I had a very sweet moment this past weekend when I saw my high school boyfriend for the first time in 20 years. Let me be clear- this is not a story about high school sweethearts hooking up again. We are both happily married and love our children and our lives. This is not about changing my life. It’s about appreciating who’s in it.
When I walked into the party, I was looking for him. He’s very tall and easily found in a crowd. I quickly spotted him and worked my way over to him. He was walking past me when I put my hand out and said “Jack,” He stopped and looked at me for a long time with no recognition, until all of a sudden, he breathed, “Oh wow.” I know that my weight and my lines and my gray are significantly different from high school, as are his, but the eyes- our eyes are the same. Then, we hugged. And hugged. And hugged. For a very long time. And it was all ok.
We dated for almost three years in high school. I gave him chicken pox. His family took me under their wing and I spent a lot of time at his house. I loved his mother and admired his dad. We celebrated his first vehicle- a truck I called “Chocolate”. We danced a Texas Two-Step on a 4th of July together. We saw movies together, went to football games together, and dressed up for three Homecomings and three Christmas formal dances together. My parents met his. It ended badly, as these things tend to. He wanted to date other people, and wanted a wider experience than we had. I got clingy and whiney. There were lots of tears on my part, guilt on his, and blame all the way around. Ultimately, we were high school kids and unprepared for the enormity of a relationship. But he was my first love and the one who first taught me what a relationship could be.
And during that hug, I realized that all of those tears, all of that hurt, all of those bad feelings were gone. What was left were warm memories, fondness and a recognition of the enduring quality of love. We broke apart, I met his wife- a wonderfully funny and warm person who has survived cancer, and we went back to talking to separate groups of friends at the party. No drama, no significant looks. But I knew that I would always love and be loved. Even time doesn’t beat out that.
I hugged my husband and children hard when I got home- valuing them even more. I was reminded that no matter what, the irritations, the grief of autism and Tourette’s, the day-to-day stuff- none of it really matters. Love wins over autism. It wins over cancer. It wins over anger. What is left is their own space in my heart. Once people have a corner, the heart expands and never loses that space.
Heart real estate is valuable. It’s why moments like this are so appreciated- because I can re-learn how important I was to someone- how important they were to me. The Greek myth says that when Pandora opened the box, all of the emotions flew out- anger and bitterness and joy. She slammed it shut and hope was at the bottom of the box- the last emotion to leave. I think the story’s wrong. Can you have hope without love? Love is what is left.