Met His Old LoverbyDinsmore©
This story was edited by "Crazysoundguy".
In 1981 Dan Fogelberg wrote and later recorded a song included on the album, "Innocent Age" called, "Same Old Lang Syne". I recall hearing it possibly for the first time while driving home one evening from a business meeting; I also remember damn near driving off the road and wrecking my car. Still about a hundred miles from home, I pulled off in Gainesville Florida, a college town, begged for a phone book at a gas station and found a record store that was still open. I bought the cassette tape and played that song over and over during the two hours remaining on the Interstate.
I cried; I felt regret, anger and even a bit of hopelessness. I was driving home to a dead marriage or at least one that would legally expire within the year. Ten years earlier I had married the wrong woman...the one who was in front of me not the one I would have had to work for...search for...earn. I had two young children; the divorce would be messy and painful and the pain and estrangement from at least one of those two children would return to haunt me many years later. My life was a mess...I was falling apart. I hated myself for having been young, lazy and stupid and letting my first true love slip away. It was too late.
I had tracked her down a year earlier; she was married to an architect and also had two young children. I sent her an innocuous note with pictures of my kids and comments about those "good old days" back in college. Three days after I posted the letter she called me and the first words out of her mouth were, "You didn't wait for me."
"I know...I'm sorry." It was all I could say.
We chatted about life and where we lived and kids and then brushed up against our current spouses. She had married a good man and a good father; he was successful. She had waited a little longer than I had to walk down the aisle. I got the strong sense that she loved and respected him but wasn't in love with him. I was a little more evasive; I did not want to burden her with my marital issues.
A few days later she mailed me pictures of her two girls with a similarly innocuous note. Over the next few years we exchanged Christmas cards---even birthday cards since our birthdays were only a day apart. We talked on the phone a few times and exchanged emails. We even talked aimlessly about meeting some time but we both knew that was not going to happen. It just became too uncomfortable for both of us to keep holding on to something that could never be so after a short while we stopped communicating.
We never reconnected; she's still married to the same man. I remarried and couldn't be happier. First loves---those that generally occur sometime after high school---indelibly imprint your heart. That first time as an adult that another human being takes your breath away, addles your brain and turns you into mush...well, you just don't ever forget that and no matter what happens during the rest of your life you find yourself thinking about what might have been.
There was a time a few years after my divorce that I was driving on business, far from home and saw the sign for the exit that led to her city. I was planning to stop for the night soon anyway...it had been a long day and even though it was not yet dark I was bushed. It wouldn't really have been that far out of my way...but I didn't.
But I like to write fiction so from here on out, let's just assume that I took that exit, having no plan---no idea what I was going to do. Would I drive by her house? Knock on her door? Would I call her and tell her that I was, "in town"? With a little help from Dan Fogelberg's amazing lyrics and my own imagination let's see where this story goes.
This was just plain stupid. What had he been thinking? She's married with children. The two of you haven't talked in years; it ended, if it ever began, fifteen years ago. He hadn't really had much trouble finding her house...he'd looked it up on the Internet...imagined driving there. It wasn't that big a town; it was a pleasant, upscale suburb comfortably removed from a major city. He drove by the house three times certain that some neighbor had already called the police to report a suspicious car prowling the street. It was a pretty house, older and with far less yard than he would have liked but typical of the area. As he was a few houses away on his third pass and prepared to go find a decent motel for the night and forget this lunacy or simply get back on the Interstate, the front door opened and there she was.
He recognized her immediately; they had exchanged pictures before severing ties but it wouldn't have mattered...he would have recognized her. Her hair was a bit lighter...she had been a pure brunette when they had been together. She still couldn't be more than a size four; she walked to the driveway and opened the driver's door of an upscale Volvo. Where were her children? Where was her husband...where was she going? Without thinking he followed her...Christ, he was stalking her!
...my old love...grocery store...
It was early spring in the Northeast but he quickly discovered that she was in fact going to a grocery store, a small neighborhood market. He watched her walk into the store; he got out of his car and followed her. He could hear his heart beating...he had no script for what was going to occur.
...in the frozen foods...
It turned out to be the fresh produce section; he was standing inches away from her trying to appear interested in artichokes.
...her eyes flew open...
He had aged well, as she had. If anything she was more beautiful than he remembered. Her look went from instant recognition to disbelief and then back to recognition.
And then she hugged him...and he hugged her back and they just stood that way for what seemed like a very long time. He felt her soft tears on his neck...she could not miss his on her shoulder...and then they laughed...and then they cried some more.
What in the world...?" She implored.
He told the truth. He had been driving from one city to another on business. He had seen the turn off for where she lived. He had driven by her house with no plan...no idea what he was doing...and then he had seen her and followed her to the store. She nodded; they walked together as she gathered up assorted food items.
took her groceries to the...
They walked together back to the parking lot. "Bethany...I'm sorry. I certainly don't want to embarrass you or create an uncomfortable situation. This was probably the silliest, most insane thing I've ever done. I don't know what I was thinking...I really need to just get back on the road and..."
"How's your wife? How are those gorgeous children of yours? I knew you had great genes!" Beth said, reminding him of the banter they had once shared.
"Ah, my wife is fine, although she's my former wife since a couple of years ago. The kids are with her...they moved...I see them on alternate weekends. And how's everything with your family?"
Her face darkened...her eyes grew misty. "Gone in an instant Jeff...almost exactly two years ago...a drunk driver crossed the center divider...head on...my whole family...gone. They were coming home from school..."
"Oh my God...I'm so sorry...I had no idea!"
"It's not something you ever get over Jeff but I'm better. I needed a little professional help getting through it but I'm okay now. I finally have stopped wearing black."
He wanted to hug her hold her...comfort her...but who exactly was he to her...or her to him?
He did anyway. "I'm so sorry baby." He said, using a term of endearment that was probably inappropriate.
Her countenance brightened. "Come home for dinner! You look exhausted. I've got a guest room...more room than I need...you're welcome to stay... no, I insist! You're obviously too exhausted to drive any more and I wouldn't think of having you stay in a motel."
"Are you sure, I..."
"Stop being difficult; you're coming home with me."
And so he followed her home and helped her carry her groceries inside. It was a far bigger house than it had appeared from the street. It was so completely her; her taste in decorating hadn't changed that much since...
"Grab your suitcase...I'll show you to the guestroom...you have your own bath. Go ahead and get changed or cleaned up if you want, I'll put the food away and do a little prep work for dinner. We have a lot of catching up to do. There a decent wine selection in the front hall closet---grab a bottle on your way back."
...a toast to innocence...
"To youth...God were we young...so damn young! Youth and innocence."
"Youth and innocence." He replied sipping his own wine...unable to stop looking at her...staring at her. She had been drop dead gorgeous at eighteen...the most beautiful woman he had ever met. Now she had the character that comes with age, the intrigue of maturity. The years had been more than good to her. She took his breath away.
"To the present and the future, whatever it may hold." He said, raising his glass.
"Yea, I'll buy that...future...has to be better than the..." She sipped her wine cutting off the final words.
"So, ah, how are things with the ex?"
"Awful! She's poisoning the kids, they're never ready to go on time...my daughter is having problems in school...her name is...my daughter's name is Beth...Bethany. It's at least civil now. We went back to court and she got her hands slapped by the judge so at least she's playing by the published rules. And you don't need to hear any more of this."
"Do you still love her?"
"I don't love her...the more vexing issue is whether I ever did...dumb marriage...I was lonely, just back from overseas, she was needy...let's not do this?"
... beyond the emptiness...
Emptiness...his life was pretty damn empty. He dearly loved his children...adored them...doted on them and he was losing them. She had lost it all...her entire family in a horrible instant.
...would have liked to say she'd loved the man...
"Jeff, I miss my girls terribly...they were my life. I don't know that Bert and I were ever really 'in love'...he was a very good man...good father...a very successful architect...'low maintenance' as they say...a good friend...I miss him, but..." Bethany drowned her words out once again with another sip of wine.
"I'm very sorry, Bethany."
"Don't be, Jeff. We weren't remotely unhappy and our lives revolved around the kids...we just were never...oh hell, I don't know...ecstatic?"
... the years had been a friend to her...
"You look great Bethany...even better than I remember."
"You don't look so bad yourself, old man. Thirty seems like so long ago and now forty is just around the corner...for both of us."
It was at that moment as they both grew silent that the words---words he had long ago committed to memory---came back to him.
"So what exactly are you doing now? I didn't miss the designer suit you were wearing; I assume you're doing well?"
"I work for a big company...sales management...and spend too much of my time on the road. The pay is good; I've got great benefits, stock options, retirement...all of that. But..."
...the traveling was...
"After the divorce, being on the road all of the time was almost a relief...kept me from stewing at home alone...now it's really getting old."
... a toast...innocence...now...time...
"What is it they say, time heals all wounds?"
"It takes longer for some than for others...I can't imagine what you've gone through...I'm so sorry...you deserved so much better...I wish..."
"Thank you, Jeff."
They prattled back and forth before, during and after dinner, remembering fonder times, catching up on the intervening years.
...running out of things to say...
They finished a second and then a third bottle of wine together; it was late. He didn't want to go to bed...he wanted to enjoy every possible minute with her...with the woman he had fallen in love with fifteen years earlier...he now understood that she was the only woman he had ever been in love with.
... a kiss...that old familiar pain ....
She kissed him...he was back in school...her lips...he felt the old familiar pain and wonderand he kissed her back...and his arms went around her.
She broke the kiss first, but only to speak, tears again filling her eyes "You didn't wait for me."
"I know...no regrets. Come to bed with me...it's been too long and I just need comfort right now...it doesn't have to mean anything other than...whatever it means...I need to be held...made love to."
Fifteen years earlier their love making had often been playful, even adventurous but on more occasions than not, deeply passionate and intense. Neither Jeff nor Bethany felt remotely playful; both needed the comfort of another's arms...both needed to be loved...it had been too long for both of them.
Home...his empty, lonely home back in Florida...her empty, lonely home here, in this Northeastern city. They made love as two lonely people do...urgent but also different...the holding on to each other was far more important than the sex...the warmth of her body against him...his strong arms surrounding her.
"I want to; I can't. I have to be in Boston by noon...another worthless meeting but I'm the star attraction. Then I'm flying back to Florida...for the weekend..."
"It's your weekend with your babies, isn't it?"
"Yes...Beth, I want to come back...I want you to come see me...meet the kids...I want..."
"I don't know if I want you to come back...part of me does..."
"You are the only one in my current life that calls me that...Bert called me Bethany...very formal...Betts to close friends..."
"I don't want this to be just...I've missed you...fifteen years..."
"But you aren't about to leave Florida...that's where your babies are and all I have left in the world is here...my mom and dad...my sisters...special friends...what's left of my life."
"I understand; I think I always knew that about you...you were the consummate homebody...loved it here...missed it when you were in college...that's why you transferred..."
"Jeffrey...I bet no one in your current life calls you that, do they? I enjoyed the sex and the comfort...very much...thank you. You always had the touch but you've added finesse with age. But somehow the idea of you stopping by every now an again for a quick fuck doesn't work for me...couldn't work for me." She paused as if collecting her thoughts.
"I never stopped loving you. I was positive we'd never speak again, let alone meet...make love. It brought back all those old familiar feelings. I wanted to call you after the accident but you were married...we'd closed it off. It wouldn't have been fair to either of us. Now I don't know what I want...what makes sense...even what is possible...but I'm very sure seeing you...sleeping with you every now and again doesn't cut it. You have obligations to those children...your job. I think you should probably just go...go to Boston...and don't come back...I'm strong enough at this very minute to say that...send you away...but if we do this again, and then again...I'm afraid I couldn't deal with it and I'd ask you to do something that's not in the best interest of you...your kids...or me. You'd always resent it...resent me if I was the reason you lost them. I'm not sure I'd be able to respect you if you left them in the lurch even though...I can't deal with that...we couldn't deal with that."
"We can talk...the phone..."
"No! We've been there and done that...not again."
"I don't want to lose you again...I love you...never stopped."
"Which Beth do you love? This one or the eighteen year old one? I'm this one...that one is long gone. You have other people...more important at this juncture that need you...even more."
"Look, Beth...fifteen years ago you were right. We were too young and getting way too serious. You were the wise one...knew we needed some separation...some maturity. Now things are different. There are issues...I agree...I accept that...give me some time to work through this...try to find some answers...solutions..."
"Time...I've got lots of that. Life's a bitch sometimes, isn't it?"
She went to hug me...
"I'm not going anywhere and have no romantic interests on the horizon...but I...shit! Don't dawdle, Jeffrey! Keep me or let me go but either way it's got to have finality. I will never hate you...could never hate you...will always love you...even if you do the right thing for you and your children...because you have to do the right thing...but if I can't feel your arms around me permanently...every damn day for the rest of my life, then I've got to let it go...and so do you...fair enough?"
...that old familiar pain...
He got back to the Tampa airport an hour before his children would arrive. His ex-wife had moved 150 miles away, a three and a half hour drive and had refused to meet him halfway after promising to do so in front of a judge. Flying the kids back and forth proved to be the only solution. Early on he had even had to have a taxi pick them up and drop them off because she refused to drive them the ten minutes to the airport. The judge had decided that she was being vindictive and threatened her with loss of custody. The correct phrase was some silly legal term involving residential something, not custody, since by law they had joint custody.
Jeff's ex-wife was on her second or third serious boyfriend, none of whom had been disposed to having children around. She had allowed him far more time during the summer than he was "authorized" by the divorce decree. It turned out that she wanted to take a six week vacation to Australia with her most recent paramour and the kids were...well...in the way.
Prior to the last visit to court, his attorney had discovered that she had been less than truthful about her income. Her three year declining maintenance stipend---the alimony portion of the settlement---was terminated early by the judge. The child support portion, which she had hoped to have raised was frozen. His lawyer had convinced him early on that the less he paid her regardless of what it was officially called, the better since it would leave him more cash to actually provide for the children. Her antics in court combined with her sleazy lawyer's games had irritated the judge and she ended up receiving far less than he once had offered her before the lawyers got involved.
The kids would show up each week with virtually no clothing; he would take them out and shop for them. She had purchased no clothing for the new school year the previous fall; he had taken care of that. She wouldn't let them bring their favorite toys...they now had two sets of virtually everything that was important to them. She wouldn't even pay for their school activities, school photos, field trips or anything else for her children other than basic food and housing out of the generous child support money she received. Prior to Christmas, she called him claiming that she had no money to buy them Christmas presents; he sent her a check. His lawyer had ordered him to document every dime, every situation and every conversation---take control and stop being manipulated.
His daughter's school counselor had called him long distance to express his concerns about his daughter's state of mind. He had driven down to meet with the man. Jeff had taken both children to a special psychologist who was very respected by the court and specialized in these kinds of issues.
Jeff had not wanted to put the children through the additional agony of a custody battle; they were traumatized enough by the divorce. The $300 an hour psychologist believed he could win such a battle; Jeff's ex was doing stupid, foolish things that would only further anger the judge in the case. His attorney, an old friend, agreed, with the caveat that in addition to being traumatizing to all involved it would cost a bundle. Money was really not an issue; he made an excellent living and lived relatively modestly. He had decided against it to protect his kids from further damage.