StayFriends – StayAway

March 9, 2011 § Leave a comment


Image by kaioshin via Flickr

I suppose it’s really the most common thing with us middle-agers. After just a few decades we start getting all mawkish and emotional about our childhood and youth. The 70s and 80s are practically idolised by our generation, and instead of thanking our fate that the whole affair is over, we dream about the “good old days” and kick off one retro trend after the other. If the distance is just far enough even the most horrible circumstances, the most abysmal cheesiness and the worst nightmares of our past acquire a golden sheen in the sentimental light of our memories.

I must confess here, I am every bit as guilty of the above as the next guy. No, not really. It’s getting worse with me, at least for the last five, six odd years . I fantasise in daydreams about my schooldays, my childhood pastimes, my first puppy love heartthrobs. It’s become almost a mild addiction with me. And at night I have strangely fascinating dreams about a landscape that at once is and isn’t the town and the neighbourhood I grew up in.

Given all this it will not come as a surprise that finally I enrolled in one of the classmates/stayfriends services. I didn’t participate a whole lot, it just was nice to see what had become of other familiar faces and hear again from a few friends time washed towards different shores from me. After the novelty wore off I didn’t visit the site for about a year or so.

Now, recently I felt my fascination with the land of memory lane was growing even stronger. Probably all due to the holidays and winter in general. Anyway, I thought more and more often about my first great unhappy love affair. A girl I fell in love with at around 10 or 12, and which I last saw at the age of 20 or so. And it dawned on me that there really had been hardly a year when I didn’t think at least a few times about her and wondered what had become of her. In a way she had always been some private idol, deeply hidden in the layers of my subconscious and reappearing time and again in moments of doubt and crisis. I think in a sense she is what one might call my invisible female Harvey, a friend nobody else knows about. And I was a little startled to find I hadn’t realised it myself over decades.

Last week I received one of those status summaries the classmates people send you to get you back into their fangs. Normally I just delete them and be done with it. I don’t know what made me read this particular one. Anyway, the message was startling enough. My puppy love had visited my profile. I didn’t recognise her right away on the tiny picture they send you. What alarmed me was her maiden name after her surname.

With shaking fingers I signed up for “gold-membership” (no pun!) and clicked her image to enlarge it. Well, if it’s not entirely a cooperation of photoshop and the CIA then she still is a gorgeous woman, absolutely a stunner. What a beauty she still is.

Needless to say, I contacted her. And not out of the usual reasons. I know, such sites are for many users little more than a lonely+desperate-hearts dating service. But I had just found an authentic part of the golden days of my youth and I was happy and grateful like I haven’t been for many, many years and I wanted to share this feeling.

Which was a big mistake.

It turned out she hadn’t visited my profile intentionally, hadn’t searched for me. By some mistake I was shown as having been in a class two years above and she couldn’t put a name to my face (or the face to my name). It was just an accident she had visited my profile.

We didn’t write a whole lot. The gist of it was she has had a few hard times and a few good as had most of us. It was a very polite and even reserved conversation, nothing like I would have imagined in my daydreams. But then I am for all intents and purposes a stranger to her. As she is to me.

For one thing became uncomfortably obvious to me – she wasn’t at all the girl I remembered or the woman that I imagined her to grow up to be. That alone perhaps wouldn’t have been so depressing. But it also became apparent she hadn’t thought of me at all. I was literally nothing to her, a blank space, a sheet of white paper. She had been absolutely without idea how much she had meant to me. And she quite obviously saw me as an entirely different person from the one I am today. Perhaps this misjudgement is what hurts the most, for it doesn’t reflect well on the boy I used to be; absolutely not.

Mind you, I do not blame her at all, she was just living her live. The girl I had been in love with had long since ceased to exist. Or perhaps hadn’t ever existed at all. I had taken that image of her from my 12-year-old heart and had just given her an imaginary personality that I could take with me through my adult life and dream about as a companion.

It was this product of my own imagination, more than anything else, I was in love with for all this time. The ever understanding comrade who has seen and survived everything with me. And I’m afraid now that by contacting the real thing I may have damaged my own idea of it.

So my feelings are somewhat ambivalent. I am still grateful to know she is out there somewhere, living her live. It’s good to know she is well and has seen some good times along with the not-so-good ones. And part of me would really like to get to know her closer, maybe give back some of what she had, unwittingly, given me in my time. At the same time another part of me wants to protect his own version of her.

So my adivce for you is: be careful what you wish for. It might be granted.

Oh, she and I stopped mailing us on Friday, wishing each other a nice weekend. I mailed her on Monday, but she didn’t answer any more. Of course I’m disappointed and ashamed and even a bit hurt.

But the thing I feel the most is: relief!


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