Archive for March, 2017
This is an something I wrote years ago but never published it anywhere. Some friends and I were talking about how some people are reconnecting on Facebook, including old flames, and I thought of this essay that I wrote and wanted to share it.
Finding an Old Boyfriend on the Internet
by Sharon O’Donnell
No matter how many years go by, there’s always that old flame that you’ll remember. There’s that one you wonder about: where he is, what he’s doing now, if he still thinks about you. With my ‘someone’, I never got a chance to say good-bye in person years ago, so I felt like there was something missing that I needed.
Closure. Everybody says it’s important in relationships. Closure is something I think women need more than most men because of that innate desire women have to be understood, to have all things said and wrapped up in a nice package. So closure was what I was looking for one summer day in 2004 when I realized the path of a former boyfriend from another state was about to cross mine right in my hometown. Well, closure and a chance to wear a low cut tank top with a Wonder Bra in front of him.
Okay – a bit of background – it was one of those fairy tale whirlwind romances. All in all, I actually saw him five days in a row, and that was it. But what a five days. I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous. I’d dated lots of guys before but none of those relationships had this kind of impact on me. It was my sophomore year in college, and he had graduated from a college in another state and was on a job training program. We both agreed that we found it very easy to open up to each other and be honest with one another (well, other than that one little thing he was keeping from me about having a girl he planned to marry back home). We met two weeks before Christmas in 1981 – unbeknownst to me at the time, it was Ryan’s last week in Raleigh before he moved on to another city for more job training.
He was from New York City and told me that one day he wanted to take me to see my first Broadway play. And he was cute with dark blond hair, bangs hanging over his big blue eyes. Taller than me, and since I’m five foot ten, that was important so I wouldn’t feel dorky. My college buddy Michelle — who is also five foot ten — and I made up a motto when trying to meet guys at a club: “The pickins’ are slim when you’re five foot ten.” Most guys didn’t want to date girls taller than they were, and we certainly would have felt odd if a guy’s face only came up to our boob level when we were slow dancing. (Particularly since both of us were B cups and didn’t exactly want a lot of close-up scrutiny.)
On our fourth date, Ryan knew he had to fess up to the fact that there was a girlfriend back home, someone he’d dated for five years, someone he’d planned to marry. He hadn’t meant to develop feelings for me, but it had happened anyway. And even though he still had feelings for the other girl, he didn’t want to end things with me. I, however, didn’t want to play the role of ‘the other woman’ and was going to try to forget about him. But the next day, I was miserable and knew I had to see him again. Michelle and I went to the nightclub where he told me and his friends would be. We talked a lot that night and decided to see each other the following night – his last night in town. But we never got to say good-bye in person because, as my luck runs, I came down with strep throat the last day he was in town and was feeling and looking miserable – not the way you want to look for a last impression. He went home for Christmas with a promise that he would get in touch with me after the holidays when he was settled in his new training job and that he wanted me to come and visit him. But he never called because his long-time girlfriend had sensed something was wrong and had made him promise not to contact me. It ended in heartbreak for me, even though we kept in touch sporadically over the next few months.
Then that June, I received a letter from him just as he finished the training program to go back home to New York for good. It was a good-bye letter that was heart-wrenching and beautifully written. In it he told me that I had so much to offer someone, what a wonderful woman I was, how with more time and fewer complications we would have fallen in love. He ended the letter with the sentences that would stay with me for the rest of my life, as they alluded to our desire to see a play together in New York and also to our belief in God and the afterlife that we’d talked about in our time together:
“We will see each other again,” he wrote. “If not on some New York city sidewalk, then elsewhere . . . “
The woman in me was swooning and sobbing; the writer in me was jealous, wondering even amidst my heartbreak if he had written a rough draft of this beautiful, remarkable letter or did it just come naturally to him to sit down and write such a touching testament to our brief time together without ever having to edit or cross out words or sentences. It was perfectly handwritten. I saved the letter among my most cherished possessions.
Fast forward 23 years to 2004. Lots of things had happened in my life, including getting married and having three sons. Lots of things had happened in the world, too, including the invention of the Internet, a wonderful device for tracking down old boyfriends – I mean reconnecting with friends. Two or three times over the years, I’d typed in Ryan’s name and Googled him to see what would come up. Each time, nothing had appeared. I’d hoped he was okay and healthy, that he was happy, but I had no way to know for sure. Then that summer day in 2004, I was helping my high school class reunion committee search for lost classmates. While searching for them, I decided to type in Ryan’s name for the hell of it, and up came a page for a New York AAU baseball team. His name was listed as one of the coaches. Still, I wasn’t sure if this was the correct Ryan or not. I clicked on team photos, and up came one of those posed team shots – a team of teenage boys with the coaches standing behind them.
And there he was. Second from the left on the back row. Same smile. Same twinkling eyes. Even the same hairline. There was Ryan. The same boyish good looks. A few more wrinkles but I knew right off it was him without looking for the names below the photo. When my heart finally got back to its normal rhythm, I clicked on ‘roster’ and saw his son played first base. I knew way back in 1981 that Ryan would be the kind of dad who would someday coach his son’s baseball team. It was a bittersweet moment for me. I clicked on the information about each player and saw ‘parents’ names’ listed and that Ryan had indeed married and was still married to the girl he’d left me for – ‘Karen’. A small part of me felt a twinge of hurt even after all those years had gone by, but mostly I felt good about the fact that Ryan’s marriage had evidently been a good one. His son had also listed three siblings, so Ryan and his wife had four children.
Then I clicked on ‘schedule’ and about choked right then and there. His son’s team was scheduled to play in a national tournament in my town of Cary, NC – at a ball field complex just 5 miles from my house in a few weeks. I started breathing so fast I’d thought I would hyperventilate. What were the odds? I knew I had to see him when he came to town. This was one time I was glad my husband Kevin didn’t have a jealous bone in his body when it came to past boyfriends of mine. Even though Ryan had written me that beautiful letter, he had hurt me, and the pain was still palpable. Yep, I needed closure.
Seeing Ryan again was a very personal thing for me and one that would be difficult, but I knew I had to do it. Yet, I was still a little embarrassed to talk about going to see him. After all, I was a married woman, and he was a married man, so it might seem strange or irresponsible to some people. I most definitely wouldn’t lie about it; I knew I’d tell Kevin what I intended to do. When I told him, he said what I thought he would say: “Go and do what you need to do.”
My thoughts centered on two things: what would I wear? And what would I say? It was hot, so I decided to wear shorts, and a tank top with –yes- that Wonder Bra that I hoped would create more cleavage than Ryan remembered. This would be the only time I’d ever see Ryan again so I wanted to look my best.
As for what to say, I didn’t know all the things I wanted to talk with him about, but I did know the very first sentence I wanted to say – words I knew he’d remember – and we’d simply take it from there. This first sentence was based on the words of his beautiful letter about us meeting again someday: if not on a New York City sidewalk, then elsewhere. I would go up to Ryan on the ball field and say, “This is not exactly a New York City sidewalk, but it will have to do.” This was a line I’d been saying in my head over and over for 23 years as I sometimes thought about what I’d say if I happened to run into Ryan somewhere. It was the perfect line — the very words he wrote to me in his letter. He would hear these words, his eyes would fly open wide, and he’d yell, “Oh my God, Sharon!” and pull me into a big bear hug. This was what I’d daydreamed about for the past couple of decades.
So the plan was set. Kevin would be stay with our sons that afternoon while I would rendezvous with an old boyfriend – ahem – I mean attempt to find closure at the ball field. I didn’t want to arrive until late in the game because I didn’t want to distract Ryan from his coaching duties, and I didn’t want to wait around on the field until the end of the game. I also had to remember that Ryan did not expect to see me whatsoever; I would be taking him totally by surprise. I even learned from the team’s site that they had actually played in Cary the previous two summers, and if he ever thought about the possibility that I’d show up, he probably would have expected me to have shown up before now. He would definitely be at a disadvantage, and it wasn’t realistic for me to expect him to be as ready for this meeting as I was.
Once in the car, I got really nervous, so I wrote a note I could leave in the dug-out in case I chickened out. As I approached the field, my heart was pounding so hard I could feel it throb in my head. The teams were already on the field, and my eyes scanned the area, trying to find Ryan. Thanks to the team picture on the Internet, I knew the team had red uniforms, so I knew they were in the outfield right then. I zeroed in on their dug-out and focused on two coaches with red shirts on. And then my heart stopped. I recognized his stance, his mannerisms right away. There was Ryan standing in the dug-out doorway, shouting encouragement to his team. I remembered the voice, the Yankee accent. I stood there gazing at him, not quite believing he was there in front of me.
I stood behind the bleachers and chairs of the team’s fans and tried to pick out Karen – Ryan’s wife. All I saw were the backs of people’s heads, so it wouldn’t be easy. Just then I noticed that Ryan’s son – number 17 – was coming up to bat, and then I heard a voice yell, “Come on son, focus!” The woman who shouted it looked a bit nervous, with her hands clasped and leaning forward in her folding chair. She had long, dark hair, which I knew Karen used to have. A little girl of about 8 sat beside her, coloring. Ryan’s daughter. How in the world was I going to talk to Ryan with his family so close by? I started thinking perhaps I’d just leave the note, hand it to one of the other coaches and ask him to give it to Ryan, as I hightailed it out of there. But I stayed.
Ryan’s team got a big lead, and the game was drawing to a close. In the top of the 9th inning, I pulled out the note I’d written in case I got cold feet, read it over, and added a few lines to it. I was feeling very nervous and was feeling like I might opt for Plan B. My Plan A was to approach Ryan immediately after the game as the team was leaving and hope that his wife and kids would be involved in their own conversations and wouldn’t notice us. It would have to be very strategic and very quick. Then I noticed the sky was darkening. I hadn’t planned on the threat of rain. If it rained, everyone would be running for their cars and there would be no time to talk to Ryan. “Please let the rain hold off, God,” I whispered.
Finally, the last out was called, and fans on Ryan’s side cheered and began to fold up chairs and collect belongings. Karen stood up, too, gathered her things and left immediately with her young daughter, perhaps to beat the impending rainstorm. I had to take this opportunity and quick. Seconds before walking up to him, I’d have given the odds at 80% that I’d walk away and not talk to him. But somehow my legs carried me toward Ryan as he walked out of the dugout. He looked up at me, smiling, expectantly, probably waiting for a congrats for the win, thinking I was a relative of one of the players. I remembered that smile. He showed no sign of recognition in that millisecond moment. I had to say it. Now. And then I heard my voice. “This is not exactly a New York City sidewalk, but it’ll have to do,” I blurted.
His big blue eyes stared at me. “Excuse me?” he asked.
Excuse me????? I practice this perfect line for 23 blankin’ years, and his response is, “Excuse me?”??? My heart sank, but I managed to repeat with very little enthusiasm, “This is not exactly a New York City sidewalk, but it’ll have to do.”
He looked confused. “I met you in New York?” he asked.
I shook my head, “No, no,” I replied, disappointment seeping into every crevice of my being. Obviously, he hadn’t been sharing the same daydream I’d had about us seeing each other again. “I actually met you in North Carolina a long time ago,” I told him. His eyes were flickering around like they do when people are trying to figure something out. I noticed, as he did, that there was another coach from his team standing near us, curious about the soap opera playing out in front of him. I continued, “and I wanted to say hello since you were in town.” I wished I could be anywhere but there on that damn ball field. I looked down at the ground, not wanting to meet his eyes. “But if you don’t remember me,” I said, looking back at him briefly, “then that’s kind of a moot point.” I turned from him like I was going to walk away.
“No, wait a minute,” he said, taking a step toward me. I noticed his face had changed from one of being perplexed to one of beginning to put the pieces together. He glanced over his shoulder at the other coach.
I decided not to tiptoe around it anymore; I didn’t care what the coach thought. “We dated a little bit back in 1981,” I told Ryan.
He drew back from me slightly, in shock, and said in that New York accent with the drawn-out short a sound, “Sharon?”
“Yeah,” I mumbled, nodding. I was so relieved he remembered me I felt like collapsing onto the ground. He didn’t grab me in a big bear hug as I’d envisioned; instead, he glanced around nervously, perhaps seeing where his wife and kids were. Or perhaps he was still aware that the other coach was watching. I must have then explained to Ryan about the Internet and how I came to be at the game, and I think he made some comments about it being nice to see me, but I honestly can’t remember what we said immediately after he realized it was me. I think I was simply too relieved to pay attention. I do know that a minute or two later we were talking about what he did for a living. And then the other coaches and some team members started walking down the path away from the field, and Ryan and I followed. Along the way, I distanced myself from Ryan and let him walk ahead of me with the rest of the team. I hung back, wanting to forget this awful moment.
When I got to the parking lot, Ryan was standing by himself near the curb, looking around. “I can’t find the van,” he explained to me, smiling. But I wasn’t born yesterday. I knew he was waiting for me there on purpose. Yet, I wanted to be indifferent to him, to act like I didn’t care that he was waiting. My car was parked just a few cars away, and I just wanted to get in and drive away, maybe with a nonchalant wave of my hand. For some reason, the umpires for the upcoming game had decided to sit on the back of my car to put on their gear. They apologized, but I had to wait a minute for them to finish. I looked at Ryan and very coolly (at least I hope it was coolly) shrugged my shoulders. Ryan walked past and grinned about the umpires and then made some comment about finally seeing the van. I assumed since they drove from out of town that he and his wife would be in the same vehicle, so I knew any minute she might be coming around to pick him up. I didn’t want to be there if that happened. I jumped in my car and drove away. In my rearview mirror, I could see Ryan still making his way across the parking lot. Damn, I thought. Maybe his wife rode with someone else, and he’s by himself, and we could have had time to really talk. Maybe even have that bear hug. But I drove on. Back to my home with my husband and sons.
Yet, had that been ‘closure’? All I could think about was the fact that I had never made sure Ryan understood my opening line about the New York City sidewalk. He probably thought I was a nut with that gibberish pouring out of my mouth. It wasn’t closure at all; it anything, it had reopened a wound that was almost healed.
So . . . I sent him an email. (God bless Al Gore for inventing the Internet). We’d talked about his job, so it wasn’t hard to find out how to contact him. In the email, I explained about the sidewalk comment and thanked him for that extraordinary letter, which I’d never had a chance to do before. Then I wrote about my family, my writing, my goals. And then I said good-bye. I felt closure. I could move on. I didn’t expect to hear from Ryan, and that was okay.
But about a week later, I received an email from him. He apologized for the awkwardness he displayed at the ball field and said that seeing me was so unexpected that he didn’t know how to react. He also said I’d looked even better than he had recalled, which in itself was worth the trouble and embarrassment I’d endured. He said part of his awkwardness was that the feelings he’d felt for me back in 1981 had been real, and seeing me made him remember that. Ryan then told me that he and his wife were happy and that he knew I was happy with my husband and family and he felt any more correspondence between us might threaten that happiness. He said how good it had been to see me and how he hoped he hadn’t hurt my feelings in any way that day. I read it about 50 times within the first hour I received it.
Yes, that was closure, and it is all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe Ryan didn’t need it the way I did nor did he remember specific things as clearly as I did, but of course I shouldn’t expect anything else from a guy. But for me, seeing him again was exactly what I needed. I no longer sit around thinking about what I’d say if I ran into him again. I no longer repeat, “This is not exactly a New York City sidewalk but it’ll have to do,” in my mind every now and then just in case I’d ever have the opportunity to use it. I no longer wish Ryan could see that I went on with my life, despite the pain he caused me – he has seen me and knows that. And above all – he thought I looked, in his words, ‘even better’ than I used to. Priceless.
That Wonder Bra must have worked.