Brief Encounters: A Ramble
It was a lot for one day.
The old boyfriend happened first.
"Billy [not Kristofferson]!"
I was coming out of the Gap (or, as I understand it's actually called by millennials—an example of successful, albeit pointless rebranding—Gap). He and I dated for several months a decade ago, kept up as friends for a bit, then have run into each other, warmly, a few times since. He's married now, I knew from our last run-in. This afternoon, he deflected a cheek kiss because he had a cold, so we fell into a clumsy gay-modified bro hug. (Strangely, on a break from writing this, I just did the New York Times mini crossword online. 3 down: "Awkward people to meet on the street"—EXES.)
Back in the day, he had a dog, I had two, and one night in my apartment, all five of us shared my double bed. There was some awkwardness then, too, till we all settled in.
On the street, those three animals now deceased, we talked about dogs—his new one, an old guy he recently adopted from a friend of a friend, and the one I've been searching for over the last couple of months since the death of my dear P. The truth is I always get the sense he still has a little candle burning for me (I'm afraid I did kind of break his heart), so I'm wary of getting too close.
Our conversation ended with ellipsis rather than, as on previous occasions, vague talk of a dinner party with our current partners. But I walked away smiling, glad to have seen him. Ten years ago, I was so lost in so many ways; it's nice to know there's someone I met during that time who recognizes the person I was then in the person I am now, and seems pleased to see both.
A couple of hours later, an old friend of my long-term-relationship ex (the one whose breakup with me triggered the aforementioned lost period) appeared at my office door. She was there to see a colleague of mine who has, coincidentally, become a friend of hers.
This woman was one of my favorites of all my ex's friends—they'd known each other since college. Shortly after the breakup, she and I got together for lunch once, at her initiation, a gesture to let me know she liked me independently of the painful thing that had happened and she hoped we could stay in touch. What surprised me, at the time, was how painful it was to hear her breezily chat about going to a wedding with my ex, or simply to hear his name come up casually in conversation, as if he were merely a mutual friend and not someone who'd ended our relationship. (Okay, yes, the relationship was ending on its own.) So I didn't actively pursue a friendship with her after our lunch. I assumed, under the circumstances, she was leaving the ball in my court, and I didn't pick it up.
Many years later, I e-mailed her to explain why I'd fallen out of touch, that it had just hurt too much then, through no fault of her own, but that I enjoyed hearing about her from my colleague over the years and hoped she was well. She never replied.
Then today happened, and she was as lovely as could be, filling me in on her life, asking about mine and whether I had a partner. I told her about D.—whom she probably already knew about, but it was sweet of her to offer me the chance to tell her about him: no hard feelings or awkwardness all these years later.
She has two sons in college (little kids when I first knew her), recently took a buyout from her longtime employer, and is starting a new career. She said she was sorry about my dog P.—my ex's and my dog P.; we adopted her together and shared custody for far longer than we were a couple. She told me he has a new dog now.
I'll have a dog of my own soon. And we'll probably run into him someday in the park.