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Happily Ever After
I'm about to turn 35. Maybe that's why I've been reflecting on my life so much lately. I'm not the only one. It seems that many people ask themselves, "how did I get here?" around the time of birthdays. Particularly after you have children and your old life becomes unrecognizable.

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.

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Blogger S said...

That's fascinating. I think it's always strange and jarring to find out that something you thought was one way was really another all along. I don't blame you for feeling dislocated.

And happy birthday, LM! Hope everyone is feeling better.

Blogger Amie Adams said...

This post really resonated with me. I too thought I was so complicated and deep when I was in my early twenties and broke up with a boy thinking that he just wanted this "traditional" life. Here I am now living in the 'burbs with three kids and on the PTA board. How the heck did that happen??

That boyfriend and I spoke last year. He took a long time to find himself but now he is engaged. I wasn't sad about it, but I wasn't happy either.

PS--Kerry wasn't his first love. She might be his third, but she wasn't his first. He didn't know how to love when he was a teenager. Trust me.

Blogger flutter said...

because the first is what sets the tone, good or bad.

Blogger Bea said...

This was riveting.

Blogger PunditMom said...

When you write things like this, I don't know what to say. This was amazing.

And how come you're so much younger than I am? ;)

Blogger Moondance said...

Wow, that couldn't have been easy. I know what you mean about how we romanticise our past relationships and how jarring it is to have a different reality slap you in the face. Thanks for writing about it.

Blogger Amy said...

Reading your post brought back many memories of my past relationship before A. My 'first love' just married a few weeks back...hard to think that he wanted a life with someone else other than me...4 years of what??

I hear you on the joys of your marriage...but the thoughts of our past still hang in the back of our minds.

Very nice writing!

Blogger N. said...

Personal history (aka the myth of how I got here) is something upon which I dwell. It's an age thing. Facebook is NOT helping.

This was a great story.

Argumentative? You, no? I'd never have thunk it.

Blogger Julie Pippert said...

Ha you in my head you!

Yeah, as 40 looms over me more and more...I find myself questioning everything. It's unsettling, stressful and also freeing.

I used to check in on certain people at times, maintain a now and again kind of contact that has since slacked off.

It's all just so long ago...

But then yes, like you said, it is still always such a part of us.

What an interesting story to read. I was really riveted, no idea where it would go and I think I was somewhere close to as surprised as you.

Blogger Gunfighter said...

Not to worry, LM... you were right when you said that you are where you are suppposed to be, but, spending a lot of time looking for how you got there almost never makes you feel good about it.

Now I have to ask.... while you were writing this, or re-reading it, did The Talking Heads lyrics run through your head?

Blogger Suz said...

That was absolutely riveting - a story of both your journey and that of another person seen from afar.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was really fascinating and insightful to read this. I think there's something about lost connections that resonates with all of us. I think it's because when someone you love leaves your life (even if it's through the course of normal events, such as growing up), they remain in your mind and heart in many ways.

I remember how I felt when I found out that my first Love (with a capital L) had gotten married. It had long been over between us, but it still was difficult to think about. In my mind, in my memories, there's still a connection of sorts. And yes, I'm happily married myself, and there were many reasons why it's good that I did not marry my first love.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Well written, Lawyer Mama!

You reminded me of my old high school flame. I think I may Google him...

Blogger Nancy said...

Great post. At the first line, I was thinking WTF? 35? She's still a Baby!

After reading what followed, the grown up you reflects in your thinking and the path behind you.

We never know what lies ahead, looking back, we can only be thankful or sorry for the turns we took.

Looks like you have oh-so-very-much to be thankful for in your choice of paths.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, LM, sometimes I think you and I lead parallel lives. My HS boyfriend also cheated and then pretty much immediately got engaged to the cheater (right out of school, though, not at 21/22). Then I googled him about two years back and found out he was in federal prison for embezzlement! Crazy stuff... Not at all the guy I knew.

I think it's normal to think about old flames because part of your identity is tied up in that relationship and what might have been. Sounds like you took the right path.

Blogger Moohaa said...

I, too, had my first love in high school. It was a much shorter relationship, only a few months. But he remained in my mind for all the following years. In 1999, we found each other again, and we've now been married for 7 years. Sometimes that first love comes back.

I was surprised when I read what you found out about Mark. That must have been a shock.

You're a great writer.

Blogger ExPatSW said...

I often wonder about my own first love (T from Texas). Does he still ponder the 'what might have beens'? Has he ever really, truly gotten over me? Did he end up happily married with a house in the burbs and three children or a drug-addicted, broken shell of a man?

I think that all women, particularly those who were the rejectees, harbour the belief (somewhere deep inside) that what-goes-around-comes-around; the cheaters, despoilers, and cads from our past really don't deserve to find their own happy ending. After all, it's our fairy tale, not theirs!

Blogger ewe are here said...

Couldn't stop reading... fascinating question.

Blogger Jen said...

This was so good. I was sad when I came to the end of your post.

I am so glad you didn't end up with him. I wonder what happened to his first wife?

My high school boyfriend ended up marrying someone very similar to me, staying with her for 10 years, had two boys, then left her for another man and is now big on the gay scene in our home city. I have often wondered what I would be like if I had been her.

Again - GREAT post!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

LM -

Lately I've been so busy with life and teaching and my kiddo that I've only been reading blogs -- and entries -- that I find move me in some way. Blogs that inspire me or that make me happy or whose writing I admire. I say this because I was really busy tonight and I read the first part of your post and couldn't stop reading. I really enjoyed it and I think the pacing of the story you tell is wonderful -- a sort of slow, meditative pace that still drives the reader forward wondering what it is that has changed, what illusion was smashed.

Nice post. Really.


Blogger Girlplustwo said...

what a fascinating story about such an important experience in your life...and then your now is so amazing...

happy birthday sweets. every blessing to you.

Blogger KC said...

a great read. I agree that you were still first loves. I'm glad that Mark has gotten himself together.

Blogger Amy W said...

Loved reading that. I too had a first love that I dated throughout high school and much of college...he ended up marrying a girl my husband went to high school with.

Blogger EE said...

Great post.
My "first love" happens to be a lawyer living in your neck of the woods. Small world.

Blogger Bon said...

i found this fascinating...like a lot of others. to discover that we aren't what we thought we were to others is always hard...to lose a key piece of our own identity, however unimportant it might seem that it should be, is hard.

but how cool this story is, at the same time. and you know...you're not even sure. he may not have loved Kerry then. he may only have rediscovered her later after they both grew and changed, and found love then. and you will probably never know, which in a way kinda sucks. but it's still a very cool story.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. I think our first loves carve a place in our hearts and stay there. I still think about mine and I'm also grateful that we didn't stay together because he ended up being a divorced alcoholic.

Blogger admin said...

Beautifully written. Talk about emotion. Turn this story into a novel, Lawyer Mama!

Blogger Isabel said...

Happy Birthday.

What a beautiful post. It was amazing to read. Thanks for sharing!

Blogger Lisa said...

Happy Birthday Lawyer Mama.

Hope it turns out to be a lovely year for you.

This was a great story. It is amazing to see what paths our former flames take. So wierd that he ended up marrying the girl he was enamored with before he met you.

Blogger OhTheJoys said...

What a tragic fall for him!

Also - totally unrelated... The opening photo of you is GORGEOUS.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't it amazing how young love can have such a long hold on us?

Jane, PInks & Blues

Blogger Ruth Dynamite said...

The more things change, the more they stay the same. (e.g., Kerry)

On some level you knew he wasn't the one. I'm sorry for his troubles, but I'm happier for your happiness.

Blogger Pendullum said...

So wonderfully written and so many wide emotions conveyed...
I will think about this post all day....

And by the way, you swimmingly beautiful, thirty five year old moody, argumentative, complicated woman....
Happy Birthday!!!

I know I'm late to this party (story of my life) but this really was a beautiful post that really resonated with me as well. Isn't perspective an amazing thing?

I'm happy for your happy ending.

Blogger CPA Mom said...

Happy Birthday LM! Did you get the card? It was so you, I had to send it.

This post is amazing. Beautiful. I absolutely love the way you write. This is going to stay with me a while.

And that first photo? Should be your avatar. It is AWESOME. Who took it?

(p.s. I didnt' see your deceptively delicious review up - is it on delay?)

I can completely relate to this post! While I am SO blessed to have ended up with Mr. Mayhem....there is something about that first love....some tiny corner of your heart that they own.

Even though I KNOW it would have never worked...it stills stings a little when I see him.


Blogger Mimi Lenox said...

You had me from beginning to end with this story. I'm so glad you found your true love. And even though you've rearranged your memories so to speak, the great part is your "now love" is your real first love and most definitely, your last.

Blogger Candace said...

that was great read. what a journey. for all of you.
that photo should be sent to every ex-boyfriend you'v ever had because you look damn good!
happy birthday.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post spoke to me in a way I can't explain. A way that makes me want to whisper with you about lost loves in a dark room with lots of wine available.

Blogger Christine said...

this was a truly amazing piece.


and i totally get why that hurts. it doesn't mean anything about the love you have with and for T. it is about that girl you once were and the journey she took all those years ago.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a beautifully written post. I heart you. I really do.

Blogger moosh in indy. said...

It makes me so happy to hear that Mark still litters your thoughts. Here I was thinking I was a horrible person for not being able to get my "Mark" out of my head, but now I know I'm not alone.
Thanks girl.

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