Broken Valentine

    Several years ago, a friend did something way beyond me. After 30-plus years of being apart from him she married her high school sweetheart.

    Admittedly the romantic aspect is hard to deny. All those years of having her heart fixed on one beloved then taking advantage of circumstances allowing her a return to square one validates true love.

    The interrupted romance started abruptly enough. Back in the early 80s he noticed her, but she made the first moves. From there it got hot and heavy fast.

    Up to and past the point where teen girls mistake sex for love.

    If the normal course had been taken, she would’ve been fantasizing about their wedding (the huge kind, her wearing blinding white before a cast of thousands) as well as some impossible number of perfect children from that forever union. He, as I can attest having been a teen male, either verged on finding or already found the easily available sex boring.

    Although she never would’ve admitted it, and the same would’ve troubled him to confess, she furnished much of their relationship’s luster. He would’ve felt constrained too soon and wanted out. He would’ve sought new … companionship.

    Following the usual teen romance template, theirs ended sloppily and cruelly, fraught with wild lurches between anger and remorse. I’m pretty sure some kind of guilt also might’ve filtered in there.

    Sad or as wrenching as it would’ve been, at least both would’ve survived the deep gash and taken their respective experiences into the next affairs. Youth is the best salve for such deep injuries. Any scar tissue formed ought have strengthened both for future bouts.

    Fortunately, theirs wasn’t a festering break.

    She’d gone on a ski break. Upon the slopes, one of the local winter gods tried working his swerve. He gave her a gift. A bracelet or necklace. Some flashy trinket. One whose sincerity matched its cheapness.

    Flattered by the new shiny thing (teen age girls really are gullible), it somehow really failed swaying her. Just the opposite.

    In one of those spontaneous phone calls unsure girls insist on making to prove, um, exhibit and extract rock-solid reciprocal faithfulness, she phoned her then-boyfriend. Artless conversation swung around to the new admirer. Again, having been a teen male I know that despite his eagerness to find a different piece of … friend, the usurper aroused his old possessiveness.

    See. Guys can hold opposing thoughts at the same time.

    Meaningless as the gift was, its presentation neatly dovetailed with his desire for change. A handy pretense, the sundering could be done briskly, indignantly, yet best of all over the phone. None of that messy face-to-face stuff.

    That’s how their first rodeo ended. His meat cleaver dispatch and her sobs drenching the phone line. Decades pass. Serial marriages and differently sired children or children born of diverse mothers weigh those years.

    One day with 50 in sight regular life jumps its tracks through chance reunion. Funny how this seems but despite graying or receding hair, burdened faces, and bodies succumbing to gravity or weakness for desserts, neither had changed in the other’s eyes.

    Delusion. Life’s great prescriptive lens.

    They resumed togetherness after whole other lifetimes. Naturally there’s plenty more baggage. But also packed along is understanding as well as tolerance and accommodation. Compromise. The one trait no teen possesses. They finally got married after a year of rebinding and restoration. I don’t know how they did it. I couldn’t.

    Not that I couldn’t marry a woman my age. I mean share an aisle stroll beside a woman I’d adored and forfeited during the geyser of youth. When she was fresh and firm, and I strong and bold.

    Unlike contemporaneous newly-made female acquaintances, I’d disdain an old flame who’d spent her vitality on some other guy(s).

    What that chasm contained would worry me. Like my absence. Unlike with a stranger, I’d question who and what filled her when I wasn’t on her brink. There will have been a complete other life I missed and ought have augmented. That time is lost. Regaining it impossible; reconciling curtained years even more so. Now and later would always lose against then and imagination.

    Worse may be the intimacy. Once more, unlike a great many of my peers, I quickly dismiss any of my partners previous lovers. The best women reciprocate. After all, what’s fair is fair. “Before” we were strangers. Besides, reciting history isn’t exciting. Nor is evaluating it. Making it is.

    However, being nonjudgmental as one must be with new partners’ pasts, no way I could extend the same blithe grace towards a hypothetical rediscovered sweetie.

    Her having a former spouse would further crowd our relations. Talk about your “third man in.” And in-laws. With in-laws are family ties ever severed? Children too. There’d surely be children who’d impose themselves on our “us.”

    Who’d scratched her itch and how during our diverse lives could eventually be rendered inert. What would still light my fuse is hearing her expressions of affection during our acts. Because old voices sing old songs best, she’d likely give me the same arias given the displaced once-adored. As genuine as her tones behind our enthusiasms, hadn’t she perfected her scales on the other(s) whose ring(s) she wore?

    That would be intolerable. Also unacceptable.

    My friend’s second chance has her blissful. Doubtlessly those previous marriages launched her into similar tonal states. Initially. Until her dreams became nightmares only property settlements soothed.

    Far as her former boyfriend now current husband, he exudes all the overt signs of contentment. And he does it convincingly. He resumed where I would’ve refused.

    Between us I concede he is the better man.

    Scouring Facebook generated this post. Perversity and curiosity compelled me to rummage through the site in search of high school classmates. Between being busy and intentionally avoiding the Quarropas High Class of 1977, I’ve been quite delinquent maintaining contact with the old gang. There are precious few with whom I still associate.

    Most of it stems from justified resentment. Formative era slights which have hardened into the most resistant recalcitrance known to man. I’ve thought about what concessions could get me to reconnect with long dismissed contemporaries. Like that Jack Benny gag where the noted miser spends forever deciding an armed robber’s demand of “your money or your life,” I’m still thinking.

    The Overlook Club which crowded my New York adolescence and teens showed me little favor when I offered them much. So forget time healing wounds. And absence hardened this heart instead of making it fonder. Though I must give the Overlooks credit for one vital turn. Without them I never would’ve lit out for the West. Without them I would’ve remained indistinguishable and undistinguished in the Northeast.

    Attending Arizona forged a more complete person. And while many of the Acquiring Class have amassed far more materially than I have and ever will (mo’ money, mo’ problems), in a quiet honest moment who among them wouldn’t envy my range of experiences, diffuse circle of peers, and lack of encumbrance?

    Too many of them are stuck. And given the times, sinking. The rest can only look back on their futures. It’s not good. It’s not sad. It just is.

    Rousse, the woman who instigated this, wasn’t an Overlook. She was an Insular. As I told Kewpie, an Arizona kommilitone I luckily accompanied to Paris several years ago, Rousse is the only woman who’s ever made me feel more alive. Why does memory sometime have greater lucidity than real life itself?

    I was everything Rousse wasn’t: a meat-devouring, loosely-affiliated Protestant who never bothered diluting my bona fides with a hyphen. She was all I couldn’t be: a vegetarian, self-identifying, wandering Tribe member whose truest allegiance leaned heavily towards her tumultuous heritage at the expense of our land of nascence. In a city where Continentals led by George Washington battled (and lost) that last bit was heresy. Now it would be inexcusable. And rightly so.

    Since the 80s we’ve crossed one another twice. First, shortly after starting career climbs, suspect coincidence found us in the same bar. No. I didn’t stage that evening’s opening. Who around Quarropas didn’t know The Harp was my watering hole? One of them. Even now I bet it was her first and last elbow bend in there. Must have been.

    We discussed our lifetimes, alluding to purposely missed connections. Allusions predominated because there was just so much shit we could stir in several earnestly spoken hours. At end, before our last embrace and an Einstein Kiss (grab a hot poker for a second it lasts an eternity; kiss a pretty girl for a second it concludes in less an than instant) Rousse thankfully didn’t apologize. For nothing. I’ve always thought that proper of her. I believe we each would’ve doubted her gesture’s sincerity.

    A fur coat warded her against winter. A mink. Even then I saw it excessive. Who our age should’ve been wearing mink? The gleaming black coat brightened her pale complexion and the blue eyes above them. It did nothing for her hair, though. The asymmetric ginger atop her head was muted that night. Maybe a sable might’ve helped.

    Last time we met was absolutely accidental. Somewhere in the mid-80s, Rousse and her mother browsed in one of then Quarropas’ few high-end stores. Despite having a charge there, it’s the sort of place I’d ordinarily avoid. But I had an upcoming job interview. I needed a tie. I felt an urge to splurge.

    Rousse and her mother. Seeing the mother one saw from whence the daughter obtained the set of her jaw. The old lady had it in for me since her daughter first succumbed to puberty. Rousse’s mother was a living bucket of cold water.

    We three exchanged stares from escalators running in opposite directions. Mother’s mind meld must’ve instructed Rousse to give me the high hat. There was little humanity from either towards my direction. That last image of Rousse should’ve been enough to inspire scorn. But why bother? She’d shown herself irretrievable.

    They were probably assembling what would become Rousse’s trousseau. Researching her internet detritus, she would’ve been marrying Cash fairly soon afterwards. Yes. I know. Another nickname which promotes the essence yet provides a fig leaf? No. That’s her husband’s name. Rousse married Cash. Lucky girl.

    Today they reside in Gold Coast Connecticut, not far from my failed former employer. So even if he wasn’t Cash, living in those environs he needed to have made a pile. Or two.

    Perusing her Facebook page, I saw the years have further increased her fancies. On one hand, a restless mind has prompted Rousse to expand, to explore peculiar pursuits. These delicate traits bundle and manifest through her. On the other, seems Cash is very indulgent concerning his wife’s whims.

    I read her current tastes and laughed. She’s seeking. Or is it “seeking”? It reminded me of us. Or better, Ode to a Grecian Urn. Or Tantalus. Whichever reference best describes having one’s desire within reach but forever beyond grasp. Rousse’s interests either demonstrate rampant eclecticism or a short attention span.

    Maybe it’s too much Cash.

    Past the T-ball japery, I gleaned the photos she’d loaded on her page. Okay. I focused on her. Factoring in Rousse is 13 months to the day younger than me, both of us first seeing light on the 13ths of our respective birth months, that her children are adults, that if I really saw her objectively, she’d qualify more as a grandmother than girlfriend. But the years have been kind. Having Cash has probably helped her immeasurably.

    Years ago, few days passed without me reminiscing over Rousse. But I never insulted her or whatever woman with whom I enjoyed casual relations by comparing the first with whoever. My considerations regarding Rousse were of the domestic, almost mundane variety.

    Bereft of spouse, dependents, and fortune, this life has been involved. Why, I’ve done and seen things with statues of limitations attached.

    Yet alongside Rousse I suspect the last 30 years would’ve provided warmer reward. Less eventful for me but without her what have I missed? With me what might she have forfeited since I’ve never been materially obsessed? Together how would we have proceeded?

    While each can be measured, sweeter and fuller do have genuine values, no? Could well-shared lives have sufficed for us both?