Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rachael's Mistake

Justin was my mistake.

Mistakes happen, don't they? No malice aforethought, no pre-planning, you just end up screwing something up and you never planned to.

I was half in love with Justin for years. Blond and tall, with a face like an angel (I don't that say that lightly -- he actually DID have an angelic face, if an angel can have dreamy eyes and a wicked, knowing smile). But we were just friends for a long time. I helped him with girl trouble, and he supplied me with cigarettes as we lay on our backs in his country driveway, watching the stars.

Years later, he came to me. As a friend. We spent an afternoon together, just talking, and by the evening, we were in love. Head over heels -- it was big.

The problem was that I wasn't free. The timing was all wrong. I was in the middle of trying to fix a relationship that ended up in freefall, as it should have, but I didn't know that then. I only knew that Justin fit into small, discrete pockets of my life, when I could hide him in my treehouse in the Oakland hills. But oh, I loved him hard. Too hard.

I told him we couldn't be together. That it was the wrong time. I broke his heart, and mine, too. I did it over the phone, mistake number one. Mistake number two, I stopped answering his phone calls.

It was a supremely assholic move. I loved him -- why couldn't I just talk to him? Try to explain more why we couldn't be together? I was scared that I was doing the wrong thing. I was also scared I was doing the right thing.

I wrapped myself in the huge red flannel shirt I'd borrowed from him, the one with the worn spot at the shoulder, where he would absent-mindedly rub his chin when he was thinking, and I sat on my porch, smoking, listening to the phone ring.

Pearl Buck said, "Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied." That was my moment. I let it pass, unremedied.

Finally, after many phone calls that I let go to voice mail, Justin left a message saying he'd seen me in a dream, and he'd let me go. I cried and cried, knowing I'd done it all the wrong way. I've gone on to dream of him many times over the years, and every time it finally feels real -- I tell him how many times I've dreamed of this moment -- I'm ecstatic to see him -- I grab him and apologize for the way I hurt him and he smiles at me with those sweet, sweet eyes, and everything in the world is right.

Then I wake and realize it didn't happen. My mistake sits there, grimacing at me in the dark, and I'm unable to do anything about it. Sometimes I fantasize about posting his last name online in an entry like this, because I can't find him -- maybe he'd find himself and contact me. But why? So I can apologize for making one of the biggest mistakes of my life? For letting a love that was more lovely than most others I've known go because I couldn't make the timing work? And doing it badly, furthermore? Or maybe his wife would end up Googling him and ask jealous questions, and I'd end up feeling even more stupid.

Or maybe he'd never know, and never care. Maybe he never thinks of me at all. That would be, basically, what I deserve. Justin and I only had perhaps six weeks together, all told, over several years. And it's not like I want to be with him. I love where I am, and I love who I married. Our love is the biggest I've known.

But I regret the mistake I made by hurting someone I loved in an unnecessarily cruel way. I should have answered his calls. I know I should have. (I even wrote about HERE six years ago, and mailed a letter to his mother's address, with the hope it would get to him, but I don't know if it ever reached him. Oh, I hope it did.)

I gave the shirt to Goodwill years ago in a fit of closet-cleaning. I purged other things, too, love letters from other people that I knew I'd never want to read, pictures of times I didn't care to remember. But I made a mistake in the way I broke up with Justin, and I made a mistake by getting rid of that flannel shirt. Damn it.


Mel said...

I had a Justin, too, but I was the dumpee in that relationship. Sometimes I wonder if he thinks it was a mistake. He was my first boyfriend, and we had almost the same psychic connection that David and I do now. Even long after he had dumped me and gone off to South America in the Peace Corps, I knew when he was thinking of me and when I could expect a letter from him.

I think my biggest mistake, though, was trusting the most recent ex - the one I went ahead and bought a house with even after I found out about his infidelities, the one I trusted after I caught him again and we went to counseling. But then I wonder what would have happened with my life if I hadn't gone through that. I'd like to think that life would have brought David and me together in the end, but I have no way of knowing that for certain. Maybe you wouldn't have ended up with Lala had things gone differently.

I think that, in the end, the real mistake is letting those moments gnaw at you and obsessing over the what-ifs.

Anonymous said...

My biggest mistake was never confiding in anyone about the problems in my first marriage. If I had, I would have been given the advice to go to counseling, which I got too late to try to make the marriage work. I thought when I asked for a separation that we could just clear our heads, figure out how to make things stronger and better, but instead my ex got angry and asked for a divorce. And divorced me. Despite counseling (we were fired; he didn't want to try), despite pleading, despite being deeply in love since we were 17, despite all that we had between us. Because I needed breathing room. I needed for us to talk about the broken bits. And I pushed it too hard.

I have a sweet life now, but asking F. for a separation is one of my few regrets. I get jealous when I hear about people having their 20th wedding anniversaries; ours would have been in October. I get sad that we won't grow old together, that the man I grew up with, formed myself with can no longer bring himself to say he loves me when we talk on the phone once or twice a year.

Maryse said...

J used to call me 'angel face.' he's the one now not answering my calls or responding my texts. I wonder if he'll ever regret his mistake.

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh these are bittersweet stories. loving hard is quite a gift in itself -it's probably hard to see that but some people never get there, putting up too many of their own obstacles. Maybe be gentler on yourself...he probably knows more than you think, at least the shape of the apology you never made.

toni in florida said...

Ah, the cold-hearted dumping followed by not answering calls or messages. Been there, done worse. In fact, one of my biggest romantic mistakes involves the way I broke off my relationship with my then live-in boyfriend (and coworker) Brian.

Back then, in the early 80s**, I was one of those girls who couldn't stand to be unattached. I also was desperately insecure that I had doomed myself to never being Brian's wife, having been told for my whole life that men wouldn't "buy the cow if they could get the milk for free." And Brian and I were "living in sin."

(Bear in mind that I was conflicted over the concept of marriage, too, and wasn't sure I even believed in the institution as a valid one, but that didn't mean I wanted to be an "old maid" either. Like I said, conflicted.)

When Brian and I had been living together for a year and he hadn't even proposed to me yet, although he had flown me across the country to meet his parents and risked losing his job by dating a coworker (me). So when our anniversary came and his gift to me was a diamond, I decided I would have to leave him... because the diamond was in a necklace and not a ring.

Within a few weeks, I found a new place to live and a new boy-toy. And when the time came to be a grownup and to admit that I was checking out of the relationship entirely, I wussed out. I told Brian that I needed some space, that I wasn't sure what I wanted, that it wouldn't be fair to him to keep living with him (sleeping in the same bed with him) until I had worked out my issues.

And here's the brutal part: I told him we could continue to date while I went through this, because I still loved him and wanted it to work out for us. And over the next few weeks, I made excuses to avoid him and (gods, I was such a bitch) I invited my new love interest to my workplace (also Brian's) and fawned over him in front of everyone.

It would have been much kinder to make a clean break, but I was a coward and didn't want to be the bad guy. I must have been hoping Brian would get mad and tell me to get bent, so I could feel justified in leaving him. Instead, he was simply hurt. I can still see his face, his green eyes clouded with pain, his fight to keep it together while everyone around us watched him for signs of that pain ('cause they all knew what was going on).

He was a gentleman, and I was a total see-you-next- (well, you get the picture). He didn't deserve my lies or my cruelty and he was truly better off without me. I hope he found happiness and joy and real love.

Thanks for giving me a forum to admit my horrible mistake. I only wish Brian would read it and know how sorry I am.

** Yes, I am that old. Sigh.

Carry said...

Oh, yes I have one of those types of mistakes. It was a long distance love. She lived in AZ I lived in WA. She was sweet and wonderful and so beautiful. She was good to me, more than good to me. Better than anyone ever had been.

But I got pissy and impatient and couldn't be bothered to wait and get things figured out. One day I just stopped writing and calling. I didn't pick up the phone, I didn't even read her letters (she wrote me handwritten letters).

I've often thought about her. Hoping she is happy. Hoping she doesn't think I abandoned her because she was sick. Not that abandoning her because she was far away was much better. I don't have a mother's address to write to, so I just sit with my regret.

I had a shirt of hers too. It stayed with me through many moves and many relationships. I still wish I had that shirt. I don't remember when or how it went away, just that the last time I looked for it, it was gone.

Anonymous said...

I don't know any other way to love but hard. Which is probably why I had to wait 17 years for my Justin to come back around when we were grown up enough to make it work. And I am forever amazed that he forgave me my mistakes.

Good Enough Woman said...

This is why I love your writing so much. Eloquency, honesty, and humor all rolled together. A wonderful post!

Juliet Blackwell said...

aaargh, the web ate my loooong comment. Here's the brief version: beautiful post, as always, and such an honest memory. But all the mistakes you've made have helped make you the incredible person you are, so I for one am glad ;-)

Judy H. said...

Like you, I am very happy with where I am, so I can't regret my lost love (though I would like to go back and clean up my behavior a little), but I do regret throwing his letters away. *All* his letters, starting with ones he wrote at 6 or 7 (we were best friends growing up, before we dated).

Rachael Herron said...

I just love all you guys. Period. Thanks for the comments, and I'm enjoying letting this go a little more. xoxo

Carol said...

Oh, that is just so sad that I don't even want to think of mistakes I've made for fear that I will hurt even more and avoiding that is what get us in such trouble, isn't it?

Barbara Bretton said...

Rachael, your writing takes my breath away.