How many times have you thought about meeting up with someone you haven’t seen in years – a childhood friend, college classmate, the one who years ago gave you the first kiss that really mattered – and wondered what happened to them, how they were doing, where are they now, if they were still alive?
For some, the prospect of knowing is strangely tantalizing and filled with expectation, even joy; for others, the thought of reliving the past is more of a nightmare than a dream come true.
I hadn’t seen my ex-wife since the year before Richard Nixon became president. She graduated from college and left town to continue life somewhere else.
“With this ring, I thee wed.”
And so the story begins. But what happens when love turns sour and a divorce takes the place of “until-death-do-us-part”?
Marriage and divorce, after all, can sometimes be like a bungee jump, that wild, exhilarating first plunge. The reality rushing at your face and the jerk at the end that turns out to be your spouse – and she wants out.
Only long after, when the repercussions have played out, we launched ourselves into a future that was ours to mold into a life. But now, after 40 years, I began to wonder: where is she, how is she doing?
A few years ago, I saw the movie “The Bucket List.” The story was about two men with terminal illnesses who had a list of things they wanted to do before they died — before they “kicked the bucket,” so to speak.
I have a bucket list, too. One item on my list: to see my first love one more time before I die and to see how she is doing.
I was about to find out.
If ever I knew at any time where she moved, I forgot it over the decades that became crammed with new friends, new babies and new cities.
To my great surprise, I tracked her down and called her; we chatted easily and familiarly – as though we were sitting around in my dorm room listening to the Rolling Stones on the radio.
When I told my wife, Marti, and son, Jeremy, that I wanted to see my ex-wife again they reacted with suspicion and bewilderment.
“That was a long time ago,” Marti said, “Is there still an old romantic spark?”
Not that I can feel, I assured her.
My son took a wider view.
He had about as much enthusiasm for the visit as a vegetarian pondering a slab of baby back ribs.
“You’re going from Florida to South Dakota to meet your ex-wife. Seems more than a little masochistic to me. Why?” he asked.
He had me there. Why indeed?
Some people would rather perform a root canal on a rattlesnake than to relive those traumatic days with their ex-spouse.
As for me, I believe, there is an unexplainable magic that consecrates some relationships; and, then there’s curiosity.
As I made my way to the small town of Brandon, South Dakota, I was filled with wonder and anticipation of what I might see. Would I see something other than what the mind has always imagined?
Time can give a person a split-screen image of himself or herself. Looking off to one side, they see a person past their carefree youth, a tad overweight and weathered; the fissures like fault lines branching into tributaries near the eyes; looking off to the other side, they see the attributes of their youth.
A snapshot of two people, years apart.
After four decades of separation, the anticipation began to heighten as I made my way into town. Suppose I didn’t recognize her? And what kind of look would she give me if she had let her hair go gray when I hadn’t?
My text message to her read: “Can we get together for dinner”?
Her reply read: “I am going to take a walk in a few minutes; you’re welcome to come along.”
My text reply: “I’ll cruise through town and maybe I can catch up with you; heading your way.”
Perhaps I should have told her I would be wearing a yellow jacket and riding a silver motorcycle.
After 40 years of separation, the moment of truth had finally arrived. The face that had become a fuzzy memory came into focus. It seemed as though time stood still, if only for that moment, as we gazed at each other’s deepened lines while trying to let it settle in that we had actually come together again.
We had dinner for hours. We talked about the people we knew. Half of our sentences began with “remember?”
We shared with joy and laughter pictures of each other’s children, fascinated by the thought that we had actually replicated ourselves.
We said our final goodbyes with a friendly hug; as I rode away I thought about how wonderful the experience had been.
So much has happened to us since then, but for one short period of time we travelled back to where we once looked out on a future of limitless possibilities and great expectations. The past beckons, and on that night, we embraced it.
The next time you wonder about someone, maybe you should pick up the phone or drop a few lines and try to find out.
There could be another happy ending.