedding invitation in the mail today.
I haven't talked to him in probably, oh, nine months or so. That night, he told me that he had a dream about me the night before, and in the dream I was a superstar. And I said, "This is news?" and we laughed.
I knew he and the girl he's been dating for the past year or so had bought a house, because a mutual friend of ours told me. He wasn't really a guy to keep in touch. We always joked about the "black hole" of his correspondence. Then, tonight, after dragging myself home from an exhausting MONTH, capped with rehearsal for a performance I'm in this weekend, I was flipping through my credit card bills and other propaganda, when I saw the tell-tale "Love" stamp and pre-printed envelope with my name on it. No "Honour of your presence," no "the favour of a reply is requested," just two names, one of them extremely familiar, on crooked home-printed invitations, gettin' married at the VFW in Southwest Virginia. In two weeks.
This is really, really weird. I wasn't expecting this to be this weird. And what's even stranger is that I was thinking about him on the plane to Florida last week, wondering what was up with him and whether this girl would, indeed, be the one. He's been a serial monagamist for years, a "relationship" kind of guy, like most of the friends I had in college, and let's be honest, me too. We all hung out in a huge group that splintered off in different directions here and there, but had a strong core. We all worked at the same restaurant, were in our early to mid-20s, were mostly local to the area, went to the same university, hung out at the same bars. He and I actually graduated on the same day, because we were in the same college division of the behemoth that is the University of Maryland at College Park. It was good to know we were there in that big field house together, because within our group, very rarely was anyone alone. We went to bad metal concerts together, and on one more memorable night, a bottle of Asti Spumante exploded in the back seat of his dad's Ford Granada while he was driving, a story that still sends me and my best friend into fits of giggles. Early groupies, she and I went to band practices in his basement, because we were friends with all the guys, and even sang back up on "Photograph" for them...He and I worked out a "High Enough" duet - a song that is still one of my favorites of that era, and he was always one of my favorite people to sing with.
He left shortly after graduation for a life on the eastern shore, and I went to the midwest, with the last-second request from him, yelled out of a car window, no less, "not to do anything stupid like get married" while I was out there, most likely because he despised my boyfriend at the time. I mean, he was violently opposed to him. He had good reason, actually, but I just thought it was sweet and got in my car and went on my merry way. We had had ample opportunity to date, and it had never taken shape. He liked traditionally beautiful, very thin, sometimes vacant women, and this, for all of my charms, just isn't me. We had crushes on each other alternately, me on him because he was funny, he played the drums like Lars Ulrich and sang like James Hetfield, had the same sardonic sense of humor as I do, and could match me word-for-word without getting pissed off, which I've since found out is a rare and beauteous thing that is absolutely crucial to most of my friendships and definitely my romantic relationships. He on me because he found in me a kindred spirit, I think - someone who he could sit quietly with and not pose, at a time when most things in his life were changing, not always for the better, and he was stretching to meet the demands of different crowds and places in time. I edited his papers and listened to him talk about his shitty home life. On nights when I was working and he wasn't, he'd ride his bike to the restaurant and hang out with me for a couple of hours later in the evening when it got slow. Those were very, very nice times. He was the first in a line of men who have had trouble letting go of my particular brand of steadfastness (besides the fact that I'm kinda funny and just a little bit smart. ; ) ).
We were out at a bar one night, a very loud place in College Park. We were at a table with a bunch of our friends, but no one could really hear each other without screaming, so there wasn't much talking going on beyond whoever was sitting next to you. He was sitting next to me. He leaned over to me, and told me that he had just told his mom that day that he had never loved anyone, "you know, like, completely mentally and emotionally loved" anyone, except for me. And he really hadn't known what to do about it, but he figured he should probably talk to me about it, considering it did involve me and all. We were probably 22. But he guessed, because I was hanging out with someone else at the time, that he had missed his chance.
I remember being struck dumb, having no idea how to handle this most fragile and long-awaited statement. Years of anxiety and delay spoke up, because I had not yet learned to risk hurt in the face of all rational sense, and I think I may have smiled and said I guessed he was right. And the next morning when I woke up, I wondered whether what happened actually HAD, or if I was imagining it. And I remember choking on the sadness of maybe missing a chance, because the moment was gone, and we were on to another shift at work, another party. It was a watershed moment and a reason why I strive to live in total honesty, I think, regardless of the discomfort and potential embarrassment. It's a day that taught me to speak truth.
Over the years, I sat at restaurant tables with his various girlfriends, and even sat at the dinner table at my best friend's wedding with him and his live-in girl at the time. She was nice. We hung out after the ceremony, she and I, and she told me how great he was like I'd never met him, and how if there were one thing she was asked to change about him, she couldn't name it. That made me smile, because like all my closest friends, I had a list of things that aggravated me about him that I had no trouble listing, but loved him anyway, and I'm sure the same was true for him. I've disliked other women he's dated intensely, just like he didn't like my exes, and really liked some in spite of myself. I've met his fiancee a couple of times, and she seems really nice. She seems like just his speed, like a tolerant person who likes dogs and grounds him, and this is finally okay, because he's stopped floating just a little bit. This makes me happy for him, because his parents had a terrible marriage and it really screwed him up, and he was averse to it for himself for a long time. I'm happy for him, although on many levels, this is a situation that still is very bittersweet for me. It's easier though because now, when we see each other, the intense closeness is gone. There are more empty spaces in conversation, which happens when lives take such different paths, and our only shared experience is history. Seeing him is like looking back through a fuzzy window at someone I once was, who had very different feelings and perspectives on the world.
I'm not sure I can go to his wedding, because I'm supposed to go to Philly that weekend. I could probably rearrange my plans, although I'm not sure that in my current state of mind that it's the most emotionally wise thing for me to do. It's funny, because I've been in love since him, big-time. The boyfriend that he so despised got me over him in a very essential way, and after him, I experienced what I believe to be true communion with a beautiful person, even though that ended too. I've seen the other side, and I know what is possible in terms of love and attachment. Maybe it's just because I am so solidly single, now. Maybe I have some fear of walking into this event on my own, on the very close other side of personal heartbreak that is surely, but slowly, healing. Maybe I'd be better off with a hot date, and the accompanying knowledge that I'd have someone to dance with, because I really think this is an event where someone to dance with would come in way handy, as would someone to hold my hand. Maybe I thought at 34 I'd have found it - found him, whoever he is, this dancing hand-holder. Maybe the strain of thinking that I had, and being so absolutely, ironically wrong really did take away some reserve that I haven't rebuilt yet. Maybe the upheaval in my own life obscures my view of the happiness of my friends. Maybe I'm more selfish than I usually think I am.
I don't know. I'm really not a person who ever had a clear concept of what my relationships would turn out to be, and on most days I'm quite good on my own. But sometimes, during weeks like this when my little cousin calls to say she is pregnant, and I get a wedding invitation from my first real-life fantasy partner, I guess maybe it's a little bit harder. I can be - and am - happy for them, because I believe that this kind of thing is what keeps the world turning in spite of hurricanes and gang violence and filing taxes and all of the other mundanity and horror of life. But too often it can leave me feeling like I've missed some magic password, some essential code for love and home and family that has so far eluded me, and shows no sign of showing up anytime soon. My evil twin thinks and feels these things, and she is only allowed out during certain hours of the day. The tales I can tell of traveling and a job that barely fulfills me and a living situation that isn't ideal don't seem to measure up, although, don't get me wrong, there are many moments where I feel like I'm just where I'm supposed to be, and I'm excited about the all of the possibility my life offers.
There aren't any answers, really...and since I started writing this and saved it a couple of times, I've gotten a phone call insisting that I attend this event - that there are too many reasons to do so, and too few not to. And the reasons not to are the usual frailties that I have to work through to grow a little bit emotionally, even though sometimes I get so sick of growth that I want to hide from it and stay in a box of my own construction, because who in the world ever said that life had to be this difficult?
I guess nobody said it, but it should be in the operating instructions.
When his sister got married, I caught the bouquet and he caught the garter. Much to the amusement of our friends and his family, the dj then made us dance together to "The End of the Road", by BoyzIIMen, which is a song that has made me smile ever since when I've caught it on the radio, usually on a light rock station's call-in "love-lines" show, late at night, driving home from one bookstore job or the other, maybe from a night out with friends. It reminds me of the sweetest dance, and at the end, him saying, "I say we go out and live our lives, and if we haven't met anyone by the time we're 40, we get married." I don't remember what I said, but it's likely it wasn't very articulate. Because even then I knew, in one of my occasional fits of accurate intuition, that that wouldn't be the case, and now I'd know better to say, "A fall-back I am not, my friend. Rock on," although I'd probably wink and smile at the same time. And it's better, because now that I'm rounding the corner towards that age, I can look back and see all the reasons why we wouldn't have been a good permanent match. The differences in our world views, the sides of each other that we brought out wouldn't have been useful in the day-to-day - our nearly equal impulsiveness, most of all. In many ways, this bond is much better off surrendered to memory, and the comfort of a lifelong friendship, which will make it much easier to celebrate the happiness he's found - and my own, as it unfolds, day by day.