The One That Got Away

For some reason, I’ve been thinking lately about the one that got away.

That makes it sound as though I don’t know what factors have contributed to this phenomenon. I do, though — Facebook and Jesuit (or would it be Ignatian?) spirituality. (I am still learning the difference.)

Facebook’s contribution was connecting me with a couple adolescent crushes — not that we’ve done more than “friend” each other. Neither has commented on my blog, or even given it a thumbs up, and the stats show I am read about as often as the ingredients list on cat food, so I feel safe in writing about them.

The first was my “boyfriend” in eighth grade — emphasis on “friend.” We rode bike together and played saxophone together and essentially just hung out together. What I remember best about him is his laugh, which was so spontaneous and joyful.

My mom wanted me to begin exploring the physical ways couples express affection with him — though I am sure she didn’t want us to go too far. She would encourage me to sit in the dark with him, which I suppose was to lead us into temptation, but we just talked and shared a few chaste kisses. I was too innocent and too worried about sin to do more.

He moved away and that fizzled out. A few years later a young man moved to town and became my brother’s best friend. He was gentle and had beautiful brown eyes and I wanted desperately to be his girlfriend. Although we did become friends of sorts, and he was extremely kind to me after Mom died, he was interested in someone else entirely.

Neither of these, by the way, is the one who got away. The one who got away passed through my life three times.

We sat beside each other in class the first time I tried college — simply because the teacher seated us in alphabetical order. I can still remember the spark of awareness I experienced the first time I saw him. Now I can name it — sexual attraction — but at 17, I was still remarkably innocent and extremely shy. I only knew I was aware of him in a way I had never before experienced and it made me uncomfortable.

What might have happened is hard to say. I wasn’t at all prepared for college, and ended up dropping out within weeks after school started. But fate brought us together again six years later in another class. I had grown up a little and was prepared for the rigors of university life. I might have been prepared for a relationship, too, but the first of two major frienemies in my life took the same class.

The One Who Got Away and I were talking when she walked into class on the first day, and seated herself on his right side. She immediately demanded his attention and then latched on to me after class, gushing at length about the immediate rapport she shared with him and the certainty that they were soulmates. I remember the disappointment I experienced, because I thought he and I had shared a spark.

I did not learn for years I could not trust that woman. When I did, I found myself remembering the class and the guy and wondering if perhaps we had shared a spark. Five or six years later, we met for the last time. He was in a graduate class with a friend, and we had lunch together. By that time, I had gained 100 pounds — eating was my way of coping with an abusive marriage and the subsequent divorce — and had the emotional warmth of broken glass. Lunch did not go well.

What does this have to do with Jesuit spirituality? I am reading “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,” by James Martin, S.J. Chapter Three is called “What Do You Want?” and explores desire as the way God helps us to know ourselves and the way he helps us see what we are meant to do.

I like the idea, but something in me resists it as well. The dissenting voice within me says, “What difference does it make what I want, what I ‘desire?’ I won’t get it anyway.” That voice has begun to rake up old dreams to prove its point. And so, the one that got away comes to mind.

However, I find another voice within me isn’t willing to accept that. “Look back if you must, but don’t draw illogical conclusions.” That voice recognizes I am at a crossroads and recognizes I could lose more than the possibility of romance if I am not careful. If I don’t take time to figure out what I want, what I desire, the one that got away could end up being me. I could end up living my whole life like a tumbleweed blown by the winds of fate, rather than like a vine grafted to healthy rootstock that bears much fruit.

The choice is mine.

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