I was back visiting my folks for a few days over Thanksgiving. I drove back with my dog as I always do and one of those lazy days back I was walking my dog all over town thinking about my time growing up there – as I always do. It’s one of the best things about going home – all the memories that come flooding back. I walk through the prettiest neighborhoods, walk by my friends’ childhood homes, walk by the high school and university I attended, walk around all the cool stores and restaurants that have either been there since I was a kid, or may have popped up over the years of my absence. I get back fairly regularly so I’m familiar with much of what has changed. I still have my routines though; the bars I go to with friends, the restaurants I eat at with my folks. But it always comes back to walking my dog in my original hometown. Something peaceful about it.
This day I’m referring to, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I heard a female yell my name as I walked on that cold grey, misty day. I don’t really know many people still in town, and I hadn’t expected to run into anyone that day (or ever, really). She pulled over and I was far enough away I couldn’t make out who it was. As I got closer I looked at the license plate and immediately I knew who it was – my first serious girlfriend from high school, my original girlfriend, my OG. Now, we only dated for about 3-4 months before it all fizzled out, but I had a huge crush on her. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard when it ended; heck, it was hard while it was still going. I’d never had much luck with the ladies back then, I was definitely a late bloomer. That this attractive young gal was interested in me way back when, well that was something. It was like a wave of accomplishment that rode over me. Then I had to learn the system, how to be in a relationship. Way back when I was a doe-eyed and optimistic young buck, the world had all the potential for me. I’m sure I thought it would be a fairy tale. I can now tell you it definitely wasn’t.
I think that if I’d had a different OG, or at least one that didn’t take advantage of my innocence and ignorance in dating, I’d be a different person in some ways. I still retain that optimism to a degree, but I’m a cynical bastard, too. In fact, I consider myself a cynical optimist. Quite the paradox. I’m also as sarcastic as they come, and while I typically tell people that is because of my Midwestern upbringing, which to some extent it is, it may also be more rooted in those 3-4 months some 20 years ago and that OG. It seems that as I’ve gotten older I’ve really built up my defense mechanisms of sarcasm and cynicism. So much so that people I’ve just met call me out on it. There used to be a honeymoon period when I met people that I’d be a kind, positive and seemingly harmless individual, but that window of time has gotten smaller and smaller as I age, and therefore those new people I meet see the “real” me even sooner. This is far truer with romantic interests than platonic or professional. Somehow in the latter two categories I’m able to scale it back or contextualize my teen angst. Unfortunately, with love interests, that bastard comes out at the first sign of potential. It must be a self-destruct mechanism I’ve unintentionally built over the decades. It all started with the OG. I’m sure of it now. I’d never made the connection before. I think early on I thought it was rooted in foolish boyhood desires to be a “player” or to impress my friends somehow. Or perhaps merely that I’m a selfish individual. And all of that might be true. But when I saw her it slowly started to creep in my mind that why I’m an ass**** all began with her.
I’ve only seen her a couple times since high school. She hung out with us a handful of times my freshman year of college, and then over the next 20 years I saw her twice randomly and briefly at bars. The first time I was leaving and she was coming, and the second we had a brief interaction. I was genuinely happy to see her then, must’ve been about six years ago or so; I’d even tried to give her my number. She said “no” and laughed; she said only girls do that. It was all in for good fun and I thought no more of it. Then I went back to my life and didn’t think about her again for another six years or so, until she called out my name and pulled over. She still looked really good. She still lives in the same small town, though she works in my hometown. She is a single mom with a teenager. She does stained glass art. She complained a little about not ever going to graduate school and how she doesn’t hang out with many people anymore. She referenced the old days a lot. I invited her to come out to a bar that night with me and another friend, she said she wouldn’t make it but that I should come see her art some time. I said I would.
My friend I was supposed to meet out that night got sick, so I texted her and told her I’d stop by. My intention was to be there for 90 minutes, tops. I ended up staying there for five hours. We talked about old friends, listened to old music and she sort of treated me like her therapist, filling me in with all the comings and goings – and the failings – of her life. It was kind of like high school again. I was being used but I didn’t care. Though this time her ego wasn’t so big. This time there were no ulterior motives on her part. This time she was more soft-spoken and humble. She did make several comments about what I consider to be my sense of humor and what she interpreted as my defense mechanism, though she didn’t call it that. It wasn’t until the next day that this all started to make sense.
We’ve stayed in touch via text sporadically over the last few weeks, and by the time you’ll have read this, I’ll likely have seen her again when I’m back for Christmas. We made tentative plans to hang out for a night, and I think we will, at least right now I do. This may be the wrong way to go about it, but I feel like there is some sort of closure that might need to take place. Not that I would say anything profound, though maybe I should, maybe I should get this burden off my chest that I’m slowly starting to draw the lines back to her. But the thing is, I think it is too far embedded in my being, and that I’ve certainly added to it on my own since then countless times, to shift anything on to her as the rot source of my “problem.” We did briefly talk about how she didn’t appreciate me way back when and she was sorry, and she said she apologized for that way back when. I don’t remember that though. Maybe…
So here are my options if I see her again: hang out with her for one night with one clear intention (read between the lines here, folks) or to simply hang out with her like old friends and let the past dissolve. Obviously that latter is probably the way to go, but the former would be so much more fun. And besides, I’ve become such a good ass**** thanks to her!
There have been numerous times where I’ve tried to restrain myself from thinking and saying things that only a jerk would think or say. But it has been almost impossible for me to hold on to that mantra. Beer doesn’t help, but it is my default setting that I’ve crafted over the years. I don’t know how to change it. I would turn it off if I could. Really. Am I the one who is letting my ego run wild by tracing my curmudgeon-ness back to this one person twenty years ago? I mean, we are products of our environment, we are socially constructed to some large degree. If our culture says we need to be in a relationship to be happy and successful then we have to learn how to do so. If our first attempt is a doozy and results in collateral damage and getting derailed right from the start, then I think it might be fair to put some of the blame on the corrupter. It could have been different, but it wasn’t. To some degree I am who I am – in love – because of her. And if I am to evaluate that part of my life honestly, then I don’t thank her at all. It isn’t how I would have scripted it as much as I have become comfortable with it. So yea, I’ll pass the blame a bit here. But what remains to be seen is, how will I respond to this opportunity? Will I close the circle? Will I let the burden slide off my shoulders? Or will I just reinforce my ass**** tendencies and keep plotting the course I’ve been on for some twenty years….?
First Love/Worst Love?