In 1999, when I was sixteen years old, I moved out for the summer for the first time to go work at a camp. I met a boy there. We fell in love. There were fireworks, he was my first, and six months later, on December 18, he gave me a ring to replace the promise ring he’d put on my finger a month before. As it was being sized, two months later, in February 2000, a woman who was 28 years old (and who he had apparently been in love with since he was eight) told him she loved him. He became confused, left me for her, I was devastated.
It was the shock of my life – at least back then. I didn’t want to get out of bed for weeks (and did only to go to school – the rest of the time, I spent moping in my bedroom). I ate, but didn’t taste anything. I broke another boy’s heart when he asked me to prom because I realized I just wasn’t over the first one enough yet to really be with anyone else.
Four months later, I agreed to work at the camp again. I knew he would be there. I don’t know what I expected to come of it… but things were very awkward. He was still seeing the woman. She had a two year old son that was mad about him. He was crazy about her. Despite all of that, we were the only two staff members in residence that summer, so we were forced to share the living space above the dining hall once the day was over and everyone else had gone home. Awkward silences spent staring at each other from across the breakfast table eventually became limited conversations which evolved, finally, into hour-long talks that never ended, quite, in a reconciliation, but the interest was still there. He felt it, I felt it. And I still loved him.
On the Fourth of July weekend, the camp always hosts a special festival event for the small town that it’s located in. The camp staff usually works the hot-dog and refreshment stand. I wasn’t scheduled to work until that Saturday, and I was looking forward to having the Friday off. The guy, also, had finished his work for the day, and we’d sat upstairs talking. Finally, he’d invited me to go with him to visit his sister, her boyfriend, and their kids. It was a three mile walk, but I didn’t care… this was the alone time I’d been looking for. And I said of course I’d go – I had to change my shoes. About that time, my boss came upstairs, frantic, because the girl who was supposed to work the evening shift that night didn’t show up. She asked if I would work. I didn’t have a choice… I lived there… I was the only one that could be there.
He walked out to the stand with me, and I asked him if he could wait. He said he couldn’t… he wanted to get there before dark. I understood that… walking down a busy highway at night is not the safest thing to do – especially when there is not only traffic to worry about but coyotes as well. And so he set off. Several weeks later, he took another job with a construction company. Permanent, and making better money. I was happy for him. Whatever happened between the two of them, he needed a job now that he was out of school and had decided against joining the army despite his ROTC program.
But I still wondered what would have happened had we gone on that walk. I felt, the way that I feel things, that something would have turned that evening. In my favor. Knowing what I know now, that my gut feelings are rarely, if ever, wrong, I believe that things would have been very different once the evening had completed, had I gone with him instead of spending my time working in the Canteen. But things were what they were. He married her. I moved on and married someone else. They are still married, they have a little girl. I am… well… divorced. And in some ways, I’m grateful that it didn’t work out. It would have been a hard life, and I don’t know that a marriage between us would have lasted – we were both so very young. But still, I wondered. Because sometimes “What If” is worse than anything else. You can try and fail, but at least then you know. “What If” just… lingers… with no resolution.
But I believe the past resonates. I believe that, if we just wait long enough, we are given a second chance… a chance to repeat where we were before. A chance to clarify a resolution that never came. A chance to resolve the “What If” question. The past resonates. It repeats itself. But the repeats are more of a “harmony” than they are a carbon copy of the past. One can say things differently, do things differently, wait if they want to wait, work if they want to work, and go on walks, if they want to go on walks.
I experienced the same shock, the same devastation, eight months ago when Botboy came back from Afghanistan and left suddenly. It was the same surprise, the same unpredictability, the same chaos and the same depression that had set in before. And for at least a week after, I was back where I was before. He was the only other man that ever affected me that way. But the depression didn’t last as long… I wouldn’t let it – a casualty had come out of the first one, and while the casualty wouldn’t come out of the second one, I wouldn’t let those feelings eat me alive, either, so I got busy doing other things. Time passed. Things healed. I wouldn’t say I got over it entirely, but I was better. Botboy started calling again, we talked. And finally, in January, we went to dinner – a “flashback” date as he called it.
And so, two months ago, when I was in the car with Botboy, and we were talking, despite the fact that I was very much in the present, and very much interested in what he had to say, and very much smitten with him, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities. Botboy was not, by his account anyway, seeing anyone else. Or in a relationship. Or married. But there were similarities all the same. The way we talked. The things we said to each other. The two of them look nothing alike. Their mannerisms are nothing alike, and they don’t even speak the same way. But there were enough similarities there that my mind was drawn, for an instant, back to the summer of 2000 when Jacob was leaving for his sister’s house, and how he’d invited me to go with him.
Somehow I knew that this was a repeat of the walk that I never got to take. It wasn’t the same… hell, we weren’t even walking, I was driving, and when we got back to the parking lot, we were standing between our cars (and Jacob didn’t have a car). But the feeling was the same. Botboy did not invite me along with him that night – it wasn’t that kind of evening. And we aren’t kids. But I was given an option all the same. I could walk away, I could go, do whatever I wanted to do, and, likely, be gone by the time he got back. Or I could stay. I could wait. I could see what happens.
I chose to wait. Because I love him, yes. But also because I know, because I feel it in my bones, that this is the answer to the “What If” question I’ve been looking for since I was seventeen. Botboy is not Jacob (thank god – I love Botboy now more completely than I ever could have loved Jacob at the age of seventeen). And this is not an instance where I am being called to work an emergency shift at the Canteen. But it is another “What If” situation.
If, once his adventure is over, he comes back to me, I’m willing to make a go of it. At least to try, to make an effort, to see if we can. And if he doesn’t? Well, I’ll be disappointed. Not as devastated as last time – I won’t be so blindsided this time.
Regardless, though, once this waiting cycle is over, I believe I’ll finally know what would have happened had I gotten to go on that walk. And then there’ll be a new phase, though I don’t know what it will look like.