The other day, I was talking to my mother-in-law Mommy, and she was all atwitter.
It seems that they had gone to a funeral, a military funeral for an ex-marine, where they draped the coffin with an American flag. According to Mommy, this "brought to mind" an old friend of hers, who she hadn't seen since the '40s, who had been a Marine.
When Mommy mentioned this to my SIL Niki, Niki "looked it up on that little machine and there it all was! All about him! It was all in there!" (pulled out her trusty iPhone and Googled the man.) Up came all sorts of things, rare for someone of that pre-internet generation. It turns out this man had recently passed away, and someone (probably a grandchild) had posted a long and lovely YouTube tribute to him, showing a series of photographs of his life, from back when Mommy knew him in Brooklyn in the 1940s, through a long and distinguished military career, a 55-year marriage, children and grandchildren. It was very sweet and touching.
Well...now Mommy says she just "can't get him out of her brain". I asked her if this man had been a boyfriend, and she answered, a little guiltily "Yeah. But only for a couple of months. Then I blew it." When I asked her what exactly that meant, she told me that it had been Christmas, and he'd come over "loaded with presents" for her. But she didn't have anything for him. She said that in those days you "Couldn't give a boy a present if you wasn't engaged or something!" But I guess he got hurt by this, and soon after went overseas with the Marines, and she never saw him again.
And now, 60 years later, she's thinking of him again. Don't you kind of love that? She's 82 years old, and her heart's all aflutter from seeing pictures of this man, and the life that wasn't hers.
I guess we all have "the one who got away", right? I actually have...mmm...several. Not just an old boyfriend, but someone who you had a relationship with, but the relationship ended in some unresolved way. And then if that person ended up having an interesting and successful life, you think hmmm...that could have been me.
Of course, I wouldn't actually want that to have happened, as then I wouldn't have my Jimmy. Or my Jude. Or my Jimmy's crazy family. But I think it's natural to wonder.
Facebook is a huge source of this coulda-woulda-shoulda stuff. I seem to be Facebook "friends" with almost every old boyfriend I ever had. And you can't help but kind of guiltily checkout their profile pages, see how they turned out. What kind of wife they ended up with. How successful they became. Or not.
Then, while perusing someone else's family photos, rifling through somebody's life, you suddenly remember...why you broke up in the first place.
I have one old boyfriend who when I knew him was your standard out of work actor. Lived with his parents. Never actually got real work. Now? He's an extremely successful surgeon in Portland. How did that happen? He was always really cute. And smart. And interesting. And...ah, that's right. He was also an asshole. And an alcoholic. Silly me.
There was a boy I had a terrible crush on in high school. Cute. Nice as can be. Most popular boy, a jock. And strangely, always kind of had time for me, the drama/choir geek girl, who the popular boys never paid ANY attention to. I ran into him later, at the University of Texas, and I remember thinking that he seemed kind of interested in me, but I sorta blew him off - too busy being a bad girl drama major. But it could have happened. Sigh. Perusing his profile on Facebook I suddenly...yawn. Yes, yawn. Oh that's right. I've never gone for the normal, dependable, engineering major types, have I? I would, no doubt, have ended up throwing him over for some dude with an earring and a motorcycle.
There are other people who ended up extremely successful, who I know would never have become so if they had stayed with me. My ex comes to mind. Nowadays he's a millionaire country music songwriter. But when we were together, he was a slacker, out of work rock and roller. And he didn't start to become successful until after we broke up, mostly to spite me, I think. First, he moved to Nashville. Which I NEVER would have done - I had a burgeoning acting career in Los Angeles, I wouldn't have left. And then, truthfully, he didn't become a serious success until he started writing with the woman who would become his 3rd wife. I think if it hadn't been for her, he never would have been the success he is.
So then, along the same lines, is there anyone who would have had a different life if he had ended up with me? I think of one particular boyfriend from college, a wonderful man, extremely talented and smart and nice and cute. But also painfully insecure. And he's never become all that he truly could have been, never really tapped his talents. And I think...if I'd stuck around, and really nurtured him, could he have been great? Who knows.
The truth is, I believe we're all right where we should be. Right where the sum of our choices has brought us. In the words of Mick and Keith...
So. Could Mommy have been married to this other man? Become a military wife, lived all over the world and raised a dynasty of children and grandchildren? No. I think not. I think they probably have too many germs in other countries. And she could never have moved that far from her mother.
And of course if she had, she'd never have had her Jimmy and her Tony and her Jude. So. Sigh...
So think about it. Do you have "the one who got away?" Do tell.