I found out yesterday a great friend from years ago passed away. We lost track of each other when he met his wife to be, like what often happens. Her friends became his; she let his old friends know they were no longer needed. She seemed to make him very happy, and he’d been lonely for a long time. It was painful to let him go, but I did out of respect.
We had been thick as thieves once, and I wish I’d been as selfless and kind a friend as he was to me.
Six years ago he was diagnosed with cancer, and four years later passed away. He had no children, which is sad because he would’ve been the best of dads.
A life-long Lutheran, K. embodied the ideal of what a Christian should be: loving, humble, kind, patient, giving, understanding, self-sacrificing, and compassionate. The world is a lesser place without people like him.
The last time we spoke was twenty-three years ago. I called his house one morning because I sensed something was wrong. His wife was cross with me, understandably, but she woke him. I couldn’t logically explain what made me call. We spoke briefly, and that was it. It wasn’t some weird warning about his death that made me pick up the phone, just that something was not right. Probably my subconscious missing him.
What I didn’t say, and what I should have, was to thank him for his friendship, for all the kindness and patience, the frankness, the homemade chicken soup, the laughs and trust, gentle boyfriend choice advice, attempts to cheer my dour Irish heart, and for one surprise birthday party that went very south through no fault of his own.
I love you, K., and hope to see you once again. You made the world a good and hopeful place for being in it. Thank you.
“I can’t marry you.” Maybe not his exact words, but that was the gist of it. I stood there looking at Travis with my mouth hung open with shock. I willed him to look me in the eye. To have the cojones to say why now. At least he acted very ashamedly.
“What?” I’d just endured the worst Christmas in my entire life for him, and on December 26, he was breaking off our engagement. Most men would’ve at least waited a few days, maybe even waited until the holidays were over, but Travis’s mother was waiting for him to take her to lunch. Martha always won, and I had mistakenly tried to get between them.
“I can’t marry you.” He shifted uncomfortably. This was a man who consistently avoided conflict, so something or someone had finally pushed him off the edge. Was it the horrible Christmas Day drive from Houston to New Orleans so that Martha could shop at a Hallmark store sale? Was it the awkward and uncomfortable Christmas Eve we’d spent with his sister and her husband? His sister kicking us out of her house Christmas Day? No, I was probably dumped because I’d grown a pair myself and was terribly, terribly unhappy even before he uttered those devastating words.
I felt gutted as I waited for him to either explain or change his mind. Almost all my belongings were sitting in stacked boxes in his Houston townhouse. I’d given notice at my very well-paying job in New Orleans, we’d discussed his career, my career, our future. I’d even accepted that he was too cheap to give me an engagement ring. Yeah, that should’ve been a tipoff since he could well afford it and his lifestyle.
The whole thing was somehow not surprising. He relocated to Houston, I’d flown back and forth from New Orleans to be with him, and distance was starting to tear at us. We were an odd couple before, hell, we were odd just by ourselves, but the distance was magnifying it. Maybe it was because he’d refused to let me move in with him back in NOLA before the relocation, using his mother and roommate as reasons. Martha wouldn’t approve (yes, yes, I know.), his roommate might suffer inconvenience. (Yes, yes, I know.) But we were engaged, for God sake.
Maybe it was my personality quirks and shortcomings. He was OCD in a somewhat socially adapted way. Eccentric. Very, very eccentric. Still, I was messy, and he’d made uncomfortable jokes about it in the past. Now he was living with it on the weekends, but I was trying very hard to change.
I think what truly broke us was my attitude toward Martha and her daughter. Despite his protests, I knew in my heart of hearts they’d always come first. His father had abandoned the three of them, running off with his receptionist, and so they made a tight tribe, one to which apparently I’d never actually belong.
Martha and daughter knew exactly where we should live in the Houston suburbs, what kind of furniture we needed, the whole enchilada. Travis joked that the two of us had the final say, but it didn’t stop his family from shoving house plans and ads for developments under my nose. He even made me visit some of the houses just to satisfy them.
No, that Christmas, things came to a head quickly and badly. If Martha wanted to travel six hours for a Christmas ornament sale, then by God we’d stuff ourselves into a sports car and do it. That was back when restaurants were not usually open for holidays like Christmas Day or Thanksgiving. We’d found a restaurant bar that evening that served dinner, and it turned out to be the worst meal I’d ever eat in New Orleans.
Afterward, his mother wanted to see my tiny one bedroom apartment, which needed a light cleaning and was almost bare because of the impending move. I sensed Travis was embarrassed by it, even though it was neat and clutter-free. Martha walked around inspecting my things as if, making jokes. Travis laughed uncomfortably, and I felt weirdly ashamed and poorly on display.
She had once made a comment I wasn’t a doctor like his former girlfriend, but I’d do, and now the writing was on the wall. I didn’t do anymore. Maybe I’d never done but was tolerated for a while. Martha made it clear I was found lacking that night.
Travis left with his mother for their favorite French Quarter hotel, and I was alone in my stripped apartment. In a healthy relationship, I would’ve gotten ready for bed and fell asleep in his arms. In a healthy relationship, he would’ve laughed and refused to humor an eight-hour trip to buy more Christmas crap. But neither one of us was normal.
So there I was, thinking about all the times my friends had warned me against him. Had begged me not to take him back after a bitter breakup. Had all but ripped from my hands his thirteen-page letter asking me to take him back. I had known better than them because I’d loved him. Even if we’d had a horrible Christmas, I thought, it was almost over. Martha would go back to the Midwest, and we’d start over again.
The next day he came over and broke up with me. Mother and sister had won.
I went to see my mom in North Louisiana a day later, poured out my heart, and gained some perspective on how my engagement wouldn’t have worked. Got into a near fatal accident going back to New Orleans. An eighteen-wheeler hit my tiny sports car, and somehow I walked away.
I spent the slow-motion time between the time the truck hit me and my car going out of control thinking I didn’t want to die. That I’d been picking the wrong men all my life, and if God lets me survive, I’d never make that mistake again. It was New Year’s Day, and my car was drivable afterward. With the dinky spare on, I managed to drive back to New Orleans and crawl under the covers of my bed. I didn’t stop shaking for days.
Swallowing my pride, I got my job back and informed my friends that they’d been right all along. Travis had been bad news for me. It went unsaid I had been bad news for him too.
Two weeks after the accident, I took myself out on a fixed-up date. It was too soon, but my heart was hemorrhaging, and I needed some reassurance that I wasn’t some unlovable loser. This time, the relationship took, and I married him a few years later. We’ve been married almost twenty-four years now, with two beautiful sons, and a house in the suburbs of Houston.
While Travis didn’t do me a favor for dumping me, he saved us from a short, unhappy marriage and unimaginable bitterness. No matter if he loved me, or I loved him, it just couldn’t work because of our priorities, or lack of them. I can say Travis made happiness possible for me. He made the next guy, a good-looking, selfless man, shine like a handful of flawless diamonds. It takes being with the wrong person to realize the real “The One” when he finally comes along. Sometimes it takes heartbreak or near death experiences to make the connection. I was lucky. Very lucky.