Photo Blog Wednesday
It's officially over.
My friends will occasionally refer to me as a “Google™-master" because I often find things very quickly, from the useful and informative to the outright weird. Regular readers of this blog know that I often use a lot of links in my posts, usually as footnotes but sometimes just for fun like Easter eggs. It is at once a terrible blessing and a wonderful burden.
I'm hesitant to divulge where this train of thought is leading, for it is a stop which may alienate and frighten my female readers. I ask only that you realize that all humans have weaknesses, and may give in to bouts of curiosity driven by loneliness. Whatever led me to it, on Monday evening before turning in I went looking for one more formidable female—my ex-girlfriend.
We had worked together at my first job out of college and, skeptical though I was at the time, she showed interest in me. She was cute and very smart, having gotten her Master's degree in English while I only had a bachelor's in Graphic Design. She was also three years older than me. Our initial dates were somewhat intimidating, but in time I grew very comfortable around her. I could be myself, and make dumb jokes, and not worry about her running for the hills. For nearly three years, she was my best friend.
Neither of us were making a lot of money in those days, so I think she understood if I didn't buy a lot of flowers or expensive jewelry as gifts. She liked to read and I often got her books or music, and augmented my store-bought presents with artistic ones. I gave her paintings of her cats, of us, a soft-sculpture of the sun I sewed for my “sunshine", and an 18"x24" framed charcoal portrait of her, to name a few lame gifts. Toward the end our company laid her off, and after months of searching for work she finally found a job in a bigger company with better benefits. I was so happy for her, but my heart leapt to my throat when she told me over the phone what the catch was: the job was out of state. I stayed cool and didn't let on how devastated I was. It would have been selfish to do so. It was a four-hour drive to where she was moving, and I was sure I could do it in less. My dad’s car was seeing its last days so I picked up a better, albeit used, car that I knew would make the trip. Before leaving, she mentioned a conversation her mom had with a neighbor who speculated I would be proposing to keep her here. She made it clear that she hoped that wasn't the case. Her parents had separated shortly before we got together, and I knew she was cautious of marriage. I was only 23 at the time and while I wasn't considering marriage yet, I couldn't imagine myself with any other woman. When I married, it would be to her. I didn't tell her this, mind you. I told her what she wanted to hear. She moved, and I visited every few weeks. Every few weeks she came down to visit her mom and her sister and her dad, and we would see each other then as well. For nearly four months we made it work, and all was fine.
I've probably written about the break-up before, but the way I “cleverly" name my posts I'm never going to find the link to reference it. The short version is that on one of her visits home she told me she wanted to “slow down" and not feel guilty about meeting other people, or something to that effect. I argued against the break-up as passionately as possible, quoting bits of literature I didn't even know were buried in the recesses of my mind. A lot of things happened that day, but ultimately she left.
This was a few weeks before Valentine's day, and down in my basement studio was an unfinished painting that was to be among her gifts. I was devastated. I was also confused when she sent me a card, and wrote that she hoped it wasn't inappropriate to do so. It took some time, but eventually we were more or less friends again. I finally got internet access and every couple of months we'd write back and forth and keep up with each other's lives. At first it was hard, because sometimes I'd find myself attracted to a cute girl in the office and just when I'd approach the point of acting on my attraction, I'd come home and find one of my ex's “how's it going?" e-mails, as if she sensed it. Numerous people whom I told of this situation recommended I see the movie Swingers, and when I saw Jon Favreau in a similar moral dilemma, I understood why.
Sometimes months would pass before she'd reply to something I wrote or initiate a new conversation. At some point she moved and I didn't even have a phone number. I knew the office job hadn't worked out and she had started tutoring troubled children, with an eventual goal of being a teacher. She wasn't doing mindless office work anymore. She was making a difference, and happy, and I was so proud of her. There were sad times shared as well, when she contacted me with some bad news regarding 911. Among the missing was the husband of a woman we had worked with, whose wedding we had both attended. This was early in our relationship and no one in the office knew we were together, and after a happy hour a few weeks before her wedding we let her know that we would be coming together. Now this woman's husband, father of her daughter and soon-to-be-born son was gone. My ex didn't come down for the memorial service, but the widow did ask after her when we spoke. In our e-mail correspondences we began to discuss the possibility of meeting for coffee or something, just to talk.
I don't know why it never happened, or even whose turn it was to write who. Maybe she stopped or maybe I did. Years passed. I still thought of her, but far less frequently. There were even some embarrassingly disastrous and ambitious attempts to start new relationships. At some point I did get a notice that she'd switched e-mail services and my ISP was giving me a month free because she used my name. The correspondence didn't include her new address unfortunately, and all ten of the potential guesses I made bounced back. I'd try to Google™ her sometimes and only once found her name on some memo at the school where she tutored. I realized such actions were creepy and stalker-like, and put her from my mind almost completely before I crossed any more moral lines.
I might have hit the “pause" button when our relationship ended, and stayed in the same place waiting for her eventual return. Her family was here; she had to come back someday and I would be ready. I felt guilty when I was attracted to other girls; when I was with her I really had stopped looking though I didn't realize this until after we broke up. I wanted to be available when she came back, and not have to break someone else's heart—or hers. So I hit “pause". I never went downstairs to my studio again. The painting would wait until I had the need to complete it. Nothing would change.
Therein lies the problem; time cannot be stopped. I've been doing some math and hard as it is to believe, it's been three years since our last communication and more than SIX since we broke up. Six years is a long time. In six years I've seen six friends get married. One friend moved to various parts of Europe and back to New York. One friend had a daughter. One friend had a son and now a daughter. My uncle died. My mom's cousin died. My parents both lost friends. One of my high school music teachers died. One of the band leaders I played for died. I nearly died myself at one point. A lot can happen in six years, and while I could speculate all day about what happened to HER she was just as frozen in my mind as I was.
Which, for those still reading, brings us full-circle to Monday night. I'm not proud of it, and I don't know what drove me to do it again after so long, but I typed her name in to the search engine. Her name came up on some school's news archive, reporting that she had been added to the teaching staff. It sounded like an exceptional private academy, the sort of place Lisa Simpson would fit right in to. It was the perfect place for her. The school praised her dedication to the children and ability to hold everything together, and said a lot of other nice things. These were all things that registered long after the first thing.
There were three names.
Her first name. Her last name. Someone Else's Last Name.
She'd be 32 now, 33 at the end of July. Of course she would be married. It was something I speculated, but there it was as cold hard fact. It wasn't that she never wanted to get married; she just didn't want to marry ME. So here I was a little after midnight sitting in the same chair in front of the same desk six years later, with the same lump in my throat and difficulty swallowing I had when I heard the words, “we need to talk."
I tried to sleep; I hadn't been this restless in a long time. Life went on for everyone but me. I begged God for some clear sign, some explanation of why I was always the running joke, always the nerd in the movie that didn't get the girl, the one that was NEVER supposed to get the girl. I was getting really, really tired of my role on this Earth.
I was in a somewhat more logical mood yesterday morning. The night before seemed like time travel, and going to work and talking to the people I know NOW anchored me back in the present, back in reality. The past was only something in my mind, and there was something else, a sense of freedom. I began to realize that maybe it wouldn't be cheating on her to date someone else, not now. I had made a promise to God Himself six years ago that would now be impossible to keep. How could I marry her now that she was married? I thought I had moved on but I guess as long as that possibility existed, I couldn't. Now? It was officially over.
I came home yesterday and checked my e-mail for the first time. The night before, around the time I was trying to fall asleep and praying for answers, Jerry had sent over a bible verse that had popped up on his computer:
"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The timing was very interesting, that a message basically saying “Even when it seems like you have nothing going for you, there's joy in God" was delivered at the time I was making my “inquiry". I went downstairs, cleared some things on my desk and took some pictures of that unfinished painting, the one that will no longer be taped to that desk after this weekend. I looked through a lot of my old drawings and saw the progress I had made in college. Doing page layouts and type designs for a living has been an acceptable compromise, but I miss illustration. I work with a lot of well-known artists in the Sci Fi and Fantasy field, and it's great seeing the process, commenting on their sketches and then receiving a finished painting. When that art arrives, it's like Christmas 30 times a year for me. It's a tough field and even the best of these folks have to work hard to remind art directors that they exist and need work. I've long since given up my dream to be a professional illustrator, but I think I'd like to start drawing again.
Some of my older work, while hard to see in these bad indoor photos, is actually better than some of my more recent attempts. I think the right atmosphere is important, and sitting in my room with a sketchpad on my lap isn't cutting it. I have a perfectly good drawing table downstairs, and it's past time I returned to it. Drawing is like music, and takes practice. If I drew as frequently as I played, I think I'd surprise myself. I have unfinished business with a stack of blank sketch pads.
The “pause" is officially over.
Labels: PBW Photo Blog Wednesday