My youngest has been sick and cranky as hell for the last couple of weeks. As a result, I've found myself with more time for quite reflection than I normally have in a chaotic day. When Holden wakes at 1am and wants me to rock him back to sleep, a rare treat for me, I fight the exhaustion and hold my little boy. There is something meditative about rocking my Little H, not quite a toddler, no longer a baby. I smell his clean sweet smell and feel his chest rise and fall. I put my cheek on his soft curls and think about how I got here. To this moment in time, in a room with my two little boys, with more blessings than I could possible have imagined. But with more quiet discontent than I ever expected.
Even though I ask myself how I got here, I know. The path behind is quite clear and completely unremarkable. I got married. I have a career. I have children. I have a castle and a kingdom. My path has been surprising only in its predictability. I should now live happily ever after.
But what happens when you look back along that path and see that what you thought was there really wasn't? That something you thought was an important part of your life might have been an illusion?
When I was 15 I fell in love for the first time. Well, I thought it was love in the heady, romantic, hormonally driven way that many teenagers do. His name was Mark. He was 17 and about to start his senior year in high school. I was about to start my junior year. We were both swimmers. We were both honor students. He was handsome, I was strangely quiet and moody and therefore fascinating to him.
Mark had had a thing for another of our classmates, Kerry, before he met me. Kerry was a sweet, but uncomplicated girl. I don't remember much about her other than she had horribly feathered eighties hair (as we all did) and was very tall and a bit gangly. (I am short, so this was notable to me.) Before the Summer of 1988, I hadn't even known Mark existed. He ran cross country. I was a cheerleader. Our lives didn't intersect until he saw me swimming at the pool where he was a lifeguard and decided to meet me. And then to date me. We dated for more than 4 years.
I was 20 and he 22 when we broke up. To say that it had ended badly would be a gross understatement. He had cheated on me. I had flirted with cheating on him. He hated how stubborn and argumentative I was. I hated how traditional and boring he was. I didn't want to live a life of the usual. He wanted the white picket fence and a happy family. I didn't know if I wanted children or a predictable life. We were nothing alike.
I used to say that Mark went looking for something and someone easier than me. Less complicated. Less argumentative. Less moody. Less me. I liked to think that I was something special. But the thing is, I don't think that Mark knew I was all of those things. (Aside from the moody. That much was obvious.) I let him inside my head about as much as he let me in his, which is to say, not much at all.
But still, when I think of high school, I can't help but think of Mark. Most of my life in high school was spent with him by my side. My friends were his, his friends were mine. In a way, we grew up together. But in a way, we also prevented each other from growing up. We both feared discovering who we were or leaving the safe path and so we put a lot of effort into what should have been a simple high school romance. But, yes, he was my first love and I was his, I liked to think.
After we broke up, Mark became almost immediately engaged to another girl. The cheatee. They got married shortly after they graduated from college. Later, I met and married my T. I didn't hear much from Mark after that, aside from the occasional email. I knew that he was working on his doctorate in pharmacy and that he had had two hip replacements in his late twenties as a result of degenerative arthritis. Ironically, his wife and I graduated from law school the same year. (So much for hating my argumentative nature.)
A few years ago, I Googled Mark after not hearing from him for awhile. What I found shocked me. After his surgeries, his life took a dark turn. He got divorced, lost his pharmacy license, and ... other bad things happened.
Even thinking about this now, I'm disturbed. The Mark I knew is not the Mark I found in criminal and civil court records. In hindsight there were warnings. Alcohol abuse of the sort rampant in college, black outs, and some depression. What I thought was an unfortunate result of fraternal excess was apparently a sign of things to come. At the age of 20, Mark once asked me if I ever stared at the ceiling at night and wondered if this was all there was to life. That should have been a big red flag.
Upon reflection, I knew Mark about as well as he knew me.
I was incredibly saddened to hear about what had happened in Mark's life. I wanted him to be happy. Well, he had cheated on me. I didn't want him to be super happy, but I didn't want his life destroyed. I didn't want him to end up in jail, with no future and no family. I found it hard to believe that the Mark I once knew would be happy without children and a family. That much I knew for sure.
Over the last few years I've thought about Mark on and off. I've wondered how he's doing and if he's happier now. And so, this week, I Googled him again. I discovered that he remarried in October of 2005.
He married Kerry.
Yes, that Kerry. The girl he had admired before I came along. Sweet, uncomplicated, tall and gangly Kerry. Who was everything I was not.
I found myself inexplicably upset. Why should Mark marrying our classmate upset me so much?
Because I've always thought of Mark as my first love. Yes, I know now that it wasn't the love. It wasn't what I have with T.
My love for T is so much more than 4 years in high school and college. It's pounding hearts and calm peace, tears, smiles and slammed doors, wedding bands and bills, promotions and miscarriages, ultrasounds and celebrations. It's all those big swirling emotions and all the little nothings of life. What I have with T is everything.
But still, Mark was my first love and I was his. Or so I thought.
Now our history has been rewritten. I wasn't his first love. I was his second. And strangely, after 15 years, that still hurts.
I have my happily ever after, such as it is. Clearly I was meant to be where I am, who I am, with my beautiful boys and my T. Mark was a part of what brought me here. So why should I begrudge him his own happy ending?
I wish I knew why this bothers me so much.
This post is a part of Julie's weekly Hump Day Hmmm. I have two posts for this week's topic, a journey. My other is a post I wrote about a more literal journey I took with my family in July.
If you'd like to read about something fun from my life, go here. I'm just bummed that Not Exactly a Princess and I forgot our cameras.
I also have a new review up at Lawyer Mama Review. Are you interested in getting your kids to eat more healthy foods? Then Deceptively Delicious may be for you.