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 whoâ€™s been in and out of my life for over 16 years. The chance meeting almost didnâ€™t happenâ€”if Iâ€™d gone to lunch on time, if my all-day meetings hadnâ€™t been cancelled, if I Â hadnâ€™t decided to make a quick run for Chinese fast food so I could get back to my desk, if I hadnâ€™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 wouldnâ€™t have spotted him leaving the food court just as I entered.
I thought heâ€™d moved away (no, this isnâ€™t The Treat). That was the last Iâ€™d heard of him, that he was divorced, moving to a new place, maybe going into business for himself. He was someone Iâ€™d always Â enjoyed Â talking to, someone I could talk with candidly about most things, and who shared my fondness for AC/DC music and Goth attire. We Â 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, â€œI canâ€™t believe piddly lilâ€™ olâ€™ us just had that kind of influence on the way the Brits acquire technology.â€
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 didnâ€™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 hadnâ€™t seen him in several years, and our last long talk had been when our high schoolers were in the fifth grade. Heâ€™d aged well, still cleaned up nicely in a fashionable suit, and wasnâ€™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 weâ€™re working now, about how we just wear the suits because itâ€™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 letâ€™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 heâ€™d known for a year and a half.
Then he said something interesting, something that re- minded Â me of when his beautiful wife first divorced him and how hurt heâ€™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. â€œI sure didnâ€™t want to get divorced when it happened to me, but now, after Â several years have passed and I see what she was and how different we were, Iâ€™m so glad Iâ€™m not with that woman anymore.â€ Then he smiled and Â shrugged as if something was obvious. â€œWell,â€ he added, â€œyou of all people know what I mean.â€
Maybe thatâ€™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 canâ€™t bear to leave a relationship you know isnâ€™t good for you or good to you but you stay anyway? Then, after theyâ€™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 Â never could have been with that person.