Perhaps everyone has a moment like this. Perhaps not. In any case, this is mine.
So, two days ago, I decided on a whim to look up a boy I used to know fifty-some odd years ago in college. I do things like this periodically, but not too often. I think I last looked him up on Facebook a decade ago. I remembered him somewhat fondly, though I’d broken off with him. We’d spent two years at Penn together, on an off. Mostly platonic, though not completely. Mostly a meeting of minds. He introduced me to quantum theory and other mysterious things. A time of wonder for me, where I could riff off the universe. He thought I was wonderful. I thought he was a smart, nice guy, but a bit homely. And jealous. That really was what broke us up in the end. He’d call me in the residence – over and over – whenever I told him I didn’t want to see him again. Still, on balance, a good guy.
Well, he’d become a well-known, highly regarded New York doctor. At that time, he had posted some pictures of what looked like a pretty exotic trip he had taken: maybe Africa. I assumed that the many people around him, of varying ages, were extended family. I couldn’t make out who might be his wife or children, but so be it. He looked older, of course – a bit fatter, though he was very skinny when I knew him, so that was to be expected. I clicked off that to look at someone else.
So, fast forward to early this week. I looked him up again. I couldn’t remember his last name at first, but it eventually came to me. He wasn’t there. Funny, I could have sworn he had been on Facebook, but there are so many people who have given up on social media. I switched to google and put in his name. And up came his obituary, as of two years ago.
Whoa. Not expected. Though why not, really? I’m 73 now. He was two years older, and thus died, at my age: 73. Though, nevertheless, shock, of course. He had been dead for two years, and I didn’t even know. Somehow I felt guilty. And then other feelings, many selfish. After all, he was one of the repositories, or so I felt, of when I was young and smart and pretty. When we both thought so well of me. A time of unfulfilled potential. Those memories were snuffed when all his other memories were snuffed.
Apparently, from the comments from his patients, he was a caring and terrific doctor. A mensch. A well-spent life. The attached bio said that, though he’d met someone in the last few years of his life, he’d been a lifelong bachelor.
Another shock. I’d never expected that. A nice, caring guy. He seemed like the marrying kind. His parents had had a long and seemingly happy marriage. I think he would have married me in a heartbeat….
Could it have been…ME? One of those loves that spoils you for anyone else? Or was I just being overly complimentary to myself? I ended up looking up the name of the woman he was last seeing. No photos, but she was a head honcho of a pharma company. Well educated in science, clearly, and probably a soulmate. No one is irreplaceable. Still.
Anyway, all that rattled around in my brain for a few days. Finally, it led me to Facebook a girlfriend I’d had from my teens through my twenties. Funny, terrific person I’d finally abandoned as I moved from place to place around the country with my husband. Talk about guilt. I shouldn’t just drop people, but I have, repeatedly. (Probably because I felt I hadn’t lived up to my potential and didn’t want these people who had known me in those golden years to see me now. A very poor excuse for not keeping in touch. And now irrevocable.)
Suddenly I had the urge to reconnect. To talk to her again. I had had her email address I’d found years ago and didn’t use. Since then, I’d lost it, but last I knew she was in New Jersey. I googled her name and New Jersey.
And up came her obituary, as of eleven years ago.
…Eleven years ago, and, of course, I didn’t have a clue.
I must have sat there for ten minutes, not even clicking on it. A piece of lead in my heart. And when I did, I found nothing much. Married but no children. No cause of death mentioned in the tiny obit.
Another repository of my youthful experiences gone. The time we met in summer camp. Her making some sort of brass pot to which she applied this green patina, the green stuff refusing to stay on the pot, but sticking forever to her hands. Maybe not so funny really, but the way she told it, hilarious. Staying overnight in her family’s amazing Madison Avenue apartment. The time we drove together with her older brother – Richard?? – to Expo 67 in Montreal one summer. Inviting her to be the maid of honor at my wedding, though she was living in Edinburgh at the time; sending me her regrets along with a Scottish mohair blanket and tortoise shell spoons in an argyle box. A lovely picture of her – young and pretty if a little overweight – at my sweet sixteen party. Sigh.
Since then I’ve been having disordered, incoherent dreams of twin babies, one of whom is in a shopping bag, the other of whom is dead – or is she? (Hints of Schrodinger’s cat) Puppies or other baby animals that I hold – only to find them sticky with some disgusting substance. Hosting a dinner I have not prepared for and haven’t thawed the meat. An (invented) old girlfriend of my son’s – and her family of successful entrepreneurs (also invented), who takes over the role of hostess and offers me a hunk of raw pork she has brought in offering. I take a bite. (I am Jewish, so perhaps that has some significance, or maybe it’s fear of trichinosis). Trying to go home from a party and not having a car; not being sure I know how to go, if not by car.
The usual dream mishmash, but somehow seeming more than usually symbolic.
Anyway, I wanted to tell someone, and now I have.
Thanks for that reflection, Bonnie. I’ve been thinking lately that when a friend passes, a bit of my life story slips away. If you like, I’ll send you a mp3 of a song I recently finished in the studio, on that very topic. If you would like to hear it, tell me where to send it. If not, that’s fine, too.
Thanks for the note. I’d love to hear the song, though I’m not sure how I’d play it. If you send it to my email (firstname.lastname@example.org) can I play it on my computer?