Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Reflection

He would have been 56 on Monday, but he chose to end his life in February. He was my very first boyfriend, and while the relationship had been over for many years, I was sorry to learn that his life ended so badly.

When I was a teen, most people would have described me as shy. I was quite happy to have one or two close friends and didn't feel a need to be part of a large group. But in the summer of 1972, my closest friend left town for two weeks to visit her sister and I decided it was time to expand my world a little bit.

After seeing my friend off at the airport, I got on my bike, headed over to Marquette Park and started riding around the main road. I was pleased that within a few minutes a "cute guy" in a Camaro smiled and waved to me. On my second lap, he waved again. By the third lap, he had parked his car and was sitting on the hood waiting for me. I stopped and we ended up talking for a couple of hours. It was the beginning of a 14 month relationship.

That Christmas, he gave me a small ring. Some called it a promise ring, others called it a pre-engagement ring. When he gave it to me, he explained that he had not had the money to buy a class ring in high school, so he couldn't give me his ring to show that we were going steady. That was fine with me at first, but when I went back to school and everyone asked when I was getting married, I wondered if I had been right to accept the ring.

The turning point for me came in April. Led Zeppelin was playing at the Chicago Stadium; we had not been able to get tickets but he decided we would try to buy a pair from the scalpers outside. He bought two tickets that were not together and figured we would meet somewhere inside. Unfortunately, one ticket was on the main level and the other was in the balcony. At the old Stadium, there was no way to get from the main floor to the balcony without exiting the building and re-entering another gate. And of course, your ticket would not be accepted at the other level's gate.

So I ended up spending the entire concert with total strangers. And had a wonderful time! When I re-joined my boyfriend after the concert, I realized that the relationship was not what I wanted for the rest of my life.

I waited until shortly before I left for college to officially break up with him. I can criticize myself on many levels here. Yes, I took advantage of his company all summer. Yes, I took the easy way out and waited until I was leaving town and thought I would not have to see him again. We were working in the same place that summer (to be fair, my mother had helped both of us get the jobs) and I didn't want my job to be uncomfortable. It's been a long time now, and I hope that I would handle it differently today but I wouldn't bet good money on it.

So we had the big, dramatic break up scene and it did not go well. I packed my stuff and moved into a dorm in Urbana. My 18th birthday was at the endof the first week, and there were plenty of new friends on my dorm floor who were willing to help me celebrate. We were getting ready to leave the dorm when there was a knock on my door. He had driven down from Chicago, unannounced, and wanted to take me out for my birthday. I was quite upset that he had shown up, and quite firm in insisting that I was not changing my plans.

At the end of the night, he showed up in the dorm again. I "borrowed" my roommate's friend, who stood six foot four inches tall, and had him act intimidating and a little possessive to get the ex-boyfriend to disappear. He left that evening, but a stream of letters followed all through the year. Back at home, my parents reported that he often drove past the house and sometimes stopped to ask how I was doing. The term really wasn't used back then, but his actions bordered on stalking. Finally, well over a year after we broke up I stopped hearing from him.

When the internet and search engines surged in popularity, I started to think about this ghost from my past. I often wondered if he would ever dare to try and contact me again. I suppose I did a little "reverse stalking" in that I would Google his name about once a year to see if he had any presence on the internet. I always took a little comfort in never finding him.

Then about a week ago, I decided to try again. This time, I was surprised to find several hits for his name. Surprise turned to shock when I realized that the hits were the result of his death. He apparently jumped off a bridge over the Chicago River, and although he missed the river he did die as a result of the fall. I will admit that there was a definite sense of relief to know that he will never turn up unexpectedly at my door. But I never would have wished for this end to the story.

The obituaries only peeled back the thinnest of layers of his life. Although he had planned to become a college professor, his occupation was listed as truck driver. One obituary made no mention of a spouse but another named one. She is a psychotherapist and a published poet, and she signed a guest book as "your wife of thirty years who was relegated to oblivion". I feel that there is either a very interesting or a very sad story behind that comment.

So many thoughts have gone through my head. I'm very glad that my life has followed the path that it has. I don't regret the decisions I made so long ago,but I hope that those decisions did not lead to an unhappy path for him. And then I wonder if it is egotisical to even speculate in that direction. I don't want to sound opportunistic, but I can see the beginnings of a fictional story speculating on the relationship between him and his spouse. Overriding all of this, though, is that sense of relief that it has finally, truly ended.

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