Sometimes it's funny how the past comes flooding back in an instant.
When I was 16 years old, I had my first real boyfriend. I fell, hard. We both did. By senior year in high school, we were inseparable, and we decided we wanted to go to college together. We applied to many of the same schools, and ultimately decided to both go to Penn State. Looking back on this, I would never advise it to anyone today. Be free! I would say. Experience college and life and don't tie yourself down! I can tell you that if someone gave me that advice, way back when in 1995, I wouldn't have listened. I was completely in love and was absolutely convinced that this man - this boy - would be my husband. He felt the same.
Against all odds, we stayed together all through college. There were many bumps in the road, for sure, and many break-ups and reconciliations and some random "lets date other people" periods in there. But we ended college, in some ways, much like we started. We parted ways almost immediately after that.
I was ready for us to break up. In some ways, it came as a relief. Having been with the same person for almost 6 years - from age 16-21, I think that much of the reason we were still together was out of habit, and out of fear of doing anything else. He decided to move to LA to pursue a career in the television/movie industry, and I had applied to, and been accepted to, the London School of Economics. We didn't even really talk about staying together. We knew it was over.
Prior to my leaving for London, I went to visit him out in LA. It was a weird visit. I had starting dating someone else, and for all I know, he had too. But on the last day, when he took me to the airport, we both broke down. It wasn't just the end of a relationship - it was the end of an era - of young love, of innocence, of plans. We both were embarking on a journey towards adulthood, and for the first time, we were doing it alone.
The rest is kind of history. I spent two years in London, dated someone else seriously, broke up with him, and then met my husband in law school. He dated various girls and ended up getting married a few years ago. In the early years after our parting, we kept in touch fairly often - talking every few months. We saw each other sporadically, and he even met my now husband on a couple of occasions. It was all very amicable. But over the years, the contact became less and less frequent. He became one of those people that I included on a mass email when Braden was born. I still called him on his birthday, but he stopped calling me altogether. And that was okay. That's what happens.
But I occasionally think about him. Not in a romantic way, or in a pining way. We definitely should not have ended up together. But in the way of - who was I then? Who were you? How could someone who was such a big part of my life just fade into the distance? How could I know you so well, and then not know you at all? Who are you now? Who am I?
His birthday was last week. I remember it every year - it's one of those dates ingrained in my mind, just like my best friend's birthday from kindergarten who I haven't spoken to in years. I hadn't planned on calling, but then, on the day itself when I was bored and sorting laundry, I thought, why not?
He answered, and said he was running into a meeting. He said he would call me back. He never did. I suppose part of me is disappointed - I had wanted to tell him that my husband and I were expecting another baby, that I had started doing freelance work, and that I had become a country music fan. I wanted to hear about the west coast, about his wife, about his plans. But really, at a certain point, what is the point? A relationship built off of bi-annual phone conversations in some ways isn't worth sustaining.
But hearing his voice, even for those brief 30 seconds that we spoke... what a weird feeling. It's like the past was reaching out to me and saying: Remember me? I knew you before you were you. Before career and kids and marriage and real life. I knew you when you were innocent of the world and didn't know a thing. I knew you when you were becoming you. Maybe you forgot about me? Maybe you forgot there was life before "you"? There was. And I knew you then.
I remember that voice, so well. I remember it from drunken walks home at Penn State, from arguments over the most trivial of things that always exploded, from promises we made to each other that we never kept. I remember it comforting me, infuriating me, inspiring me, and disappointing me. We, as people, have changed so much since those days. But his voice still sounds the same.
What would we have said to each other, in our same voices, 15 years ago, if we knew then what we know now? If we could somehow go back in time and have knowledge of the reality of what was to come. If, instead of broken promises, we could convey what would ultimately transpire: Someday I will fall in love with someone else. Someday I will have children that you will never meet. Someday I will call you, on your birthday, and you won't return my call. Someday I won't know you.
It begs the question: What would my future self say to me today, given the opportunity? Would I believe it?
In terms of how my life has played out since the year 2000, when we officially parted ways, I can't say I would change a thing. And in many ways, I feel like it was a series of decisions and circumstances directed by fate that led me to my husband, and to my children. I am exactly where I should be, and I am blessed and lucky. Very, very lucky.
But I was someone before this life, too. And when I heard his voice - the one person besides me who really bore witness to that time in my life - it was bittersweet. There are very few people in this world that know you. I mean really know you, at your core. He was one of them, way back when.
I know who he was once, too. I just don't know who he is now.
It's amazing how at times in your life, there's a cast of characters that come in and out. We all have them. I've always been been the type to try to hold on to these characters, and to stay in touch. Out of curiosity, perhaps? Or nostalgia? Or some sense of duty?
As I get older, it is becoming apparent that some characters inevitably fade away. Because of time, because of circumstance, or because that's just how things happen.
Life is funny like that.