Thomas Wolfe Was Right

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I went out for pizza with my parents one night last summer and I bumped into my high school boyfriend in the restaurant. Literally bumped into him as the hall leading to the restrooms was dimly lit. I was heading inward and, seeing a shape leaving the mens’ room, squeezed as close to the right as I could get, sweeping my shoulder against the wallpaper but the size of his shoulders plus the narrowness of the passage caused our arms to brush against each other.

“Sorry,” we both muttered impersonally then just as we passed, recognition caused each of us to spin and stare at the other.

“Is it you?” I asked.

He grinned. “Yeah, it’s me. And it’s you.”

I nodded. “Yeah, it’s me, too.”

Silence as we stared at each other; then I asked, “So how have you been for the past. . . I don’t know . . . forty years?”

He frowned. “Has it been that long?”

“Since you went to get a haircut and called me at college to tell me that you were marrying the stylist? Um, yeah, I think it has been nearly that long.”

He rolled his eyes. “Are you still pissed about that? Anyway, it isn’t forty years. Hell, that would make me . . . “

“Sixty,” I supplied.

“Yeah, sixty. Well, I am sixty, actually.”

“I know and I am fifty-seven so that means that we haven’t spoken since 1979 when I was nineteen. But even with my limited math skills that does make it thirty-eight years.”

We stood uncomfortably, shifting our weight and watching each other warily, neither with anything to say but both unwilling to let the moment die ignominiously.

He reached and lifted my left hand, then whistled at my engagement ring. “Your sister told me that you got married. I guess he has a good job.” He stretched my arm out and smiled. “You certainly look great.”

I pulled my hand away and dropped my arm. “That was twenty-eight years ago. And yes, thank you, he has had a few good jobs.”

“Is he here? I’d like to meet him.”

“No, he isn’t. I am here with my parents.”

“How are they?”

“Oh, fine for people in their mid-eighties.”

“Give your mom my regards. I always liked her.”

“I will.” I glanced at the ladies’ room door. “It was nice seeing you,” I lied, “but I have to get going.”

He nodded and I turned away. I had taken a step forward when I felt a hand on my left shoulder. He spun me around and kissed me on my left cheek then he backed away a step.

As I pushed on the ladies’ room door I heard him call my name softly. I peered over my shoulder.

“I meant it,” he said. “You do look great. And I’m glad that you became the writer you always wanted to be.”

At my look of surprise he smiled slightly. “Your friend Bev told me and I’ve read a few of your stories. And . . . I’m sorry I hurt you all those years ago.”

I nodded and entered the ladies’ room. Crossing to the sinks I stared at my reflection in the mirror.   I didn’t look great; I looked good for a woman of my age, but it took a lot more time and work to look like this now than it had done when I was in high school.

I leaned against the cool porcelain and sighed. It was pretty nice that he recognized that he had broken my heart years ago but it hardly mattered now; we had both moved on with our lives. I blew my suddenly dripping nose in a wad of Kleenex and wished I hadn’t seen him. In my imagination he remained that slender young man with black hair flowing halfway down his back and a rapier wit, so like Frank Troy in Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, not a pudgy post-middle-aged man in dad jeans out for a quick, casual meal with the wife, kids, and grandkids.

Thomas Wolfe was right. You make your mistakes, you take your chances, and you may well look silly, but you have to keep going forward. You can’t go home again.

I tossed my Kleenex into the trash and returned to the dining room.

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