6.26.2005

Regrets... I've had a few...

I've been out. I know the follow-up question. "So, where have you been?" Sorry, it's classified. Not because I'm a superhero or something silly like that (not that being a superhero is even remotely silly, in fact it's fantastically cool, so if you're a superhero and reading this and need a guy to communicate from the "batcave" or "X-Mansion" or whatever and pay really well and have great benefits, drop me an email. I've been looking for those classifieds for ages, but for some reason never seem to find them.) Nope, I just don't talk about work here. Which, for people who know me is probably a little strange because I talk about it everywhere else.

You see, before I began this little escapade, I was told by someone wise, who was the subject of a previous post, "do not write about work." Well, imagine my surprise when I returned from a business trip to find this little post from last week (and I will point out, I'm very jealous of the new phones). I guess when you're actually talented, you can break the rules. Nevertheless, as I fall under the "untalented" classification, I'm leaving the work stuff in the classified bin. So break out the rubber hoses and do your worst folks, because as far as this place is concerned, that stuff is under lock and key.

But I've been itching to tell a different story for quite some time. I've only told this story once or twice, so posting it for the world to see (yeah, right, there's like two people reading this crappolla anyway, but even posting it for them to see) is a bit of a step for me. Anyway, here goes:

I live in Florida, but I'm not from Florida. I moved from California a few weeks before I started seventh grade (I'm not from California either, but that's a story for another day). My father had a job that kept us on the move. No, not the military. And, no, not career criminal either.

For me, starting seventh grade in Florida was a huge change, and not for the better. I came from a magnet program in my previous school in California. The unique nature of the program was that my previous school was like high school for kids from 4th to 12th grade. So we had 6 different classes, electives, lockers, lots of open grassy areas, etc. Essentially, it was a lot of freedom and, of course, accompanying responsibility. Accordingly, it fostered a lot of independent thought. So I never thought twice about little things, like eating my lunch outside, because, well, of course, lunch was my time.

That all disappeared in middle school. My first day, I had my bagged lunch and walked toward the door (because, of course, there wasn't a green area in the entire fortress that was an excuse for a school...Apparently, Florida middle schools were designed specifically to avoid student elopements...gee, I wonder why...). An administrator cut me off and said, "Excuse me. Where do you think you're going?"

I said, "To eat my lunch." Apparently that wasn't the right answer.

"The cafeteria's the other direction young man." I hate that phrase, always have. I don't mind "young" and I don't mind "man." But for some reason you put those two together and it's like scratching your nails across a chalkboard while having a ruler rapped across your fingers at the same time.

"Yes, I know. I didn't say I'm going to buy my lunch. I'm going to eat my lunch." I said, lifting my bag, recognizing that surely this man in a horribly dated knit tie understood the distinction between purchasing and eating lunch. I mean, I would hope if he worked in a school he was at least college-educated. Of course, now that I think about it, he could have had an MBA, which would explain his response.

"Lunch is in the cafeteria."

Shaking my head, I responded again, "Right, I understand. If I want to buy lunch I can get it in the cafeteria. But I don't need to buy lunch, I have it already. So I'm going to sit down outside and eat my lunch."

"No, you're not. You're going to eat lunch in the cafeteria."

"Why do I have to eat lunch in the cafeteria?"

"Because that's where you have to eat lunch." Sixteeen years later and I still don't understand how this response was an answer to my question.

"OK. Why do I have to eat lunch in the cafeteria."

"Because you do." Apparently, the questioning of authority in the search for rationality that was so strongly rewarded in California wasn't quite the goal of the Florida education system. Recognizing that I was not going to get anywhere with the knit tie, I resigned myself to the fact that I was an inmate in the prison of middle school and was forced to revert to no longer being treated as anything more than an elementary school student with more hormones. So, defeated, I went to the cafeteria.

The "cafeteria," which apparently doubled as an auditorium, was a large room with a series of long table and attached benches. And, of course, you get to spend your lunch time under the fine fluorescent lights that you enjoy your entire educational day. Joy. I later learned that there was a whole subcultural sociological organization to sitting in the cafeteria, but, frankly, I didn't give a shit. I was pissed off that I couldn't even get 45 minutes of fresh air. So I found some free space by the door and began to eat my lunch.

I looked up and saw her. Two long tables over from me was perhaps the most amazinglystupendouslybeautiful creature my pre-teenage eyes had ever laid upon. I mean, don't get me wrong, I had had crushes at that point (we'll save a talk about R___ for another day), but this girl was incredible. She had slightly olive skin, deep brown eyes and this cute little nose that you just wanted to tilt slightly to the side so you could kiss her right there. Even at that age, when trend was supersheik, she was just classy. So, even though I was trapped inside, for me, eating lunch and looking at her was a little bit of freedom that even the loser in the knit tie couldn't take from me. That lunch must have lasted 15 minutes, because I know, to this day, it wasn't long enough.

A few weeks into school, I learned I would go to Hebrew school two days a week. For the uninitiated, Hebrew school was an after-school school where Jewish kids go for two days a week to be inculcated with the Jewish education and values they are deprived of by living in a Gentile society and going to a Gentile-dominated public school. Of course, because it was not actually schooling that would directly affect my ability to get into college or get a good job, I never took it too seriously. I mean, what was the big deal if I got bad marks in Hebrew school? I wouldn't be able to be a rabbi or something? Big whoop. Of course, now that I'm more of a philomath, I regret not taking it very seriously, but I'm sure everyone has something like that they regret.

A few minutes after I entered my Gimel class (Gimel is the third letter in the Hebrew alphabet...as you can see, class names are quite original in Hebrew school), who should walk in, but that amazinglystupendouslybeautiful creature that I had watched in my cafeteria. She was one of only two girls in my class. (I can hear the simultaneous response from the two people that read this: "Oh my goodness, she's Jewish!!!" Yes, yes...keep reading.) At Hebrew school recess, the guys in my class took off to do whatever it is that boys do in a yard during a 30-minute recess. However, I think because I was new to the area, the two girls in my class, amazinglystupendouslybeautiful and the other one, decided that talking to me would be intriguing, so we sat at the top of a jungle gym doing just that. I learned that amazinglystupendouslybeautiful had a name, F____, as did the other girl in my class, J_____. While I was polite to J____ (I was raised in the South), I obviously took more interest in F____. I learned that F___ was a bit shy, but in that classy, incredibly cute way that makes you want to know even more about her. I also learned that she had a beautiful smile, that made her deep eyes sparkle and warmed your heart just by knowing you're what inspired it. Her laugh was adorable; one of those cute little laughs that makes you search for something even remotely funny so that you could get her to laugh just a little more. And, what made her incredibly sexy was she was brilliant. Like seriously brilliant. I don't care what other guys say or think or tell other people they think. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more sexy than a smart woman. In short, F____ was as amazinglystupendous as I had hoped.

I spent a lot of time trying to get to know F____ more. We would talk at Hebrew school, speak at school on occasion and I attempted to befriend her friends (hoping the, "oh, he's nice, I like him," thing would work). Seems logical, but then, (as now) I didn't exactly have game.

Eventually, bar and bat mitzvah time started rolling along. When you're Jewish and 12 to 13 you have a bar or bat mitzvah every weekend. It's like weddings when you're in your late twenties. In fact, there were so many twelve and thirteen year-olds in my area that we had have a b'ni mitzvah, which is when you share your bar or bat mitzvah with another kid. Nevertheless, you invite everyone to your bar or bat mitzvah and you were invited to everyone else's. I think my formal wardrobe when I was thirteen was more extensive than my father's when he was an adult and I know my formal wear was more extensive than it is now. F____ was no exception and had her bat mitvah on one of those marathon weekend dates. And for me, the greatest task in the world was buying a gift that she would like. I enlisted the help of my mother and we hit the stores, eventually settling on a "Pop Swatch." Give me a break . . . it was the eighties.

The Monday after her bat mitzvah, I went to F____ in our English class (which, surprisingly enough, since she sat almost directly in front of me, was a class in which I had a rather difficult time concentrating) and asked her if she liked my gift. She gave me one of those heart-melting smiles and enthusiastically said, "Absolutely!," reaching down to her shirt, where he had "popped on" the watch. I was in heaven. Who knew a plastic Swiss timepiece could make a boy so happy?

I spent the rest of middle and high school falling for F___. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, "it's just a crush, we've all had them." Trust me when I say this. No, it wasn't. I fell for F____. Totally and completely. I've dated my share of women since and the feelings that I had for F____ were more real and intense than any I've had since. I may have loved F____ from afar, but that doesn't make that love any less real.

But for some reason, I could never tell her. I don't know if it was the possibility of rejection or the realization that I was just not mature enough to handle even trying to make these feelings into a reality of happiness with F____. But one thing was clear to me: I was totally transparent. To everyone. People simply had to know how I felt about her. At least that's how I felt. And, in a sense, I think I always hoped she knew, but I didn't want to deal with the prospect that she didn't feel even a bit the same way. F___ was the reason I went to school every day. I took certain paths to classes so I would run into her. I got involved in certain organizations so I could spend time with her. I sought to capitalize on every opportunity to learn more about her, so I felt I couldn't be any more obvious than I thought I was.

In high school, F___ and I began to grow apart, but we always remained friends. She became friends with a certain crowd and I hung out with another crowd. She started to get into the retro-hippy thing: Vegetarianism, Earth-day kinda stuff. I, on the other hand, began to become involved in debate and spent time with friends I had made in neighboring cities, so we began to diverge from one another.

There's one day that I remember quite distinctly. I was walking to my locker before school and F____'s crowd hung out before school started just down the corridor from where my locker was (that actually was not intentional...just good luck on locker selection day). F____ approached the rest of the hippy girls. She had a different glow about her that day. I mean, to me, F____ always had an aura, but for some reason something was different. Although I couldn't hear the words, I saw her talking to her friends and just standing there with a sheepish look. One of her friends asked her something, she nodded and the friend exclaimed, "Oh my goodness!" loud enough for me to hear down the corridor and began hugging F____. To this day, I think that was F____ telling her friends about her first time.

Eventually, F___ and I went off to different colleges and, although I never forgot about her, I moved on with my life. However, I always wondered what happened to her. One day I figured "what the hell" and googled her. I found out something that caused me pause. F____ had filed for an injunction for domestic abuse against a boyfriend.

I was crushed. This girl who I loved, who sat atop my pedestal for years, was being mistreated by someone. I wanted to find out who the bastard was and kill him with my bare hands. I didn't, but I wanted to.

I also found out that F___ hadn't moved from her college town she was a student. For entirely unrelated reasons, I ended up moving near that city and, one day, I figured I would give F____ a call. I needed to know how she was and what she was doing. Basically, I needed closure.

So I called her. She and I spent some time catching up. We made lunch plans. When I got to her house, I met her husband and two children and took them for lunch. You read right. F___ had gotten married to a fantastic man and was the mother of two beautiful children. She was also pursuing a career in medicine. Spending time with F___ and her family was a truly special experience. And having the opportunity to spend some time with them couldn't have made me happier.

Sure, I couldn't help but think of what would have happened if she and I ended up together, of how her children would have looked if they were ours, of what times we would have had if we had gotten together, but at the end of the day it didn't matter. She was happy, genuinely happy. The man that she had married loved her, cared for her, and supported her (and, no, it was not the motherfucker that laid his hand on her that I had learned about...I would be writing this from San Quintin if that had been the case). He loved his life with her and treasured their children like very few fathers I have ever seen. F____ and their children were his heart and soul. I couldn't feel bad about that. I had my opportunity and missed it. A wonderful man unknowingly took advantage of my hesitation and made me proud of what he made of it.

They asked to keep in touch with me and, maybe once every 3 to 6 months, I drop them an email asking how things are going and how the kids are doing. But I don't think I want to get any closer than that. F____ is a very special part of my past, but, now, she's part of my past.

After 15 years of wondering, F___ taught me that I can't live my life regretting what could have been. Opportunity knocks, but it's up to me to answer and make that opportunity into something unique and special. Since that lunch I spent with F___ and her family, I've taken more chances, recognizing that when I have that special connection, I have to try and if I'm rejected, so be it. But I will never regret that way again.

But beyond those things, F___ will always have a place in my heart. She was and will always be my first real love. And, over 15 years later, she became one of my most important teachers.