She was shocked to hear from me (“OMG! Jim?”). She had promised to wait for me during my four-year enlistment, but smartly bailed. She went from “My ideas on what I want after high school may have changed, but not my love for you,” in one of her first letters, to “I have lost the love and respect I once held for you” exactly a year later. (“My mother helped me write that,” she told me, sounding apologetic, when I called her.)
Then she spoke the words every dumped guy wants to hear: “I never should have broken up with you.”
So much soap opera. You can’t dig through the past without tears. Mine came when I found the letter from John. He and I were such good friends in high school that, with the Vietnam War still raging, he crazily joined the Navy with me on the buddy system. We went through boot camp together, and I still have the photo of us in dress whites when we graduated.
His letter was full of plans for the future. He was a wonderful writer, and the Navy was considering sending him to journalism school. “Take it easy, ace,” he wrote, signing off. “Things will get better.”
His wife was pregnant with a girl the last time I saw him in the 1970s. He never did go to that school. And life doesn’t seem to have gotten better for John. He and his wife divorced, and I have been told that he has had serious health issues. John is totally unreachable, but I thrillingly found his daughter on LinkedIn.
I considered reaching out to her to help me find her dad, but hesitated. I had choked up as I read John’s letter, and I suspected she would, too. Would she want a glimpse of her dad as a hopeful young man or would it knock her down as it did me? “Who are you again, and why are you making me cry?” I can hear her asking.
The past is tricky and can be fat with regrets. I didn’t marry Susan, but I did marry my sweetheart. I became the journalist that John didn’t. Both of our daughters are on the West Coast. I wish I could share that with him.
But with the present so deadly and the future uncertain, I decided to let John remain unfound, and put his letter back in the box.
It’s still not empty and may never be. It will head back to the basement, where my other decluttering will make me feel less guilty about holding onto it.