Roads Not Taken
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree and Rising.
I wonder what heâ€™s doing now or where he is. I havenâ€™t thought of him in years. Iâ€™m not even sure Iâ€™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 werenâ€™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 wroteâ€”though most of that Iâ€™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 Iâ€™d probably stuck inside a briefing and forgotten about. Most of whatâ€™s in the basket went directly into the trash, but then I found the letter, much of it detailing this lieutenantâ€™s woes with his then-current assignment and how Iâ€™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 heâ€™d slipped it into the file folders on my desk, two days after my pep talk and the day after heâ€™d behaved scandalously around me in a public meeting, following me out and causing attention I didnâ€™t want. Thereâ€™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 didnâ€™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. Itâ€™s refreshing. I sense you have no one who truly admires all of your originality and ambition.
So Iâ€™m married and have two kids and am preoccupied. Sorry Iâ€™ve caused you problems.
Youâ€™d have a lot more fun [on your birthday] with me than you will trying to show your appreciation for flowers [from your husband].
Iâ€™ll respect your reputation and leave you alone. Forgive me.
I knew he was in a marriage heâ€™d never wanted to be in but had felt he had no choice because of a situation with his father. I knew I wasnâ€™t exactly happy at the moment either, but I was still trying hard to make things work at home, so I couldnâ€™t return his affections. He took an assignment elsewhere almost immediately. And I never saw him again.
But Iâ€™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 didnâ€™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 wasnâ€™t the man I was married to. For as much as I wanted it to be, it just wasnâ€™t.
And I wasnâ€™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.