Do you ever....Look forward to something and dread it at the same time? I am at that point right at this very moment.
I graduated in 1984 and today we are having a reunion. That was 27 years ago, a bit odd of a benchmark for a reunion but hey, that was always us. We didn't even want to have a graduation ceremony and agreed to go through with it if they didn't make us have a speaker. We were a bunch of 18 year old kids who were more interested in going on our senior trip to California. That was a pretty big deal back in those days, some of us had never been out of the state of Oklahoma. Heck there might have been one or two that hadn't been much further than the big cities of Oklahoma City or Tulsa.
It's not that I mind seeing my classmates, I am looking forward to that. It's not that I was an unpopular kid and have terrible memories of high school. Just the opposite actually. High school years were awesome for me! What I am dreading is not seeing the one classmate that meant the most to me. Gary Keith. I still remember the first time I saw him. It was my first day at a new school at the beginning of my 7th grade year. I was so nervous about it and the school was so tiny that the whole 7th grade was in one classroom, I think there might have been about 25 students. I was sitting at my desk with my head down wishing so hard that I could go back to my old school when I heard a voice say "Hey, what's your name". I looked up and there was this red headed freckle faced kid smiling at me with dimpled cheeks, I swear I thought I had suddenly been transported to Mayberry USA and Opie was talkin to me! I looked at him and said "Shirley" and he said "Welcome to Strother, I'm Gary Keith". I was so grateful for that break in the ice and even more grateful that years later I was able to tell him how much that meant to me.
Gary become a dear friend during the rest of our school days. But then again when there are only 200 students in the entire student body of a school most everyone becomes close friends. Anyway, things changed between us our Senior year and we suddenly realized that we cared a little more for each other but being young kids we never really knew how to express it. We dated off and on our senior year and the two years I was in junior college. I left for an out of town college in the fall of 1986. I would see him when I came home for weekend visits...but then my visits got less and less frequent. Next thing I knew he was married and had a baby on the way. I would run into him occasionally over the years, always glad to see him but always knowing things were over between us.
We reunited again in October of 1998, he was getting a divorce and I had just called off a wedding, that was about 14 years after our graduation. My mother was actually the one that suggested to Gary that he call me and we go out and do something. For the next 5 years we were together off and on, more off than on, but my love never faded. We had talked about how we both thought back
when I left for college that I would go off and finish college and once done I would come
back and we would be together. It just didn't work that way. We talked seriously of marriage but there was one thing that always stood in the way. I always told him "I refuse to come second to a bottle of beer and a game of pool". While I loved that man dearly, I loved myself and my daughter more and couldn't fully commit to someone who couldn't stop drinking, the whole "been there done that" type thing. If it had been just me I probably would have accepted it, but for the sake of my daughter....well I just couldn't. I wasn't going to let her grow up in a home where there was just too much tension and dysfunction *okie figures her daughter got enough dysfunction by having okie as a mom*.
It came to a point where I knew I had to call it quits for good. I couldn't allow myself to hold on to a busted dream that would never happen. Then the letter came...I swear it was probably as close as a love letter than man ever wrote. I still have that letter. My emotions were torn and I took some time, well okay a few weeks, to think things over before contacting him. I called him and he sounded pretty chipper. Then came the punch to my gut. He told me he was getting married. I was hurt, furious, relieved and so many more other emotions all at once. Had he not just written me 6 weeks prior to tell me I was the love of his life and he always loved me and wanted us to be together? But here he was suddenly telling me he was getting married!
I didn't talk to him again after that, but in my heart I hoped he had finally found the happiness he was seeking. I had convinced myself he had found happiness and everything was roses.
Over the years I would dream of him, that he came back to me and things were better with him. All those dreams were shattered early on a Sunday morning, November 5th 2006 to be exact. I got a call from another classmate, my dear friend Heath. He called to tell me that Gary had died due to injuries from a car accident. My heart sank. I won't go into the details of everything but I will just say that Gary was evidently not living the fairy tale I had hoped for him.
I debated about not going to the funeral but with my Aunt Betty at my side I was able to make it there. I had told myself I would be okay. And I thought I would be until we walked in the church and sat down. I couldn't stop crying...sobbing actually. There laid the one man who would always have my heart. Sure I have loved other men in my life but nothing like the love I had, or should I say have, for Gary. When it was time to walk through and view his body I looked down at him, he looked as if he almost had a little smile on his face and years of memories and emotions rushed through my head. I felt my knees start to buckle and I had to quickly get out of there. Once in the hallway I looked at my Aunt Betty and told her "I am going to pass out". She swiftly grabbed my elbow and lead me to a chair that was in the hallway. I was able to pull myself together and we left for the cemetery. After the grave side service was over and everyone was mingling around I saw his wife standing next to the casket. I wondered for a moment if I should go say something to her and decided to go and offer my condolences. I told her "I know there is nothing I can do or say to help with the pain you are feeling right now but I do understand". She looked at me and smiled and said "You know he always loved you". I was stunned, floored, shocked...you know the type that makes you feel all the air escapes your lungs swiftly and you wonder if you will be able to breath again. I stood there not knowing what to say to this woman who had just lost her husband, a man we both loved. I just looked at her and said "I never stopped loving him". We hugged each other with an understanding that only two women who loved the same man could ever have.
Over the last 5 years since Gary's death I have avoided trying to be anywhere or see people who would bring back the painful loss. Yeah I know the steps of grief and how resolving is essential in order to move on, I am a therapist for goodness sakes. I have been able to get past many deaths in my life. I have been able to overcome some very painful childhood experiences. But the whole situation with Gary is different, and always will be. I still dream of him occasionally. The same haunting dream where he appears and I tell him "you came back to me". I will admit that the pain has lessened over the years and I don't wake up and cry anymore, but there is still a degree of heartache that occurs.
Today I will be hit full force with memories of Gary as I know he will be the topic of many conversations as we all go down memory lane. I don't know what to expect or how my emotional state will be and I told my friend Heath just this morning "you know I am dreading this". Heath is likely the only person from our class that understands the full extent of my dread. But I have to go. I promised Heath I would be there, even told him I would be there a little early to help with some pictures.
Maybe typing all of this out will help me. Once this posts it will be out there for anyone to read and know how I feel. Maybe that is what I need, to just get it all off my chest. It's time for me to take a deep breath and exhale slowly and let it go. Let go of the pain, heartache and loss and realize it doesn't mean I am letting go of Gary. I know I will always have my memories of Gary and will always feel love for that man. I feel blessed to know that he did always love me. Even though he is no longer of this earth I will always treasure knowing that Gary was my first love and the love of my life.
Sorry for such a long boring post today and an unusual downer post at that. I just figured I need to get some of this stuff out so I can carry on today and make it through. Heck maybe no one will take the time to read this sucker today and after returning home this evening I can log back in and delete it, no one ever knowing that even I have my melancholy days.