Saturday, October 3, 2009

I should tell you...

I've talked about my Ex by several different names on here. He's been a kind of supporting (or not, as it were) character in the background of many of the experiences you've read about here. The short history - we dated for five years... All through high school, and then for our freshman year of college, for which we went to schools on opposite coasts. We went to a tiny high school where, by virtue of his being utterly likable and my throwing nearly every major party anyone in our class or below went to, we secured a tight group of friends. Many of those people both of us remained close with.

Which of course, made it that much more awkward and painful when we broke up in a BIG way at the end of our freshman year of college. He was the one who ended things - at the time I believed he left me for someone else, and I did, in fact, know who it was. In retrospect, I saw it coming. We weren't right for each other, but he figured that out LONG before I did.

And so we've spent the past three and a half years, essentially, discovering new ways to hurt each other - also known as "being friends." We both took our turns doing and saying terrible, cruel, inhumane things, that managed to affect not just one another, but our mutual friends, who grew to make concerted efforts to keep us apart when we were in the same state. Almost a year and a half, I was in rare form (or not, depending on who you ask), and confessed to him that I'd cheated on him back in high school. I'd like to say I did it to try and make myself feel better or in the interest of honesty, but really, it was my drunken, still-heartbroken last-ditch effort to make him hurt as badly as I did.

Near as I can tell, it worked. There was a single email exchange wherein we decided that we were not going to speak to one another again. We were both still angry and hurting, but it was probably one of the healthier things we'd done for each other since we'd broken up. It was three years almost to the day after he left me.

And we didn't talk. Or see one another. Or communicate in any way. Our friends were already used to avoiding the subject of each other when we were around, but even that became more pronounced. I moved on, dated a few people casually - some of whom were good to me, like Nonboyfriend, some of whom weren't, like Edward. My ex didn't cross my mind much.

And then, this summer, tragedy hit our circle of friends. Without going into private details, a terrible, unfair and unexpected thing happened to my best girlfriend, C. The Scientist and I, specifically, threw as much of ourselves into caring for and loving her as possible, and to her credit - she is astoundingly strong. I'm confident I could not have gone through what she did with such grace, maturity, perspective, and strength.

About a month ago, things culminated in an event that saw all of us who love C together at her house to support her. My ex (again, a good friend of hers) had been flaking on his friends back home, and, in all honesty, I think he was guilt-tripped into it. It was a deserved guilt-trip, though. He should have been there for C all along, but he absolutely needed to be there on this occasion.

Which found both of us back in town. In the same house. Together. I knew he was coming, and I also knew that this was neither the time nor the place to deal with any lingering issues we had. I knew why I was there, and it had nothing to do with him. Besides, I didn't have anything left to say to him.

He came early and I was the first person he saw. He quite literally froze in the doorway. He paled, and I swear I could hear him swallow from across the room. I looked at him, said "Hi," and waved. "Uhm, yeah, hey," he managed, a stiff arm and twitchy-fingered wave complimenting the awkwardness. Throughout the afternoon, he and I were pleasant with one another - I started a conversation or two with him... Just pleasantries. But I think we were both impressed at how we were able to BE so pleasant with one another. I found myself almost enjoying his company. Well, at the very least, not minding it.

As the evening wound down, C asked her friends to stay and party with her. Of course, we would have done anything for her, and this was hardly a stretch for any of us. We ended up going to a concert - C, her boyfriend, The Scientist, myself and my ex. We eventually convinced Nonboyfriend and his girlfriend to come down to town as well, because the occasion called for everyone to be there. (C, the Scientist, my ex and I all went to high school together, and the Scientist, Nonboyfriend and my ex are childhood friends, so Nonboyfriend had been incorporated into our circle early in its creation.) We all had a great time at the show, dancing, letting go of whatever we needed to.

At one point, as I was dancing, I took a step backwards and accidentally backed into someone I didn't know. I turned around to apologize, and the guy started hitting on me. Asking me to dance with him, what's my sign (seriously? people still use that?), and I tried to politely decline, telling him I was just there to be with my friends. He didn't go away. He wasn't doing much more than invading my space, but my ex caught my eye, dancing maybe 10, 15 feet away from me. He mouthed "you OK?" at me, and I kind of shrugged and made an "eh... uhm... sortof..." face. Before I could do anything more, my ex was next to me, put his hands around my waist, and pulled me to dance with him. The other dude vanished into the crowd. And I stood there, rather dumbstruck, staring at my ex. I managed to thank him, but I don't think I communicated how genuinely touched I was. I know looking out for someone in the group, protecting them from a creeper, is pretty standard friend behavior, but for my ex and I, the interaction was the friendliest, kindest we'd treated each other in years.

As the concert ended, we took several cabs to various places, some of us stopping at cars on the way, then all of us ending up back at Nonboyfriend's house. For a portion of the trip, it was just my ex and I in his car, after we'd dropped off C and her boyfriend so they could go in their own car. There were some awkward silences, but we did agree that it was, surprisingly, nice to see one another. We both seemed scared to make that assertion... like it might ruin the good we'd managed to accomplish that night.

But back at Nonboyfriend's house, my ex began playing guitar. And I realized he was playing songs that used to be ours. The rest of the group trickled back into the house, leaving just he and I on the patio. Him still playing guitar.

And then we started talking. The conversation started off slow, hesitant, cautious. But soon, it became open, and honest. He started the conversation. He looked at me, tears in his eyes, and said "It killed me, to not speak to you for so long. I hated it. I tried to be angry at you, I really did. But I can't. You are such a part of who I am, and that will never change. You ARE important. You always have been." It broke my heart and healed it all at once.

We kept talking for almost an hour. There were tears shed, but I think more than anything they were a form of release. The most amazing part was that there was no anger. I think we've finally used it up. We were able to talk about what had hurt us, but also what was good. We were able to appreciate how utterly and completely and honestly in love we were with one another... once upon a time. And we were able to move forward.

He hugged me several times that night. And it was good to be back there, my head buried in his chest and his arms wrapped around me. It was sincere. It was necessary. But it wasn't inappropriate. There is no romance left. The fire that once burned so bright for him nearly consumed me... and now all that remains is warmth.

I can finally truthfully say that I no longer have any ill feelings toward him. There are still traces of the boy I fell in love with almost 10 years ago inside him. I needed to know that. I can look back on what we had fondly and without pain. I can wish him well and happiness with his girlfriend, and mean it. And I can mean it when I tell him I'm looking forward to seeing him when he's back in town.

So while I've called him many, many things over the years, and even over the course of this blog, really, the way I should refer to him is as my First Love. Because he was. And he deserves all the import that title commands. Part of who I am today is because of him, and that experience will always be a part of me.

And, finally, thank god, I no longer resent that fact.

"I should tell you
that you were
my First Love..
So it's Christmas time,
It's been three years
And someone else is knitting things for your ears
I have come to know I'll only see you
Interrupting my dreams at night
But that's all right
That's all right
I should tell you
that you were
my First Love
And it's all right
And it's all right
We were seventeen again together,
We were seventeen again together,
We were seventeen again...together."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, this post REALLY spoke to me. It seems like you resolved a situation very much like one that's still unresolved between myself and my ex girlfriend. We've chatted via email once or twice, but the quantum of solace has been snuffed and it's weird how we've avoid interaction despite sharing so many friends.

I envy you being able to reach a reconciliation of sorts. It's ironic that you're younger than me, yet continually demonstrate that you're more mature (especially emotionally!)