You didn’t expect the return of a lost love. Not on an ordinary day like this one.
The day starts off for you like any other. You open your heavy, burning eyes, trundle out of bed, shower and have your morning coffee without much fanfare. You don your clothes like battle armor, utter a tired goodbye to your adoring spouse, and you rush out into the world wondering, as always, if the rat race is worth winning.
On the surface, your life seems ordinary. Your job is nothing to write home about. You and your life partner have been together almost a decade, and the pair of you always find a routine to settle into, even with the relatively unpredictable challenge of raising a child. Your child is beautiful, you are loved, and yet most days leave you physically exhausted and emotionally frazzled. The wellspring for your generosity is about to dry up without the occasional roll in the hay with your love.
Maybe it’s time to make that a priority.
You’re at a restaurant with a hazy, glowing atmosphere, enjoying a solo lunch. As you begin having delectably impure thoughts about your spouse, an unexpected visitor walks in. You almost choke on a glass of water as you do a double take. This is someone you laid eyes on for the last time over twenty years, twenty pounds and several grey hairs ago. Without a second thought, you find yourself sitting taller, straightening and flicking errant lint off your clothes, and sucking in a gut that you once promised yourself to eliminate.
For an instant, you wonder why you’re bothering yourself. This new restaurant patron was just the first love of your life, or so you told all of your friends at college. But though your spheres of influence intersected at random moments, and despite the fact that you finally befriended this person during your senior year, you somehow never found the courage to let them know how you really felt.
And as this apparently unaltered specimen of joy and beauty approaches your table with a radiant smile of recognition, you realise that some small part of you has always regretted your choice to keep quiet.
Were you really so awkward way back when?
“Oh my God! It’s been too long! Is this seat taken?”
Even as your first love seems to stand above you, a look of joyous curiosity playing across the ends of their full lips, you hear their voice as though it’s come through a long tunnel to somehow echo all around you. You swallow and spring up from your chair so quickly, you nearly upend the rest of your water glass.
Your new lunch companion chuckles, a look of warmth emanating from their glittering eyes.
You hold out a hand, palm up, and gesture toward the empty seat across the table from you. You entertain the possibility, however small, that this might not be the best idea you’ve ever had. What would your spouse say to such a display? People have been murdered over such chance encounters by jealous lovers. But your spouse isn’t like that!
Nah! No way!
Still, the intense look that your first love proffers leaves you at odds with yourself.
“Did this person know how I felt?” You ask yourself, tilting your head in response. “There’s no way. I never said a word to them about it!”
“I think we should have a drink together,” your new lunch partner says. “Let’s catch up.”
“You’re on,” you reply without batting an eyelash. Perhaps the lack of “batting” is a good thing anyway.
Of course, as the libations flow, truths are revealed. You listen first, and your former crush unravels the mystery of their last twenty or so years away from your once longing gaze. You marvel that they’ve chosen a corporate career, that they’ve travelled the world and seen many of its wonders. You gasp in awe of their views on politics, and you even enjoy a spirited debate with them about the possibilities of life on other worlds.
You are also struck by the fact that they were never married.
“Nobody snapped you up for themselves?” You remark with a quick chuckle as the wait staff pours another glass for each of you. “Guess I should have asked you out in college, huh?”
You think of this remark as both a confession of feelings you once had for your lunch partner, and as a compliment to their remarkably unchanged essence.
“How sweet of me,” you ponder, a self-satisfied smirk curling your lips upward. “I might as well get a reaction so I can have a quick fantasy and then move on, right?”
However, two unexpected things occur that throw your plans for a driveby confession of college puppy love right out the window. The first is that you hear the words “I knew it” escape your first love’s lips, followed by raucous laughter.
“Well, that wasn’t what I thought you’d say to that!” you blurt out, slightly annoyed and, perhaps, a little defensive. “I didn’t think it was laughable.”
“You don’t understand,” your lunch partner says after calming their snorting laughter. They stare into your eyes and smile, and you don’t even mind the red stains on their otherwise perfect teeth. “I knew, and I always wanted us to be more than friends, but I was too shy.”
You swallow, taken aback.
Your first love keeps staring at you as though they’ve never before seen the real you.
“So was I!” You guffaw into the suddenly awkward silence. You raise your glass. “Weren’t we a pair of shy stupids back then, huh?”
Job well done! You really were the shit, back then, a true legend in your own mind.
“Aren’t we still?”
“Still what?” You ask, half a laugh caught in your throat.
When your first love suddenly reaches over, envelopes your left hand with both of theirs and squeezes, your heart isn’t beating a violent tattoo against your ribs in anticipation of long delayed romance. Far from it. As your ears begin to burn, your heels itch, and you fight the urge to squirm. All fantasies about the past have gone out the window as you stare back, wide eyed and dumbfounded.
In any given scenario, there are always choices to be made. For instance, you can choose, at this moment, to participate in the part of the conversation where you tell the person what the hell you’ve been doing for the last twenty years, as they haven’t really stopped to listen to that part yet. You could also snatch your hand back immediately as though you’d just burnt your knuckles on the stove. But instead, confusion sets in at the thought that the pretty, but dumb motherfucker sitting across from you hasn’t noticed the rather ostentatious wedding band you’ve been sporting forever, especially as you were wearing it when they walked in, and you never bothered to take it off. Why would you? Maybe that should have been a conversation starter.
As your buzz gives way to tachycardic panic followed by a strange sort of exasperation, you begin to wonder if your former crush knows and still doesn’t care. As your gaze flits between their now bloodshot, droopy eyes and the pale knuckles of their sweaty hand, you’re certain this person feels the protruding ringstone of your wedding band digging into their moist palm.
However, nothing takes the bloom off the rose of this already awkward moment faster than the table-shaking, wall-rattling, paint-peeling belch that emanates from your drunken former crush, leaving you awash in an eye-watering stench.
And nothing serves as a better cue to end this increasingly bizarre meeting. After settling the bill yourself (you pay for your former crush’s meal), you nearly stumble out of the restaurant, the words “mother of God” escaping your tingling lips. You shake your head, wondering if this is the kind of story you can ever really share with anyone without drawing incredulous eye rolls and ostentatious scoffs.
Should you share this harrowing lunch adventure with your spouse, or should you just keep it under your hat? It’s been years now, and you’ve never answered that question for yourself. Perhaps, at this point, it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.