Roads Not Taken
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree and Rising.
I wonder what he’s doing now or where he is. I haven’t thought of him in years. I’m not even sure I’d remember what he looked like, except that he had brown hair, green eyes, and was very muscular.
He was an engineer who worked with me a few years back. I was married and not interested in him romantically, but I considered him a friend for at least a year or more. He was a road not taken, someone I turned down because I was married and planned to stay that way even though things at home weren’t great at that time.
He left a note on my desk once, the story of a man who was destined to spend the rest of his life with an arrow lodged in his heart. He told me I was that arrow.
He had a brilliant mind, could talk about anything, had a hard-won and prestigious assignment in the Air Force, spoke several languages fluently, and read every book I ever wrote—though most of that I’d forgotten until I found a letter from him today. Not in the mail but in my past.
In the back of a supply closet in my home office, I had a clothes basket of old files, many of them copies of non-sensitive briefings from several years ago, old awards write-ups, and that kind of thing from the office. There was a letter among them that I’d probably stuck inside a briefing and forgotten about. Most of what’s in the basket went directly into the trash, but then I found the letter, much of it detailing this lieutenant’s woes with his then-current assignment and how I’d given him a pep talk that had helped immensely and he said had kept him from blowing his future.
I read through the letter, remembering when he’d slipped it into the file folders on my desk, two days after my pep talk and the day after he’d behaved scandalously around me in a public meeting, following me out and causing attention I didn’t want. There’s a part in the letter that surprises me now, about the third or fourth paragraph.
… Thank for the words. I like the [advice], especially from such a great writer.
I didn’t leave [the meeting] at the same time as you on purpose. It was just time for me to go. But I do have a problem. I have been thinking of you quite a lot. I enjoy your company and conversation. I think you are very unique and independent. It’s refreshing. I sense you have no one who truly admires all of your originality and ambition.
So I’m married and have two kids and am preoccupied. Sorry I’ve caused you problems.
You’d have a lot more fun [on your birthday] with me than you will trying to show your appreciation for flowers [from your husband].
I’ll respect your reputation and leave you alone. Forgive me.
I knew he was in a marriage he’d never wanted to be in but had felt he had no choice because of a situation with his father. I knew I wasn’t exactly happy at the moment either, but I was still trying hard to make things work at home, so I couldn’t return his affections. He took an assignment elsewhere almost immediately. And I never saw him again.
But I’ll keep the letter, I think. It reminds me of a sad time in my life when I felt unappreciated and misunderstood by the people whose love I most wanted and this man was sensitive enough to realize what even I didn’t know then.
What I was looking for, what I was attracting to me, was someone who simply appreciated me for who I was. It just wasn’t the man I was married to. For as much as I wanted it to be, it just wasn’t.
And I wasn’t willing to leave my marriage for someone who did appreciate me. The thing I wanted most in those days was what this man could have given me, and I said no.