What can I say about Al? I've written about him, in story form and in journal form, more than once. It used to be too painful to tell the story. Now, sometimes, I tell the whole thing from start to finish. I suppose most of my closest friends have heard it. But it's long, detailed and exhausting.
Our romance was ill-fated from day one. We were an odd couple—his friends were shocked that someone like me would date someone like Al. Why? Class differences perhaps? If so, I didn't perceive them. Mostly, I perceived that Al was an asshole. I got that pretty quick—but that's never stopped me before. He was also a joker, larger-than-life and charismatic—which are qualities I find desirable, though not essential, in boyfriends.
I actually wrote a vignette about Al on this here blog. Here's the relevant portion:
When I was 19, a guy I was seeing told a story where he mentioned a girl's weight, "She was 1XX pounds, so you know it was a tight squeeze in that car." 1XX was how much I weighed.Hmm…you'd think that story is why Al is on my mind, but it's not. (Al certainly never gave me a lecture about diet and exercise. He was not so slender himself.) The reason Al comes to mind is that he is probably the guy about whom I harbor the most regrets. (You'd think that would be Tom…but it's not! I'm just full of surprises.)
"Do you think that's a lot?"
He looked at me and said, "Is that how much you weigh?"
"Well, almost. Close enough. " I said. There was a long pause. "What do you think about how I look?"
He said, "You have a very pretty face."
Who knew that telling someone she has a very pretty face could be quite so insulting. I wish I'd broken up with him then. Live and learn.
The way things ended with Al crushed me. It took almost a year to recover. I was so down about it that when I managed to drag myself out of the house and a guy would talk to me I'd say, "I had a bad experience." Actually, that's what I feel like saying now. I want to tell people about David. I want to say, "I had a bad experience." It's like a fucking grey cloud of doom.
But the bad experience was the only way I ever managed to put things with Al to rest. The "bad experience" happened when Al and I were 22. I'd known him since I was 19. We didn't spend much time together over those three years (perhaps a couple of months total? Perhaps less?), but every time we did was memorable.
I know I shouldn't regret what happened. I should be GLAD that I finally recognized that any involvement with Al would cause me misery and heartache. That I had to cut him completely out of my life. I did that…but I feel like it's taken until now to see how important it was for me to have that bad experience with Al. At least I knew the answer: it would never work. And even though we didn't have closure, I did learn my lesson. No more Al.
I'm afraid I also took that lesson to be "no more risks." I'm trying to unlearn that one.
When I take those risks and things don't work out? It's ok. I'm not a bad person.
One of the hardest things for me to risk is acting the fool. It is the one thing I've never gotten used to. Forget having my heart broken—sure, I'm not happy about that, but I'll recover. But acting stupid? Losing someone's respect? Having my pride injured? I can't take it. It kills me. I takes me forever to recover.
Why was I devastated the second time things didn't work out with Al? Because it ended exactly the way the first time ended—and I was furious with myself for making the same mistake twice. I felt the fool. (The first two times were when I was 19, within months of each other.)
The last time I was involved with Al, I didn't fool myself. Each time we'd tried to date, Al disappeared. Poof. No call, no word, no nothing. It happened twice and I thought I was done with him for good. The last time, there was no pretense at dating—I ran into him by chance, he took me to a party, drove me home and I invited him in. We spent the night kissing and he didn't even take his shirt off. I didn't think he would go poof again, since all I wanted was an invite to his New Year's Eve party, not his eternal devotion. I managed to pry the invitation from him, but he ignored me at the party and I was pissed. I didn't hear from him again.
A month later, I was told that Al had been sent to Iraq. I was shocked. Dazed. I found out how to contact him and started writing him a letter the same day. He was gone for three months and I sent him six or seven letters. He wrote back and I still have his letters—all six of them, poorly written and impersonal though they may be. The day he got back, he knocked on my door at 2am. I was happy to see him, but not as happy as I thought I'd be. Perhaps because I knew what to expect? That night, I said to him, "What happens when you need to leave?"
He said, "I'll handle it. I won't leave. It's my problem."
"But…when you need to leave, just tell me."
"I won't leave."
"Yes. But when you need to leave, it's ok. Just let me know. I need you to let me know."
We saw each other one time after that. And then…poof.
I never heard from him again. I was destroyed. My friends thought I was crazy. Even I thought I was a little crazy. I knew I was overreacting, but I couldn't help myself. I felt so low, so discouraged. I felt used, taken advantage of. In all those years, we'd never slept together. But after he got back, we did. I felt like I'd had a one night stand against my will. I was ashamed. It wasn't what I wanted.
I had a long talk with a stranger soon afterwards, a young guy who I never met again, and I told him the whole story. He said, "But didn't you want to be with him?"
"Yes, I did. But now I feel terrible."
"But you shouldn't. You didn't do anything wrong."
His words helped but I couldn't shake that terrible feeling. I would go out and I couldn't be cheerful. I decided that if going out made me more unhappy than staying home, I would stay home. Of course, I did start going out again and not quite a year after the last time I saw Al, I met Joe (my best boyfriend ever).
But why? Why should I regret it? I did what I wanted to do. I had to write to him, see him when he got back, hope that whatever it was we had would finally get a chance. I couldn't not hope, even though I knew, I knew, it would never happen. I wanted to be with Al. I realized that it was doomed. I accepted that and I moved on. There is nothing to regret.
What I hope to do, how I hope to live, is to stop restraining myself from pursuing what I want because it won't be good for me. Nothing I want is good for me. At least I can try and enjoy what I want. As long as I'm not hurting anyone (deliberately) or acting maliciously, I don't see why I shouldn't try and get what I want.
Then again, you find sometimes, you get what you need.
Grateful for: wanting.
Drop me a line.