I saw those words in my inbox and drew in my breath. I couldn't believe after all these years I had found him. Even though I had been married for over 13 years, had 2 boys and was now well into my 40s, just seeing his name again had the same intoxicating effect that it had on me as a school girl.
Eric was my first love in every sense of the word. In many ways, I feel like he has been my only true love. It had been nearly 15 years since I had talked to him. Ironically, at one point, we lived only 5 miles apart in the same town for three years even though we never knew it. My husband and he were in the same residency program together even though they didn't know each other.
I often wondered how he was and where he was. However, it wasn't until the age of Google that it was possible to hunt him down like the dog that he was! Fortunately, he had a fairly unusual name and was in academic medicine so published a fair amount. As a result, I was able to track him down and eventually was able to get an email address for him through the university where he was working.
When I sent that first email to him, I was in the throes of a "midlife crisis". As I told Eric, I really had the urge... the need to talk to him again since he had been around in my early 20s for my "beginning of life" crisis. Eric had taught me so much about who I was and who I wanted to be at that time that I felt it only fair that I drag him along kicking and screaming for the next stage.
Throughout the 90s, I had spent so much time wishing I could talk to him. Our time together was so intense and so intimate. I would not be who I am today without the hours and hours that Eric and I spent just talking about stuff back then. And not having him in my life almost made me question whether what had happened back in college was real. It was almost a Zen riddle along the lines of if a tree falls in the forest: If a love affair and a friendship happened but that person is no longer in your life, did it really happen? Did it really matter?
And I needed for our relationship to have happened and to have mattered. I needed for it to have been real. Because if it wasn't, what did that say about the person I am now? Am I really who I think I am?
All those years, I really wanted to know three things:
- Had Eric thought of me through the years? Had he wanted to get in touch with me? Had he missed me the same way I missed him?
- How did Eric regard me at this point? Just an old friend? A potential stalker? His first and only real love?
- But most importantly, I wanted to know exactly what was it about me where he knew that he would never want to marry me? I thought he really loved me and it had always bugged the hell out of me that I was good enough to go out with, to sleep with for years yet he always knew that when he graduated and he left college -- that would be that.
The last night that we talked in 1989 and he told me that he was married, I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I guess while we were in college, I was in denial -- that we really loved each other and when the time came, things would work out. After we graduated, he moved away and the long-distance thing didn't work out. At that point, I could tell myself that it was because he was focused on getting through med school and didn't have time/energy for someone else in his life.
But then when he told me that he had gotten married -- I had nothing left to do but question what there was about *ME* that made me "unlovable" and someone not worthy of being with for the long haul....
Yeah -- I know -- it had been 20 years. Get over it already. And maybe I would be if it hadn't been for my own husband trying to dump me two years earlier. Eric and my husband were the only two men I have ever loved -- emotionally and physically. I guess I really started feeling like I'm ok up to a point -- until someone better comes along (especially after what happened a couple of years earlier with my husband).
And the thing is -- I have never felt the same "way" about my husband as I had felt about Eric. I love my husband. However, it has always been a different "kind" of love -- if that makes sense. Kind of like the difference between flying willy-nilly out of control on the back of a horse hanging on for dear life as it jumps a fence (Eric) vs. the much more "controlled" (and safer) partnership that you think of with dressage (my husband).
Looking back to college, I know at this point that there were many aspects of our relationship that were pretty messed up. But I still had that little lovesick girl inside of me that would think if I had been smarter, prettier, emotionally mature… then Eric wouldn't have "left me".
It has been over four years since I had that first email land in my inbox. Eric and I have continued to email each other at least daily. He has had two more children but his marriage has gradually devolved to misery. My husband has had at least two more affairs. However, Eric and I have maintained VERY STRICT “rules of engagement” for our current relationship because we both understand that as long as we are in our current marriages, our priority must be and will be to our current spouses.
Our respective spouses have never liked the fact that Eric and I have become friends again (even if only “electronic friends” at that – we have never spoken on the phone). Ironically, though, if it weren’t for each other, we both would probably have ended our respective marriages a long time ago. We joke to each other that no good deed goes unpunished.
Eric and I are both very different people than we were in college. Yet, we both still know each other better than anyone else in this world. We have a level of understanding for each other that we have never experienced with anyone else in our lives including our own parents, siblings, or spouses. And there is this sense that we will always be a part of each other’s lives going forward – that that piece of ourselves that had been missing for so long has finally been found. Having been found, we will not let it be lost ever again.