An old flame causes reflection
I stared at the e-mail, too nervous to open it.It was like a cold snake, and I wanted to poke it to see if it would move.The name was one from my past – 26 years ago.I hadn’t heard from this woman in that long, but she still pops into my thoughts occasionally.That’s what happens with first loves. You think about them, wonder where they went, who they married – and of course there’s the “what if” question.I clicked on the e-mail, and there she was 26 years later.It was great to hear from her. As for the “what if” question, I’d always known the answer. This was a doomed relationship.And it was my fault.At that time, I was in what I would classify as my irresponsible stage. Unfortunately, that lasted a little longer than I care to admit.She was special. Mature beyond her years, and the kind of woman that had other guys asking that infamous macho question – “What’s she doing with him?”A question that I, too, asked myself.My early 20s were marred with unimpressive traits. Drunk, irresponsible and unemployed isn’t the best way to impress a woman. It didn’t do much for my résumé, either.I always admired her. She always knew what she wanted. She had a life plan and was committed to making it happen.A big family was her goal.Talk of a big family isn’t really what someone who’s drunk, irresponsible and unemployed wants to hear.Seven to nine kids – she even had the names picked out.If I wasn’t already drinking, that would have done the trick.I remember names like Cassandra, Matthew and Caleb.Of course I preferred names like Bud, Coors and Miller.Life is an obstacle course that offers something different for everyone. I saw that more than ever when I read her e-mail.Life offers few guarantees.As responsible or irresponsible twentysomethings, we all have plans of some kind. Sometimes the plan works out, sometimes the plan simply vanishes.For this first love of mine, I was sad to hear that she never got that big family she wanted. I always thought she would make a great mom.She revealed her misery of three failed marriages but she also talked about hope for the future.She said that she’s happy and that adoption is her next plan.She still plans to have a house full of kids, she wrote.Middle age makes me reflective. The what ifs; the maybes; the ifs, ands and buts; the successes and failures; and of course the regrets are what causes that introspective reflection. For me, it’s the regrets that torment.I still feel bad about my actions as a drunk, irresponsible and unemployed boyfriend.Whenever I hear those people say if they had it all to do over again, they’d do it exactly the same way, I’m not sure if I should envy them, doubt them or loathe them.Decisions – good or bad – are what shape us and help us learn.During our time together, it was my time to be drunk, irresponsible and unemployed. I grew out of it, but it couldn’t have been fun for her.Her optimism today is heartening. She still has a plan, and she’s still focused on making it happen.After 26 years it was enormously special to hear from her. She helped shape my life at a time when it had no shape. I need to thank her for having that impact on me, even if it was after we had already gone our separate ways.I know I’m a different person now – let’s just say my life now has shape. But I hope the things that drew me to her are still with me. Hopefully those good traits were just cloaked in a haze of drunken stupidity.Not something I’m proud of, but it’s part of my past.As for my this special woman, my hope for her has never changed. I hope she finds happiness.Just like all of us, happiness is the goal, but life tosses us obstacles that make it difficult at times.For most of us, it’s plan B, C, D or beyond that becomes the reality.The plan or the road or the path doesn’t matter – it’s the pursuit of happiness that matters.Hopefully, she remembers some of my good traits when we were together. Maybe, even in my drunken, irresponsible, unemployed state, I still helped shape her life a little, too.Dale Shrull is managing editor of the Post Independent.
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I’m not often given to public displays of affection, but on the morning of Monday, July 19, I felt it necessary to give an old and dear friend a proper send off.