There is but one regret of my life. I am being impacted from the grief of that decision all these many years later. Forty-one years ago there was a love, the most truly pure I have ever experienced in my life. As was written in his last letter to Allie in the script for The Notebook, Noah released his yearning for her with these words. “The best love is the kind that awakens the soul, that makes us reach for more. That plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds. That’s what you’ve given me. That’s what I’d hoped to give to you forever.”
Why is it that only now, all these years later, I grieve this love as if I have just lost him days ago? Regret...yes. Guilt?...most definitely. My youth brought with it the beauty of a first love that consumed us both. A few letters remain that have lasted the test of time and my travels through the many locations of my life. This was the greatest love, which I only now realize with all these years that have passed. Can only time bring wisdom?
In my last year in high school, there were only hopes and dreams unencumbered with realities of responsibilities. He and I lived for and loved each other with a passion. Our future was planned with only the two of us in mind. In reflection of the many relationships and one marriage that lasted 25 years, this long ago ‘us’ floods me with emotion and begs me to remember. There is an urgency to write about how we were together so as not to lose this powerful time to the thousands of love stories that are forgotten as unimportant. He and I were not that type of story. Yet, I willingly pushed him away. I let go with the naivety and ignorance known, for some of us, that there is someone and some place better than where we are and who we are with.
While growing up, my deepest longing was wanderlust. I always dreamt of being anywhere, any place other than where life had me at that time. Then and now, my fervent desire is to travel and roam the world on my own. In my junior year of high school, this amazing young man and I were loving our lives together exploring creativity with music, plays and adventure. Underneath all of this flowed my desire for other places. I saw an opportunity for this possibility with a foreign exchange program for that next summer. I applied for it, was accepted into the program and left the beginning of June thinking I would return and nothing would have changed. That was not the case.
During the two-hour flight from Houston to Mexico City, the second half of my journey, for three life forces which I felt for the first time ever, to take over and last for a lifetime. Wanderlust filled my soul with this first trip to anywhere on my own. The thrill of adventure experienced on that day was to remain a major force to be reckoned with. On this short flight, in a very small plane, there were mostly other students on their way to live in Mexico City and older men in business suits far less excitable and in wonder as we students were. Yet, to me, they were enticing just the same.
I loved not being with anyone I knew and the freedom that comes with that. Wanderlust affords me the opportunity to become whoever I’d like to be in those moments of flight. The second force experienced for the first time on that flight was copious amounts of alcohol. The ugly taste filled my fearful heart with numb fearlessness that I chased, in earnest, for 28 more years. By the end of that fateful flight, I was a less than model representative of the youth of the United States. The third, and to me and the true love I had left back home, was the most dangerous and destructive of all. I was impacted by the attention of the older men on the plane. By the next day, as I attempted to unpack and adjust to the new bedroom in the home of my host family, I found many pieces of paper with hastily written phone numbers relating only to the city of Mexico City. On that plane, I became anyone I had ever wanted to look or act like. By the end of that very first day of leaving for this adventure, I had turned to these things that were on the outside of me and away from anything I had felt with my heart. My feelings for my sweet love at home were already leaving me as our plane landed in the very wee hours of the Mexican morning.
The three-month stay in this wonderful city fueled my desires, day by day, for more of what thrilled me on that flight. My interest in those left behind was noticed as I continued to receive the daily letters from my wonderful young man and he received fewer with each week that passed. By the end of August, he received none.
Upon my reluctant return to my hometown in upstate New York at the end of that summer of 1974, I was face to face with the one I once lived for with hopes that I could end our love with one swift comment and nothing more. His hesitant hopes for seeing, in my eyes, the girl I once was, so in love that I couldn’t stand the hours not seeing him, were dashed. There was scant eye contact as I was already gone. My young, foolish heart was filled with the new life I had discovered and blinded by the desire to return as soon as possible.
Now, years later, with chapters of my life mostly written, I review my closest loves. Those I love with my whole heart are my children, two amazing grown individuals who I would not have the honor of having without my life lived as it was. I love my parents and siblings with an equal passion. Yet, after the other loves of my life, this young man, older now as I am, remains in the deepest truest parts of my memory. The memories that stay with us until the end of our time wherein we bring about emotions as if the memories were more recent than is true. I admit I have never felt that depth of love and closeness with another, nor have I chosen anyone with the capacity for it. That is a long time to live as if all was well. Maybe not in this lifetime will there be a chance like this again. It’s hard to imagine now that it could be possible. Back when I left him, I thought there would be all the chances in the world for what I carelessly tossed aside. There were not.
My years of independence and freedom as a direct result of wanderlust most likely didn’t allow it. Even as my days with alcohol fade in the distance, I still feel lost with wondering what happened when decisions were made in the haze of it. The attention from men that once was exciting is now annoying and false.
God, I am grateful there was a time when our hearts were one. Are there second chances? Maybe not in this lifetime.
Debra Whittam is the author of “I'm I Going to be Ok?" For any media inquiries or questions please contact: Contact@DebraWhittam.com