Sunday, December 24, 2006

Ghosts of Lovers Past

When it's that time of year - when the holidays roll around and annual traditions resurface - so do memories. Memories of family, friends, college, high school, childhood and ex-boyfriends.

I often think of a story I once read in Reader's Digest years ago. Ten years ago, in fact, when I had my first romantic relationship that lasted longer than a few months. I was a junior and had just transferred to a high school in Asheville, North Carolina in the fall of 1996 after my father retired from the military.

The Reader's Digest story was originally published by Glamour in March 1996, and I discovered it later that fall. I saved the story in a small book, in which I have pasted articles, short stories, poems, postcards and photos from magazines or newspapers that I have liked. And on days like today, I reread Lisa Bain's story "The Loves We Leave Behind" and I remember.

Last night, I was talking on the phone to an old college friend, who now lives just south of Atlanta, Georgia. Our dorm suites were on the same hall our freshmen year, and we've been close on and off ever since. Only recently has he become comfortable in his own skin and in openly admitting that he is gay. And only recently has he been truly happy.

We often laugh together about dumb things we did in college, things we wish we had done differently and the way things are now. As I laid on my back with my head hanging off the foot of the bed, I said to my cell phone: "You know how ... when you're a kid ... you have this vision of how your life will be in your 20s?"

"Yea," he replied, "I thought that by now I'd be married, I'd have a house, and I'd be having my first kid ..."

"White picket fence," I added, "Two dogs and a cat ... Instead life doesn't always turn out the way you thought it would ..."

"Yea, "he sighed, "And you realize you're gay."

We both drowned in a fit of laughter.

"You're not where you thought you'd be professionally," I said.

"You rent a room from your boss," he added.

We pitched antidotes back and forth and laughed until our sides hurt. We talked about mistakes we'd made and why we're glad we've made them. I know we're both glad that we haven't ended up married to our high school or college sweethearts, with kids, a mortgage and a minivan. We jokingly claim to pity those poor souls whose lives are already trapped by responsibility.

One could charge that our cynical beliefs are based on jealousy and resentment. I would go down arguing in our defense. I know we're both happy as we come into our own in our distinct, individual ways. We're both becoming comfortable with who we are as individuals instead of dragging a spouse and children through our emotional bouts with the realities we have half-chosen and half-fallen into ... only to end up middle-aged, on the brink of divorce, and regretting that we didn't experience more of the independent life before we started cranking out kids so we're having an affair with the hottie down the block.

I know that we're relieved that our 20s haven't turned out the way we both thought and planned that they would when we were kids - yet we don't disregard our friends who have chosen marriage and children at an early age. Some people are ready for that level of commitment before others. Everyone is different.

I think we both just wish that love, marriage, kids, mortgage and minivan were just that easy. But would life be as fulfilling if it were?

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