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It took some time after this trip to see it as it was – a trip of a lifetime and one to also end regrets I would have had to live with. If there is anything I have learned from all these experiences is that you just have to go with your gut. A second or minute of hesitation, can result in wondering “what if” for a lifetime. However, that being said, sometimes the answer is hesitation – sometimes it is bad timing, uncertainty, or inaction. Sometimes that’s just the world helping you out on making the right call.

As for this trip, it all started with flirting. I pushed and pushed the boundary of flirting with Justin until it came to the point of actually seeing him. However, when it came to actually seeing him, I hesitated. What if I see him and it doesn’t add up? What if the trip ends things? What if it’s strange? We’ve only ever gotten as far as a kiss and flirting over the phone or in our hometown. I have heard of these kinds of relationships not translating well into reality. What if he’s built up so many expectations of me from high school that I never live up to them?

I couldn’t live with all of the what-ifs until I looked myself in the mirror and told myself the following:

 

“You’ll never let yourself live and move on with anyone else until you see this through. If it works, then you’ll never ever stop asking yourself why you didn’t do this sooner. Yes, it can hurt, yes it can be great, but you won’t ever know until you get off your lazy butt and go.”

 

And that was it, I put in for vacation, and I drove. He couldn’t get leave for much more than a day and that day was looking like it was questionable soon after I got on the road, so I put my focus in enjoying the trip – sightseeing. What else was possible. Being in an area of the country I had never been before, there was plenty to see on the way. I spotted a tower with a historical marker close to my final destination on the other side, and decided if things had to end early, then I would spend time at that tower and that would be my highlight.

Heck, I should make sure to make time for it anyways!

I made it into town much later in the day than I thought I would. It was smaller than I had anticipated and restaurants were closing early. I thought I had spotted one place that was open, but as I approached the door realized how wrong I was. I went to turn around and head back to my car, when the waitress came out and waved me in.

“No worries at all, we still have people in.”

My eyes drifted to the back briefly, and noted that the employees were busy at work cleaning. I reviewed the menu, scanning for anything that wouldn’t require the grill. When she came back, I ordered a salad, and thanked her again for letting me in.

She chatted away with the remaining customers as one by one they headed out, and very quickly there was one elderly couple left and her cleaning of those other tables was momentarily complete. To give them some time with the bill, she stopped by at my table and being friendly and noticing my car’s license plate tags were out of state she asked:

“Just visiting the area? What are you hoping to see? Anything I can help you find?”

She was quite pretty, not married. Her brunette hair cut in a short bob, and her face revealed an open and friendly smile.

“Well I’ll be meeting up with a friend later. I think I’ll probably just enjoy the beach and the national park for a while.”

“Is this friend in the military? And if going to the park, I have a recommendation.” She didn’t immediately dive into the recommendation, but on my way out she walked me through the directions on how to get to some of her preferred spots of the park as well as other tips – what hotels to go to and more.

“The friend is military.”

“Hope you don’t mind, but how old are you?”

“No worries at all. I’m 25.”

She nodded her head. “Is this a guy you are hoping to date?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Kind of testing the waters on this trip.”

Her smile slightly drooped. “Well, I hope he is a good guy.”

“He is, I’ve known him for a long time. More than half of my life actually when I think of it.” That was somewhat true. I hadn’t really known him well in middle school, and if you included the years I didn’t talk to him, then it added up. But, exclude both, and I was looking at something like three or four years, which is still not an inconsequential amount of time.

“Well, that’s good. I have seen a number of girls following after guys, and it just doesn’t normally end well. I hope it’s different in your case.”

“Thanks.”

“Also, one other recommendation for the sightseeing is the pier. You said you wanted to see the ocean. You can see it from there and the beach. But, a lot of the places will probably be closed up. It’s better in the late evening.”

“I’d probably enjoy it when it’s less busy. I’ll probably check it out after I leave. Thanks.”

She chatted with me a bit more before getting up to clean the elderly couple’s table. She kept an eye on me, and attentively delivered my bill to me after I finished eating. I soon was on my way out from the small hole-in-the-wall restaurant, very thankful for all the tips and the friendly conversation. I ignored the slight twisting in my gut that seemed to feel like that meeting was foreboding, and walked to my car.

I drove to the pier first, and was treated with a fun sight and plenty of places to walk up and down to watch the water, the boats, and the wildlife pass on by. Periodically, you would see a bench placed along the pier with a dedication plaque beneath it. Further inland, were small boat docks, wetland grasses and their associated inhabitants (turtles, fish, and birds). The surface of the water rhythmically rose and sunk. I stood by the edge of the pier closest to the ocean, and watched the ocean bound ships slowly passing by. The ocean seemed calm from this view, but you could see the swells. My head was full of the book series Master and Commander.

It was such a different world -both the modern and the older days of this place. Listening to the water lap against the pier seemed to ebb away the concept of having a job and worries and responsibilities. My eyes roved away and watched as older couples walked along the pier, and my heart became full of ideas of one day being by the water just like them. I turned my eyes out to the ocean again, and was just lost in thought.

Everything feels right. Like I was always supposed to be here. That everything I am experiencing now is part of a moment I will never forget. There is something absolutely magical about me.

“Hello, there!” An elderly man came up, keeping some distance.

I smiled, “Hi, there.”

“Enjoying the view?”

“Yes, very much so.”

“First time seeing the ocean?”

“First time seeing this one, yes,” I answered, still smiling.

“I come here every day and it always is something,” he approached a little more so he wouldn’t have to shout. “You waiting on someone?”

“Yea, actually,” my smile didn’t vanish or fall. Everything still feels right.

“Well, this is one of the best places to wait. My wife used to walk with me every day, but she’s getting a little older and less able to come along. I proposed to her over at that bench,” he pointed to one slightly further down. “It was a beautiful day then, and a beautiful day today.” He looked around. “Very much like today.” Before much of a pause occurred, he turned back to me and said, “It’s so good to see a young person not on their phone and enjoying this.”

I laughed a little bit. “I wish there was more of us.”

“Love the ocean?”

“It’s very calming. Wish I could move here.”

“Well, you always can,” he nodded with a faint smile on his face. “Anyways, I shouldn’t keep you too long. Enjoy your stay here, and if you haven’t yet, make sure to go to the beach across the way.”

“Already was planning on it.”

“Good, good,” he nodded as he started back on his way home.

Justin texted about then, announcing he was going to be even later – his group failed their inspection and were having to wait for a higher, higher up to review their quarters. He was worried, but I told him it was okay that I had bumped into a number of good people and had been enjoying the town.

I walked up and down the pier for quite some time, other books coming to mind of small seaside towns with reviving sea breezes, a small smile permanently resting on my face.

As the evening moved further along, I thought the view would be better from the beach, and finally headed out. For just a moment, I got an odd sense that I would never see the pier again and I banished the thought from my head.

On my way to the beach, I saw a location that offered kayak rentals and instantly filed that as a thing to do next time. After much the winding path, I made it to a sandy parking lot, and climbed to the top of the adjacent sand dune. I stood for a moment completely lost in the expanse of the dark blue ocean – it was almost black, highlighted by this little strip of sand that was so yellowy orange. The beach was marked with random lines of stitching made up of fences that at one time must have been more established. Far out, close to the horizon, were ocean bound ships. These ones looked like they were lining up to come into port somewhere further down the line. People milled around the beach building sandcastles, sunbathing, and jogging. Only a few braved hopping into the water.

I slowly made my way down from the top of the sand dune to join this other world. The breeze grew stronger and I soon found it more comfortable to walk only one way – towards the furthest point – closer to that expanse. I walked for some time, piano music playing in my head as I existed in another world.

 

Such a happy, other world.

 

After wandering for an hour (or was it an hour and a half?), Justin messaged again. He was free and heading to me.

“Where are you? I’ll come to you.”

I sent him my location, and realized I would need to decide on what I was hungry for. My little happy bubble burst as I didn’t know what I wanted to eat. At this moment, why was this plaguing me?! I hoped that when he appeared that he would have a recommendation of where to go. I looked back to the ocean and then to the sand dunes that from this perspective seemed white in comparison to this orangey sand I stood on.

I nodded my head at myself, and started towards the sand dunes. I’m sure he would have trouble finding me if I’m not close to my car. Sure enough, he’s made it to the parking lot, but doesn’t see me. I describe where my car is and soon enough, he’s there.

Almost robotically, we are hugging and standing back, and the question first out of his mouth is about where to eat and I smile.

“What?”

“I was just thinking about how I didn’t know what I wanted to eat and how I better figure it out soon,” I laughed and he smiled. He told me the options in town. “Just kind of the usual.”

Unlike how I usually operate, I picked one from his list. They weren’t anything fantastic, which I was a little sad about as I was hoping for something with fresh fish (which I only realized after my restaurant selection), but all that really mattered was getting a chance to talk. What were we when not in our hometown?

We made it safely to the restaurant, me following after him. We sat down and both ordered a drink. I was able to find something to order. Yay! And we started to talk. It wasn’t anything odd or stuffy. It was just kind of ordinary.

“How was the drive?”

“What ended up happening at the barracks?”

“There were several hills and mountains, and oh it was beautiful getting a chance to see the snow, hills, and mountains.”

“Ah, it was a bunch of bs, and the guy knew it. He was angry having to leave home for it. But, those people on my floor were just asking for it. They were getting a bit smart about a few things, but were never out of line. It was just the higher ups way of getting back.”

“But anyways, how was the pier and the beach?”

“It was like stepping into another time. I really enjoyed it,” I smiled.

“And you said you bumped into people?”

“No one I knew. Just a lot of random people that were really friendly that said hi. The lady at the restaurant told me where to get a hotel, what to see, and more.”

“Which restaurant?”

“That one in the big strip mall area.”

“I know exactly the one you are talking about. They are great for that kind of stuff. Super friendly. The whole area really.”

“What’s your favorite place to visit here?”

“The park where the fort is,” he answered without a second thought. “I love the history of that place. I’ve been there before several times.”

I had him point it out to me on maps, and instantly I filed it away as something to do during this trip in case he got caught up at work again. Dinner was done, and he offered to pay. I offered to split, but he said no. “You drove all the way here.”

While waiting for the check, “Tonight or tomorrow a group of my friends are hanging out off base, and I can take you along. How does that sound?”

“Sounds great though I thought you’d only have today off.”

“There’s been a bit of a change of plans, so I have tomorrow off as well but the following day I’ll need to drive south. Just let me know what hotel you stay at and I can pick you up.”

“I need to book that,” I murmured as I pulled out my phone and started rummaging through the listings to find the recommended one. At least I’ll have one more day. I texted the address to Justin, and then he looked up.

“The hotel is on the way back for me. We still have a bit of time; we can hang out for a bit.” I nodded, and during the drive to the hotel I found myself anxious. Was it really going to be dinner and an attempt at that? Nooo. That’s not Justin… right? And what was I wanting? If I find out I was lying to myself, I’m going to end this visit right here. Not like it mattered what I wanted. Mother nature had intervened for me days before.

I still found myself soul searching, and it echoed back “if only timing had been better”.

We chatted for some time on the bed, the tv on in the background. About the usual stuff – the high school like stuff – who had he heard from recently, making a joke about people that had thought they were better than most, and about the death of a recent classmate.

“There’s that whole group that just… they aren’t doing good. I think there’s one guy left.”

“I feel so bad. I didn’t know him the best, but I still knew him. Heck, the last time we hung out, I had seen him. He seemed okay then.”

“Yea, seemed,” Justin echoed. I looked away, my eyes drawn to the tv. Justin’s eyes followed mine and then returned back to me. His fingers reached up to my jaw, catching my attention. He leaned in and kissed me. And I kissed him back. However, as he tried to kiss me more, I pulled away.

I probably turned absolutely red in the face.

“What?”

“Ah, this is embarrassing. How do I put this? We can’t go much further.” I felt myself turn even more red as he seemed to be not following. “Mother nature has struck,” softly blurted out.

“Oh,” he said, and nodded. “That’s okay, we don’t have to.”

A little part of me felt sad that Justin had assumed, but at the same time I was chiding myself because of the hope I had had – that timing would be better. If I had wanted it, how could I chide him?

We spent more time talking, and as it got closer to when he needed to head out, he lingered a bit and then forced himself to go.

His reaction was better than I had thought it would be. Thank god.

 

 

 

The next day, he picked me up and we had breakfast with his friends. Like olden days, it was a diverse group of people with an open sense of friendliness. The conversation and jokes came freely, sometimes at the expense of the food as it was atrocious. It was as if a bingo hall that was providing one-year-old free meals had donated its two-year-old variety to the restaurant we were at.

At the end of the meal, they invited Justin and me over to which I said yes, and we all temporarily parted ways.

“What do you want to do for the rest of the day?”

I smiled. “I have no clue. What is there to do around here?”

We drove up to a mall in the neighboring town that was a much larger town and wandered about. He got us coffees at a local place somewhere in the middle of the conversations about the bizarre encounters he has had at work and our respective families and their wellbeing. There was some return to conversations about high school friends, which I found myself inwardly frowning. Are we always going to be tied to high school remanences? I guess that would be an undoubted yes, but I’d almost wish that could be permanently in the past at some point.

This day feels like it’s going by without much substance….

I started to ignore my thoughts. Without much else to do in the mall, he drove me on base and showed me where he was currently staying. He left the door open, making note that if he didn’t, he could get in a lot of trouble. It made me giggle, but it made sense. The conversation took a surprise turn as he started to mention about his hopes for leaving the military.

“I just – I see all these people that stay in that are good, and they get married and they end up terribly surprised. No one, even the good ones, can remain married for long, and I just don’t know if I could do that.”

I nodded.

“What’s more is that because of this and that, the people that really truly honor the military and it’s history end up leaving. You get people in charge that have just had their time in and that’s it. They aren’t the best in charge, but the last person standing.”

He went on to talk about a number of his past instructors – the good ones, the old timers that were still badass and kicking. Without anything left to show me of his current home, he drove me about where he could, pointing out this and that key location from his career.

“This is where I trained on the radio systems.”

“This is where I started to realize I was getting older and these rucksack runs had destroyed my knees.”

We chatted for a bit parked in the parking lot of one building before he looked at the clock and announced, “I think we can start heading towards Jake’s.”

“Oh okay,” was all I said. It really does feel like nothing much has come from today… Maybe the party will be different.

 

 

 

And then, it was like I entered into a grown-up version of a high school party. Obviously, I had been to college parties, but soon after we showed up, I was left to my own devices as the men seemed to suddenly vanish to chat outside while the ladies were inside gossiping. I felt like I was verbally twirling my thumbs.

When Justin came back to the room, briefly, he asked if I wanted a drink. I felt freer to move about the house as I followed him to the kitchen, where he waved at cups and drinks and liquor and said to help myself.

“Jake is grilling. We are going to celebrate Brad’s birthday, so watch out. There will be lots of drinking and inside jokes. I’ve known this guy for a long time. Brad will be here shortly.”

And just like that, Justin was back outside and I was inside. Someone brought their dog and it found its way to me. I started petting it up at the shoulders and around the eyes. I looked around, night was falling, and the house was looking a bit dark. A few of the girls flipped on some lamps and continued chatting. Everyone was friendly as always.

I listened for some time, and finally joined the conversation. They didn’t hold back on what they were talking about and welcomed my comments. I felt a bit more at ease, and then the conversation changed and I was unfamiliar with who they were talking about and no one was explaining what was the point, so I re-focused on the dog. The petting was more like a massage, and I couldn’t stop myself from wondering: When am I ever going to get a massage as good as this dog is getting?

It made me smile.

 

As well as really sad on the inside.

 

Things were piecing themselves together at lightning speed, whether I acknowledged it or not in my head.

I’ll just enjoy the best of this.

 

The men came back in, and Jake looked over and commented, “That dog is the happiest it’s been in a while. My goodness I can’t remember the last time I had a massage.”

I felt myself turn a bit pink, but assumed no one could see. Jake’s comment was really meant for his wife who was already teasing Jake back with “Well when are you going to massage my feet. That’s been ages, and it never happened as was promised after I gave you a massage. It’s time you pony up.” Justin just smiled at me, and I smiled back. He left for the kitchen and then came back to me.

“How you doing?” He could obviously see me hiding from the conversation.

“I’m just listening and enjoying. It’s been fun so far. This dog is real sweet. Nicely trained too.”

“Well, don’t be afraid.”

“I’m not, just going at my own pace.”

He nodded.

“Those two are actually going to be moving soon, so I want to spend some more time with them. You okay with that?”

“Sure,” I nodded. I was soon involved again in the conversation with the ladies and was helping myself to another drink. I held onto my drink for much longer than others – just trying to make sure I paced myself, especially after having that breakfast upset my stomach for most of the day. Another couple showed up with a small toddler.

Everyone cooed at the baby at one time or another, and even Justin came in to smile and wave at the tiny tot as well.

“I can’t wait to be out and have one,” he absent-mindedly said. It was to no one in particular, or maybe it was for me. I’d assume it was for no one. My guts twisted. I got up and got another drink. Just an extra one in between my pace drinks. Should be fine.

Justin returned outside with the guys, who would be soon back in to ask questions of the other couple. Most of the men had serious girlfriends, but were not married and thus super curious. There was one lone person – someone other than Jake – taking care of the burgers and other grilled items and I couldn’t help but wonder about sneaking outside. I was starting to get hungry and was hoping to not seem like a super mooch but was ready to start gearing up for first in line. I kept myself at bay and focused in on the baby everyone was so keen on. With it being a stranger’s baby, I found myself still gravitating to the dog.

As the food was wrapping up, a few speeches were given once everyone was gathered about the birthday man himself. There were a number of nerdy references to popular movies and girls that altogether made it very charming. It was like I was let into a very private event of insiders – the fly on the wall experience. Getting a glimpse of life when it is paired with military service.

And then the food was served, and everyone filed away to different corners of the house, trying to find a small spot to park themselves and eat. There were a number of smiles, apologetic and borderline giggly at the situation. The burgers were alright, pretty well dried out, probably from all the distractions. Someone else noted that theirs wasn’t fully cooked, to which the group immediately shied away from their burgers and switched over to the hotdogs. At that point, I had already fully eaten mine, and believed it was fine.

After that, a number of people left, and someone announced:

“Time for the real fun!”

This person poured plastic itty bitty bottles of liquor on the floor (yes, it was clean), and we all sat about playing a challenge game over these tiny bottles. Justin eyed me a few times as I downed my shots, I think wondering when I was going to stop, but I kept going.

I wanted to erase this outsider feeling.

And soon enough, I found myself waking up to the dog licking me on the face and not feeling so hot.

“Oop, she’s up,” I heard Justin say as I tried to sit up. “Probably not that fast.”

“What’s going on? Where are the shots?”

A number of people giggled. At this point, I believe all the words coming out of my mouth were very much slurred and that’s why everyone was giggling and also why Justin had to ask a few times over about what I had said.

“You kind of fell a bit asleep on them, so I moved you away. We finished them… well we almost finished them a few minutes ago.”

“How many is a few minutes ago?”

More giggling.

“It’s maybe been a good thirty minutes.”

“Thirty minutes! All your friends must think I’m an ultra-light weight. I’ve never just spontaneously fallen asleep like that before.”

“No, they don’t think you are a light weight. How are you feeling by the way? That was quite a number of them you drank.”

“Being a hundred percent honest, not that great.”

“Should we head to the hotel?”

“Maybe, but just give me a few minutes to feel stable.”

“Stable? You’re sitting on a couch…?”

“Yea, but the room is definitely moving. Mean, I know it’s not moving, but to me it’s moving.”

“Does she need a towel, wash cloth? Bathroom?” It was Jake’s wife, and she was genuinely concerned.

“No, thanks, I just need to stay put for a moment and then we can be on our way. I’ll be fine. Just haven’t drank like that in a while. Guess I’m getting older.”

A few people nodded and made their own comments about getting older, and soon turned their attention away from me.

I stayed put for a while, and periodically Justin would come by to double check on me. Finally, he decided, it would be better to get me to the hotel.

“No, don’t leave if you aren’t ready.”

“I’m good. I’ve had my fun.”

“Oh okay”, I nodded and was letting Justin help me up. After we made it outside, I added, “Just make sure the windows are down and there’s cold air on me.” He confirmed he heard me as he opened the door and helped me and ensured I had my seatbelt buckled. He then got in on his side.

 

I didn’t remember much of the car ride home other than him asking if I was okay a number of times and once wondering if I actually was okay. Was definitely on the verge of being very sick in his car. However, I kept it together, and he helped me to the room at which point I lost everything. He held my hair while I emptied everything out, and as embarrassing as it should have been, I didn’t care. I felt almost instantaneously better, drank a bunch of water and then had a bit of a conversation with Justin about the night before he helped me out of my shoes and into bed. The one thing that stuck with me:

“I should have some time tomorrow morning, and we can spend that time together.”

 

 

 

The next day, I was up and at ‘em bright and early, especially excited about seeing Justin, but-- then I didn’t hear from Justin until quite late in the morning. He hadn’t felt well the following morning, and would only have enough time to stop over briefly to say bye. He wasn’t going to be able to see me as he needed to drive south to make it to a base for his next week duties.

It all seemed to end so suddenly. We were standing in the parking lot of the hotel after I had checked. I was telling him how much fun everything was. Him asking if I was leaving immediately. Me saying no, I’ll probably do a little more sightseeing and be gone. Him asking how I was. Me saying “Perfect!” with probably a mask of a smile. “I’m good”. Him making a comment about how I recovered better than him and it must have been those burgers. Then him adding a comment about the old past and how it was so good to see me now. How much fun it was to see me. And then came a long hug before I got into the car and drove off to the fort.

A huge part of me felt like that was goodbye. Why?

I wasn’t ready and to hide from it, I walked the grounds of the fort – all of it. The walls, the inner grounds, the outer grounds, along its beach, and within the museum inside the grounds. There was really nothing else to do at that point. I had read all the plaques and signs. I had stared in wonder at everything. Currently, I stood in the courtyard and looked all around me, sad.

“Hey, there, can you believe this?” A man called to me. He was holding a sand dollar.

“Did you find that here?” I was very welcoming of the distraction.

“Yea I did, I just can’t believe it. It’s such a perfect sand dollar.” The man was maybe middle age, slightly bigger, and definitely here to wander.

In his hands was a two- or three-inch perfect sand dollar. The edges were intact and the pattern on it was pretty. He handed it to me to look at, and when I went to hand it back to him, he said, “Nah, you keep it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” he said.

I smiled at him. Almost felt like crying, but why I couldn’t say. I thanked him and we parted ways. I headed back to my car and drove home.

The moment I left the town’s outer limits I started to cry, but why I couldn’t say other than it felt like the end.

He never mentioned coming to see me. He never mentioned his future talks with me in mind. In my subconscious it seemed to me that I was supposed to have been a fling before he gets out of the military. That was how it felt. And maybe to a degree that’s how I had treated him in turn.

I was so ready to prove to myself that I was over Henry that I may have ruined what could have been. The dream of being that older couple on the pier was just gone.

I tried my best to push it from my mind, and I realized I was approaching the tower.

 

Here it was. My chance to have my highlight.

 

I stopped; my eyes watery. I was the only person at the tower on the hill. I walked all up and down the hill. I read the two plaques. It was potentially the first tower used in the mass production of shot. It was an interesting little tower. I thought of how I wished I could have shared this venture with my dad, and cried that I would never once ever mention it.

It would be for me.

This trip to the tower, would be for only me to seal away my sadness.

I nodded to myself, got back in the car, and drove the rest of the way home without crying. I returned to work, and told a fun and cheerful story about my trip to the coast – all the sightseeing and fun. For those that knew about the man, I would say it was great and talk it all up.

Because what if it was just in my head that it had gone wrong?

No need to sabotage it.

 

But, I should have listened. I should have stopped.

I continued to flirt, in a desperate attempt to maintain what was before the trip. Justin was suddenly having excuses of being busy, and still I tried. He had been busy at times before and nothing had changed when he was busy in the past.

He finally messaged and said:

 

“Ellen, I have decided I am leaving the military and I’m going to be dating an old friend from high school. I can’t be flirting with you anymore.”

 

My mind went into damage control. I need to message back quickly otherwise he’ll think something is wrong.

“Oh okay, thanks for letting me know. I’ll respect your relationship. I hope it goes well.”

I was crushed.

But, what I did afterwards crushed me further. I got on Facebook and realized that he only told me because she had posted it on Facebook and he had accepted it for his timeline. If he didn’t tell me, then he was about to be a dick for not. But what was worse was the fact that she mentioned a trip out to see him before this was announced.

From my visit to the present… there just wasn’t that much time.

For him to commit in this way, he would have had to be seeing her for well over three weeks… maybe even five… which would have overlapped my visit with him and a lot of flirting.

I had half a mind to tear him a new one, but I didn’t. What would that accomplish?

 

Instead, I cried myself to sleep, woke up the next day, and went into work. I kept my cool for maybe an hour before bumping into a friendly coworker, who thought something was wrong and asked. At which point, I caved and cried at work. She expertly got me outside with only one other noticing, who smartly left us alone, for her to hear the tale.

“I just. I knew it was a long shot, but why wouldn’t he have just told me sooner. I told him time and time again that I wouldn’t have blamed him for it. Mean, it was long distance! Without really any idea of when he was going to really commit to getting out. I knew how much of a fantasy it was, but why he didn’t tell me, I don’t get it. If he didn’t want to look like an ass, he sure does now. And I get being afraid to say something like that, but to wait until you are forced in a corner to do it. You got to be kidding me! I thought he was more man than that!”

My mind settled on those words he once said a long time ago – something about how he always pushes away at the wrong time. That he doesn’t think he’ll let anyone close. Did I get too close or did I fail a test?

Whichever it was, it didn’t matter.

 

Far from home, I was consoled by my coworker, who reminded me he was the ass for not having the balls to tell me, and he was the ass for letting me go all the way out to him with no intention of reciprocating. She wished for better in the future, but hoped I’d take it easy.

I promised I would, got myself together, and finished the day. I made it in the next day, and the next day. And when the weekend came, I got outside and ran. I went to the gym and ran. I went out to the mall and walked around. I thought about trying to flirt with a stranger, and then heading home immediately to my scary realization that me meeting a strange guy that was actually nice in this day and age was absolutely zero.

I ate a tub of ice cream and talked with all my college friends.

I contemplated reaching out to Henry, and immediately shunned the idea. I left Henry to leave Henry. I did not leave Henry for Justin, and I’m sure as hell not going back to Henry after this abysmal showing by Justin.

If anything, this showed that by having Justin be my standard, I had doomed myself to a Henry those years ago. I should’ve had a fictional character be my standard. But now what?

The stats were not in my favor. There wasn’t a guy I knew that I wanted to date, so there were only strangers to look forward to and I just couldn’t imagine being that close with someone I don’t even know for several years.

But there was another thought. If I didn’t want kids, did I even need to go back through this? I shook my head. That would only turn me hollow. I didn’t want to be anyone’s Justin, and at that I sat there watching glassy-eyed as my favorite movie played with a bourbon in hand.

 

At least I won’t ever drink cheap ass plastic bottle booze ever again.

At least I had guts.

At least I enjoyed my trip and I’ll always remember the highlights.

 

At least I won’t ever wonder “what if”. I’ll always be free of that.

 

A tear streaked down my face as the main character finally got his girl after years of separation. One day, that’ll be me that gets re-united with whoever the hell it is that’s disappeared from my life. I toasted myself then for being free of regrets and to some future quiet where I could be myself and do whatever I wanted for however long I wanted.

 

I sat there watching the end credits of the movie and came to a bigger conclusion:

 

It wasn’t the character that I held as a standard that led me here. It was how much I valued myself and had confidence in myself. That weakness of my character has since been built up by each terrible interaction. I learned to trust myself. I learned to not doubt myself when a man did. I learned to be up front with myself and others. The only thing that was missing was loving myself enough.

How quickly I tore myself down and blamed myself when a relationship didn’t work.

I should be celebrating what I’ve accomplished.

I did what I set out to do. I knew it could end badly, and yea, it ended badly, but I lived. I didn’t just live for that guy. I lived for myself. I spoke up for myself. I didn’t leave one guy for another. I made a controlled transition, and if I want to be with someone in the future, then I can be. But for now, I’ll be with myself without any regrets.

I found myself smiling as I looked over to the sand dollar that was now displayed on my book case.

All those wonderful people that made that trip memorable….

I smiled even wider as I realized the bigger picture.

I was always supposed to go. Not for Justin, but for them – to meet them and have those little encounters as they were be what I thought of when I thought of that trip. The wonderful people of a slow-moving town in a different world.

They were kind and a reminder of real love and connection among complete strangers. The doubt the waitress provided clued me in I was about to get my heart smashed, but I stayed open as the older man encouraged me. And when all was lost, a parting goodbye came together as if the whole town showed their appreciation for me just being me. And it all came about because they were sincere and helpful.

 

If I believed in that sand dollar – in what that represented – surely, I would find what I want when I’m ready.

 


Submitted: July 12, 2020

© Copyright 2022 Ellen P Luto. All rights reserved.

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