I dated a boy once whose heart I treated badly. He was just shy of 6 feet tall, brown haired, brown-eyed. Gentle and sweet. He was smart and kind and noticed that my letters were scented with my perfume not by design, but because my wrist dragged across the page of my letters. He knew I was scared of love and yet he stood by me patiently and steadfastly. He even let go as I persisted to run away.
He's remained connected to me all these years because he is the one person in my life whom I treated unkindly simply because I was so bereft of self and confidence. (Later in life I would cloud my behavior with drugs and alcohol; treating people badly by default, but not deliberately as I did him.) I truly thought there was something wrong with him for caring about me. Couldn't he see what a worthless piece of shit I was?? Couldn't he understand that I did not deserve kindness?
We kept up a correspondence for some time and then, the summer he was to be released from the Navy, in 1996, my first summer here in Texas, I wrote him a letter expressing my glee at having come out of my closet of darkness and confusion; that I was living my life in such a bold and colorful way, hedonistic to the utmost, liberal, and visceral and I was in heaven. I had found my true self! I had probably written. I wanted to share with him all that I had become: a "plus, Jessica," not that I had changed, just that I had fully blossomed. But he must have thought I had changed because I never. heard. from. him. again. EVER. And then it was my turn to have my heart broken.
Off on and on for the last thirteen years or so I have attempted to find him. I had his full name, rarely used, his date of birth marked on my calendar from 1994 (August something). I knew he was a Virgo, was born in Texas, had served on a USS Navy ship. And I had a dozen other little things filed away such as when he was a little boy he once fed their Dalmatian his Chinese food because he didn't like it and there was a clean-plate rule in his house. He thought he'd gotten away with it until the dog barfed up noodles. Then his butt was toast. Or that he had a tattoo of Texas that matched his best friend's. Or that he favored wearing a mustache... just a little.
During one particularly fruitless attempt at finding him via online white pages I called 1-800-SEARCH or some such people finder service. I gave the man on the phone all the info I had. He confirmed that based on DMV records he had found him, but that would be $80, please. I was broke, so I hung up.
Since that day MySpace and Facebook have appeared and again I have trolled the sites looking for him under his different aliases. Again to no avail. He didn't exist, apparently. I've thought many times, What if he's dead?? I mean, it's possible. No one lives forever. No one's immune to car wrecks or cancer.
Today, of all unremarkable days, I have found him by way of Google this time. I punched in his name and the boat name and Classmates.com came through. I was able to piece it all together, spend $15 and actually email him directly.
And then, what seemed like seconds later, as I was writing this he emailed me, said I'd broken his heart with that last letter and now I am crying, relieved and sad, and it turns out I've just missed him. He'd been less than an hour away for the last 3 years, but now he's gone again. And my heart aches for something I don't know...
I'm so relieved to know he's alive and well. Married, lots of babies, still in the military, but in a different branch. His Classmates.com profile reminds me of the young man I knew: concise, witty, funny, not your average Joe.
God, I feel a thousand years old and 18 all over again. I wish I could give him an enormous hug and just let a young Jessica who was about to go through so much be with someone who cared for her as she was - or even, dare I say, loved?
It's so weird to be crying over a man who's not my husband, who was never even close to being my husband, but I am. I'm crying because we were so young and because I was on the edge of a great abyss of bullshit that I wouldn't come out of for years. This boy was the first casualty of blocking off my heart from everyone.
Tears, tears, tears. Why am I crying so??
I think it's regret. I've always told anyone who would listen that I regretted how I treated this man. I wonder how different my life would have been had I been able to open to him, to let him in. It's this regret that stabs at me, this one What If that I have in my life. What if I had loved him back? Anthony knows about him and he wonders at my regret knowing that's not who I am: someone who second guesses her past, but I do in this one instance. I can't help it.
And now I have found him again... and he's alive... and well... and happy... and goddamnit, so am I.