I’m not sure what possessed me to hit ‘send’ on that email, but there I was staring at my computer screen looking at the ‘Your mail has been sent.’ pop up feeling terrified, but not that terror of potential regret. I actually felt at peace with what I had sent and was more terrified of showing up to Quigley’s tomorrow afternoon and not having him walk through the door.
It had been almost 20 years since I broke Marc’s heart. I could put every cliche about young love and first loves into our story, because they all were true. You never forget or let go of that first love, but there was more than that kind of bond between Marc and I. Though we were young, our love was deep and intense from the second our eyes locked across the stacks at the public library. I, a high school Sophomore in my drill team uniform, he an already graduated nearly 20 year old man of the world managing community college classes while he worked full time at the car lot just off the main strip of town.
I always believe people when they say they have a bond with someone over the span of lifetimes. When you feel that, you know. Something grabs the core of your soul and hangs on for dear life. The back of your mind full of the adventures through lives you’ve had together. Even though I was practically a child still, when I saw those hazel eyes through the dusty reference volumes, this wasn’t teenage puppy love. I knew this man. I knew him intimately. The electricity between us when we spoke those first nervous words of, “hello” could have lit a city for a week.
He was older, so I had to keep him a secret from my parents, of course. Telling my conservative mother and father that I had met a man five years my senior at the public library would have had him arrested and me shipped off to the nearest convent. Our hours long phone conversations took place in the middle of the night. I went weeks without sleep, but had never felt more awake and clear in my life. Sure, it might have been the high of the first twinges of love, but never again would I be able to replicate that feeling.
It was awhile before he ever touched me. My age probably had something to do with it, but it almost seemed equally dangerous and unnecessary for us to touch. Like that electricity that hovered over our words would become combustible through physically feeling one another.
The first embrace was something I will replay in my mind for the rest of my life. We were alone in the shop at the car lot at the end of his shift, and I was sitting on a workbench talking to him like we always did. I had to be home by 9pm on school nights, so I jumped down from bench to head out and as I turned to wave, he pulled me in gently. He was massive. A former lineman on the High School football team with dreams of going pro, and I felt tiny pressed against him. The energy between us, I thought would make my heart stop.
I’m not sure how long we stood there in each other’s arms. We were simply in a trance as our hearts beat together and we settled into something that felt right. It felt forever.
I was the first to snap out of it, as I caught sight of the clock and noticed that I was expected home almost twenty minutes before. I flew out of there with a rushed goodbye, thought of something clever to tell my parents as I raced home, and fell asleep reliving that first touch over and over again.
As time went on, the relationship blossomed, still secretly, and we became very serious. Nothing had been consummated yet, by this time I was only 16, but emotionally we were as intimate as you could possibly be with another person. Even after twenty years, I can remember every minor detail of that time. It’s imprinted on my bones.
I lied to him, and that’s what made it fall apart. I can tell you the color shirt he was wearing that day. The look of agony on his face when he found out what I had lied about, but I can’t even remember what the lie was. I wasn’t a habitual liar, so it had to be something silly. There weren’t any other boys that even came close to interesting me, but I had lied about something that was an absolute deal breaker to him. Maybe it wasn’t the content of the lie so much as the fact I had lied to him. it violated our level of intimacy so much, I might as well have reached into his chest and pulled out his heart.
“I’m sick. Finding out that you lied to me makes me sick, Janelle,” He said to me with his face twisting in order to keep the tears in his eyes. And at that moment, I was dismissed. He turned and walked away. I would go that whole summer trying to run into him where I knew he would be and beg him to forgive me.
“I do forgive you, Jenelle. I love you. But you treated me like I didn’t matter over something that did matter. I told you things I never told anyone else, and you couldn’t be honest with me. I can’t handle that.”
Finally, the summer was over and I had to return to my life, so I had to give up my begging. I still ached for him, and wanted him back, wanted to fix what I had done, but he wouldn’t let me. I went through the motions of that year…I can’t even remember it, really.
Another year went by in a fog, and my heart would race every time I would see his car in the lot of the shop, or as it would speed past my house on his way home from work. When I started driving, I would drive past his house and the shop just to get a glimpse of him. I had my self respect and wouldn’t keep lowering myself to a guy who didn’t want me, but I was still connected to him and needed to see him. It sounds completely insane, and it probably was.
Eventually we grew up and moved away from that town. I went off to college, and he finished school and became a carpenter. I did run into him twice over those years. Once while I was pumping gas when I came home from school for the summer, and he happened to be at the same gas station. We locked eyes, and all of the air went out of the world and everything went into slow motion. I lost the inability to speak upon seeing him, and I’m almost sure the same happened for him, we both put our heads down and jumped into our cars, speeding away. But oh, seeing him. It was everything.
The second time we ran into each other, I had taken an internship in the city with a large firm, and I was sent to the local market for the team’s morning coffee orders. There in a building crew was Marc. We actually smiled upon seeing one another. Perhaps we were both longing for a familiar face in the big city.
“Janelle!” he called across the market.
I smiled as the barista handed me the coffee order, and again, in this crowded market, the air left the room and the world stopped as I saw his tall, muscular silhouette, only made better by time, across the room. I could not collect my coffee and get there fast enough.
But then someone on his crew needed him for something, and he broke eye contact with me to follow him to whatever needed handling in that moment. I stood there with the heat of the coffees seeping through the cardboard burning my hands as I watched him walk away. He didn’t come back and I went back to the office before the coffee got cold.
I returned to the market time and time again throughout the course of my internship, and I never saw Marc again.
As time went on, I didn’t even think about him as much as I once did. I eventually found a nice enough guy to marry and divorce, and was content to live my life alone keeping myself busy and fulfilled with various activities. Mine isn’t a lonely and empty life in the least. It wasn’t like I was staring out the window longing for Marc every single day. Occasionally he would pop into my head, and I would smile to myself wanly as I remembered those days. He wasn’t all over social media like a lot of the people we had grown up around were. I was in close contact with some of his family I had gone to school with, so I knew he was alive, but wherever he was, he kept a low profile.
There was some sort of gravitational pull that made me write this email tonight, though. I had seen a call for classmates from his graduating class at our high school go out, and for whatever reason, I went looking for him. I had remained close with his first cousin Carly who was my age, and reached out to her for his email, because I wasn’t sure if he would see the class reunion invitation on the website since he wasn’t a member. Carly offered up his phone number, but that was simply too terrifying, so I opted for his email. Carly admitted that no one really spoke to him much, but he was happy and they saw him at all of their family functions. No mention of a wife and kids, and I wasn’t about to seem overly interested enough to pry.
I sat down to draft the email expecting a tremendous amount of difficulty, but the words just flowed. I did start out by telling him about the reunion. It gave me a good reason to email him besides being a nutty stalker, and then I offered the invitation to meet me at Quigley’s if he still lived in the area. I had moved two towns over, and most people stayed local, and Carly made it seem like he was still close. Tomorrow at 2pm. I would be there. He could join me for a drink and catch up if he wanted.
I wanted him to want to, anyway.
The next day, my nerves made it almost impossible to function. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t think, and I wasn’t sure what I was doing, really. I don’t even remember the 15 minute drive to Quigley’s, just that I had somehow teleported into the parking lot, sitting in the driver’s seat of my car, palms clammy with nervous sweat, mouth dry, heart pounding, wondering whether or not to walk in.
Quigley’s was still same ol’ Quigley’s. A dimly lit family pub with high backed booths, and a slightly sticky feel to the floor when you walked through the aisle. The hostess showed me to a corner booth with a window overlooking the parking lot, and I ordered a pint to calm my nerves a bit.
Within a couple of minutes, I saw a sports car whip through the parking lot, squeal into a spot, and the familiar large build of Marc step out of the driver’s side. He was impeccably dressed in a suit, hair gelled back, tan and as gorgeous as ever. He seemed preoccupied and rushed as he walked into the tavern. My heart rate had never been so high. One beat faster and I probably would have passed out.
When he came in the door I saw him exchange words with the hostess, spot me in the corner, and he walked with purpose, almost angrily, towards me with a bit of a scowl on his face. Here we go, I thought. Here’s the part where he yells at me and tells me that I’m a psycho stalker and the cops are on their way to take me to the loony bin.
He slid into the booth, his hazel eyes immediately locked on mine, “Jenelle,” he said.
That’s all he said. His eyes never left mine.
“Marc,” I said casually, “You’re all dressed up for something.”
He looked at his watch, “Getting married at 4 o’clock, so I’m in a bit of a hurry. Got to get to the church on time,” a line you’d think would come with a wry smile or something. Instead his gaze was still locked on mine.
I felt like I had been sucker punched when he said that. I swallowed hard, tried to breathe and reached for my beer to give me something to do other than scream. I took a sip and tried to collect myself. He’s getting MARRIED? In two hours? Why hadn’t Carly said anything? Well, why would she say anything. I had asked her for his email about his class reunion. Not rekindling my undying love for him.
“Married?” I said, “Wow, I’m surprised you’re even here.”
“Well, I’m here,” he said kind of abruptly, “So what is it?”
“I’m sorry, if this is weird, and you obviously have somewhere to be, we don’t have to do this right now. Or ever,” I stammered.
Marc looked at me, and I couldn’t tell if it was sheer contempt, pity, anger or longing, Perhaps it was all of them, but it was almost the same look he gave me all those years ago, and I wasn’t ready for this. He began to say something, but stopped himself and took a sip from the ice water the server had just placed on the table.
He let out a sigh, and began again, “I know what this is. I do. I thought about doing the same thing when I saw you in the city all those years ago. But at the end of the day, you have your life, and I have mine now. Dawn, my fiancé, is great, I’m happy, you look better than ever so you must be happy, too. We were each other’s first love, and we’ll always have a connection,” he checked his watch again, “It was nice to see you, J. Really nice, but I have to go. You’re welcome to come to the wedding if you’d like. There will be a lot of people you know there.”
I looked down at my hands, my mouth dry with embarrassment. “No,” I croaked, “I’m really happy for you. It was nice to see you, have a great wedding, Congrats.”
He gave me a look I couldn’t really read for a moment, and then spun on his heel and walked out. I sat there a while longer to drain two beers and hate myself a little. Why did he even come anyway? Just to be a jerk? Or was there more to it I didn’t even know? I must have gone through every possible scenario in my head a hundred times over. I had no answers, just an ache in my heart that became a little duller after that meeting in Quigley’s, because there was closure now, but for whatever reason I still had this inexplicable hope for us.
Marc was right though, life did go on over the next couple of years. I dated, worked, lived and tried to put him out of my mind. I even started going to church as a means to let a higher power take this pain away.
I always went alone to the 9:30 mass every Sunday and sat in the same pew towards the middle back of the sanctuary at St. Peter’s. I had my first communion, confirmation, countless funerals and weddings all here, so it felt like home. As I was singing the hymn that morning, I noticed a man sitting a few rows ahead of me to my left. From the back, I thought he looked like Marc, but I couldn’t make out his face because he hadn’t turned his head during the service. But I knew. I knew it was him.
He went up to the altar first for communion, and as I was kneeling waiting for my row to go, our eyes met. He flinched when he saw me, and mostly looked confused. Great, I thought to myself, he thinks I’m stalking him or something. It was clear he was alone, because I didn’t see any sign of ‘Dawn’ or other family around him. From the moment we locked eyes, I prayed to just get through the communion line and bolt out of the church. I wasn’t about to have more embarrassment coming my way, especially with the whole town watching.
I went to the altar to receive communion and my legs were shaking like crazy. As I made the sign of the cross and came up the side of the aisle Marc was sitting on, I walked as fast as I could to get out of there. I kept my eyes on the carpet and didn’t even dare look up. I saw his shoes as I came closer to him and I squeezed my eyes shut as I kept walking when I felt a hand grab me by the wrist.
I gasped and opened my eyes to find Marc’s hand around my wrist and his eyes pleading with me.
“Don’t leave,” he mouthed to me.
I just nodded with my mouth open, and I have no idea how I made it back to my seat without passing out. I came to when I saw the processional leaving the church and the final notes of the closing song were played. I stayed in my pew and stared up at the brightly colored stained glass, begging God to just take me now if this was going to be some kind of horrifying experience.
Marc came up the other side of my pew and slid over until he was sitting next to me.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hi,” I said back.
“You busy right now?” He asked.
“No, not really.”
“You want to go to Quigley’s and have a drink and talk?”
“Would your wife approve of that?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m not married,” he said smiling.
I looked at him a little stunned, “The last time I saw you, you were getting married in a couple of hours and you told me to get a life.”
Marc laughed a little, “I’m a jerk. But I’m not married. I can tell you everything over a beer. Long story short, I was trying to convince myself to get a life and move on. I wasn’t really talking to you. After seeing you, I couldn’t go through with marrying Dawn.”
He rested his hand on top of mine, “So let’s go figure this out. I’m tired of hurting and having hope at the same time.”