I started the story of Whatsername with the last two posts. If you haven’t read Part 1 and Part 2, this one won’t make much sense. The two posts immediately precede this one.
I almost keeled over when I saw that name come up in my inbox for that Facebook friend request. I didn’t recognize the last name, but I only ever knew one person with that first name. Her. (And no, the friend request didn’t actually say “Whatsername.”)
Seriously… this was right out of the blue. It had been more than 20 years since we’d last spoken. I’d always intended to tell our story here someday, (it was even on my blog idea list), but just seeing that one email prompted me to write the last two posts, which I did before I even decided what I was going to do with her request.
(Director’s DVD Commentary: Actually, I wrote them as a single post that grew entirely too long to drop on you all at once.)
(Further commentary: I’ve decided to add a new feature here, called the Director’s DVD Commentary, based on the bonus extras found on the movies we rent and buy. I intend to use it to tell the stories behind writing the stories. You may see them within the posts, or they may pop up in the Comments section. I’ll see what works. Or if anyone cares. Now back to our feature.)
Her friend request started out, “hello old friend.” I thought that was a strange choice of words, given the story from the last two posts. But no matter. I had to decide what to do.
The thing is; I’m not really that mad about it any more. I haven’t been for quite some time. One of the revelations I had back in those dark, lonely, late-80s days is that it takes a lot of hard work to stay angry. It’s tiring and it’s completely unproductive. So once I accepted that, the dark feelings began to slowly seep away. Granted, I still wasn’t thrilled about everything, but I was able to move on with my life. Whatsername took up less and less space in my head and heart. And eventually I achieved that “indifference” that I had long sought.
I don’t think I told you this before, but I also heard from my ex-wife a couple months ago. You remember her, right? The one I wrote about getting stuck upside-down behind the dryer, and later caught by our neighbors, naked in the back yard? The one that fought with her son so incessantly that they both needed therapy? The one that had another guy’s stuff in our house the very month after I moved out?
Anyway, she also sent me a Facebook friend request. I hadn’t had any contact with her in probably 5 or 6 years. I sent her a message directly, to see what was up. Turns out, she had an old Steeler jersey of my Dad’s that she wanted to send back. We emailed back and forth a few times and it was good to catch up. And I told her then that I hadn’t been upset about what happened to our marriage for quite some time. Life goes on and I am happy with what my life is right now. I can’t say that would be true if we were still married.
It’s the same thing now. While I fully admit that on the rare occasions when I’d refer to her, I’d only been calling her “Whatsername” out of habit rather than because of a still-burning grudge. Or I’d call her “She Whose Name I No Longer Speak,” if I was trying to clarify for someone that didn’t know the backstory. Essentially, I’m over it.
So after chewing on my options for a day or so, I accepted her Facebook request and included a hesitant message of surprise, asking what was on her mind.
The following afternoon, she emailed me back. She said that she was in a place where she was taking stock of her life and thought of me. She hoped that I was doing well and she asked me if I could forgive her for the way she’d treated me. She remembered the pet name I had for her.
I sent her a considerable response. If you think some of my posts are long, you should have seen this email. Granted, I had a lot of ground to cover.
Of course I said I forgave her. I related the sentiment that I expressed above, about the pointlessness of holding grudges. I also apologized for reacting with such a lack of class about the whole affair. But I told her the main reason I responded was that I needed to know “why.”
Why did she keep calling me back, only to push me away again? Why did she keep going back to a guy that treated her so poorly? Why couldn’t she have just chosen me? Why?
OK, so I’m only “kind of” Over It.
No, really, what I was hoping for was that with a cool, unclouded eye, she could look back with the clarity of retrospect and tell me what was really going on... just for that last degree of closure.
While the forgiveness is there, the truth is that the experience affected so many of my future relationships. I mean, if it wasn’t for her, would I have otherwise asked the ex-wife to marry me a mere 3 months after we met? I had done the same thing with a girl I met right after Whatsername, too. Something in my subconscious was telling me to seal the deal before the girl could get away.
Of course, they all got away anyway, and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
We exchanged a couple more emails over the week and caught up a bit, not only on where we’ve been since we split up, but what really happened all those years ago.
In a nutshell, she was confused (which she used to say a lot) and she was under a lot of pressure from her mother, who liked The Slob. Mother apparently had her own issues with valium, and had an unhealthy codependent relationship with her daughter. So combine being a young, single mother with job stress, an overbearing mother, a recently deceased father and a love triangle?
It’s no wonder she wasn’t making the best decisions. To me, at the time, it was never that complicated. My parents never interfered in my life. They brought me up to be independent and then sent me out into the world to sink or swim. They would have provided a safety net had I needed it, but I never did. I left home determined to make do on my own and pretty much have.
I can’t say how I would have reacted in her shoes. If I had had her upbringing, I’d have turned out differently. The thing I keep dwelling on is that we were both very young… in our mid 20s. And frankly, I know I was an idiot. I was trying to be a grownup by emulating what I saw others do in real life and on TV, but I was winging it. I was like a boy putting on his dad’s suit and hat. You can’t rush experience; I guess… you just have to wait for it.
I’d hate to be judged now on shit I did in my 20s. It’s not fair because I’m not that person any more and haven’t been for some time. So it follows that it would be unfair to judge anyone else that way either.
And therein lies the peace. I have answers that I can live with.
She said she’d thought of me a number of times throughout the years, wondering what had become of me and what our lives might have been like if she’d chosen differently. Her marriage to The Slob only lasted a couple of years. She went through a number of other disastrous relationships and had a couple of daughters. The last guy, she followed to another state and settled there. Now they’re divorced, he’s gone and she’s still there, with one girl in college and another living with her father, out of state. Her oldest son, the one that was there when I was still around, is 29, married, and about to make his mother a grandmother.
She’s had a really rough road but she’s finally in a spot where motherhood is not her primary mission and is able for the first time, to concentrate on her own life. And one of those things she wanted to do was to make amends with me. That was something I was glad to be able to help.
Hey… since she’s speaking freely now, you could say I’m her First Amendment! Hah!
Some people might have reveled in the suffering of someone that did them wrong. And there’s a part of me, deep down, that might have too… especially in years past. But I look at it this way… (Caution! Allegory alert!)
Say that despite an ongoing drought, you cultivate a lush garden in your yard and one season, you have a wild deer that drives you nuts by continually eating your prized flowers and vegetables. So you keep planting more and the deer keeps coming back and eating them. It drives you crazy. But then it stops. The next season and the seasons after that, you have no such trouble.
Then one spring, you’re walking in the woods nearby with a stiff drink in your hand and you find an old doe all tangled up in some barbed wire from a fence. She’s helplessly ensnared and bleeding. You know it was the one that drove you bonkers years before and the thought crosses your mind to just bash it a good one with a log and put it out of its misery. Teach it not to mess with your garden.
But you can’t do that. (I might have spilled my drink.) The doe was probably starving and didn’t know what else to do. And she hadn’t been in your garden for years. After seeing the pain in her big brown eyes, you know it’s not your place to cause more suffering. So you untangle the barbed wire, pour a little of that stiff drink onto the cuts to disinfect them and send it along on its way. It’s just the right thing to do.
I also got to do what I do best… give unsolicited advice! I told her that I always wished she would stand up for herself and pay less attention to the cloud of people that always seemed to be telling her what to do. Make your own way! Do what makes you happy! And don’t take any more shit from guys! I said if some new guy doesn’t treat you right, straight off the bat, get the hell out, because his nature is unlikely to change. Never settle… life’s too short.
When I got up on Monday, I had no idea that this week would end with one of my biggest life mysteries uncovered. It took a little introspection, some soul searching and a smattering of blind panic, but now, here on the other side, I’m glad I took the chance and made the journey.
And I hope my old friend lives well, which as you know, is the best revenge.