As I fail to sleep for the third night in a row, for some reason I am thrown back to that night nearly 20 months ago. I thought fate had decided to intervene in my life for once, that maybe things were finally going to go in a way that would make me happy. But let’s back up a bit further…
It was actually nearly three years ago. I was living through what might have been the darkest point in my life. The only thing that had any redeeming value was that I was getting ready to deploy in three months, to get away from all the stupid things that happened after April 2008. Six months removed from just giving up and moving back home, I thought things were going to start going my way… I just had to get to the magical place that was Iraq. As silly as that sounds, when you are miserable, spending weekend after weekend at some stupid bar drinking without purpose, you really just need a change. Iraq was going to be that change for me. It was going to be that place that set me straight on life again. A place where I could focus on losing weight, getting finances in order, and just get away from my boring and insignificant life.
It was a typical night in my upstairs apartment in Enfield. After playing some Xbox for a while, I was doing my normal check of the Facebook before heading off to bed. I don’t know if I was looking for anything in particular, or how long I was planning on staying on when the message popped up. A message from a person I hadn’t spoken to in probably 10 years. One of those people from high school that you friend when Facebook suggests because you went to the same school and are from the same hometown. But for some reason, after a decade of minimal communication, seven words pop up in that message box: Why aren’t you going to the reunion?
An innocent question, really. When you get to be my age, and are that far removed from high school, things start to pop up. Friends get married, have babies, and just get on with their lives. I didn’t experience a lot of these things first hand, but only through distance since I decided to abandon my home for what I thought were greener pastures and the woman of my dreams. Dreams get crushed and you move on, but you keep informed on the fringes, and in the generation in which we live, it is easy to find out what is going on.
Another thing that happens late in your 20s is that dreaded 10-year reunion. Well, I guess it wouldn’t be dreaded for everyone. Some people want to go back and reconnect with people they only cared about because they shared English teachers and other similar classes. How many people actually maintain close relationships with their friends from high school? We drift apart. I once read or heard somewhere that a person generally cycles through their friends every seven years or so. Lasting friendships occur from time to time, but for the most part, people come in and out of your life as frequently as you buy a new car. It’s just one of those things.
Anyway, I had been in the “social” loop regarding this reunion. There was a blog that was updated from people that probably didn’t even know that I went to their high school, let alone graduated in the same class. I was making general plans to be there, if only because I would be back in Utah for my sister’s wedding and both events were happening on consecutive weekends. But then they shifted the date to a date that I would be away doing some Army training and I wouldn’t be able to go. But apparently my presence was going to be missed.
Why aren’t you going to the reunion? — I could be paraphrasing a bit. The actual conversation is saved somewhere on an old computer for some reason. But it was more than just wanting to see me at the reunion, or at least it felt that way in the depressed state I was in at the time. I was really looking forward to seeing you, or some such sentiment. I reply: You live in New York. If you really want to see me, I could probably come down to the city for a day. Unfortunately, or maybe not, I was just too busy to find time to get to the city before leaving for Iraq in November. However, we had some talks about other things. About life and being divorced. About struggling to find what to do with the rest of your life. Maybe it actually wasn’t all that deep. Maybe the past three years have made our “deep” conversations into something that they weren’t, but I had other things to do, so off I went to Iraq.
I’d be lying if I didn’t think about her while half a world away, especially after I was unceremoniously dumped by a short-term girlfriend about two months into my deployment. But I also thought that I had missed my chance, that by the time I returned, though it was only going to be 10 months, it would be too late. That maybe fate had aligned itself perfectly on that August night for a brief opportunity, and now it was lost to the ages.
Fast forward to November 2010. Back from Iraq, and seriously in need of a Ben Folds fix, I find the first concert that I can. Turns out Mr. Folds and Friends are playing a concert in New York City in December, right around my birthday. I buy myself two tickets per usual, and ask her to go with me, to take her up belatedly on her offer to show me her adopted city. I wait. I make back up plans in case she tells me no. She accepts!
The night of the concert, I take the train in from New Haven. We find each other in Grand Central Terminal. She’s gorgeous; I’m a schlub that, though much more fit from my current state, is lucky to be seen with someone like her. WE grab food. We chat a bit about things, me about Iraq and her about her fancy new job. We go to the concert, where we both enjoy one of the opening acts. She seems bored by Ben Folds, but it could have just been because of the long day after work. We head to a bar to get a couple of drinks and spend some more time talking.
I don’t remember if I had big plans for the big reveal, about how some things we talked about were important in helping me get out of a pretty serious depression the previous summer. I don’t think I was going to admit the crush I had had on her since 9th grade or so, or how I thought that fate was trying to tell me something. I think I just wanted to try and reestablish a friendship, one that we had when she sat behind me in geometry and we formed our two person gang the “Puppy Dog Mafia.” New York was only a few hours away; I would have an excuse to come into the city if it meant seeing her.
But something wasn’t clicking. I felt immediately friend-zoned as she talked about how the star quarterback from high school told her about his crush on her, about how spent many a night drinking in the city and generally having a good time. That wasn’t my life, and could probably never be my life. I was already feeling the pull back to Utah as I came upon 10 years in Connecticut. I don’t think she would ever move back to Utah, and I don’t think I could remain on the east coast much longer. I didn’t get a chance to see her before moving back, and might not have the opportunity again.
So what’s the point of these 1500 words? I don’t know. For some reason, as I work on about 8 hours of sleep over the past three nights, every time I try to sleep, I see an image among all the other “white noise” in my brain preventing me from sleeping. Sometimes it’s clearer than others, but mostly it’s about the feeling of the moment that is burned in my subconscious. Maybe writing these words will banish it deeper. Maybe not. But sometimes what I see when I close my eyes is her in that train station after she found me, and I remember how I felt in that split second and it makes me happy. But then the memory fades into everything else and I realize that we will never be, and I am saddened. And that is why it sucks not to be able to sleep. But maybe that brief instance of happiness is worth it every once in a while. I’m not sure.
Until next time…