The light on 4th Plain turned red as Johanna pushed the brake pedal in slowly, stopping two cars short of the intersection. Her young daughter chattered nonsense in the backseat and cars began to pile in line, awaiting the signal change. For the expanse of time each year Johanna visited back home, she tried not to drive down this particular stretch of pavement – not close enough to Dylan’s place that she might actually run into him, anyway – but this day, the trek near Falk Road could not be avoided. Realizing how close she was to his house still counting seconds until green, she happened to glance towards the car at her left. A white car, familiar somehow…
Her heart immediately clogged her throat when she saw it was him. Of all the cars on this road… what time is it…?! She wondered if it was real; frantic as if she were staring down a ghost, a million thoughts flooded her brain in a single instant. Fate ushered in the moment she had been waiting for years too long – rather than question it worthlessly, she quickly embraced the opportunity. Rolling down the window, she waved her hand wildly until he turned his head her way. “Dylan!” Widely smiling, ear-to-ear, she called his name.
His face lit up like the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, as if a million times he had sat at that light, thinking of Johanna, and finally she appeared to him from a daydream. Dylan’s smile overcame every line on his face, his unkempt hair unlovingly cloaked by a white bandana, and his overworked, dirty hands white-knuckling the steering wheel; he gazed across at his long lost lover, a simple opening of a passenger car door away. He studied her face for what felt to both like years, but each quickly realized they had mere seconds remaining before the light changed again.
“I… umm… Hi! This is my daughter, can you see her? Her name is Sophie! And, I… I’m single! How are you?!” She blurted, each word probably sounding as incoherent and overwhelmed as she felt inside.
“No, you’re not!…??” He paused, allowing the response to linger between them as Johanna nodded yes back his way. She immediately recognized the gaze of defeated sadness in his eyes at the notion of it, “Well, I am married,” his words hung in the air challenging serendipity to steal his truth away so she could be his again.
“Well then, so we have it?” Johanna insisted, pleading through every second as it passed, craving so much more than stoplight pleasantries. Somewhere close to the surface, she hoped this revelation would spark in him the desire to get closer, by any means necessary. That he would realize it was time for them to try things new again, together. She hoped, but feared to speak it, that he would not let her go this time. There was so much between them but no time to explore it; the awkward, intrusive pace of their encounter left much to be desired.
The light cared not for two people with so much more to say to one another. The green glowing orb cared only to usher vehicles through its four-way stop, sending Dylan home to the house on Falk, and she on down the road. Neither noticed it at first, but instead remained stargazing ex-lovers, so lost in the surreal temptation of a brief, chance meeting. As the seconds ticked, Johanna studied his smile – it never wavered for a moment – and she began to yearn for him beside her in a way that caused great strife. Does he want me, too? She wondered.
No other words were shared between them that day. Perhaps it was fear, or nerves, or maybe, it was the call to another life with someone else that finally bought out longing for an old flame. Maybe… Johanna thought, this was for the best. Dylan was the first to realize the light had turned. He quickly pardoned the tension between them with a shrug of the shoulders as he smiled helplessly. He halted just long enough for Johanna to have no other choice, by way of the honking cars behind her, to pull ahead. He made his way behind her, having to turn right just two blocks down, and Johanna watched him in the rear view mirror as he faded away into a mirage.
She wanted to careen around the next bend, even if she had to drive atop a curb. She wanted to wildly race onto that familiar street, onto that familiar driveway, behind that same white Impala, to the same tall, handsome boy who once stole her heart the day he asked her if he could kiss her. She felt the tears well up in her eyes, and felt the lump in her throat tighten, making each breathe more difficult than the last. Sophie giggled carelessly from her carseat, completely and blissfully unaware of her mother’s torment, this only making the sting of the moment more real, His life is not my business anymore… I’ve got my daughter. . . I can’t just stop my life and beg him to take me back… Johanna began to question every decision she had made up until that moment, but wanted nothing more than to once again be the woman Dylan came home to after work.
As she drove on, she wondered what he was feeling. What he would tell his wife if she asked what was bothering him. Johanna had wondered many times if she even knew about the girl he gave his whole heart to just years before they met…
Dylan pulled his car right onto Falk Road, and then soon after turned left to the gravel driveway where he called home. Good, they are in the house, he thought. His head rested back against the seat behind him, his hands still digging deeply into the steering wheel. He closed his eyes and convinced himself, in an instant, that it was best not to tell his wife whom it was he ran into just minutes before arriving home but he knew he would have to steel his nerves. Before he could get up, his body weighing heavy with the burden of long buried emotions boiling now just below the surface, he took several long, deep breaths. With eyes still closed, he recalled so easily her face again. He then remembered how it had been hard before this moment to conjure her so vividly, and he was thankful for the reminder and yet cursed it all the same. Just a single photograph that he kept in a box in the garage brought her back to him, and since Sara found it when she moved in, that picture of a face he once loved so dearly was hardly ever retrieved anymore.
Startled from his thoughts, Dylan heard Sara’s voice and tapping on the rolled up driver’s window. He had not realized how much time had lapsed or how long she had been watching him, but there she stood. She held their son in her arms, a bright-eyed bouncy boy they named Caleb – so happy to see Daddy home again. She smiled at him, curiously, and with a heavy accent asked him, “Are you okay?”
Dylan said nothing – intense force shoved his emotions down deep again – he gathered his things and then pulled himself out of the car. He kissed Sara on the cheek, plucked his son from her arms, and headed for the steps towards the front door all the while avoiding her gaze; she thought this unusual, and Dylan knew she had picked up on something unsaid. Dinner was cooking, he could smell it on the stove once he walked in to their home, and it had been cleaned top-to-bottom. Sara closed the door behind them, closely watching her husband from a reasonable distance, studying the way he avoided her gaze, and the puckered, swollen lips he always had when they both knew he was not sharing something he thought or felt.
Asking nothing more, she decided it was not worth pushing the issue, thinking, perhaps, there wasn’t one after all, all the while making a mental note to watch him more closely that night. She busied herself in the kitchen, tended to her rambunctious child, and noted the time, “4:23 pm.”
He untied each boot carefully behind the closed door of their bedroom, removing it to set in the same spot he placed it every day before. Meticulous, he went over every detail of the encounter that rocked his world just minutes before. As amazing as it was just to behold her again, he began to dread the ensuing emotions he knew would linger, much as they did each time they saw each other before she moved away all those years before. He knew she would haunt his dreams for a month, and he knew he would question his entire life, even briefly, for just merely entertaining the notion of leaving everything behind to see her again. Most of all he cursed Johanna because he knew that his love for her would endure, because there it was again, nearly 4 and a half years later, sweltering back in his heart as if it had never left. Dylan did not realize it until he looked up from his feet into the mirrored closet doors – he had been crying. He stared at his reflection for a few minutes, talking silently to himself, pull it together, Dylan. Let it go. She is not worth i… He began to lie to himself but felt it sting deeply for he knew it was not true. If you love her, you let her go. This his final contemplation before standing, wiping his cheeks, and grabbing his red striped robe for a shower.
His feelings so overwhelming though he tried to hide it – how much he hated that he ever knew her name at all, he avoided Sara’s gaze yet again as he passed her for the bathroom. Thinking to himself the shame it was that he ever fell in love one October night under cool night air on the porch as they gazed up at the moon, his arms wrapped tightly around a beautiful woman 3 years younger. That he ever built a life with her only to watch it all fall apart… It was all a bad dream because, after finding the love of his life, he let her go. For nearly five years he held it together, at least enough to build a new life with someone else.
He loved Sara, of that he was sure, and their son – the spitting image of his father – brought meaning into Dylan’s heart the likes of which he had never known. Having been fatherless himself, he reveled in the work of parenting, and did anything for his child. Including marrying his child’s mother so they could be a family on the same continent. Dylan never questioned his life, not ever, unless he was thinking about her… These visions of Johanna, he knew for sure, would be cause for lost sleep tonight.
I wrestle with memories like this only when I am absolutely forced to. For the foundation of this writing, and because I had a specific creative spark in me tonight, I feel like I owe it to Johanna to tell the story the way she remembers it, or if these things are not her memories, but fictitious things perhaps thought [or not] by him, at least the sentiment would be ever quite as sweet. I remember this way because that is what makes good writing. Something relatable. Something pure, and true.
I would have chased his car home, because I knew the way. I would have raced up to the doorway and knocked until anyone answered. I would have done whatever I could to ensure he knew everything I felt like saying but did not have the time to do so – like lyrics to a song I just discovered that says it perfectly, “I could have told you that I loved you and stayed around to kindle the fire, but I was late on my return and now you’ve lost all faith.” I would have done all of this, on that day, when I saw him just mere feet from me…
But, though at times I still regret it (though I am working on this, I assure you) that was not the life I was destined to live.
Had I bulled over there and professed my undying love for him his life would have been ruined in a way, perhaps, worse than mine was all those years before. Had I done that, I would have forced him to choose a wife over an old fiancé. I would have forced him to choose a family over a broken home. And I would have forced myself into the pigeon hole of finally knowing that, indeed, he would really choose them over me, and that is the fear underlying any lost love, is it not? Once that person moves on, even if there are still things undone with any former love, they are making a choice to let that go and focus their love on someone else. Though I wanted to tell him to pick me, choose me, love me, I would have known, for sure, that he did not – in fact – pick me, choose me, or love me anymore.
Though I know that, because the truth is evidenced in the reality of both our lives, it would have hurt to hear it, see it, and experience it. It would have hurt to make him feel he owed me anything, even one last goodbye outside of locked car doors and rolled down windows at a stoplight. It would have hurt to see him walk away again without so much as one last final glance back my way.
So, in that way, I suppose it is best that the very last time I saw Timothy Lee was at a stoplight on 4th Plain. I suppose that it is best I know nothing about his life now, though there are times I am not sure why it is “best” that way.
John has asked me before what I would do if he just showed up one day, asked me to talk… What I would do if I had that chance. First thing I told him was I would love that chance, but it is as likely as me winning the Texas lottery. Second thing I said was, “I’d probably yell at him for five minutes, tell him I never want to see him again, and then ask him to hold me…” (A great, honest mix of emotions you would only understand if you knew the context in which John asked me this – but that part I leave out because it is between him and I alone).
The truth is, aside from the obvious (that I would want to talk about life, and the past, to finally have “closure”) is that I am not really sure…
If that day, I had more than just maybe a minute and a half at a stoplight in which to talk to him, spend space and time in his proximity, I would have wanted more from him than he could give. I would have wanted him to love me the way he did back when. . .
Now though, now… After going through SO MUCH life of my own… Two marriages and the ensuing separations and those two little rascals I call children; throw all this in a blender and what do you have? Perspective. Life experience. The blunt, honest truth about life, the way it happens to you as you get older… Add to that what happened between Tim and I, and all the many, many years it took for me to simply be able to deal with that end, and losing him, well, I guess you could say I would only want to know if he is still able to believe in love the way he did back when he loved me. I would ask him about his family, and tell him about mine. He would ask how I do since my mother died, and the pain and guilt would still be between us, but we would work through it. There would heavy, difficult silence when we are not sure what else to say. . .
Most of all, I hope I could look across the table at him, smell his cologne, and see him smile, and not want to be in love with him again. I would hope he could give me the same gift.
The gift of freedom. The gift of honoring who and what we were – each others first love – and then, just as quickly as we met, fell in love, and lost each other, only then, these nearly 8 years later, we could finally, wholly let each other go.