For several months I kept dreaming about my first boyfriend. He was my first head-over-heels, swept-off-my-feet great love. We carved our initials in a boathouse. We painted a picture together. We tangoed down the streets and slept under the stars. We also broke up almost a decade ago. He should be a magical memory, yet week after week he resurfaced in the middle of the night. Once we snuck onto the Russian floor of government spy building, another time we were swimming in the ocean, and then we had a daughter. She was eleven. She looked just like me but she had his eyes. I was disappointed because my eyes are my signature feature. Why couldn’t she have gotten my eyes? I wondered. A couple times I thought maybe I should call him and tell him, but what would I say? I keep having dreams about you. Okay, weirdo.
Then one afternoon I was in my kitchen cooking dinner and received a text message from a friend asking me if I had heard about my ex boyfriend’s dad. His dad had been in a ski accident. His dad wasn’t going to be okay. My hand clawed the granite counter top. I swallowed hard. I inhaled. I exhaled. A very deep sense of panic and pain grew in the pit of my stomach and worries wildly rushed in. Where was my ex boyfriend? Should I call him? Should I text him? What would I even say? Should I get on a plane? He would be devastated. He would have shock then guilt then regret then more shock. He would need me. Would he need me? What would he need?
I paused. I closed my eyes and thought about the last time I saw him. I was several times heartbroken, and he was sleepy from a trip to Mexico. Too much had happened to talk so we sat side by side on his couch until he got up to go to bed. As I watched him climb the stairs, I remember thinking how much he looked like his dad from the back. That was the last image I had of him.
My unconscious has kept our connection alive week after week for nearly six months, yet he has been living his own life. I probably wasn’t even on his radar. And still, I wanted to help. If the roles were reversed, how much would it mean to you? You can just go pay your respects, suggested a friend. You can use my frequent flier miles, said my stepdad. I looked up flights. I rearranged my schedule. I declared my intention to support my first love, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t do it. Something about going to see him felt selfish and ego-motivated. Just because I have this strong desire to see him and make him feel better doesn’t mean that is what he needs. I haven’t known him for years. How was I to know what he needed? He probably had dozens of ex girlfriends rushing to his side. He probably needed space. He probably just needed his family.
At night, I lay awake wondering what he was doing. How was he feeling? In the middle of the night, I pulled my computer out of from under my bed and searched for again flights then closed it and resumed worrying. Eventually, I fell asleep and it all started again the next morning. Eventually, I called and left a voicemail. Then a text. Then another voicemail. I didn’t mean to bother him, but I wanted to be available. I continued to send supportive words which felt narrow and weightless compared to the heavy empathy in my heart. I thought of him all the time. Why is this affecting me so much? I asked my mom. Because he was the first one, she said.
A couple weeks passed and late one night my phone rang. I rolled over and saw his name on my phone. Hi, I said sleepily into the receiver. Hi, he said back. I was calling to say thank you. His voice was forced but familiar. I silently started to cry. I was calling to say I’m sorry, I said holding back my tears. He spoke about the past few weeks and I listened unsure of what to say or how long to talk or what really to do. The conversation paused and silence settled any awkward emotions. I wiped my eyes and sighed. Finally, I said I have been sending you positive thoughts. I know, he replied quietly. I could feel them.
Special love to The Classy Issue.