About 12 years ago, my old high school boyfriend called me. "I'm getting married in 3 weeks! It should have been to you. You were the one."
"You're just getting cold feet," I said.
No, he'd said. He wanted to call off the wedding and get back together. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he'd already met with my parents and talked to them, said he had a plan. He would get me a place to live, help me move back home and we could right the wrongs of our long-ago relationship.
He'd been my first love. We dated for 6 years, from 17-23 on & off. Then I found out he was seeing another girl when I thought we were exclusive. I don't remember how I found out. I think signs were there for a while but I didn't see them. The day I found out, I called him crying, scorched by the betrayal. "Me or her?" I asked in tears. "I can't decide!" he implored. "Then I'll decide for you!" I slammed the phone down and within two weeks I was dating the man I would marry. We moved in together within, I dunno, 6 months? I thought "Okay, I'm going to follow my head now because, well, fuck my heart. It doesn't know jack."
My then-new boyfriend (I'll refer to him as the engineer, as that's what he eventually became when he finished school) and I had a really tight friendship. He knew what happened before. He helped me heal.
I was shattered inside over that lost love, more than I allowed myself to acknowledge. He kept calling, wanting to talk, explain, get back together. I wouldn't have any of it. I didn't believe in second chances. I wanted to avoid drama, the kind of life where I couldn't trust my partner. Jesus, if he was cheating on me and we were that young, WTF would happen when we hit mid-life?
As I settled into my new relationship, my ex still called sometimes but I wouldn't let the conversation steer around to the "us" he tried to press. He made crazy excuses to see me. "I have a business idea but I have to tell you in person!" he'd say. "I'm not interested," I'd reply. "I have someone new now." "We need a web designer, will you make our website?" I turned down the job, uncomfortable about the implications of regular contact, plus it made my bf uncomfortable. I always told my new boyfriend about our calls -- being transparent is important to me. My heart still ached but I was healing.
Then six years later, my mom sent me an obituary she'd found in the paper. His father died. His dad, the one who welcomed me to their home so graciously, especially when I'd been so shy meeting my first love's parents. The father who offered me a place to live when my own home was filled with tumult. I didn't ever take them up on it but the gesture stuck. I loved his dad.
I called my ex to express sympathy. We hadn't talked in a long time -- years? I don't even remember -- but when he answered the phone I recognized his voice immediately and choked up, unable to get the words out. He immediately understood it was me, understood what I could not say, understood everything. That was the kind of bond we had.
That was the start of healing. Because for the first time I listened to what he had to say. I did it with respect for my new beau -- I am very good about not crossing lines -- but we had the talk we always needed.
When he called later, with cold feet, I wondered privately about getting back together. A part of me had never gotten over him. But I quickly extinguished the thought. I was very committed to the engineer. I encouraged my ex to either move forward with the wedding, or if he was that unsure, investigate why *without* me being the catalyst.
He married. I married. We stayed in touch briefly and sporadically during the following years, shifting into an almost sibling-like relationship, a closeness without words, having grown up together.
When I left my husband, I didn't tell this old beau until almost a year later. "I didn't want to tell you right away because I didn't want you to think this was an 'in' to getting back together," I said, since it was something he still alluded to sometimes. But the shift into a deep friendship is a wonderful comfort. We root for each other's happiness. All that old stuff happened so long ago, it doesn't even matter anymore. Things are so easy now. If we don't talk for months, we just pick up where we left off. And sometimes he texts me Chuck Norris jokes.
I bring this up though for two reasons. One, the sense of perspective time has introduced. I need to remember that now. That one of the deepest loves of my life shifted into a place where there's no more pain is a very healing state. It's important to me to have a sense of peace with the past. I don't know that I'll ever get it with my soon-to-be ex-husband, but I hope for it anyway.
The other is that the dark-haired boy I am recently getting to know reminds me of this ex in the tiniest ways.