I'm feeling a bit bitter today.
Fortunately for those who must deal with me, it's not really a bitchy bitter, but more along the lines of a disconcerted, "you dipshit" bitter, tinged with just a touch of sadness.
I suppose most of us have come across that "one great love." You know the one - the moment you meet them you know your life will never be the same - the one you recognize immediately as an intricate part of your destiny - the one you know you will love forever.
I met mine when I was 13. He is the one who introduced me to the boy who would become my best friend who would become my husband.
He was also the first one to break my heart. Repeatedly.
He was a complete fucking asshole to nearly everyone around him, one of those troubled, tortured types I always seemed to have a thing for. He was distant and cynical, always sure to keep everyone at arm's reach. He seemed to have a soft spot for me.
The first conversation we ever had ended when I hauled off and smacked the shit out of him. Our second conversation ended with him grabbing my hands and kissing me. We spent the next year holding hands and arguing.
Then, my freshman year, he disappeared without a word, whisked away with his family to another state. I was crushed. Still to this day, it's all I can do to keep from tearing up when I hear that damn computer generated voice drone, "we're sorry, the number you have reached has been disconnected. If you feel you have reached this recording..."
It would become a pattern. Over the next couple of years, as we both struggled through adolescence and each moved a number of times, he would reappear, only to suddenly disappear again, without a word. My letters would go unanswered, phones would be disconnected and I was left wandering what horrible fate had befallen him. At that time in my life, I was absolutely starved for love. Each disappearing act dealt a heavy blow and I was torn between loving him and hating him.
By the beginning of my senior year, we seemed to have struck a balance. In fact, that was one of the happiest years of my life. He was still two states away and we hadn't seen each other since freshman year, but he managed to stick around for the full year and we both ran up enormous phone bills talking almost daily.
I will never forget that Christmas, staring at the lights on my grandmother's tree as we shared a long, hushed conversation filled with plans and promises. We were in love. He wanted to marry me. I wanted to have his children.
I can still see the dress so clearly in my mind, high neck, fitted bodice, a soft cream antique lace, long lace sleeves that came to points and hooked around my middle fingers and what seemed like hundreds of pearl buttons.
Spring came and with it the senior prom. I don't think I really believed he would come until suddenly, there he was, standing in my grandmother's living room, my Papa helping him to straighten his tie. I think I spent the first 30 minutes in the bathroom barfing.
Once I got over my nausea, we enjoyed one of the most magical nights of my life. There were teary goodbyes the next afternoon and assurances that it would only be a few more months.
But, a lot can happen in a few months. I was terrified of moving to the side of a mountain and he was terrified to leave it. It's ok, we'll figure something out.
Then, suddenly, a phone number dropped into my lap. My best friend, the one who'd held me so softly as I cried in those months after that first disappearing act, the one who had pledged to love me forever in spite of my insistence that there was simply no room left in my heart.
We had lost contact with one another after my first move. Great Love's sister (who had dated him for a while) actually called me one day not long after my move in hopes I knew how to find him. We promised each other if either of us spoke to him, we'd share the other's information. That was two years before I found fate had planted him 20 minutes away from where I was living.
All hell broke loose and it broke loose quick. Phone calls were suddenly filled with arguments and jealousy. "I don't want you calling him because I know he's in love with you, he always was."
But he's my FRIEND!! Why can't you understand that??
I called of course. He sobbed at the sound of my voice. Explaining as he composed himself that the sister had gotten in touch with him two years earlier and told him I had died, committed suicide actually, which was believable enough given my state of mind at the time.
I was livid. Even all these years later, I don't know that I've ever been more angry in my life.
My world was suddenly filled with accusations, denials...heated arguments that probably would've turned violent had we not been separated by two states.
Then came the ultimatum. "Choose, me or him. I will not share you."
The wedding dress was left in the little shop, the final two payments never paid.
For me the choice had been clear. Best Friend became my husband. I would only speak to Great Love once more over the next seven years. I was five months pregnant and my husband was suddenly terrified of becoming a father. He told me he wasn't sure he was really in love with me at all. That night, I stood sobbing in a gas station parking lot dropping dime after dime into the pay phone to make the long distance call.
I didn't tell him I was pregnant, nor did I tell him we were fighting. He begged me to tell him where I was, to let him come get me.
"Just tell me if you ever really loved me."
I could have sworn he was crying when he assured me that he always had and always would. I hung up, dried my tears and drove home.
My husband eventually snapped out of it, assuring me he truly did love me, although it would be years before I forgave him for ever placing that doubt in my mind and in fact, I'm not sure I fully forgave him until after he died.
Over the years as we battled his seizures and his depression and his self-destructive ways, I carried an enormous sense of guilt. I loved them both with all my heart and felt I was somehow betraying them both. My husband had once told me, a couple of years after we got married, that the two of them had made a pact in high school. They each promised the other that whoever ended up with me would love and care for me well. I had chosen to spend my life with the one and I assumed I would spend my eternity with the other.
When my husband suddenly died, I couldn't help but wonder if I'd somehow fucked it all up and gotten it completely backwards. I remember being so angry with him for leaving, so angry that neither of them had kept their promise.
Two years later, I was facing a hysterectomy, and still haunted by the notion I'd somehow fucked up fate. I was in an off cycle of an on-again off-again relationship so I decided to give Great Love a call.
It just so happened he would be in the state with his mother and brother in a few weeks. We met for a weekend in the mountains. It was pure bliss. It was decided we'd give it another go.
"But, if you're in my life, you need to be IN my life, don't leave me hanging around waiting several months to hear from you."
He promised. True to his word, he sent a heartfelt email the day they returned home.
True to his nature, it would be several months before I heard from him again.
No, I'm sorry, I've been down this road with you too many times, I'm not doing this shit again. While you've been wrapped up in your own little world, mine fell apart and Mr. On-Again Off-Again was the one who helped me put it back together - all he's asking for is a fair chance and I owe him that.
He made no bones about it when he informed me he didn't want to be my friend. It was all or nothing, which did I choose?
Again, my choice seemed clear, the greatest love on earth isn't worth squat if there's no friendship there to back it up.
I wrote to him every year on his birthday for the next several years, but of course I never received a response. Needless to say, Mr. On-Again Off-Again and I finally called it off for good and I met my current husband.
I wrote once more, to tell him I had remarried.
His birthday rolled around in November and as always, I thought of writing, but I didn't. But this year was different. This year I couldn't shake the nagging sense that something was wrong, of "needing" to write to him. So, just before Christmas, I sent off a letter to his last known address, not expecting a reply.
"I think of you often and hope you are well. I am well and happy and continue to pray you have finally found a sense of peace in your life. Blah blah blah."
Imagine my surprise a few days ago to get a call from his mom. Apparently, a year and a half ago, his famous temper and a night of heavy drinking left him with a bullet in his leg and a mandatory three-year prison sentence for assaulting a police officer. I can't say I'm surprised. Quite frankly, I was certain he'd self-destruct before he was 21 and I'm almost ashamed to admit I was confused and angry as hell years later when I realized my "safe" choice had been the one to self-destruct and die while he was still plugging right along.
His mom filled me in on the years that have passed - his hateful, needy wife who now has a boyfriend, the giant rift she caused between he and his brother. The sister who's been diagnosed as manic depressive. And how happy he was that I had written. He asked her to call me, because "she's my friend, she's always been my friend. She'll write to me, but will you make sure it's not going to cause any problems with her husband?"
Mmm-hmmm....so now that he's at absolute rock bottom with no one but his mom to give a damn, NOW he wants to be my friend.
Of course I will write to him, because I still love him just as I've always loved him, but no, it will not cause any problems with my husband because I've already made that choice. Twice.
This time, any choice made will be his...have me as a friend or have me as nothing. At this point in my life that's all I have to offer. At least you know my number is never disconnected.