I have an old friend I'll call Richard. He was my very first boyfriend; I fell for him in high school, and fell hard. I wanted nothing more than for us to make a life together. I did not lose my virginity to him; back then, in West Texas, such things mattered. In high school, I was saving myself for marriage, hoping he'd be the one. In college, when we were occasional friends with benefits, I couldn't bring myself to have capital-S sex with him because he was going through girls like popcorn, having one-night stands and declaring they were something more special because after all he'd woken up with the girls and they went to breakfast. He was in love, True Love, with someone new every week.
I was still agonizingly in love with him, but I had a stubborn bit of pride; if he couldn't admit that he'd once loved me, fuck fucking.
And then, our senior year of college, he met a girl fresh out of the army. She'd been a military policewoman; Richard was a hippie. They were extreme opposites, and yet somehow suddenly they were engaged. He was over the moon.
I worked up my courage and told him how I felt about him. Nobody could possibly love or care about him more than I did, and his fiancee was a completely inappropriate life partner for him; surely anyone could see that. Surely he could see that?
In a romantic comedy, he would have come to his senses and called off his engagement. But what actually happened was that I might as well have poured my heart out to a tree stump. I think I cried for about three days straight. But I pulled my shit together and got over it. Kinda. Sorta.
They moved way out West, and I went off to grad school a thousand miles in the opposite direction.
I found their wedding invitation in my dorm mailbox at the end of a particularly crappy day.
I stared at the lacy invitation and thought to myself "Self, you don't drink, but if there was ever a day to get really, really drunk, this would be it."
As I was wandering numbly down the hall, my friend Cathy's door opened. She had two Mickey's Big Mouth malt liquors in her hand.
"Hey," she said. "Someone left these in my car; I don't drink beer. Want these?"
"Sure." I took them from her, then looked skeptically skyward; this was my first and last suspicion that there might be some Lokiesque higher power at work in my life.
As it turned out, I couldn't bring myself to get plastered on free Mickey's; that stubborn pride again. I left the bottles in the stairwell and they were gone in an hour. I also didn't make good on my momentary vow to ditch Richard and never speak to him again; we'd grown up together, and he was still a good friend, even if he frustrated the hell out of me. So, I stayed in touch with him over the years.
Richard and his ex-military wife divorced after 8 years and three kids; their relationship was just as disastrous as I'd figured it would be. They had an acrimonious divorce and a dozen years of litigation over every possible aspect of money and child custody that you can imagine.
It didn't give me any schadenfreude thrill to be proven completely correct; the divorce beat the hell out of him and really he'd done nothing to deserve it as far as I could see. And his kids sure didn't deserve being used as pawns by their vindictive mother.
I spoke to him one evening after he'd won the most recent round of legal wrangling, and his ex-wife has been forced to pay him money, finally.
And he once again bemoaned marrying his ex in the first place ("I wish you guys had staged an intervention or something") and talked about how desperate he'd been to get out of our small West Texas town, completely skirting our history and the fact that I would have been more than happy to go anywhere he wanted in the whole world, and I'd made that amply clear at the time.
So I listened to him talk, simultaneously happy he was finally getting out from under the horrible legal troubles, annoyed he was re-writing our history together (and sort of wanting to smack him upside the head and yell "You jerk! I'd have been a much better wife! We'd probably still be married!"), wistfully wondering what our lives might have been like if he'd made a different decision back in college ... and glad he'd made his horrible, no-good, bad relationship decision. Because I probably would still be married to him ... and I'd have never met the people who are so precious to me today.
What's the word to describe all those wildly mixed emotions?
Life, I suppose. Just life.