Friday, May 13, 2011

The past intrudes on the present

Her husband and her sons loved her longer and they loved her more. They will bury her this weekend.

We were very young when I knew her. She was just starting college and I was finishing up, but we were only a few months distant in age. (I'd been double promoted early in my school days, and I was finishing college in three years.) She was beautiful. Short blond hair. Petite. Whip smart. I was 19 -- and I was smitten.

It had taken me nearly all 19 of those years to find the courage to talk to girls. I was a bit backward, I know, especially during the 1970s when the Sexual Revolution was supposedly in full flower. But I found the courage to talk to her. She thought I was funny. Sometimes I was trying to be.

We were a couple most of my senior year and into the summer after. I almost died driving home on the Tollway one night from her home. (I was living with my folks during the summer, a good 50 miles away.) I must have dozed behind the wheel. As I remember it, though, it was the guardrail that jumped in front of the car and tried to surround me.

I would have married her. I was ready (at least I thought I was).

She was not.

And, of course, she was right not to be rushed. She was just starting college; she had ambitions to become a doctor. Marriage -- even a really serious relationship -- would have been an impediment to those ambitions, perhaps an insurmountable one. She was right -- but it didn't stop me from trying to drown myself in alcohol during my entire first year of law school. I darn near succeeded a couple of times.

But, eventually, I moved on. I finished law school. I met Long Suffering Spouse.

A few years after we broke up, she was ready to settle down too. She married a doctor. She didn't get into medical school, but she became a dentist. We didn't see each other. In fact, I think the first time I saw her in 20 years was also the last time -- a few years back, at a party given by mutual friends on the occasion of their 25th wedding anniversary.

She was still beautiful. We had a nice chat. Long Suffering Spouse knew her husband from undergrad. They chatted with us. I bragged on my kids. She bragged on hers. We didn't pretend we were going to stay in touch. There was no reason to stay in touch.

Then, yesterday morning, I saw a posting on Facebook: My friend -- the one who'd had that 25th anniversary party -- wrote, "I really, really hate cancer."

This friend (Peg, we'll call her, because I'm afraid of getting lost among all the pronouns) is very social. Though her post had only been up a few hours there were all sorts of comments -- a lot of inquiries, mostly. And Peg answered that she and her husband were about to fly to Chicago (they live out East these days) to bury "a dear friend from college."

I thought about asking who died. I know a lot of Peg's college friends. And then I thought, I probably don't want to know. I signed off and went to work.

My friend Steve called mid-day. I've mentioned Steve before, but I may not have previously mentioned his daily habit of reading the obituaries. He did this on a daily basis even before he retired. Steve and I had other things to talk about. His son just graduated from college and Steve wanted to tell me about that. But then he told me what he'd read in the obituaries. And then I found out I definitely didn't want to know.

Peg's filled me in on the details since. It sounds like she had a horrible ordeal.

I'm so sorry for her husband and her children. But I'm feeling a little sorry for myself, too. I know that makes me sound selfish. Does that also make me sound unfaithful to my wife and family? I hope not. It's just -- well, she was very special to me... a long time ago. I moved on. She moved on. I think she did OK for herself. I know I've been fortunate. But we all hold memories locked away. Today some of my memories have been unlocked.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

A super post there, Curmy

Dave said...

"I know that makes me sound selfish."

No, I think that makes you sound human.

And, I don't want to admit it; but, towards the end, I suspect I may have had a tear.

Shelby said...

never a waste to remember... beautiful

sari said...

I'm sorry.

I don't think it makes you sound selfish or unfaithful. Your memories of her are also your memories of your younger you...hard to think of something as awful as death taking that already.