Josh and I met when I was a teenager. Just a couple of kids kicking it in Hawaii. I was with Boy’s father and Josh was very much in love with my roommate. Our weekdays were filled with work and the rest of the time we spent running from this activity to the next: beach, volleyball, softball, cookouts, concerts, hiking, fishing, camping, drinking, getting into trouble… That’s everyone, right? Just kids playing like they do.
We were all away from family, real family, so we became each other’s family. We leaned on each other, listened to one another, gave rides to work, showed up at the hospital when the babies were born, loved and hated and fought and made up.
Josh and I bonded over a small container of paprika and a serving bowl of corn at Thanksgiving dinner one year. While the rest of the crew were watching football and my roommate was wrangling the kiddos in the living room, Josh and I were in his tiny kitchen putting the finishing touches on the meal. When he sprinkled paprika over the corn, we both saw the teeny tiny specks that indicated the container held more than spice. So out came a colander. We rinsed the corn, threw on more salt and butter and didn’t tell a soul. We also didn’t eat the corn.
I left Hawaii a few months after Boy’s father, waiting for him to get settled in Florida before I moved home. Josh’s future wife had moved back to Oregon to nurse her mother through a second, fatal, bout with cancer. But in the months Josh and I were on our own, we spent some time together as friends, figuring it was safe, and for the most part it was.
There was a dinner and then there was a movie with a kiss that came as such a surprise to me, was quickly brushed off as a mistake, and almost as quickly forgotten. There was a farewell at an airport that didn’t quite go as planned. I was supposed to wait for him at the gate so he could see me off, but they boarded people with small children first. A stewardess handed me a note from him a short while after I got Boy settled in our seats. The note said goodbye and good luck, but in the sweet way only Josh would have written it. I still have the note, all these years later.
He called me when he and his wife, my old roommate, divorced. I was single, too. But we had children and responsibilities and were working hard to navigate careers that kept us both moving and apart. We talked often, though, sharing dating horror stories and keeping in touch through holiday cards and emails and birthday wishes.
Ten years ago, there was an extended business trip and I was going to be only a state away from him for several weeks. He was going to drive down at the end of my trip to see me. My first day there, though, I met Jack and after spending some time with him, I asked Josh not to come. Then, Josh moved on to his high school sweetheart, and I moved on with Jack.
We no longer spoke. I changed my number and didn’t give him, or any of my other male friends, the new number. That’s what he’d become – just another guy with whom it was inappropriate to be friends now that I was with Jack.
And then, on a Saturday morning one Spring while I was out walking Dog, Josh called the number I never gave him, lonely and longing from the other end of the world. We talked, and it was familiar but different, too. Before we hung up, he asked if I was happy. I told him that I’d made a choice. He said that wasn’t the same thing.
Some more time passed.
He was back in the states, though still two states away from me, and he was on his own. And now I sent him texts when I was lonely and longing even though I still wasn’t alone. Then finally I was on my own, and this time I called him.
I don’t think I ever felt so happy or in love or content and just certain. We made plans. We talked about the future. We talked about changing our jobs, our addresses, our lives to be together. We talked about everything. We talked about nothing. We talked about how much we missed each other. We talked about how much we’d missed each other forever. If he couldn’t call, he’d send me videos of himself telling me how much he missed me and wanted to see me. He called to tuck me in at night and to wake me up in the morning. He checked in on me when he saw bad weather coming my way. He sent me pictures of himself playing basketball, volleyball, softball and flying around in helicopters. He sent me love songs. He sent me texts of hearts and sunshine. I sent him cake and cards and pictures and words that I would never, ever say aloud.
When two people are coming together, becoming a couple, I think there’s a moment when it clicks, when it must click, or the relationship fizzles. Josh and I hit our moment and just didn’t click. There was always something keeping us from seeing one another: work or family or visitors from the other side of the world or the weather or logistics or money and all the history and all the sweet words and good intentions and loneliness and longing and love were not enough. Somehow it just didn’t happen. It didn’t click. And it didn’t click a long time ago. I just didn’t want to admit it.
It’s been over, really over, for me since March. My friends still ask about Josh, ask if I’ve talked with him. I brush it off. There’s nothing to say, I tell them. It wasn’t until a new friend point blank asked if I was okay with it that I actually had to think about that: Am I okay?
It caught me by surprise to have someone who doesn’t really know me ask something so personal. I talk all day everyday about everything. Really, though, all that I talk about is nonsense, because what I never talk about are the things that make me feel. People who know me well know it takes me time to work through and get to a place where I might discuss those things that hurt. But here this person was asking what no one else had dared to ask, and for once I didn’t brush it off or make light of it. I was honest with him and with myself, and out poured a truth of which even I wasn’t aware. What it comes down to is this:
I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that after so many years of friendship we let it go without a fight. I’m disappointed that I lost someone who was one of my closest friends for as long as I can remember. I’m disappointed that all that hope is gone. I’m disappointed that our love story didn’t even ever really start. I’m disappointed that what should have worked out, should been everything, turned out in the end to be a big fat nothing. I’m just really disappointed.
I’m also just really done, and maybe that’s okay. It was a dream that we’re both woke from and now we can move forward without looking behind at what might be – what coulda, shoulda, woulda been. It shouldn’t and won’t be. I know that now, finally, and yes, I’m okay.