Turns out not only is a visit from an old friend you haven't seen in nearly two decades a great way to remind yourself just how old you actually are, but if that friend happens to be of the opposite sex, the visit also tends to bring out the immaturity in all those around you. No one has actually whipped out the "_____and _____ sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g" song yet, but it's been on the tips of a couple of tongues and I caught someone humming it earlier today.
Despite the rumors to the contrary (started by none other than my own father*), he is not my "long-lost boyfriend." He was never lost; I've known right where he was all along thanks to occasional updates from a faithful spy and help from 411, back when it was still 555-1212. Further, he was never my boyfriend. Though I would like the record to show that that part was no fault of mine--really it was no fault of his either.
Being an Army brat, I spent my growing-up years hopping from town to town and his was a town I lived in twice. The first time from December of our eighth grade year through March of our ninth grade year and the second for four months during our senior year. Circumstances sent me packing again the January before graduation to a tiny town several hours away. I graduated from the high school in that tiny town surrounded by seventy-one near strangers.
This friend and I met in gym class in eighth grade and shared several other classes during the day as well. We soon found out that we had quite a bit in common. He had recently transferred from another school and, of course, I was a transfer veteran. We were both oldest children with smart mouths and quick tempers. We were both deeply attached to our crotchety grandfathers, both of whom were unwell. We understood each other. We were buddies first and then with hormones muddling things up, there were some near-misses with mushy stuff, especially over the summer at the community pool where clear water, shiny Lycra, emerging curves and the lack of parental supervision put even the most virtuous girls and boys at risk for "naughty" behavior. In ninth grade, we didn't have any classes together and rarely bumped into each other in our fairly large high school. And in spring of that year, my family was off again, per the dictate of the U.S. Army, into the wilds of New Hampshire.
During the two-and-a-half years I spent in New Hampshire, I didn't think of this friend often--there were intervening crushes, of course, and friendships and a part-time job and school--but when I did think of him, there was always a big question mark in my mind and a tinge of regret that things had been left so unresolved between us. When, a few weeks before the start of my senior year, it became clear that the military intended to move us again, my mother set about making arrangements for me to go back to the school where I 'd started high school, the school where this friend was also beginning his senior year. He was not the only reason I went back--I went back because it was familiar at a time when little else was, I went back because I had other friends there with whom I had stayed in touch, I went back because it was easier than going forward to something unknown--but a curiosity about him was on my list of reasons.
Senior year, we stood even less of a chance of running into each other--he was in vocational classes and was out of the building most of the day. Still, I grabbed what I could. I was like a wildlife photographer tracking that elusive species the High School Crush. He has recently asked me, "Instead of stalking me, why didn't you just talk to me?" He told me he'd heard rumors that I liked him, that it might not be purely coincidental that my car was always in the spot next to the friend's truck he rode home in every day. He thought they couldn't possibly be true.
Despite our best efforts to act like complete idiots that fall, we did manage to have several conversations that neither of us ever forgot--including one in a barn basement. He was a cocky kid, he admits it now and probably would've admitted it then. That day, I had somehow found myself in a conversation about his "attitude" with the woman he worked for and my friend, her niece. On a dare, I went out to the barn to tell him that I thought a lobotomy would fix his attitude. We ended up talking for twenty minutes about what had happened in our lives in the almost three years since we'd last had a real conversation. I walked away feeling like he had shown me a side of himself that he didn't let many others see.
And for the next few weeks, I obsessed about what his willingness to "bare his soul" might mean about how he felt about me. I was extremely insecure, though, and I also had been trained by years of Army Bratdom to not get too attached--or to at least not let that attachment show--because all it would do was make the next move harder. In short, I was afraid to pursue whatever might be there because both failure and success could've been equally disastrous.
In January, my living arrangements in his town fell apart through a variety of unconnected events that somehow felt like the Gods of High School Romance were smiting me. So off I went to the tiny town where I knew no one except my family and, along with my suitcase, I packed even more questions about him than I'd had to start with.
This weekend was, in part, an attempt to answer some of those questions. And my questions, at least, are answered. His--the ones I never even knew he had--are covered, too.
There seem to be an awful lot of NEW questions being asked now, though--not by either of us, but by everyone around us. As long as no one regresses to the days of cootie shots, I guess I can live with it.
*I talked to my eleven-year-old niece on the phone Friday evening just before my friend's arrival. She said, "Grandpa called here looking for you. He was wondering when your quote long-lost boyfriend unquote was coming to town. His words--not mine!"
Speed Bumps of Life
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