I heard she died recently. I had a good cry, the next time I was alone. I wonder what life would have been had I chosen differently, had I chosen to go with her? That was a watershed time. As I think back, I’m not sure my reasoning was sound. Maybe it wasn’t reasoning at all. May she rest in peace.
She was the real love of my life. I didn’t know it then, because I didn’t know what it was, I hadn’t experienced it before. The closest was during an overnight school trip to a Thespian competition. We stayed at a hotel with groups from other schools. I met a girl that night and we stayed up all night sharing our deepest secrets. I experienced an unfamiliar feeling the next morning, when we exchanged our goodbyes. I didn’t know what it was. But the experience faded when I was back in school.
I met the one when she was 19, an art major at a university an hour from our hometown. I couldn’t get enough of her. When she was home, we spent all our waking hours together. When she wasn’t, I made the drive every weekend to see her. Sometimes I would make the drive, even if just to see her for a few hours, and then drive back the same night.
I was maybe 23, and very full of a young man’s hubris. I felt I knew everything, and needed no one to tell me different, as young men in their 20’s often feel. My life was about working to have just enough money in pocket to afford today. Tomorrow was another day, retirement something old people did, and forever was a concept that never crossed my mind.
This arrangement lasted a year, maybe longer. I worked in a liquor store run by an older lady, perhaps late 60’s or early 70’s. She must have sensed my plight. One night she called me into her office and said “Go after her. You don’t know if you’ll be happy, but you’re not happy now. If it doesn’t work out, come back. I’ll give you your old job back.” That was a road that I did choose correctly.
I pulled up stakes, moved to the university town, and enrolled in classes. We moved into an apartment and began what, in retrospect, was one of the happiest stretches of my life. I have her to thank for pulling me out of the life I was in, for broadening my horizons. But I still didn’t know she was the love of my life. I was still full of young man’s hubris.
Since she had a head start, she graduated first. She started her working life, which was threatening to me, full of young man’s hubris as I was. And we argued about it. We broke up our happy little nest when she decided to move in with her friend. And still, I didn’t now she was the love of my life. I did know I wasn’t happy. I never asked if she was happy.
After a time, we moved back together, made another little nest. By then she had decided to take a job in another town, a couple of hours drive away. She would leave on Monday morning and come back on Friday night. During this time she kept talking of marriage, but I still didn’t know she was the love of my life, so I resisted.
My arguments against always centered on finishing my degree, so I could be the bread winner. There’s that hubris again. This went on until she decided to take an apartment in the town where she worked. It was the beginning of the end, but I still didn’t know she was the love of my life. I just knew how unhappy I was. I never thought about whether she was happy.
We ended for good a few months later. I wonder what would have happened if I’d chosen the path with her, if I had realized this was the love of my life, and that I wouldn’t get another chance like this one. The young man’s hubris clouded my judgment. Later, I found what I thought was love, and married, but I guess it wasn’t the one, because we divorced after 15 years together. Neither of us were happy.
I’ve thought about the one through the years, still do. When Google came on the scene I looked for her. She was a teacher in a Montessori school in New Mexico. I never mustered the courage to reach out. I regret that now. I never got to thank her for all she did for me. I never got to ask her if she was happy, like I should have all those years ago.
But I do know one thing now. She was the love of my life. And I missed the chance.