Monday, December 1, 2008

When Realities Collide

It's always interesting when the past and the present collide. This has happened to me a few times recently, with interesting results.

A friend of mine just posted some pictures from high school on Facebook. We were quite good chums back in the day, and then drifted apart, only to reconnect last year through a mutual friend at a serendipitous moment in both of our lives. We picked up the strands of our previous friendship and have began to weave a new tapestry, very different from our adolescent one. The photo is telling for a number of reasons. First of all, The Kelly Garrett hair is a dead giveaway to the date-1979. I'm standing off to the side, smiling at the antics of something off camera, standing with arms crossed, with a group of people. Immediately to my right is a person who, at that point in high school, I had counted as a friend...a friend who not long after became my chief tormentor, whose emotional bullying caused me no end of grief, cost me friendships, and whose name, even today can send me to a very bleak time in my life when I ended up suicidal. Interestingly, she is the only one looking at the camera in the picture. Just seeing her picture again is enough to make my heart race...such is the legacy a bully can leave.

Recently, an old chum from university tracked me down on Facebook. He was a good friend all the way through school, and we would go to the pub or movies together. He is one of the good guys...kind, old fashioned and courteous. I remember sitting in his truck after a movie one night, telling him that "he was one of the good guys who renewed my faith in men." We'd lost touch after university when he moved to the Maritimes. I was thick as a post, clearly, because I always thought we were just chums, pals, buddies...and he would have liked something more than that but was too shy to act on it and I never realized it. I remember attending his Christmas party the year after he'd move to the East Coast, and one of the women asked when we were getting married. Before he could reply, I had said "oh, we're just friends..." and I now understand the profound silence that ensued. In retrospect, it was not the first time I missed the signals. According to him, the guys in the class, including him, thought I was "gorgeous". I have never, ever, not for a nanosecond, ever considered myself "gorgeous" or even pretty for that matter. My nose is too big, I'm too curved and dimply and I'm short. It boggles my mind when people tell me that, because I don't see what they do... This re-acquaintance has no reason to flatter me, and he was never the type to do that anyway. We're both old married folk now. I would concede "cute" in those days...I was told I looked like Lady Diana quite often back in the day (the hair helped) but gorgeous...nope. And these days? Fat, frumpy, gone to seed and tired-absolutely. Gorgeous? Not even with my new haircut and a good makeup day. The best I hope for these days is "good." as in...I clean up good...

Finally, awkward was the word of the day on the weekend. We attended the Christening of my friend's baby. This friend is my little sister I never had, and her parents and I sang in church choir when I was in high school, and I used to hold her older brother while her parents went to communion when he was an infant. Our lives have been intertwined for years, and my husband and I have been included in many of their family's celebrations, because her mother is a good friend as well. Which is where the awkward part comes in, because her cousin is a former boyfriend...who broke my heart into a million pieces.

Steve and I started out as friends. I had just ended a very emotionally draining relationship and wasn't interested in any kind of romance, date or anything else with the male species. Crazy cat lady was my goal at that point, because it had to be better than the emotional hell I'd just escaped. We would chat after church and gradually, friendship developed into something more. Our first date was on Canada Day, and we both laughed about having eyes only for each other that day, oblivious to the festivities. We shared the day with his cousins and aunt and uncle, who had been quietly encouraging the romance.

It was a rocky romance, and doomed from the start. We shared the same beliefs...but were worlds apart on interests and activities. I loved to dance, and at that point, I was a competitive ballroom dancer. I still danced with my ex-boyfriend at that point. Steve swore up, down and sideways that he was fine with me dancing with the ex. Of course, he swore up, down and sideways about many things that he was fine with...because it's what he thought I wanted to hear. I was his first girlfriend...and he was in his early 30s.

We had picked the ring, tentatively picked a wedding date, immediate families knew "unofficially", and we had planned to announce the news on Christmas Eve...and then he walked away a couple of weeks before Christmas. He said he wasn't ready for a relationship, he wasn't okay with my dancing with the ex, he didn't want kids...and a myriad of other things that he finally came clean about....things that he thought I'd wanted to hear. I remember vividly going out for New Years' Eve with him after he'd come clean and I was still reeling. He tried to put his arm around me and I pulled back. It was the beginning of the end, and after another couple of months of trying to patch things up, only to discover layer upon layer of deceit, falsehood and misinformation I finally pulled the plug on the shambles of the relationship...on Valentines Day. People believe that I broke off the relationship, and that's true to a point...but he walked away first. I pulled the plug on the salvage effort; he pulled the plug on the relationship by revealing that it had been built on lies. He continued to come to church after, and I can remember forcing myself to sit in my seat as rage consumed me when he strolled in a few months later wearing the sweater that I had knit him for Christmas the previous year...the year we were supposed to be announcing our engagement. It was all I could do to not run down the aisle and rip it off his body. How DARE he wear it now...the hurt was overwhelming.

I stayed friends with his aunt, and his cousins, and so we bump up against each other once in awhile. It's been 12 years...and it is still awkward. I've skipped family celebrations that I knew he would be in attendance at. At others, we have remained on different floors, and out of each other's way. His mother is still a bit formal with me, even after all this time. His brother and father are friendly, and always have been.

On Saturday, after the Christening, he was watching the door and holding the dog, and my daughter made a beeline for the dog as soon as she spotted him. Before I had time to react, my daughter plunked down beside my ex-boyfriend and started her non-stop chatter with him and the dog. My husband joined the conversation, and I tried my best to melt into the floor, as I watched an interesting display of emotion play across my ex's mother's face as she also watched the ironic little scene playing itself out...More than any other relationship, that one crystallized the qualities I needed, and found later, in a partner.

The universe is pushing me to learn, clearly, with all these juxtapositions of present and past. I never resolved the bullying from high school...and the pattern thus repeated itself in my professional life, where I've been bullied on a professional level. My perceptions were challenged by the old college chum and the "hindsight is always 20/20" rule applied in the irony of my husband and my greatest heartbreak chatting together with my daughter. As my friend who posted the high school picture is wont to's time to thank the past for the experiences and cut the karmic chord and release the grip of the negative energy. Now if I can just find those darn scissors...

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