Sorting through old photographs I stop on pictures of a college boyfriend. In one I am standing behind him and he looks back at me and smiles. In another, we are facing each other looking into each other’s eyes. We are standing on a boat in the sunshine with the blue sky and water behind us.
I remember that time, and it is similar to now. Like now, I am making choices for my future. There are the same themes and questions now as then. Where do I want to live? How will I use my skills and talents in the world? What do I want my life to look like in five years, and how will I get there? What kind of romantic partnership do I want and need?
These are questions I never dreamed I would be asking myself again, but here I am. It’s exciting, but daunting to not know what the future holds. I do know I will carry on with my company Ocean SF, and continue to write, but from there I move into the unknown and a multitude of possibilities.
In May of the year the photographs were taken I was graduating and he was not. He was staying in Corvallis for another year. At the time I had two job offers. One with IBM in Santa Clara, California, and the other with the Democratic Party in Portland, Oregon. I was at a cross roads and my romantic attachment wasn’t helping to clarify anything, it only served to confuse things further. In the end, I moved to Portland and pursued politics. It was a rocky time, and eventually I landed in the capital working for a lobby firm, but from there I gave up politics, and moved to California and went into business. Had I started there in the first place my life would have been decidedly different. Or, there could have been another option, but at the time I couldn’t see it.
As I approach the fall and the idea of being alone without children for the first time in twenty odd years, I am looking back and forward simultaneously. The past informs the future in love especially. We repeat the same patterns and mindlessly become entangled in similar situations over and over again. With this in mind, I look back at my past relationships pulling the threads of similarities apart. My post college boyfriends were similar in their work ethic and ambition. Although they differed on the exterior they each had the characteristics to provide the stability necessary to start a family. The man I will be with in the future will need a different set of qualities.
While thinking about this, I’m doing what most parents do before their children leave for college; cleaning closets, sorting out unnecessary clutter, and organizing the garage.
My daughter pulls a framed portrait of me from a cardboard box. It’s taken in black and white. I’m sitting on the front steps of a house on 23rd and Harrison my senior year of college. People often say that although so many years have past they feel exactly like the person they were at 22, or whatever age is in question. I certainly do not. I’ve had an interesting life and I am very much changed by it. Even my handwriting has changed. My cursive was at a serious slant back then, now it is upright and much more playful. My children have enriched my life making me happier and more playful in many ways and for this I am grateful. My daughter comments on how strange it is for me to have a framed portrait of myself. She finds a stack of wallet size photos in an envelope and reads the words written on the back of them by friends, many whom she knows. She finds the idea of giving friends a picture of yourself to carry in your wallet absurd.
I flip through the photos in my hand. In the next one I’m sitting on a boat wearing a white swimsuit. My hair is wavy and cut chin length. I’m wearing the same sunglasses I wear today. Tortoise shell and the exact same shape.
That was the weekend he told me he loved me. I was too distracted by my future, a future I did not see him in, to respond in kind. Yet, the months I spent with him riding my five speed bike around campus wearing the navy blue Georgetown University sweatshirt he had given me, and developing the photographs he took of me in the campus dark room were among the happiest of my life. He had a beautiful optimism then, and a very cheerful and warm disposition. He was simply a joy to be with. I had come from a far moodier background and saw his cheerfulness as a lack of seriousness. His easy going nature foreign.
After Graduation I packed my things and went to see him before leaving. We stood on his front porch and I handed him the things of his that I promised to return, and he handed me mine. When I asked if I had anything else of his, he told me, “you have my heart.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I just stood there. I was shy in those days in a way I am not today, but in the end I just walked away. Skipping down the steps of his white two story house heading into my future.
On that day, so long ago, I could not match his openness, his vulnerability, and willingness to give his heart to someone who had no plans to stay.
The year I had my first baby I was working for a tech start up in San Francisco. While I was standing in a deli getting ready to order a sandwich I heard my name and turned. He was there on business. Married, happy and successful. After this meeting he sent me a note and in it he wrote how our paths must have unknowingly crossed many times before in airports, at concerts or along the streets of Portland where we both lived for a time. After a few exchanges on the randomness of life we went our separate ways again.
Music is transporting and can act like a portal to the past. If there had been a theme song to my last year in college it would be “No One is to Blame” by Howard Jones. I played it over and over again that spring. When I hear it now I am immediately transported back in time and I can feel the same emotions. It exemplified the situation; coming close to something you want, but not being able to have it. Without exception my heart still stops when I hear it.
As I stand in my garage and look at the two of us together on that clear sunny day so long ago, I think about how our choices shape our lives and in no small way.
In the years since I’ve matured a great deal. Being a wife and mother has taught me emotional maturity and the ability to enter into a deep and abiding love. I’ve learned that I must become the person that I am looking for; kind, compassionate, and giving for love to thrive. Finally, I believe I am all of these.
I’ve learned also that love is ephemeral, it comes to you like a cat, and sometimes it stays and sometimes it does not. Now, I know that I can love many different people and it doesn’t necessarily have to last to be worthwhile. Love is like money, you never leave it on the table. You take it with you when you go. In all it’s multilayered forms it proves who you are, encompassing past and present, and determines how you show up in future relationships.
Next time, I want to be the sort of person who would say, “I love you too” and “you will always have my heart.” Because on some level that will always be true.
Love and blessings.