January 6, 2011
Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot
"Do you drink tea?" they'd asked.
"Oh yes, I'm a big tea drinker," she'd claimed.
They made their Yorkshire tea in a small metal pot, and it was steeped as dark as varnished mahogany. He put six, count 'em, SIX teaspoons of sugar in his tea and then stirred it in such a way she could never manage to copy - very fast and very noisily. She put in her one teaspoon of sugar and her dose of milk and after one cup of that brew she was totally wired for sound, but her pride made her drink another cup; she was not about to look like a tea wuss in front of his mom. His parents were lovely to her; his dad had a dry sense of humour and they liked the same type of movie, and his mom was very kind, smart, and a great cook. She remembered staying for dinner and sitting down with the family to baked ham and potatoes, salad and a beautiful trifle for dessert. Her boyfriend saw what was for dinner and turned his nose up at it. He made himself an omelette with canned potatoes instead.
They were friends first. They met at their college early in the fall of her second year. He was in one of her classes and they had mutual friends. They all used to sit together in the common room, and she would remark on the fact that every day he would buy a packet of salt and vinegar chips, put them in his ham sandwich and then squish the two halves together. He liked the way she dressed. And the way she smiled. Before long they found themselves sitting together and talking whenever they had a break in the school day and sometimes he would rest his head on her shoulder. Gradually, their friends began to wonder what was up with them and so they took the hint and started going out together as a couple. Perhaps they only did what they thought was expected of them. Their relationship, starting off very strongly and growing to the state of 'I love you' by mid-winter, was by summer waning like the phases of the moon, only much less pretty. They, philosophically, had found they were like the proverbial two ships passing in the night, a circumstance manageable by friends who know how to argue and remain friends, but hardly by two hot-headed, opinionated beings who were each trying to change the other's personality into something they could live with. By the following September they went their separate ways. He went off travelling and she began working at a cafe for a ski pass and taking night classes.
When they broke up she cried every night for three weeks and if Feist's song 'Let it Die' had been around back then I'm sure it would have been her soundtrack:
The saddest part of a broken heart, isn't the ending so much as the start.
The tragedy starts with the very first spark, losing your mind for the sake of your heart.
She looks back now and thinks her tears were part heartbreak and part relief. The last few months of their relationship had been so difficult, and the worst part was, it seemed they could not even be friends after what they had put each other through. That was the real heartbreak for her because she found she missed him (and his parents). A good friendship had been ruined by love's toxic side-effects.
After he returned from his eight month tour of northern Africa he hitchhiked over to visit her. He looked strange with a beard and she had to look into his eyes to recognize him completely. She also saw herself differently in his presence. She was stronger and more experienced now and even though she still did not know what she wanted in life, she knew what she didn't want. He stayed for a bit and then she drove him home to his house where they ate spaghetti at his parent's table and he wondered if she'd noticed he ate tomatoes now - after travelling and living in a developing nation for eight months and eating what was available or go hungry, he now was proud to say he truly appreciated any and all foods. His mom asked her if she was going to stay over, but she said no, she had to go. The question that had hung in the air since he'd called from London of getting back together was answered, and the answer was no. They saw each other a small handful of times before she went off to university, in situations awkward and strained, and then never again. That was over twenty-one years ago, but she remembers it all vividly. A few years went by for her of marriage and kids, jobs and moving with jobs, and she was home for a visit. Her mom told her she ran into a mutual acquaintance of theirs, and that this person had been asked to say hello to her from him. She said to say hello back.
She had been thinking about him lately, and thought she might see if he was on Facebook - it had been amazing how many people she had reconnected with on the site, which allowed people to reach out to people from their past without giving too much away - so she Googled his name. What she found was a website with lots of writing and photographs. Photographs of paintings for sale that he and his wife had done, and of his two little girls. It was a strange feeling to see his face after all these years, to read about what he had been up to; it seemed a little like spying. She was tempted to 'fess up and e-mail the address on the site just to say she had found it and had liked what she had seen - the paintings, the family who looked very happy, the work and involvement in his community, etc. - but she was also hesitant. An email out of the blue might not be welcome from an old girlfriend, even a well-intentioned one, and perhaps it was best to let sleeping dogs lie. She decided to sleep on it. The next day, she knew she would just let it be for now. She had found what she was looking for, she had found him happy and industrious, and by the looks of it, an affectionate husband and father. She had always wondered what he would become and had hoped for the best.
A year after they had broken up, she met the man who was now her husband. She knew that this time the love was the marrying kind because being with him warmed that 'secret spot of loneliness'* in her, that longing for someone who would love her for exactly who she was, allowing her to love him fully and generously in return. She was very glad to know that her old friend had found that too.
*from A City of Bells by Elizabeth Goudge