It was maybe 11pm, deep into a Northern BC January Saturday night. We were both falling-down drunk, and we were 17 years old. We were sitting on crusty snow, leaning back against the side of somebody’s car, gazing up into the snowflakes falling gently out of the pitch-black sky. Everything was muffled and peaceful in the way it gets when the snow falls after dark. Clean, cold, quiet, even though we could hear the distant thump of Hell’s Bells coming from the basement party we’d left a few minutes ago. Lazy Christmas lights were still twinkling here and there. Fifteen minutes earlier, she’d asked me to hold her hair back while she puked into the toilet, something that in my hometown was tantamount to asking a guy to go steady. After, she’d asked me to walk her home. I wasn’t anywhere near sober, but she was plastered, and her parents’ house was a good 3 blocks away. I was in love with her. I had been for years. I’d never told her.
She was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, let alone known. We were classmates. We were friends. Let’s call her Maryanne, because that’s the sort of name a coltish, long-legged, whipsmart, kind-hearted smalltown girl should have. I had spent the last 3 years — what seemed like an eternity then, but is the blink of an eye now — with my heart and mind whirling in a furious hormonal teenaged conflagration over her. It was the kind of lunacy that I think only the young can feel, thank goodness. It was torture, punctuated by tiny diamond moments of purest bliss when we were together for some reason, and she favored my antics with a smile, or a hug, or a laugh. I hadn’t told her how I felt — although, I’m sure, in retrospect, she must have known — out of fear of rejection, out of fear of acceptance, out of just plain fear. I had wound this supernova of love I felt for this girl into such a tight knot that I had lost any hope of unravelling it. But out of the knot such light shone that I felt as if my skin were burning up from the inside, day and night. It was a beautiful madness. I might have let it go if she’d ever had a boyfriend, but no: she hadn’t, and so I waited, twitching, every day, for something magical to happen, for a highschool morning in an empty echoing lockerlined hallway when she would just suddenly throw herself into my arms.
But it hadn’t happened.
So this peaceful moment, this Saturday night house-party winter moment, tired and drunk but also exalted, with a few stray wine vomit speckles reflecting the streetlights from her puffy down parka, this was when I gathered up the courage to tell her how I felt. In memory — this was 30 years ago, mind you — it was one of the first in many decades of impromptu alcohol-fueled speeches that led me on the path of Winning Friends and Influencing People. Frequently disreputable friends and dangerous people, but. So in my (admittedly spotty) memory, I spoke with eloquence and heart, Cyrano de Bergerac in a John Hughes movie, and the light that shone from that unravelling knot in my heart spread rays like daybreak through my eyes.
She threw up a little in the snow, looked up and smiled at me kind of enigmatically, in that slightly unfocussed way that babies sometimes smile before they burp, and passed out.
I’m not lying to you: even in the moment, I thought this was hilarious. I mean, my heart was breaking, yeah, but goddamn. It was just perfect. After all those years of keeping quiet, of loving silently and gently, of waiting.
So I laughed a bit. Then I gently shook her semi-awake, threw her arm over my shoulder, and we staggered together between the snowbanks up the street to her parents’ house. I went back to the party, where my friend Wayne had pooped on the turntable in one of the bedrooms, thinking it was the toilet.
To this day, I don’t know if she remembered my true confession the next day. I don’t expect she did, or does. But we never mentioned it, either of us, even though we stayed friends, and I stayed frantically in love with her for a while longer, until we went to different universities, and she found, and then married, her first boyfriend, and I began to live a life big enough to fill the holes in my heart. I haven’t seen her in 25 years. So intense was that teenage crush, though, that she still shows up sometimes in my dreams.
Next week, I’m going back to my hometown to visit my mom and my best and oldest friend, something I do once every few years. Maryanne, well, she’s still there, with her husband, and (I assume) their kids. I would guess her kids would be the age we were back on that snowy night in January. That’s quite the thing to think about.
Here’s the rub, though. I googled her the other day on impulse, after remembering that night, and found her. One of the few results had an email address. So I’m asking myself: should I email her, ask her if she wants to go drink a coffee while I’m there? You know, while telling her that it’d be totally cool to ignore me if it would be weird? There’s no part of the current me that’s in love with this middle-aged stranger.
I say that, and it’s true. It must also be acknowledged that the teenaged me is still alive in there, deep under the sofa cushions of history. A teenaged me that still occasionally roars to life and throws himself against the bars of his temporal cage. And howls.
I have no nefarious intent — hell, I’d be happy to meet her husband, too. I’m happily married, and have never had even the inkling of an inclination to look elsewhere. I’m telling myself that I’m just curious about what she knew and thought, but I know that the driver is probably that fucking apogee of pop-psych: a wee underpants dab of closure. Problem is that the whole idea may just be selfish and self-indulgent in a way that I tried to leave behind decades back. Damned if I know.
I’m honestly not sure if sitting down and having a talk with this person who had such a massive impact on my emotional makeup, all those decades ago, but who may have no idea that she did… well, I don’t know if that might be a marvelous thing or a big dumb disaster. Maybe there’s no way of telling.
But I have about a week to decide.