She seemed to be lost in time. Her whole life had gone by according to the script. A wonderful first love. Filled with her first kiss, her first real fight, her first shot at forgiveness. She loved that guy with his curly hair, swift smile, and gentle timid hands.
She missed walking with him in the snow, the feel of cold lips warming under the caring feel of the pressure of wanting, needing, and surrender. She missed the playful moments where laughter sparkled in wide eyes and echoed off of the safety of their bond. She missed his worry and kindness; for both were directed to her. Even when his arms weren’t passionate, they were safe, reassuring, and friendly.
She loved the way his mind made her think. She loved the way he thanked her for being herself. He told her so many times that she not only believed him but knew it was true. She could hear his voice, sometimes filtered by awe, sometimes whispered with pillow level huskiness, and sometimes with just sheer pride for her growth:
“I am so glad you are you.”
It warmed her then, and it warmed her now, some forty years later.
But the voices were echoes of a time that ended with her becoming an adult. She left that sweetness behind in a shattered heartbreaking few weeks. He came back from the Army not knowing what he wanted to be or where his future lay. She never cheated on him while he was overseas, but she did forge a future plan.
She worked around important people with degrees, money, status, and security; somehow, those things became important to her. As those things grew in her Life, he faded from it. By the time he got home to see her— the laughter inside of her had died. Set aside with all the childish thoughts that love was somehow enough.
Her new friends called him a drifter, a dreamer, a hopeless romantic… and after he was home for just a few weeks, she agreed with them. The laughter stopped being shared between them and became cynical and pointed. He had never laughed at her, she laughed at him. She didn’t list his good points anymore, just his shortcomings. Her world grew as it did, his place in it became a remote island. It took to much effort for her to get to and took her to far away from the things and people she wanted.
And so, like many first loves, it ended with: pain, confusion and one broken heart, and one heart ready to move on. The little girl that loved so much was lost to the woman who she became. The world she thought she was growing into, made her smaller and smaller as the roles she was taught to play…piled up.
No longer did her new man make her laugh. Instead, she had to tiptoe around his anger from the News, his political tirades, and the emotional desert they built around their working hours. He was always there when she came home from work but he wasn’t there for her. She had to compromise, make dinner, keep house, and support his moods if she wanted any chance at all for a quiet night.
That little girl that laughed with someone- together- that found comfort in words… not danger was lost to her in time. The script said you stayed together – for the kids- so she did. The script said you went through an empty nest phase— and she did. The script said it was easier to stay with the devil you know, not the one you didn’t. So she did.
Finally, she was alone again. Forty years of trying had dampened most of her memories into a sea of just drudge. Only her children and grandchildren adding any color, taste, or shape to the dinner of her lifetime. There was no dessert. She had no real friends of the opposite sex, because of his jealousy. She had no real friends of her same sex, because of his control and judgment. She did have a life of her own – while he was at work- but when he retired the distance between his wants and her needs became a gulf, a canyon, a desert vista filled with deserted dreams.
Then he died.
It took a year to tear up the script. She didn’t really mourn, she just noticed how numb she had become. She found herself filling her days with simple things at first. She would work in her garden plucking weeds, trimming flowers, planting new life, until one day she noticed that she no longer cared to the garden. The garden was an excuse to get away from him. A place where she could work with mind-numbing ordinariness. She didn’t have to think, listen to his tirades, or be told she wasn’t perfect. She let the garden go.
Another year went by. Each day she found herself thinking less and less about what he would have said, wanted, needed. She found liberty and soon after, freedom. It was her life again. Hers. She made plans for one now. That excited her. She made her own friends and ditched the ones he had chosen for them. Coffee with the girls became coffee with her friends.
She smiled more now. She laughed more now. She woke up in her own moods. And in that quiet safe place without any snide or snippy remarks to cut into it- she wondered more and more about that little girl lost in time. Could she find her again?
The little girl was peeking out now and again, a quick chuckle there, a secret smile here. Over there a bud of confidence unshaken by an insult or rattled by a disdain was growing. She was finding herself, but not that little girl lost. She was finding parts of her. Parts that had drifted away from the sea of life, a sea that had more troubling waves than tumbling fun beach edged waves. As more of that little girl lost showed up, she found something else- hope.
She couldn’t go back in time, but she could, in time, find that girl again. She did. She knew from her garden just how much care it takes with a young life to nurture it into full bloom. It took three years to find that little girl lost, turn her into a woman that lived in fertile soil, and not in the soiled shade of the overgrown other that lived with her.
It was her own sunshine she basked in now. She reached out to the sun in curiosity, as an equal, not in desperation for a few moments of light. The little girl lost- was found- completed, but not yet complete. She longed for that voice that said:
“I am so glad you are you.”
She looked for him again. For if she was a little girl lost, surely he was a little boy lost. It made her sad that she didn’t know. She had left him behind, like an old house, a shoe, or a pet that died and got buried in a backyard next to a hamster, mouse, and marked with a popsicle stick.
She found him. She found him fascinating. He had lived a life she could only imagine. He still smiled quickly, he laughed with ease, and he never let go of her hand from the moment they met again in the Dairy Queen. She wanted to know all about his life, lapping up the stories that brought him here, like a kitten starved for milk. Somehow, he found a way to get her to tell him her stories. He found them fascinating. He found her fascinating.
Their laughter was contagious, and throughout lunch, then dinner, then a quiet long cuddle on her couch. A cuddle that took the place of sex in such a sweet loving way that she just fell asleep pressed against him. Until they both woke up with cramps and dead limbs. Which even through the pain made both of them reel with laughter as they hobbled together trying to get blood and muscles to return to the right places.
The laughter was so unselfish and innocent that it broke through time. He was the boy who told her :
“I am so glad you are you.”
She was the little girl lost.
And in that moment standing next to a couch in the early morning hours, bracing each other so they wouldn’t fall- the little girl lost- was found.