As I mentioned in this post, a conversation with my former housemate, D, has been rolling around in my brain. I'd made a throw-away comment about The Love Of My Life, The One That Got Away--a.k.a. Johnnie Walker. Sometimes, a decision is a big deal at the time but is clear-cut and relatively easily made anyway. In other cases, one can fail to give adequate consideration to something that is very obviously life-altering.
And so it was, the time that I met Johnnie. I drove out to the Big City to pick him up at the airport. We got lost, because I was ridiculously nervous and wasn't paying attention to the directions that had been clear in my mind before he arrived. I took him to his hotel to drop off his bags. We wandered the city for a while. We had dinner. We wandered the city for a while. Eventually, I got back in my car and headed back out toward the middle of godforsaken nowhere, which I called home. It was 2 or 3 in the morning, and I had to work the next day (that day, really).
What I said to my friend, last weekend, was that it was obvious even at the time that I should have stayed. That meeting him, and giving that whole thing a chance, was a Hell of a lot more important than showing up for work that next day. I had the time off earned, so I should have used it for that particular purpose. I needed to give it, give him, a chance, and I didn't. I deserved to lose what I failed to treasure.
When I said that--with more resignation and equanimity than particular sadness or wistfulness, given the time that's passed and the water flowing under that bridge after all this time--she looked at me rather closely and said, "You don't remember what you said to me after you met him, do you."
"What do you mean?"
"That next day, or maybe that weekend, when we were talking about meeting him, and what you thought. I asked you if you found him attractive.
"You said no."
I just gaped at her. That cannot be true. Surely, I never said that. Why would I say that? He's The Love Of My Life, The One That Got Away.
Am I reliving it differently than it really happened? Remembering it with a softer focus...?
Um, yeah. I can't even pretend that I'm not. I can't, except to someone who wasn't there and has no idea what the crap was happening at that time, pretend that it wasn't complete mayhem, at least a third of which was his fault entirely. (Well, maybe not a full third. But at least a quarter.)
But it wasn't perfect. And it wouldn't have survived if I'd stayed that night, not gone to work the next day, "if only I'd have...", "if only I hadn't...", if Nick or Heather hadn't existed, or whatever. I loved him, and he loved me, but it wasn't the great love of either of our lives. How do I know?
Because it ended, and with more of a whimper than a bang.
So, what's with this idea of holding on despite evidence to the contrary? Why do I keep thinking of him as The Love Of My Life, The One That Got Away™? Because that makes a very handy shield, and sometimes a sword, against anybody coming near me in any meaningful way. No matter how much I like you, you'll never be like him. And if you're not like him, I won't really fall. And if I don't really fall, then I'm not in any danger of being really hurt.
That's why I hold on. Because it reminds me that I was loved, profoundly (however briefly), once. And because it keeps me (however dysfunctionally) from getting hurt again.
[the title quotation is by Yann Martel, from Life of Pi, and reads in its entirety:
“Dare I say I miss him? I do. I miss him. I still see him in my dreams. They are nightmares mostly, but nightmares tinged with love. Such is the strangeness of the human heart.”]