All discarded lovers should be given a second chance,
but with somebody else.
~ Mae West
If you’re over the age of 18, you likely have a former love-flame or two, or three in your personal history book: a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, lover, you name it. So do I. These are the relationships that ended. The relationships that taught you something about love — good or bad. They’re the ones that hurt when they ended. They’re the ones that dragged on a day, a week, or 10 years too long. The relationships that left baggage behind. The relationships that drove you to say or do things that made sense to you at the time, but to any other ‘normal’ well-adjusted human appeared insane, irrational and down right crazy. They’re the relationships that lead you to go against your better judgement, challenge your morals and ethics. The relationships that yielded heartbreak and heartache. The ones that turned you into a cyber-stalker or a regular run-of-the-mill psycho-stalker. They’re the ones where you sometimes say, “he/she was the one that got away,” though you don’t really want them back. The relationships that directly made a permanent embossed imprint on your history book, uniquely and directly contributing to your formation as a person and a few specific outcomes in your life.
I ask you this: What do you think about when you think of that person today? Do you think of them? When? How? How has your continued life changed how you see that individual or the relationship you had with them? Is it different than it was when you broke-up? If you sat down with that person today, what would say? Have you ever thought about it? I have.
I recently answered a writers call for personal essays about an ‘Ex’. Personally, I hate the term ‘ex’ in its association with a former significant-other whomever it may be. ‘Ex’ to me elicits venom, malice, hatred, resentment, disrespect, and all the other anti-lovey-dovey feelings of a jolted sour-apple. I prefer ‘old’ or ‘former’ over ‘ex’. It models maturity, healing, dignity, and an adjusted reflective perspective. I immediately knew who I wanted to write about. I sat at the keyboard an cranked out 1,750 words like a jack rabbit chased by a cat. It was sitting inside me waiting. Waiting to be poured out and shared. Waiting to be told. Not because it is so extraordinary or unusual, but because it is ordinary, more ordinary than we prefer to admit and an equally translatable work of fiction as much as it is a true story. Its relevancy has yet to be permanently extinguished from the fabric of society. It’s a telling of second chances, of Spirit-driven do-overs, the kind I once secretly prayed for and previously wrote about, and the kind of do-over that may surprise and inspire you to think and act — differently…
Hello Jack (not his real name)
She turned 35 this year. I wonder if she ever crosses your mind? I know at least one time she did; more than 20 years ago, soon after your biological father appeared on your doorstep, when you made that call to a mutual old friend. “Does she know about me?” you asked. “Yes, she does, but your picture certainly isn’t on the piano,” our friend bluntly told you. That’s as far as it went. Back into the shadows and behind the bushes you returned.
Yes, she knows about you. She knows you opted out. She knows we passed loved notes to one another between classes our junior year, during the height of our first-love relationship. She knows the notes included intimate conversations about taking our relationship to the next level – you know, the sex pitch. She knows I was apprehensive, saying ‘no’ more than once. She knows I still have those notes. I kept them in preparation — just in case — in the event she (as any naturally curious youngster would) might start asking the ‘big’ questions. It is her history after all; it is how she got here, how we got here.
She knows she was conceived the night I returned home from Sarasota, Florida, at the end of Spring Break in 1981. She knows we didn’t use protection. She knows it was the first time for both of us. She knows it happened at my house, on that 1970’s gold sculpted carpeting of the living room floor, less than 20 feet from the front door. She’s also once driven by the house with me. She knows no one else was home at the time. She knows it lasted about five minutes. She knows I still do not know how I went from saying ‘no’ to saying ‘yes’. She knows I was 16 when she was conceived, 17 when she was born, and 18 when we graduated high school, six months later. She knows you ended our relationship within the week of me telling you I was pregnant. She knows I kept it a secret for four months. She knows you ran track and were prom king. She knows at our Senior Superlatives ceremony, our class voted us “best matched couple,” yet, we approached the stage to receive our award from opposite sides of the auditorium because we weren’t speaking to one another — again — and you were dating someone else. She knows it was a tumultuous time for both of us, we were a couple of 17-year-old immature idiots after all.
She knows for you there was pressure from your mom and step-dad to ‘make it work’. You were forced to put up phony facades of love, let alone like or subtle interest, when you didn’t want to be involved or be responsible and had an eye for a new girl. She knows we attempted multiple false-starts to reunite, none lasting more than a week or two.
She knows for me, it was daily self-defense combat: navigating gossip, rumors, accusations, and innuendo on all fronts from family, staff, friends, acquaintances, and enemies alike. Having been dumped by my boyfriend of a year-and-a-half and feeling abandoned, unloved, unworthy, and alone as I went from wearing a pom-pon uniform on a Friday to wearing maternity clothes the following Monday.
Most of all, she knows it was fear, at its virgin purest; yes, the pun is intentional. Fear, at its all-consuming, all-absorbing, all-controlling best. Fear mashed with shame and guilt. A trifecta of emotion that perpetuated force-feeding my own denial while keeping the secret from everyone those early months. Fear you may leave me, just as you did. Shame and guilt that I was, by all accounts, a ‘good girl’ who knew better and still let this happen.
For this naïve, young teenager, every morning as I brushed my teeth, I’d stand there looking in the mirror scared, forced to confront fear head-on and put on a suit of armor. Every day self-terrorizing with wonder, no, worry about what possible traumatic interaction I’d be forced to defend myself against – alone – amid the hostile environment known as the school halls of hormonally-charged teenagers. Who will it be today? You? Again. She knows it was that same fear simultaneously bully-whispering in my ear, non-stop, 24-7, with barreling thoughts of desperation of what the future will hold: what will I do? where will I go? how will I do it? My life is over. Who will love me, now? The thoughts forcing my hand to hold-on, not to hope but tightening the grip of the growing anger and resentment that brewed inside like a slow-cook chili, over how you seemingly rejected me. Rejected me, rejected responsibility, and were killing my fantasies of ‘happily of ever after’. It was all evaporating fast, faster than I could handle or willingly admit. Fear was winning, or was it, and we were all losing, or were we?
There’s an Eleanor Roosevelt quote that sums it up well, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence, by every great experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Underneath all the presiding fear, shame and guilt, a fierce determination was quietly weight training with resilience in preparation for a demonstration of confident courage and confrontational showdowns that were Olympic gold caliber. A mother lion, not yet a mother, beginning to find the internal roar to protect herself and her cub against all sabotaging predators, including you. You didn’t want to be responsible, you didn’t want to be in a relationship with me, yet you deemed it appropriate to choke-hold me in displeasure of my choices. Oh, hell no!
She has your hands, your feet, your tall stature, and before braces a space between her front teeth. She refers to you as, sperm donor. It’s how she sees your contribution to her life. She’s not wrong. Yet, part of me also believes, as I know and love her, it’s a blend of protective coping humor with a sarcastic jab of honesty. She’s fascinating to me that way. She has modeled a level of acceptance that has taught me so much about my own life and brought clarity to the reasons why I made the choices I made when it came to dealing with you, and raising her… solo.
I know you made choices, too. Choices that both directly and indirectly contributed to mine, beginning with the earliest one – dumping me. I lashed out at you, and about you to others. I set demands, higher than you could or ever wanted to meet. Every time my resentments grew, I made it easier for you to bow out. Ironically, that also began to pave the way for it to be easier for me.
Growing up with parents who divorced when I six-years-old, who, throughout my life harbored little more than contempt for one another, prevailing bitterness inhibited their ability to communicate respectfully or co-parent lovingly. I knew, first-hand, what it was like to be used as a pawn, as a piece of bargaining collateral in a hostile relationship. It was familiar to me. I watched it, lived it, learned from it, and began behaving the same way when my relationship with you ended, while also on my way to becoming the mother of your biological daughter. I recalled the countless actions I had seen, heard from my parents and grandparents; berating one another behind their backs, blaming each other for their unhappiness or failures; sometimes turning all that angst and cruelty onto me or my brother, verbally and physically. I hated it, and in my fear of being 17, pregnant, alone, over-wrought with fear, I equally hated that I was uncontrollably doing the same thing – to you, to her, to myself.
Forcing you to do and be more than you were capable of or interested in was the repeating recipe for the disaster that had been my own childhood. Still, the fear of going it alone lingered. One thing I always knew with absolute certainty, I didn’t want any of that for my own child. A deep personal conviction that eventually tipped the scale to cease trying to force you into our lives. The risk of letting you off-the-hook, free to walk away, with no future association or recourse from me was the high price I was willing to pay for the reward of changing a family pattern of dysfunction, irresponsibility, hostility, cruelty, and abandonment. By the time she turned 1-year-old, it was done. I didn’t pursue you, I didn’t sue you in court, I didn’t make you do anything. You were free. It was the best decision I made, second behind choosing to keep her. I have no regrets.
You know how people talk about second chances and do-overs? They usually refer to such do-overs as it correlates with themselves. Renowned author and poet, Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Because of our teenage pregnancy and the choices, we each made, several members of my family were given special do-overs I never could have imagined at the time. As a great-grandparent, my paternal grandmother got a do-over to be the kind of grandmother she always wanted to be for my brother and I but couldn’t because of bitter divorce. As a grandfather, my dad got a do-over to be a present, nurturing, influential surrogate-parent as the primary male role-model in his only granddaughter’s life. As a mother, I was given a do-over to be the kind of parent I’d often wished I had, and cultivate the kind of mother-daughter relationship I’d always hoped for. Some call these blessings in disguise. I say, ok, and thank you.
She knows I do not speak ill-will of you. She knows this was written. I hope you have known do-overs and second chances yourself out of the knowings which our shared experience together created. You know, there’s a silence inside me that is relieved all this occurred during the 1980’s when social media wasn’t even a blip yet. I can’t imagine, nor do I want to, how that would go. I’m not sure I’d have survived, certainly not in the ways I have.
Oh, and by the way, we never had a piano. She played clarinet — through college.
Be well, Jack.
Though disappointingly, the story was declined for the specific publication it was first created for, it is now on its way to another for consideration and in the meantime it gets to live here. Because everyone deserves the very best kind of indirect second chance and do-over possible, we simply have to try again, look a little harder to recognize the subtle knowings, allow ourselves to be vulnerable, keep going, and share our hope-filled lessons with others. Peace.