An Old Flame And The Catcher In The Rye aka When I was the Asshat

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything, If you do, you start missing everybody,” — Holden Caulfield in The Catcher In The Rye.

When I went to New York last weekend for work I asked my old boyfriend John to meet me for breakfast on Sunday morning.  

I hadn’t seen him in almost twenty years. I searched my motives and determined they were clean. Of course, I hoped he would still find me as beautiful and captivating as I was twenty years ago, but I also knew that what I missed most about John over the years was our friendship and how much he made me laugh.

So there I sat in a window seat at a neighborhood diner called The French Roast on the upper west side waiting for a piece of my young adult life to walk through the door.  

He was a little late which served me right. I never took him seriously when we were dating. I made him wait. I stood him up. His feelings didn’t seem as real or as important as mine.

I’d had one long-term relationship before John with the man I thought I’d marry. John was supposed to be the rebound guy. I leapt quickly without thinking too much. He was easy to torment because he was quick tempered – half Italian, half Jewish – with a tender heart.

When I’d behave like a cad he’d bluster and threaten and storm out. Only to call five minutes later to tell me that if I wanted to apologize he would come back. Of course I’d refuse, which would lead him to race back to tell me how impossible I was and how it was over and I couldn’t treat him that way.

Then I’d ask if he wanted to spend the night and he’d say yes.

John was me in the long term relationship I’d had before him, with the man I was supposed to marry. Who I threatened and stormed out on, only to skulk back later and beg to be let in.

                                                ______________

I watched the glass front door of The French Roast closely for John’s arrival, and then there he was. My old flame looked exactly the same. EXACTLY the same. Not a wrinkle and fit as a fiddle. Which was slightly annoying. I reflexively patted the extra flesh just under my chin.

I watched as he peered about looking for me and I saw the familiar conscientious expression on his face. Worried he was a little too late. And I realized in that moment that I still loved him.  

Not in a way that would threaten my marriage or my life, but that I  loved him with no agenda or self-interest. That I wanted the world for him. That he’d left a deep imprint on my life. That I’m a better person for having known him and been the recipient of his generous heart. And that I was sorry I’d been such a shit.

We talked for two hours.  

We’ve traveled similar roads. Both of us have had to do a lot of internal work to wrestle our demons to the ground. And the work is ongoing. He spoke a language I understand so well now, a language we didn’t know when we were twenty-five. And I realized there are a lot of different paths to becoming whole and was so proud that he is walking his.

Too quickly it was time to say good-bye. He could have berated me and told me how badly I’d treated him all of those years ago, but instead he was generous. As always.

I’ve lived my life in chapters. Some have been happier than others. The one I’m living right now with Henry and my girls is so sweet. And I know, watching my parents age, that there will still be very difficult chapters to come. But as I write my life here in this space and unearth the stories of the people who have shaped the person I am today and who I will become, I just miss them so much.

Two dear friends and romantics circa 1990. 

If you think you’re an Asshat, check out my Asshat Recovery Program to change that bull pucky!



30 thoughts on “An Old Flame And The Catcher In The Rye aka When I was the Asshat”

  1. People come into our lives for a specific purpose and I’m glad that he was there for you when you needed him. So happy to read that the re-encounter was a happy one.

    1. There was a wonderful play I loved when I was still acting in my 20s called “Silent Traces,” about the people who pass through our lives and leave their indelible mark. The older I get the more meaning it has for me.

  2. I was wondering how this meeting went. How lucky you were able to see him, remember honestly, and truly wish good things for him.
    PS- I’m sure he thought you looked fabulous!

  3. I used to worry about what if’s, but I now realize I would never change anything if it would alter what I have in my life today.

      1. This comment was as powerful as the post. “Luck and we must be doing something right .” Thank you for sharing.

  4. This one got to me. I have felt these feelings before. Never quite able to put them in such beautiful and accurate words. Thank you for sharing. I’m glad he was not a bitter asshole 🙂

  5. That’s so nice that you were able to just accept each other and the past. I think that just shows how far you’ve come as a person–most people would still hold onto the bitterness and be one-upping each other if given the opportunity. Cool story.

  6. Your post is so beautiful and sweet…I always wonder what it would be like to meet with an old boyfriend…I haven’t had that opportunity (maybe that’s a good thing)? but it sounds like it went so well….were you in NY for BH and I totally missed you?

    1. Caryn I was there for BH and I’m so sorry I missed you! I’m planning to go to Chicago next year so we’ll have to make a plan to eat together and meet if we don’t meet each other in L.A. first.

  7. all the replys were nice and the female perspective.. guys are simple, we hear one of our friends has lunch with an old girlfriend our only interest is well did you get one more in for old times sake..another guy secret5 ive let out.. broke the code of silence JOe

    1. Joe — this is why I love you. I was thinking I’d be pretty ticked if Henry went to see an old girlfriend. Then it occurred to me we’re very good friends with his high school sweetheart (we’ve stayed with them in Wyoming and they’ve come and visited us here) AND we’re close friends with one of his college flings. So I guess I’m not quite as double standard as I thought.

  8. I love your take on this. I think your characterization of your relationship is right on the money. I always appreciated how much he cared for you. I’m glad to hear he’s well. I will always have the snapshot of you sitting on his lap with a scarf/headband tied around your head. (You were going through your hippie phase) 🙂

    We should all be so lucky to want the best for our ex loves. It’s such a great feeling to grow up, isn’t it?

  9. Hello John… *fans self*

    Ahem.

    I know this. My John’s name is Heath, and I don’t think I’ll ever have the pleasure of sitting with him for another two hours. He wasn’t a rebound, and even almost 30 years later it would be too painful to be around each other. The one that got away and all that. But that love… that wanting the best for him… I know that.

    Glad you got see him. Closure is good.

  10. This was beautiful, Shannon.

    So beautiful.

    And I’d never have the guts to face someone that I’d acted, well, not in the best way possible with.

    I just couldn’t.

    Glad it went well and led to your words, and growth, here.

    What life is all about. A good life, anyway.

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