I Googled an old boyfriend a few nights ago and a picture of him popped up. It was the only photo of him I’d ever seen but remarkably as I remembered him in my mind’s eye. Hair parted in the middle, big bushy beard, a really elegant looking nose, and aviator sunglasses. He’s looking off in the distance, not at the camera, not posing, just sitting there, seemingly unaware.
It made me wish I’d kept a scrapbook of old boyfriends where each would have a page with a photo and a few mementos of our time together. Cigarette butts, 911 call records, and a Jameson’s label would be pasted on this one’s page. Tickets from the race track and a cassette of bluegrass music might take up a second page, along with a memory of my 5-year old daughter hoisted on Ray Benson’s shoulders after an Asleep at the Wheel concert; it would be a sketch from a recollection because, of course, there is no photo.
Then, it would be nice to have beginning and end dates for each boyfriend, which, in this particular case, would look like the EKG of a patient alternately hysterical and comatose, since there were so many beginnings and ends. Peaks and valleys. Peaks and valleys. But never a flat line, there was always something there. I think that’s how it is. Nothing is ever dead and buried even if the people are.
The people you love in your life have permanence. But the rules of love seem to dictate the opposite, that love is like parallel parking. You can’t park a new car in a space until you move the old one out. But I don’t think it’s like that. I think there is love and then there is allegiance. There is love and then there is partnership. There is love and then there is complete faith and trust. The cars pile up, stack one on another, it gets crowded and dense but every car has a place.
I still love the man in the picture and the others in the scrapbook I wish I’d kept. I see each of their faces in my mind’s eye. I see the faces that made me love them. And it feels like riches, a coat of many colors, thick and warm, that is hanging in the back of my closet next to the brown suede jacket and the black parka I never wear. It’s nice to have it in there, to own it but it doesn’t mean I ever need to wear it.
The boyfriend in the photo died eight years ago. I hadn’t seen him for many years but I went to his funeral. The last time I saw him alive was at an anniversary dinner of an organization where we’d both worked. He had a seat at the same table as me and my husband. When he saw me, he stood up and held his arms out like he had done a thousand times when we were young. And I hugged him. His beard was the same. His look the same. But he seemed happy for me, happy to see me married. Glad that life had treated me well. And in that moment, I didn’t miss him but I loved him. For caring about my life even though he wasn’t in it. For letting me go but being the precious coat in the closet.
Thinking about this has made me glad I’ve had this life.