Getting there

Getting there

Monday, September 12, 2011


There are times, dear friends, when you run into someone that you knew long ago, so long ago that it feels like another lifetime. Sometimes those are occasions that lighten your heart, and it sings with joy at the reunion. There are other times, fortunately rare in my case, where it is a reunion infused with guilt and shame and regret. Recently I ran into someone from my past, and sadly it was a reunion of the latter sort.

I was volunteering at a local event in my city. I had agreed to pick up some people at the airport, and I had their names on a list in my hand. I scanned the names quickly, and they meant nothing to me. Just another airport run, just a few more people to transport. I found them in the crowd, waiting for their luggage, and I shook hands and introduced myself. In the face of one man I saw an odd look, but I became busy with another person who had had their luggage delayed, and so my attention turned to them.

When we were in the car driving away from the airport I was giving my name and phone number to the person with the missing luggage so we could ensure it arrived. Suddenly, from the back seat, the man who had given me the odd look asked if I had grown up in city "X". I had, I replied - and wondered how he knew? Then he said he had been friends with a friend of mine, a girl named A. "A" hadn't just been my "friend", she had been my best friend through high school, and maid of honour at my wedding. I turned slightly from the driver's seat, looked at the man, and suddenly it all came together - his name, his face, my home city, and the connection with A. I felt a fluttering feeling in my chest, and I realized with dread that it was my heart slowly sinking.

You see, this man had, at one time almost thirty years ago, been a boy who had been best friend's with "A"'s boyfriend at the time. I had known him back then - in fact, I had dated him very briefly, and then, I am ashamed to admit, tossed him aside and moved on to another boy without a backward glance or explanation. "A" had told me how hurt he had been, and how cruel I was - but I was a different person then, just 16 and truly in love with only myself. I shrank into my seat as I realized that this man might well remember me, but probably not fondly and not with good feelings.

I summoned up the courage to ask if he recalled the roller skating rink, and he responded that he did. I stopped the questions then, as I knew he recalled it all as clearly as I did. The cruel game of luring him into my sphere, having him think we were involved, and then treating him like he was something stuck to my shoe when someone "better" came along. I was horrified. Embarrassed. Ashamed.

I sat in the driver's seat as memories flooded back, wondering if they were flooding him, too, and wondering how he recalled those brief moments in our lives. I felt nothing but shame and regret, dear friends. He commented to one of the people travelling with him that he had been a "good kid" back then, and I agreed, saying that I hadn't been such a good kid, but had developed a conscience as time went on. And I did, dear friends. I learned that you can't play with the lives of other people and not suffer the consequences. I learned that cruelty is like a boomerang, and when you inflict it on others it will surely return to you some day. I learned that I was not the centre of the universe, and I grew up.

I saw this man a few more times over the course of the weekend, and while I wanted to speak to him couldn't find the words. Then, the night before he was leaving, I was dropping him and his companions back to their hotel. He stopped by the window of the car I was driving, and I told him that seeing him had opened so many memories, many long kept in tiny boxes in my mind. He said he hoped they weren't all bad, and I said they weren't, and I meant it, as I had thought of people I hadn't thought of in thirty years. I told him that it had been great to see him, and that I hoped he would take care. And it had been great, dear friends. You see, when he stepped into that car and told me who he was I had been forced to remember the person I had been so long ago - selfish and cruel, unkind and inconsiderate as only a 16-year old girl can be. My encounter with him made me realize how much I had changed over all those years, and it made me think about how I treated not only him but others. It was a chance to look back and re-evaluate who I had been, and why I had acted as I did. In the end it allowed me to forgive myself, even if perhaps he didn't forgive me (or, maybe, he had forgiven me long ago - that's not for me to know).

It's funny how such a brief encounter with our past can have such an impact, dear friends. His name on the list in my hand didn't trigger my memory, and nor did his face - but once he reminded me I was almost back in that place again, skating around a roller rink intent on my own desires and goals regardless of who I ran over to achieve them. It took me a couple of days to sort it all out - to think about the fact that I had been only 16, and that I had changed so much in the intervening years. It also made me realize, though, how we can carry guilt and shame around for so many years, and how freeing it can be to let it go. Seeing him again, after 30 years, ended something that began so long ago and that I had never resolved, but that I hadn't even been aware needed resolution. It was a stunning moment, rich in memory and meaning. It was, dear friends, growth of the most painful and profound kind - and the kind that allowed me to remember who I was, and rejoice in who I now am.

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