The One That Got Away

(Left: Brent as Richard Nixon in an elementary school skit.)

It will soon be October. I open my calendar and notice some penciled-in scribbles in my little pink organizer. They are reminders for me-- an engagement party on Saturday, Sassy's dance competition toward the middle of the month, a note to change the vent filters. Then, I see it -- a full weekend blocked off toward the end of the month. I promised to make a trip to southern Maryland that weekend in October to visit my old friend. But, he's not just any old friend. He's the one that got away.

The story of Brent and I began in the 4th grade, Mrs. Boitnott's class. We were casual acquaintances back then; I'd occasionally kick him in the shins to show just how much I liked him. One time in return, he punched me in the nose-- a move of self defense.

Our grade school antics continued into the 6th grade, Ms. Theed's class. We mingled with our close clique of friends including Becky, Lynn, Mike, and Steve, discussing the latest Saturday Night Live episodes or seeing who could do the best Gilda Radner or Steve Martin impression. Brent, even as a kid, was bright and sophisticated in his humor. And though I had a huge crush on his two older twin brothers, Brent was someone I liked very much. He made me smile.

(Right: Brent and I on the bus in 6th grade.)

It wasn't until after high school that Brent became my romantic interest. Our old 6th grade buddy, Mike, now a volunteer firefighter, died in an accident. I received the news on a Friday night, left my father's restaurant where I'd been working, and headed directly to Brent's house. We watched the 11pm news report of the accident on television, cried a little, and reminisced about those days and the companions, once so close to us but now fond and very distant memories. We attended Mike's funeral together, and stood holding hands at his grave.

For someone only in his late teens, Brent was quite the entrepreneur. He pulled together the necessary capital and went into a video rental business with my mother. Videos had just hit the home market in the mid-1980s. My mother and Brent would drive hundreds of miles through the Virginia countryside, stocking little stores and convenient marts with video players and tapes. Eventually, I worked in place of my mother. The time we spent driving through the Blue Ridge only brought us closer together.

But as much as I liked him, I felt I could never really be with Brent. We practiced different religious faiths and I feared that I was betraying God and my family by being with him. I knew my family would never accept us because of those differences, and didn't have the courage to go public with our romantic relationship. We eventually abandoned our romance, and I married someone else thereafter. Brent attended the wedding. Five years later, the story repeated itself. After my divorce, Brent and I tried again, with the same results. I married, moved away, but this time I didn't speak to him for years. It was just too painful to be in his company.

During those years apart, Brent married and started his own family. I'd hear updates about his life through friends and family, but we still didn't communicate directly. Finally, a couple of years ago we reconnected. Since then, I've visited him and his family. I've met his wife and son. When we are together, inevitably we reminisce about the good old days. He still does a dead-on Steve Martin impersonation.

During a private moment, we finally talked about the reasons we didn't end up together.

"Looking back, do you really think God would care who you dated or who you'd marry?" Brent asked.
"No, I don't think He'd care," I replied quietly.

We stayed silent-- our minds drifting to the what-ifs that never would be. We found ourselves in different places in life. I was single. My strict adherence to rules and credence had long faded. I was no longer captive to my family's approval. But it was too late.

"I always thought you'd be the one," he said.
"I'm sorry." What else could I say? There was no changing the past.

Brent took my hand in a move of reassurance and friendship. He will always be the one that got away, even though he isn't going anywhere. He is my old, dear friend. He is my touchstone. And years from now when we are old and gray, he straddled with a few grandkids and I straddled with a few cats, we will sit in rockers, reminisce about the good old days, any maybe do a few Steve Martin impersonations.

And even God will laugh and smile in approval.


utenzi said...

I know this is going to sound cold and impersonal, but it's the way that I think. Stories like this, Diane, just make me think about how inefficient life is. I use the term in the economics sense. If we could just align ourselves better life would be so much simpler and more enjoyable--but we can't. We learn as life goes on and often the lessons learned later on just don't help us much because we needed the knowledge when we were young. Damned inefficient.

Sorry about Brent, Diane. Even though you have Vin now, it's never easy to think about the "what might have beens" of life.

TamWill said...

Wonderful post Diane...reminds me of the old tv show The Wonder Years!

My Dad (who looks like Roy Clark on Hee-Haw, but acts like Archie Bunker) was kind of like your mom, where conduct was concerned. He would say "I do not expect straight A's but damn it, you can keep your mouth shut!" it is funny now, but not then!

SNL rocked when Rosanne Rosanna Danna was on...thanks for the walk down memory lane. I felt like I was right there with you :)

evercurious said...

Thank you for such a great story. you really are on of the best!

queenofsass said...

What a trip down memory lane! Glad you don't have any pictures of me during that time period...thank God we weren't friends then.

Diane Mandy said...

Utenzi - I sort of agree with you. Wish I knew then what I know now. I just wonder if I'll be saying this 40 more years from now.

Tanwill and everC - Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you liked it. I'm gonna send it to my old friend. I wonder if he will like?

QAS - I have plenty of old photos of you. Better be nice..

Mister Hand said...

I'll bet your current boyfriend is THRILLED about this upcoming trip.


Okay, enough with the caps.

Xavierism said...

You were adorable! I bet it's rare that you've ever taken a bad photo. And if you have, I wanna see the proof! HAHAHA


Let's salsa....


David said...

Great story Diane!