Almost a decade ago, I had a high school sweetheart. I haven’t been a part of the whole High School Musical mania, but I’m thinking our story would have resembled like that. We always played opposite each other in high school and community plays. I was Dorothy, he was the Cowardly Lion. I was the princess, he was the prince. You name the random female character and he was the male counterpart. In other words, we spent a lot of time together. When we weren’t in drama class, we were in community theatre after school.
After graduation, I left for Boston and he left for Fort Benning, GA. He had enlisted as an Army Ranger, and I was headed for film school. Our first year of a long distance relationship didn’t end well. He was going through mental and physical hell. He used to tell me that the only difference between a Navy Seal and an Army Ranger was that if you’re a Seal, they just try to drown you, over and over. If you’re a Ranger, they try every other way to kill you.
I was going through my own bout of Freshman Depression. I was homesick, lonely and confused. I was a poor kid in a private school that only had 15% of their student body on financial aide. I locked myself in the dorm, reading letters from my sweetheart, crying at the pain I could feel in them. On rare occasions, he would call me and describe the brain-washing “training” he was going through. I’d sit and listen in shock, while he laughed in a voice that scared me.
We saw each other again at Christmas, 2000. After that, no more contact. Rumors started flying that he was hooking with every girl in town. He was a military man, right? That’s what they did. They went to strip clubs and drank like fish during their time off. I heard he got accepted to West Point. Then 9/11 happened, and America’s collective panic level went to code orange, and I wondered if he was laying in a ditch somewhere in the middle east.
Eventually I stopped thinking about him. I went full throttle into party mode. I drowned my sorrows in as many mood altering substances as I could. I clubbed until I dropped. I started using the phrase “I can sleep when I’m dead.” I met Rooferman. I got engaged. I got pregnant. I became a single mom.
My new job has exposed me to a whole new sector of the Durango population (and we aren’t that big of a town). In a few years, I may know everyone within the city limits. In fact, yesterday, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in almost 10 years.
My high school sweetheart.
After an awestruck hug, numerous frazzled comments, I told him to stop by my office whenever if he wanted to talk. He nodded and bid me farewell. LB and I made our way to the car, my mind still reeling.
I turned around. He was standing there.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“That’s ok,” I said.
“I just really wanted to tell you something. I’ve been thinking about it for years now.”
Oh Christ. This should be good.
“I just wanted to say that I went through a really messed up time in my life while I was in the Army, and I was really awful to a lot of people. I know you were one of those people and I just wanted to say I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve it.”
I was the definition of dumbfounded.
I actually said, “Are you better now?”
“Yeah, I’m doing really good now.”
“Well good. I hope you didn’t beat yourself up for the last 10 years, because I’m fine. I don’t think our relationship did any permanent damage to me.”
At this point, LB is looking at me with an expression I don’t even know how to describe. I realize that she’s never seen me interact one-on-one with another man like this. She’s never seen me hug a man (besides grandpa).
My high school sweetheart walks away into the dusk, and I can’t help but wonder if he’s still single. Last I heard, he was married, divorced, and remarried. Kind of seems like the wrong time to ask, 10 years later, in the parking lot, with your toddler in hand.
P.S. He’s a Scorpio.