Right now I’m on a plane. It’s a Friday afternoon and I’m flying across the country from my home in Baltimore; when I get off this plane I will be greeted by my ex-girlfriend. It’s been 25 years since I’ve seen her.
We’ve both just turned 50 and found each other via Facebook. And we’re both single again. I learned that she was still living in California, where she’d moved shortly after we broke up. What would it be like to see her again? I wondered enough to make the leap. In minutes I will find out. I have no idea what this reunion will hold — even though I’ve dreamed about it half my life.
She was my first real adult relationship, and I thought she was everything I ever wanted back when we were both in our early 20s. On a typical day we’d window-shop for old antiques and make up stories about the quirky items we’d find. On a typical night I’d light a candle and she’d pull out her guitar and softly sing to me. We would stay up drinking red wine, talking and laughing late into the night. We were happy and I loved her. We were only together for two years, but I secretly longed for her for the second half of my life. This hidden desire lay buried under a score of other relationships because all along, somewhere in my heart, I knew nothing had ever quite matched the closeness I’d had with her. Here’s the strangest part: We were so close we seemed to develop telepathic powers. We’d say the same thing at the same time. I used to think up some obscure random thought and she’d say exactly the same thing as I said. This happened so often it was spooky. I got hooked on her and that rare way we had of communicating.
I wanted to marry her but she would not settle down. She was determined to live her life at top speed and simply not ready. I was also immature. One day we had a stupid argument and it all just fell apart. When it was over I sensed I’d never be that close and intimate with another human being again. To get over her I went to Europe, climbed the Alps and stood on top, hoping the wind would blow my sorrow away. Instead I found myself looking over the horizon and silently beckoning her, wondering if she could hear my thoughts. Over the years, if I heard certain songs, I’d think of her and try to send a message. Had she ever heard me?
I’m on my way to find out.
The plane is starting its descent. I have to stop writing and put my tray table up. I’ll know very soon if this weekend was a good idea or not. Here we go.
Back on the plane home, I have time to write again. Here’s what happened–
Coming down the long hallway into the terminal, I spotted her first as she wove through the airport crowd. Still tall and lean with a confident stride. Yes, that was the face I remembered. She was beautiful, she was real, and she was soon to be standing right in front of me. I picked up my pace and soon her eyes found mine. She smiled. I dropped my bag and we embraced. I looked deeply into those big brown eyes. Her return look was warm, wonderful, welcoming. I kissed her.
Walking to her car we were comfortable but a little tentative. It had been decades. We drove straight back to her apartment. She lived right on the beach, the lone tenant of a tiny loft at the top of the palm trees overlooking the Pacific. She gave me a quick tour before we sat down on the couch to talk. The little tension that remained drifting off with each minute. By dusk we’d moved outside to the balcony to watch the sun set and lit a fire in the fire pit. We fell into a familiar groove as she pulled out her guitar and sang to me. Her voice was still soft and beautiful. Then we drank red wine and talked about our lives late into the night. We both laughed and said it was as if we’d traveled back in time, only this time instead of reclining in our little apartment in Baltimore we found ourselves under a blanket of stars while the Pacific Ocean lapped below.
Saturday morning we drove to breakfast at an old beach hotel. I looked at her across the table and realized I’d forgotten her loopy funny laugh and how much she made me smile. She told me she’d forgotten how truly comfortable we were together and that secretly she hadn’t expected our reunion to feel this good. We ordered a second cup of coffee and lingered at the table. Then I asked her if she remembered the way we used to say the same thing at the same time — that telepathic connection. She laughed. She said it was a trick her grandmother taught her, to say a word a split second after someone else, as if you’d shared the same thought. Her grandmother told her it would make her popular.
I was crushed. After all this time, that closeness I remembered, that rare connection, was all a trick? I guess she’d never heard my longing thoughts from the Alps or any other place over the last 25 years. I felt disappointed but hid it.
Next we took a long walk on the beach, daydreaming about exotic houses and making up quirky stories about the people who lived in them. While we did I looked at the woman she’d become. My fantasy of a rare psychic closeness was shattered, but somewhere deep down I think I knew it was self-delusional all along. Here was the real woman, not the illusion.
I told her I believed the telepathy was true all those years ago. She looked at me and smiled. She went on to remind me that she was an only child, the child of parents who were only children and when her mother died she wouldn’t have anyone else in the world. I imagined her as a lonely child, the one that learned an innocent trick to bring her closer to people. As a younger man I would have resented her trick and blown up at the deception. But now I could see she never meant any harm. So we didn’t have telepathic powers. So what? Maybe we still had something. Without any tricks.
The rest of that day it felt like time stood still, passing the afternoon talking and people-watching from a park bench. I took every opportunity to smell the scent of her neck and feel the touch her hair. I wanted to experience her with every sense. I wanted to remember every second. She told me she was happy.
And then on Sunday it was over. Fifty hours after picking me up, my old girlfriend drove me back to the airport so I could take my flight back to Baltimore. Fifty hours. An hour for each year we’d been alive. A miniature lifetime packed into one weekend.
When she pulled up to the curb we both got out and kissed. With a soft tear in her eye she said she wanted to see me again and I said I wanted to see her again. We talked about maybe getting together for Christmas, but we both knew that was far away. Then we both said that maybe one of us would be in another relationship by then and then…we stopped talking.
Silently we moved toward one another and softly held each other’s face. We put our noses together and got as close as we could possibly get — so close that it looked like we each had only one big eye. The rest of the world disappeared. We both drank in that look, that intimate, one-eyed, crazy look. Neither of us said another word. We just froze and stood there, basking in the glow of that romantic weekend. We’d found each other again and now we didn’t know what to do.
The reality remained that we’d carved out lives on opposite ends of a continent. We knew that when we woke up the next day we’d be 3,000 miles apart. And I believe we both knew we’d never have anything greater than this moment. The weekend was a rare gift, but we were going back to separate lives.
Instead of trying for more and winding up with less, we left it all right there, as it was, a perfect, breathless, fleeting moment of reality. It’s already an actual memory now, as I take my flight, more powerful than half a lifetime of illusions.
Jeff Dugan is a documentary television producer and the author of The Final Days of Jimi, Janis and Brian. Read more here.