Yesterday, I was thinking about an old boyfriend, L. I met him in my twenties and we had an intense yearlong affair, then he moved out of the country, back to where he was from. We stayed in touch. We both had other relationships but in between, we always found ourselves back in touch. Every few years, we’d meet up somewhere, spend a week together. The old feelings and passion were still there for both of us. He was the only man, until I met my husband, who ever “got” me. We adored being in each other’s company. But he was deeply flawed — he cheated on every woman he’d ever had a relationship with. He lied. He was emotionally uncommunicative. He drank too much. He took advantage of everyone’s kindness and patience. He was selfish. We were good for short bursts but I knew that if we ever lived together I’d quickly be miserable. He, however, held on to the hope that someday, somehow, we would end up together, maybe grow old together.
Then I met my husband. Initially L assumed this was just another affair that would burn itself out like all the others before (because how could I ever love anyone more than I loved him?) He expected he and I would go back to the way we’d always been. I assured him that M and I were forever.
Although I’d loved L, I hated that I loved him. He had hurt and disappointed me so often, it was a relief to finally feel nothing for him.
Even after M and I were married, L would call me now and then to see how I was doing (maybe checking to see if M and I were still together). He was living in Miami by then, and I in NYC. We’d become Facebook friends and kept in touch with occasional text conversations. He asked me several times if I’d come visit him — with M. He just wanted to see me. So, when M and I went to visit his mother in Florida, about nine years ago, we took an afternoon drive to meet him and his girlfriend at the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood. It was a surreal place to meet.
I almost didn’t recognize him. It was shocking and sad to see what he’d become. He used to be absolutely stunning; a smart, savvy businessman with a deep soul, who could always make me laugh. Now he was a mere husk of his former self. He sat there inert, barely speaking. She did all the talking. He wasn’t senile. He simply had no spark. This was a man who used to ooze mojo. Women would fall at his feet. (For me, it had been love at first sight.) Now he was an empty shell with no life force. For as long as I’d known him, he’d been on anti-anxiety meds and anti-depressants. That, coupled with the heavy drinking and the fact that he didn’t take care of himself, had all taken their toll. Health-wise, he was a mess. As a human, he was barely there.
Although he’d still text me via Facebook, over time his messages become unintelligible word salad. He’d call me on the phone from time to time, but was nearly incoherent. I eventually stopped responding. I didn’t know if it was a permanent condition or if he only reached out to me when he was drinking and feeling sentimental. Either way, it was difficult and unpleasant to converse with him. I no longer wanted to make the effort to peer inside him to understand what he was feeling, something I used to do so easily.
One day he called me and for some reason, I picked up the phone. Surprisingly, he sounded like his old self. Smart, funny, sensible. He said he realized that if he didn’t stop drinking and get his shit together, he was going to die,. He’d started a program to get healthy. I was truly happy for him.
But, as always, it didn’t take long for him to sabotage his own life and go back to his old ways. He was always one to take the path of least resistance. His tragedy was that he was smart and deep enough to understand himself, and recognize what had to be changed, but he was lazy about actually doing the work.
Then, one evening about seven years ago, I got a call from his girlfriend. A few months prior, one Saturday evening, in their living room, he’d had a heart attack and died. He was 60.
By that point, he’d alienated everyone in his life, Even his own children didn’t go to the funeral.
I felt sad because I felt nothing. After having loved him so deeply for so long, what did it mean that I felt not even a wisp of sorrow at his passing?
Back in the early days, when things were hot and heavy, we always promised each other that whoever died first would find a way to communicate with the other. But that was forty years ago and I didn’t expect he’d remember or keep his promise from the other side. He certainly didn’t keep any promises when he was alive so why would he keep any now that he was dead? Besides, I didn’t want to “talk” to him. I had nothing to say to him, not even in my imagination. I was still angry at him for having thrown his life away. I could not forgive him for squandering our love. I was not at all open to hearing from him.
But yesterday, I thought, I wonder…if I give him the opportunity, would he communicate? Had I forgiven him enough to at least listen? I have learned that hearing the dead requires, at the very least, the willingness to listen.
So I said to him, wherever he may be, “If you’re listening, give me a sign.” I thought about what that sign might be — it needed to be something significant to us but not so common as to be mere casual coincidence. I thought about it. We used to have an inside joke about Charlie Brown so I said, “if you’re listening, show me Charlie Brown. That will be the sign.”
This morning, I woke up, opened Facebook, and one of the first posts on my feed was big picture of Charlie Brown
So, what do you think? Mere coincidence or a message from Il Mondo Beyondo? (I shall give him another opportunity soon. See what happens.)
P.S. Since I wrote this, I saw yet another Charlie Brown meme on FB. And then, a couple of days after that, when we went to our local transfer station (aka “the dump”), and on the “take table” somebody had left a small framed panel cartoon of Charlie Brown and Linus. And then again, somewhere else. Charlie Brown seems to be popping up everywhere.
I don’t know if it’s because I simply wasn’t paying attention before, but honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen any pictures of Charlie Brown in ages, and suddenly they seem to be everywhere.
Then, to add another layer of weird, yesterday, I was contacted by a client in LA (I have a party entertainment business, www.bubbygram.com) whose name (first, middle, last) is the same as L’s second son (although he’s no relation.)
So, I’ve said, into the ether, “OK, L. I’m listening.” Let’s see if he has anything interesting to say.