A few days ago I was checking my personal e-mail account and saw a message from an old friend. We had been in contact a year earlier, but the e-mails soon stopped - most likely due to the stress of everyday life.
I sat and thought about this person for a while - about him and about our friendship. I realized that we met approximately 15 years ago, which just boggles my mind. My god, we were still teenagers back then! We were freshmen in college and I recall that we met under strange circumstances. I think he e-mailed me, but being the person that I was (still am?), I thought it was some colossal joke and just ignored it. It turned out that it wasn't a joke and when I finally saw him I was taken by surprise. For my entire life I've been very studious and painfully shy - so much so that most guys avoided me. The only ones who showed interest were these strange, somewhat geeky guys that had no more self-confidence that I had. So here I was faced with this guy who was the complete opposite - tall, attractive, athletic, and "popular" (not sure why I put that word in quotes - probably because I haven't used it since I was a teenager). I had a boyfriend at the time, who happened to fall into the first category, so this person and I developed a friendship.
Over the years, he and I have laughed about what we were like back then. Me - shy, insecure, unsure of what I wanted in life. Him - sarcastic (which actually never changed), aggressive, unsure of what he wanted in life. We spent some time together, learned a bit about each other, but then the end of the school year came and we lost touch even though we both lived in the suburban Chicago area.
I'm not sure why I feel the need to post about this person - maybe because his e-mail set this strange surge of nostalgia my way. I ended up reading through old letters and e-mails and found myself thinking about the up-and-down nature of our friendship. I guess I feel the need to purge about things that I never shared with anyone.
I recall that we rekindled our friendship the following year, although by that time I had transferred to another college - in a different state. We wrote cards and letters and spoke occasionally, but it wasn't easy to stay friends as we both were busy with school and other friends/activities. This part of my memory is foggy. I know that we would get together during the winter break and maybe even during spring break, but things always were left on an odd note. Lots of misunderstandings.
There was a long gap between our next contact. I remember one summer evening returning home after being out with friends to find that he had called. For the life of me I couldn't think why he was calling me as it had been so long. Turns out he had accepted a job out of state and wanted to catch up. For me, that was a pivotal phone call. We ended up spending a lot of time together that summer - sometimes going out to eat, sometimes just talking for hours. One night he invited me to the Monet exhibit at the Art Institute. I assumed it was a friendly gesture, but at that point in my life, it was the most romantic thing a guy had done for me. I didn't care about roses on Valentine's Day, but the Monet exhibit? That was perfect. I never told him this, but wish I had.
The time had come for him to leave for his new job, and I suddenly became aware that I really hated to see him leave. We were becoming so close and while I knew we'd stay in touch, it just wouldn't be the same. I think we both grew up a lot in the past 3 years and we had finally seen the positives in each other. Before he left, he gave me a card and in it mentioned something about me looking for jobs outside of Illinois. The funny thing is we never spoke about that - we just kind of left it hanging in the air around us. It was out there, but neither of us mentioned it again.
So off he went and I was happy that we did stay in touch - tons of letters. Then there was "that letter." The letter that I never got to read. If my memory is correct, I believe he wrote it not long after he moved. I also think he mentioned that he had a couple of glasses of wine - defenses were down. He told me that he sat down and wrote a letter to me, but did not send it after he read it the following morning. Even after days of begging, he refused to send it or tell me what was in it. My head was spinning and I determined that it included one of the following things: A) He said mean things about me or B) He said flattering things about me. Either way it was too hard for him to tell me. I'm not sure whatever happened to that letter - probably thrown out or set on fire. It frustrated me - a lot. I couldn't understand what was so horrible he couldn't tell me. We were close and shared a lot of personal stuff with each other. Sometimes I still wonder what was in that letter and if it would have changed the course of my life.
Fast forward a couple of years - he had moved a few times throughout the country and I was in grad school. Our contact was mostly by e-mail - lots and lots of e-mail. I was in a serious relationship with someone. It was my first adult relationship (the kind where you actually consider marriage). As things started to change in our relationship, I found myself turning to my friend for advice. Then I found myself turning to him for support and for laughs. I found myself turning to him for the things I should have been seeking from my boyfriend. I was always amazed that somehow, without any effort, he was able to understand me on a level that no one else had ever done. I began looking forward to his e-mails more and more. They were these deep, philosophical conversations we would have by e-mail. We just had an amazing connection with each other, and I cherished that.
My boyfriend and I eventually broke up. I was devastated and turned to my friend for support. We talked about it and he made sure I knew that my ex was the one who lost out. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Not long after that, my friend called to tell me that his grandfather passed away. I told him I would come to the visitation after finishing one of my final exams. I did and something very strange happened. I felt a jolt and couldn't shake it. I thought about him for the entire drive home. He called me late that night and we talked. I wanted to tell him, but I stopped myself. We danced around the subject, but neither of us ever said anything. I sent him an e-mail and I told him of the jolt, and then worried that I had made a mistake in telling him. I remember the feeling I had when I read his response - at the bottom of the e-mail he wrote, " I felt the same jolt."
A couple of months, and many e-mails, later, he called to tell me that he was transferred once again. This time he would be coming back to Chicago. A few years before he wrote in an e-mail, "Geography is not our friend." I was very hesitant, but couldn't help but feel excited. For the first time in many years, we would actually be living within a few miles of each other. Maybe geography would finally be our friend.
Things were weird once he moved back. I don't really know what happened. I remember going out with him and his friends to a concert. It was so nice to see him again. It was so nice to be near him again - something I had thought about for a long time. After we got back to his house, we sat up and talked for a long time. I remember that there was music playing - was it jazz? We were having some random conversation about books, but in the back of my mind the whole thing seemed strange. I think it was the first time we ever felt awkward around each other. I didn't know if he wanted to kiss me, or if he wanted me to leave but didn't know how to tell me. I remember feeling confused and disappointed on my drive home.
We talked a few times, and I even got the courage to ask him to see Life Is Beautiful with me - an afternoon show so it wouldn't be threatening. It never materialized and we got into some weird argument. We never spoke after that.
OK, it wasn't exactly the end. We did e-mail once or twice a couple of years later, but that was it.
A couple of years ago, he e-mailed me and told me he was getting married. Ironically, I was going to be married exactly one week after him. It's funny how things turn out.
I don't want anyone to read this and think that I have any regrets about getting married. I love my husband - he knows me better than anyone else. I trust him with my life.
The whole point of this post is to write about a person with whom I have a long history - a person who had an impact on my life. There were things I probably should have said to him, that I wish I had said to him. I believe that my life took me in the right direction and to the right people. But sometimes, every once in a while, I still wonder what would have happened...