The photo that accompanied the Facebook friend request looked more familiar than the name that accompanied it but I still wasn’t sure who was asking me to be their “friend.”
So I looked at as much of his profile as I was permitted to see and then it hit me, oh yes, I knew him from the dorm, we went out a few times. I did remember eating with him in the dining hall a few times and then, as it were, pictures of a nearly perilous swim in a very murky and filthy Mississippi River shot into my brain. Yes, I remember you. Quite well. And I remember that hot pink bathing suit of mine. And the fully clothed shower. Of course we can be friends.
I carefully hit the accept button, mentally reciting the lessons I wrote about at Valentine’s Day regarding the miserable virtual romance of sorts a friend of mine had the misfortune to experience not long ago. Then I thought about all of the men from my past who have come back into my life within the past four years or so, some for the briefest jots of time, some falling months into violation of Benjamin Franklin’s dictum regarding family (and some friends and “friends”) and fish smelling after three days. The high school boyfriend who made two entrances, five years, thousands of miles and a second marriage apart. Another dorm almost-romance who clearly was in search of some sort of recreation after being an academic and married for many years, though I wasn’t sure that he didn’t just want someone to joust with about politics, with just a teaspoon or so of sexuality thrown onto the pile of books so they wouldn’t get too stuck together. A lawyer who had dropped me some years before and after a brief and passionate reprise, walked away again. A few others. Little harm came in encountering most of them, although I don’t want to think about the hurt some of them caused me upon their encores. I don’t. But we are Midwestern, never-married tough and we go on.
This new Facebook friend was a bit different from the rest (though, to be honest, aren’t we all different from each other? Really.). Even at university, he was quite serious, quite determined, not given to very much of the idiocy that often dominates the time of so many young people. He was studying economics and was, at age 20, already planning his doctoral studies and dissertation. He thought he might like the academic life but given that he wanted to live in Washington, D.C., he guessed he might end up in a government agency.
Once I was a “friend” and had access to his profile, I saw that he really did know what he wanted to do all of those years ago. Economics doctorate from a prestigious East Coast school. Works for a government agency. Lives in Washington. And perhaps something that was not planned or predicted: divorced, with two quite handsome sons. One is dead-on for a very young Robert Redford. Much better looking than his still rather nice looking, and still rather blonde, father. My new-old friend must have been married to a quite beautiful woman.
Within minutes of accepting the friend request, he sent a message. Said he thought he had seen me several times, a few years ago, when I was living in Washington. Near the Cleveland Park metro stop. Wearing huge Jackie Onassis sunglasses. And “not paying attention to anyone who might be looking at you.” Okay. But that’s Washington, D.C. It’s important, and sometimes necessary, to appear oblivious. He said my name had come up recently, said that another person from the dorm who also now lives in D.C., who I cannot remember for the life of me, mentioned to him that I write a bit for Open Salon, that this other person’s wife reads my work and likes it. That made him decide to check me out. One has to admire a man who wants to read one’s writing. He said he was quite enthralled (yes, he actually wrote “enthralled”) by my story from last June about all of the men I almost married and wrote “I didn’t see myself described, but then again, I think we only went out a few times.” Well, exactly. I never almost marry someone I only date a few times. He ended his message by saying he would be in Minneapolis within the next few days and could we have dinner. “Please.”
I thought for a few minutes that there must be some karmic reason all of these past men, whether they were important to me or not, are coming back into my life. I don’t purport to know everything, or even anything about karma, but I do know that unless the past comes wrapped in a package screaming crazy or smelling rife, it’s often a good idea to see why it has decided to return.
I wrote that I’d be delighted to see him, that he may indeed have seen me in Washington, and where would he like to meet. He wrote back nearly immediately, with the name of a quite posh place downtown, with a set date and time and asked me to get back to him soonest if such was okay. Precise. As is the case with so many economists. Part of the reason I’ve found so many of them so deadly attractive.
A few more messages passed back and forth, mostly about what the hell are you doing with your life now, and by the way, I’ve been divorced for five years.
The appointed day came and I spent much of that afternoon trying to erase decades, though there is only so much that a little black A-line dress, the best Spanx, instant facial lift formulas, lip pouting lipstick, volumized hair, and relatively stratospheric heels can do. It’s not that I cared so very much. No, that’s not true. I did want to look like that girl from long ago. Even though it was not possible to do so, nor might it be desirable to do so. I’m tough AND flawed.
I was going to let him pick me up and thought, no, you’re trying to lose wrinkles and pounds, not sense. At nearly the last minute, I told him I’d meet him downtown.
I was ten minutes early but he was already sitting at the bar, gin and tonic in hand, wonderful dark navy pinstriped suit upon his still quite fit body. I complimented him on the suit and he thanked me, adding “I’ve always loved Ermenegildo Zegna suits.” Me too, I thought. This might not be so bad. He told me I looked the same as I did all those years ago, although “your hair is a bit shorter and your bangs are more pronounced. And you wear eyeliner now.” I was not creeped out. I told you, I like the way economists think.
Dinner proceeded within minutes. He chose a very nice wine, an expensive red mix from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley (“very underrated pours,” he said, in a way that indicated I’d be wise to agree). Told me to have anything I wanted, anything at all. Said he was going to order most of the menu, that he was partial to oysters in most forms.
And it went on like that for the rest of the evening. Not unpleasant. Not miserable. A goodly amount of proper, non-raucous laughter. If you can imagine having dinner with a relatively down to earth (wears jeans without a pained look and knows how to drink beer out of a bottle but prefers not to do so) yet completely couth and youngish prime minister of a major nation, you’d have the evening nailed. He summarized his marriage and divorce in a few words: “We were young. We wanted kids fast. We were sick of dating. I worked a lot. We stayed married for the kids. Everyone is in a much better state now.”
We talked about his work. I hope he thought I understood it, though some of it was a struggle to comprehend. I probably should read more economics than economists. Most of our conversation was about the presidential election. We both like the president. I was more effusive in my liking. No sharing of desserts – we each had our own.
After dinner, we went back to the bar and had one drink. He was impressed that I liked my Amaretto di Saronno on the rocks. He told me he knew some lawyers he could put me in touch with who would be good for me to contact when I manage to get my book published. I did look at him closely and thought about how my life would have been quite different if I’d pursued him more. Or if he’d pursued me more. Or if other things had not happened. I suppose those two sons would look quite different.
The evening ended softly. He said “you’re still the intelligent, beautiful girl I remember.” I said you are still the handsome, brilliant boy I remember. Then we both laughed. Softly. “You’ll call me when you are in Washington again?” Yes. “You’ll do the same when you are back here.” Of course. “You might write about this, won’t you?” Maybe. “I’ll read it. Do a good job.”
So, we’re friends. Real friends. But I said the night ended softly. Not magically.
Still, I’m okay with soft. I think he is too. My last few forays into the world of romance have been anything but. I’m clearly (clearly) no expert, but maybe you need to know what a soft cushion feels like so that when real magic does hit you, you don’t end up crushed. Or with a neck brace in place.
If only for that possible lesson, I am grateful for the return of this might have been.