Return of the Friend-Boy

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Separation.

I ran into an old friend today. A friend-boy who’s been in and out of my life for over 16 years. The chance meeting almost didn’t happen—if I’d gone to lunch on time, if my all-day meetings hadn’t been cancelled, if I  hadn’t decided to make a quick run for Chinese fast food so I could get back to my desk, if I hadn’t been distracted by a Celtic jewelry booth as I walked into the food court, if I had stopped to get my coat instead of freezing all the way there and back, if any number of things had or had not happened, I wouldn’t have spotted him leaving the food court just as I entered.

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

I thought he’d moved away (no, this isn’t The Treat). That was the last I’d heard of him, that he was divorced, moving to a new place, maybe going into business for himself. He was someone I’d always  enjoyed  talking to, someone I could talk with candidly about most things, and who shared my fondness for AC/DC music and Goth attire. We  worked together as a team on at least three different projects over a decade, and some of my fondest career memories are of the work we did at the British Embassy in D.C. and at Whitehall in the U.K., where we walked out saying to each other, “I can’t believe piddly lil’ ol’ us just had that kind of influence on the way the Brits acquire technology.”

During our years together as co-workers, we went on a number of business trips. Though I think my ex was always suspicious of him, there was never any reason to be. He was one of the few engineers I traveled with who didn’t proposition me at least once, he was deeply in love with his stunningly gorgeous wife, and the most scandalous thing we ever did together was go shopping. He was safe to be with, and a good work friend. If there was ever evidence that a man and woman can be good platonic friends, he was it.

So it took me by surprise when I saw him again. I hadn’t seen him in several years, and our last long talk had been when our high schoolers were in the fifth grade. He’d aged well, still cleaned up nicely in a fashionable suit, and wasn’t wearing the earring anymore, though the hole was still there.

We chatted for a few minutes while his business partners waited for him, about where we’re working now, about how we just wear the suits because it’s a job and not who we really are, about how life/kids/work are all good, about how we needed to rush back to work but let’s get together and catch up. Then he told me he knew I was divorced. My ex had made a point of let- ting him know. Why? I have no idea. But he’d known for a year and a half.

Then he said something interesting, something that re- minded  me of when his beautiful wife first divorced him and how hurt he’d been back then and how some people (including my ex) had assumed he was the one with someone on the side instead of her. He shook his head. “I sure didn’t want to get divorced when it happened to me, but now, after  several years have passed and I see what she was and how different we were, I’m so glad I’m not with that woman anymore.” Then he smiled and  shrugged as if something was obvious. “Well,” he added, “you of all people know what I mean.”

Maybe that’s why I ran into him today. To remind me of how a little time and perspective make things clearer. How often does that happen that you can’t bear to leave a relationship you know isn’t good for you or good to you but you stay anyway? Then, after they’ve left you or you finally leave them, you look back and see at last that the break-up was a good thing after all and that it positions you to be happy later in ways you  never could have been with that person.