Readers of this blog are now familiar with my theory that old flames tend to dance back into my life in triplicate. When I get a phone call or email from one old flame, I am sure to hear from at least two more in the next couple of weeks. This time, the wait for flame number three took a little bit longer, but it came in a tremendously unexpected and tragic way.
But first, a little back story: A little over a year and a half ago, my friend Sarah and I were reunited after losing touch post-high school, growing as close if not more so than we were as teenagers. After I broke things off with V-Man for the final time, she was there constantly to reassure me that I had done the right thing, and that I was an amazing person who deserved and would soon find better. Of course, being newly married, she saw things from a broader perspective than I could in my feeling-sorry-for-myself-state, but deep down I knew she was right.
A week after the breakup, it was Thanksgiving Day. The night after the holidays, people in our hometown usually gather at the local “tavern” for mini-reunions. Sarah and I decided this year, it might actually be fun to go and see which of our classmates were back in town. When we arrived at the pub, we saw a couple people we recognized, but for the most part, the crowd was much younger than us. Like, class of 2008 with fake IDs young.
We sidled up to the bar for some drinks when this guy whipped around and said, “You’re SoloAt30, right?” He was ridiculously tall, lean, with long, flowing hair. He looked like he should be on the cover of a Harlequin romance novel (on a later date, some stupid hicks would ask, “Hey, are you the ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ dude?”), not sitting in the local dive bar, with his bedroom brown eyes and dimpled chin. He was no one I recognized in the slightest, yet he knew me upon sight.
Sarah stared at me, silently demanding an explanation. I shrugged, but I allowed him to flirt and buy us drinks. He told me how he knew my brother. He’d come over our house numerous times to hear the brother’s band and had gotten a couple bass guitar lessons from my dad. “You really don’t remember me?” he asked, feigning hurt. I shrugged my apology. I really wished I did.
Sarah quickly grew bored of our banter and glanced around for familiar faces. “Ah, there’s S,” she said. Harlequin Hero looked over and said, “Oh hey, you know my sister?”
“Yeah, she’s from our class,” I said slowly. Then I put two and two together. “Wait, you’re Harlequin Hero, as in S’s older brother??” I didn’t remember the face, but I definitely remember the name and the association from growing up. S and I were never close through school, but she had been a long-time best friend of the girl who later also became my best friend, and we got to know each other better as bridesmaids for our mutual friend’s wedding years later. Here I was flirting ridiculously with her brother, who didn’t want to let a familiar (cute and older than 21-year-old) face leave his sight, but feeling a bit freaked, I made my polite goodbyes, and went with Sarah to say hello to S and a couple other classmates.
But the thing is, I couldn’t shake him from my mind. After assessing his dashing looks with Sarah and asking best friend Winnie her opinion of Harlequin Hero, having grown up with him, I’m embarrassed to say I decided to cyber-stalk him. He raced motocross, so this wasn’t very hard to do. I found him on some extreme sports site. The shameful thing is that I signed up for a profile on this extreme sports site when I hadn’t touched an extreme sport in oh, 8 or 9 years. I sent him a very brief email saying it was really nice meeting him the other night, brazenly gave him my cell number, and said if he ever wanted to do something while he was still in town (for the next month), feel free to call me. I immediately deleted my profile and assumed I would never hear from him again.
A few days later, I get this random text message from a guy saying he’d be up for going out this weekend. I mulled over the realistic possibilities and realized who this *must* be. So that weekend, Harlequin Hero and I had our first “date” at this bar a couple towns over to hear a band–I think it was a jam band, which is hilarious since all HH listens to are ’80s rock bands like Van Halen.
We spent the whole night talking, and we had our photograph taken by some city scene website. My friend T-dog sent me the link to our photo a couple days later and asked who the hunk was. She said I looked extremely happy. The next day HH asked me what I was doing a day or two later. He had tickets to a college basketball game.
The next couple weeks were filled with basketball dates (included a double date with his sister, who thanked me for making her brother happy after a really rough year), guitar hero dates, karaoke nights, lazy cuddling, stuffing our faces with amazing food cooked by his stepdad, and watching football with the entire family dates, and amazing romps. We laughed over how slightly pervy it was that he had crushed on me when I was just a kid, but now we both could brag. He completely stunned me by getting me a thoughtful birthday present. And then immediately after, he got terrified, and everything went downhill.
From being the couple in a bar that people watched with envy because of the vibrant magnetism and fun between us to being a moody and distant pair who couldn’t go through two days without a fight, I was at a loss for what I had done wrong. His ex-fiancé had been in touch. He didn’t want to be back together with her. She had been terrible to him and completely broken his heart. But he was still broken, and he wasn’t ready to go all in. I was exactly the kind of thoughtful, passionate, smart, beautiful, funny girl he wanted to be with, he said. Someday. He just wasn’t in the right headspace for me now.
I tried very hard to respect this, but it stung like hell. Especially when he still kept reaching out. When he’d call and invite me over before he left because he needed to say goodbye. When he’d call me to talk about a motocross event we both were watching. When he’d invite me down to visit him in Florida anyway. But he needed to be selfish, and I needed to move on to someone who was ready for me. So he did what he needed to do to get his career momentum back, and I did what I needed to do to get my groove back. To say falling in love again with someone new was never the same is an understatement. At least, it definitely felt that way until a couple months ago. But that’s a different story for a different time.
To circle back to the theory of threes, Friday night I was flipping through the newspaper and my eye fell across the obituaries. It’s an old habit from being a writer–you find fascinating people and stories that way sometimes–and also just from growing up in a small town–you’re bound to come across a relative of someone you know in there. My heart sank as I read the name of HH’s baby sister. Twenty-one years of age, killed in a car accident early that morning. I immediately jumped to my cell phone to text HH. I sent emails to S and later another FB message to HH. He responded to the FB message with gratitude, saying he didn’t have my cell number anymore. He said he could really use my support and hugs this week, so I’m glad I reached out.
Tomorrow, my brother and I will go to HH’s baby sister’s wake. Winnie and I will go to the funeral together on Tuesday. Less than a year and a half ago, I was giving this baby sister advice about her future. She and her best friend were talking about going to Colorado. She was excited about the idea but afraid to leave home, and I encouraged her to go for it now while she was young and the opportunity was presenting itself. She could always come back home later, and the experiences she’d live through would teach her so much about herself. Now she’ll never get that chance. She was so fun and full of life. If I had a baby sister, I imagined one like her.
My heart breaks for HH and his family. I will not be there for him in the role of his lover this time. I will be his friend, his shoulder to lean on, a harbor in which he can safely cry. That’s the thing about the kind of love he invoked in me long ago. Whenever, if ever, he needs me, I will be there for him.