It was a few weeks ago that I made a trip back to my old stomping ground to visit friends from high school and attend the graduations of their children. It was odd to watch these kids so full of expectation and excitement as they reach another major milestone in life and to remember what it felt like. It seems like eons ago that we were making that same walk across the stage and yet it seems like it was only yesterday. I wondered to myself if they had any idea how quickly it will all pass, how many different turns their lives might take. Of course they don’t. How could they? How could we?
There is nothing like a dose of nostalgia and the reminder of your own age combined with the wounds and scars of experiencing infidelity to prime you for making potentially dangerous mistakes. That’s where I was when I met an old friend for dinner.
Harry and I have been friends (some would say soul mates) for 35 years. We became the best of friends at age 10 1/2 when we both moved to the same small town. He was a moody, somewhat awkward boy in wire rimmed spectacles. I was every bit as awkward, refusing to wear my own dark rimmed glasses and wanted desperately to fit in and make new friends. It was a bumpy start but two other girls had also transferred in that year and between the four of us we had formed a close bond by the end of the school year and had also managed to build a large group of friends around us. Awkward uncertainty gave way to confidence and belonging. It would be the beginning of some of the best years of my life. While many talk about the horrors of junior high and high school with all its peer pressures and insecurities, for me it was a time when I was truly in my element. I loved myself and everyone around me. Life had no shortage of possibility and every day brought an adventure or thrill. I was versatile in my friendships, effortlessly shifting between the jocks, the brains, and the partiers. I could be an A student cheerleader by day, pool hall smoker, leather jacket wearing rebel by night.
Harry grew into his big feet and long legs, traded in his wire rims for contacts that accented his brilliant blue eyes, feathered his hair and became every girls dream guy. By the time we reached Junior high his family had bought a house on my block and our friendship became even more cemented. We would sneak out in the wee hours of the morning, me slipping out my window as he lifted me down, to walk around a silent sleeping town blanketed in fog that had rolled in from the lake. We would climb the water tower hill to look down over the fog and the unsuspecting homes. It was our town. It was our mystical place; where laying in the wet grass, watching the clouds float past the moon, talking for hours about the possibilities of life and love…..time stood still and we could be anything, anyone we ever wanted to be.
Harry and I often dabbled in a relationship. We practiced kissing. Learned to perfect the rhythm and desire of French kissing without too much tongue or too much spit and without all of that annoying circular invasive motion. We made it an art form. We exchanged notes and wrote poetry. I laid on his shoulder under the stars. He massaged my feet on park benches. We laughed, we argued now and then as well. Both being two stubborn individuals. We practiced slow dancing and danced to rock music so we would look cool rather than foolish.
But, at the end of the day I was star eyed for an older guy. A high school senior who stole my heart and held it hard and fast for 5 more years. The James Dean of my time. So cool, the sweetest bad boy, the perfect car, the motorcycle. Poor Harry couldn’t compete at the time and wisely he didn’t try. He understood the way to stay closest to me was to remain my friend and confidant. My male advisor and my big brother like protector. We spent more than 5 years nearly inseparable. Sharing our hopes and dreams and our heart aches. Giving each other relationship advise. Cheering each other on. And then I moved away.
On the day I moved away as we drove by his house a large sign hung in the side yard that read, Good-bye. I love you. I will always love you. A week later a letter arrived in the mail confessing his undying devotion and his anger that he had waited so long for his chance and I had moved away.
We remained friends of course and our lives took us on many twists and turns. I married, he never did. But he found loves of his own and he had a child and his life proceeded on his own terms. Over the years between relationships and after divorce we would reconnect and we would again dabble in the possibility of a long term relationship but something always stood in the way, or something was always just not quite right and we would go off in our separate directions again.
And so here I was this evening, setting in a nearly empty pub, enjoying a bottle of wine and sharing a fish and chicken dinner and pouring my heart out in a way I can only do with Harry. And there he was sharing my story, absorbing my heartache, digging deeper, asking questions, and offering comfort in a way only Harry can do. For a couple of hours I was transported back in time. I was in my element. I knew who I was. I actually loved myself again despite everything else and for the moment I loved the entire world around me.
Eventually the night would need to wind down. I had other commitments for the remainder of the weekend and I felt that it would be rude to come home late while staying with a friend, even though she had told me to go relax and enjoy myself for once.
And so he drove me back to her house and we said good-bye in the drive way. I stood on tip toe and kissed his cheek and said, love you. He smiled softly and said, love you more. And that was the end of my evening. Almost.
A little past 1AM I received a text just after I had gone to bed. Are you awake?
Just barely, what’s wrong? Where are you? He had a 45 minute drive home. He should’ve been home an hour ago.
I’m setting at the gas station, drinking coffee.
In town. Because.
I pondered this. He hasn’t even left town yet? He’s been setting there for 2 hours? My phone buzzed again….Do you ever wonder what if?
What if? Are you getting sentimental on me, Harry?
Maybe. Could you call me please? I’ll be brief.
I paused but I called him. How could I not? My friend of more than 35 years who knows me better than almost anyone else. I owed him that much and probably a lot more. In a nut shell this is the conversation we had.
I’m sorry to bother you this late. It’s just I want to know if you ever wonder what if. What might have been?
Sure, I said, it’s natural to think about that kind of thing. But I think we’ve always been honest and realistic with ourselves and for whatever reason it just never worked out right for both of us at the same time. Something was always missing or off key or one of us wasn’t ready or life just handed us too many obstacles. Right?
Yeh. But what if? What if we’re settling for less than we both deserve? What if we are passing up the one right thing? The one true thing? What I mean…is I wanted to kiss you so badly tonight. All night. It was almost painful.
I was silent. I didn’t really know how to respond. I knew I had to be careful. After 3 decades I know this man’s heart and I knew my response was critical. I could hurt him or I could open a dangerously closed door. We walk an agreed on line of discipline and we have never messed it up. I also knew that part of me longed to be loved as much as this man will always love me. To be seen the way this man sees me. Really sees ME and ignores my flaws, or aging, and the extra inches on my thighs. Just 18 months ago I was convinced that the only way I could recover from Tom’s long string of sexual adventures and affairs was to have an affair of my own. To give my body to someone else and feel that I wasn’t just the stupid faithful partner who missed out on ever having another experience in order to give my heart to one man only to have him abuse my trust and risk my health with countless new partners. We had even discussed it and Harry had said “please don’t ask me to be the one. I can’t. I won’t be vengeance for you”
He broke into my silence. I’m sorry, I don’t want to complicate your life. I really don’t. I’m not asking for anything. I’ll never do that. I don’t want to confuse things or for anyone to get hurt.. But I needed to tell you. You have a right to know that someone still wants you this much. You deserve it after everything you’ve been through and maybe… I owed it to myself as well. To tell you.
I took a deep breath. Ya know, we might have been amazing. But we can’t dwell on ifs. Our time has passed. Even today, there are too many obstacles and no guarantees.
Still, I knew I only need say the words.. come get me.
Maybe, but that was my fault, he said.
I chuckled out loud. Yes it definitely was.
Wait a minute..! he protested, You’re not supposed to agree with me.
I apologized for teasing and agreed it wasn’t his fault, it was no one’s fault and he replied that perhaps it was, because he always let me go and never should.
Again, I knew all I had to say where the words. I thought about it. I pictured being in his arms. I pictured how it would be to feel that fully loved, accepted and wanted again. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I now realized that he had spent 2 hours working up the courage to even broach the topic. I knew he understood our boundaries and our rules and that breaking that promise was really something huge for him. I knew he meant it when he said he didn’t want to complicate my life because we have always been diligent not to complicate the other persons’ life. And I knew without a shadow of doubt we would both regret it if anything happened. It would complicate our lives in too many ways that just are not worth it. I knew that in large part we are an illusion. For every irresistible quality he has and every amazing moment we have shared, we have never succeeded in proving we are meant to be together. In some ways it’s the magical quality of our long history and novel like story that builds the illusion that we are. A movie like quality that we’re destined to end this tragic ships passing in the night routine and live happily ever after in the sunset. But the reality is that his relationship is floundering, my current relationship has been damaged. It was the vulnerability and frustration we feel in our lives right now that, compared to what we have experienced together, prompted him to take such an uncharacteristic risk.
I said to him. You always hold part of me. You know that.
Yes I know that.
And well… that’s what makes us who were are. What we are. We’ve talked about it so many times over the years Harry and you’ve always agreed with me. That we’re unique. We’re best friends but more. We’ve been lovers but we’re not a couple. We’re soul mates but we’re not marriage partners. We’ve been indefinable all these years. It’s just what we are.
I know that too. You’re right. Still, you looked amazing. I don’t know how you do it. I guess I just got lost in the comfort of you. Who I am when I’m with you. Like I said, I won’t break our boundaries. It didn’t hurt to wonder what if for a while. Right?
Ok, goodnight luv. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Stay in touch.
G’night. And… thank you.
For being you. For loving me.
Oh that? Yeh, well… that parts easy..
The following morning my friend came to the bathroom door where I was brushing my teeth. Looks like you had a visitor. I looked up. What? Go look outside she said.
When I walked out the front door and onto the porch I didn’t know exactly what I was looking at. But then it registered. Out on the street my car was parked and covered in dew. On the windshield of my car, tucked under the wipers was a dozen cellophane wrapped roses; I assume purchased somewhere in town, in the wee morning hours, at a gas station………
So why didn’t I cheat? Is it because I have more moral fiber than Tom does? I think I do. No, I know I do. But I won’t be arrogant enough to say that is the entire reason. I think it’s more frequent for men to view affairs sexually while women generally view them emotionally. In this case I knew enough to know it couldn’t just be a sexual experience. It would come with baggage. Confusion. Complications. I couldn’t risk that. I couldn’t risk my friendship, I didn’t want to upset my own stability and I knew I was weak and vulnerable after the past couple of years and the past few months of difficult times. I couldn’t allow myself to make a decision in that state of mind. To act before thinking or to act out of weakness. I couldn’t bring myself to risk my friends health as I still worry frequently about STD’s popping up one day from my partners careless behavior. And in the end, I couldn’t bring myself to hurt my partner. For all our ups and downs I do still love him. If I were to list pros and cons between Tom and Harry, the list would be very evenly weighted with only a few exceptions. True, I would gain undying devotion. Something I might never otherwise have. But I would trade a lot of other things to get it. Like the creative ventures we have planned and the comfort of our daily routines and family ties. And in a lot of ways they are so similar that the trade off would not be a trade off at all. They can both be moody. They both smoke and I want to believe one day I will quit. They both have health issues. They both have struggled with financial issues. They both struggle with being organized and following priorities. Harry and I have opposing political beliefs. I’m spiritual but not religious. He’s catholic. In so many ways there is little to gain by jumping ship now. But most of all, I simply couldn’t share my body with another person, even one I have been with and loved deeply, without understanding the hurt it would cause my partner. Yes, you might say he deserves it. He never worried about that when he was cheating on me. But in many ways this might have been worse. More cruel. It would have been choosing the one person he feels most threatened by. It would have been emotional and not just sex. I couldn’t do to him what he had done to me and strangely enough, even though I thought about it briefly. I just didn’t want to.
I want to believe that I am just morally superior. I thought rationally. I thought about what it would do to everyone involved. I understood the illusion of the moment and the desires to fill my own needs and no one else’s. All of that is true and they are good things right? Tom certainly never bothered with those things when bedding others.
But I was also motivated by fear. It has been over 9 years since I was with Harry or anyone else for that matter. I’ve changed. Emotionally and physically. I don’t have the same body and though I know he would have been accepting, baring it all for anyone else at this point in my life when my confidence is shattered, is just plain scary. In the end I just can’t take sex and intimacy lightly. I have so often wished I could. Fantasized that I could. But it’s not me. I also realize that while I could have said I will be waiting outside and he would have arrived within minutes, likely nothing would have happened. I’m certain that his only intentions were to feel out the possibility that we might ever reunite. Many women like myself who are dealing with the affairs of their men have come to believe that all men are bad. But there are good ones out there. Harry is one of them. There was a time he was a total playboy, dating multiple women at once. But one day he moved in with one of those girls and while it didn’t work out in the long term I can say that in 26 years I have never known him to cheat on a woman he was in a relationship with. It is also one of our cardinal rules. That we will never be together when one of us is in another relationship. We vowed long ago that the friendship was too sacred to risk in that way. Had I met him again that night we would have talked for hours. He would have poured his soul out. He would have held me close, He would have undoubtedly kissed me tenderly. But we would not have had sex. It simply wouldn’t have happened. Our time had truly passed and if by some crazy stretch of imagination Harry and I are meant to be together, then our time has not yet come and is far off at best. A very unlikely scenario. One thing was certain in my heart. Now is not our time and I belong at this time, right where I am.