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Several years ago therapists #1 and #3 each suggested a writing assignment. Journal what life would look and feel like had Jen’s accident not happened. At first the suggestion sounded intriguing, I love writing and find it therapeutic. After some reflection though, I declined. There were too many iterations (especially considering the infinite universe theory) and what makes me think that the rosy-colored, cherry-picked version that I focus on would have ever happened? So many ways that this exercise could go wrong…and perhaps I was embarrassed by my glittery version of reality desired. Embarrassed that it wouldn’t happen? That I could think that it could ever happen? Without her input? That others would laugh at the impossibility? Not sure…perhaps, but let’s face facts, that the accident occurred is my reality and no amount of wishing or dreaming could bring forth the reality that I would envision. It is a fool’s game, so why waste the time?
The problem is that I have been axle-wrapped on this notion of what could have been, the potential ripped away, and having no say nor closure in the outcome. I have spent five years agonizing for this peek into what could have been. Deliberately, willfully, shoving it down so that the fantasy would not come to the surface, to be something missed or longed for. It has not worked…and when something doesn’t work, it can be the universe calling out for you to go a different direction, even the exact opposite direction. So that is what I am exploring currently. For the last two weeks I have been going to bed and trying to calm my mind and focus on the synthetization of this story. Crafting the story of what could have been. It is already lost to fate, so why not have something more tangible to lose? Maybe I can ‘put it away’, grieve over the specific loss, and move forward towards healing, because today it is just an open wound that I continuously pick at. Either way, I must get this out of my head and since the story is developing, the best way I know how to get it out of my head and move on is to write it down.
Starting at a point about 10 seconds after the accident occurs, I rewind the hands of time about 30 seconds. Insert something to change the trajectory of what happens…an extra car that causes Jen to delay turning for just a couple more seconds, or the removal of a car that allows the turn to happen just quick enough to avoid whatever caused her car to go out of control down that gravel road. The truly surprising thing for me is that I can actually see this clip! I have a condition called aphantasia and lack the ability to create mental imagery. Well, obviously not 100%, but in general. If you are asked to close your eyes and picture an apple and can ‘see’ the apple, congratulations, you are normal. I cannot see said apple. I can tell you a lot of things about an apple from memory, could even describe one from memory, but cannot see it. So, the fact that I can see her car, rewind the scene, and get through the event without the accident is, for me, shocking in and of itself. It is not long lasted. The vision dissipates and I am left with creating a narrative of what happens next.
She arrives at school. Unharmed, unaware of what was avoided. Life moves on.
I had not been especially happy at my university, people that I had expected to take the journey with me at this university opted for different paths at the last moment, leaving me on my own. As a result, I decide to change schools and head over to the other state university. Jen and I continue our conversations and the connection continues…strengthens. We are talking on the phone constantly and even meet up when I come home from school. As a couple years pass by, Jennifer is about to graduate from high school. It is few months after her 18th birthday and we decide now is the time to go skydiving, just the two of us. We have been talking about doing this for a couple years, both really fascinated by the thrill, the thumbing our nose at death. We have talked about it with several friends that have expressed an interest in coming with themselves, but in the end, schedules, and probably fears, get in the way. We decide that we need to go if we are ever going to do it. We can let others know how it went afterwards and go again with them.
We are only about 5,000 ft up (only!), but everything on the ground looks so small. I go first…swinging my legs out the door and feet onto the step above the wheel. Little did I know that I had already passed the point of no return. I follow the instructions that were given on the ground. Grab the wing strut with one hand, put my weight on the step, grab the wing strut with the other hand. Using my hands to shimmy out on the wing strut, into the furthest corner. Who figured out that this was a good idea? I am hanging on for dear life. Do I really want to do this? The jumpmaster says go…”GO!” Shit! I don’t know if I want to let go. I am getting too tired. Finally, I comply and then “Oh noooooooo…” Feels like falling. Not fun in the moment, but a very quick moment as the tether line deploys the chute. A hard jerk, and then quiet. Such peaceful quiet. You do not achieve this level of quiet on the ground…anywhere. I look up to check on my canopy…all good. In the distance I see the next chute open. That should be Jen. We get on the ground and are as giddy as kids in a candy store on ‘free day’. The excitement, the rush! We have permanent smiles on our faces and are comparing notes the entire drive home. We just defied death (in all fairness, it was a high likelihood, but still) and we were connected more than ever. Jen decides now is the perfect time to drop another bomb…She has chosen to go to the same university as me, majoring in political science.
Finally! We are going to be in the same town, can see each other more frequently, hang out more. She knows deep down that I am in love with her, but it is not enough. Perhaps it is too easy, too accessible, or I just don’t excite her ‘lady parts’, I don’t know. She has mentioned that she is just terrified to lose the connection that we have. The degree to which we know each other is too deep to risk a romantic entanglement. She mentions that it is bad enough to have to go through heartbreak when ending a relationship, imagine not being able to go to someone that you have always leaned on in addition to the heartache. Fucknuts!
I show her around the campus and around town, introduce her to people that I know. Whenever she is bored or needs a distraction from classes she pops by and we go on an exploration mission to see what hidden gem we can discover. We have a few mutual friends, but by and large when we are together it is just the two of us. Our conversations are too honest to allow others in to judge. Two years of school go by. Jen has had a few boyfriends during this time, three that I would classify as serious-ish, but each ultimately fizzles, and I am there to listen and help pick up the pieces…fabulous. I have a couple girlfriends during the same time period. While never quite approaching the status of super serious, Jen is there for me when those end. The start of the second semester begins, it is her junior year (my, finally, senior year…as I am not quite as serious in school). She is now 21, so we can legally go out drinking. Let’s be honest, I, and other boyfriends, have already introduced her to drinking, but we can now go to the bars together. We are in good spirits and end up tying one on in rare fashion. While I love getting sloppy, Jen is usually more restrained…but not tonight. She is going full steam ahead for no particular reason other than being caught up in the moment. We are both going to be paying a price in the morning!
We head back to my apartment. Not a really big deal…we would occasionally crash at each other’s place, typically as the night would get away from us talking. Always innocent. This evening, it just happened that my apartment was closer to the last bar we were at, it was convenient. Again, no expectations, and nothing anyone that knew us would have raised an eyebrow to. Neither of us was particularly tired so our conversations just continued as we got to my place. We weren’t talking about anything particularly memorable or salacious, just friends or classes or whatever. About an hour after arriving home, Jen gets a little quiet. I am not sure if she is getting tired, if the conversation thread had just run its course, or if her mind was onto other things. Then she looks at me and says, “Screw it!”
The evening’s conversations were generally upbeat. There was not a sense of desperation or depression or sadness, she is a happy drunk. “Okay…” Not sure where she is going, but I stall for an entry point into the new thought path she is going down.
“Let’s ruin the friendship.” She begins to approach me closer, leaning in for a kiss. Just this shocking left turn…
Wait. Woah. What?
I push her away. “No.” Is the only thing that stumbles out of my mouth. “Not like this.” What the hell am I thinking? She looks confused. Not hurt, just confused. “Jen…you know that this is something that I have wanted, well, forever. But not like this…I don’t want it to just be a passing decision, inhibitions squashed by alcohol. I want you to be fully sober and actively choosing to be together. I want you to fight through those inhibitions fully…deliberately! Not just a scene where one night we stumbled into it, it was too embarrassing to reverse, and then years later wondering what the hell were we thinking.”
“Oh…” I can tell the booze is having maximum impact right about now. She is rarely without words. “In that case, I am going to sleep.” She floats by me, heads to my bedroom and flops onto the bed. Not sure if she even waited for her head to hit the pillow before passing out.
WTF? What am I supposed to do with this? It is everything that I have been desiring, but not really the ‘how’ that I was expecting. Now what? I am shell-shocked. Did I just shut down my only chance? Will she even remember it in the morning? What the hell was I thinking??? But she does have a point…it is time to go to sleep. I head into the bedroom. She is unconscious already. I slip her shoes off, put a blanket on her, and crawl into the other side of bed. It takes me mere seconds to join her in dreamland.
The shock returns, as I can ‘see’ this morning scene in my mind’s eye. I awake to the sunlight pouring through the window with such richness that it almost has sound. The beams of light exploding on the yellow sheets of the bed. Flecks of random dust floating in the air. The bumps of my feet at the bottom under the covers. The mound of my blanket gently pulsing in a rhythmic breathing motion beside me. Wait. Woah. What?
Shit! Last night!
Before I can even think through the mountain of permutations that could be coming, Jen rolls over and sees my eyes open. “Hi…Umm, I still want to ruin the friendship.”
“Seriously? That is quite romantic!” as she playfully hits me.
“Sorry! Rewind 10 seconds…Me too. I would much rather have you be my morning than my midnight.”
She smiles. Insert steam…but it has never been about that. The specifics of the vision fades. The further out that I reach the harder it is to see.
We graduate. Get married. Have three kids, Megan, Sara, and Jonathan. She runs for Congress and wins. We move to DC…Ugggh! I cannot see far enough ahead to know if she makes it into the White House. But it is all good. I have her beside me and that makes me smile. It is all that matters in that world.
It is one glimpse of what could have been, yet I am in the reality that I know. Not bad (I mean, well, besides the accident occurring), just different and the glimpse above is under the assumption that I never have the opportunity to meet my wife...the factors enabling that initial meeting would not have been present. Is it enough to quell my need for a story?
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