Contributor Post Created with Sketch. How to Avoid a Road Trip

 

“Spring is in the air.”
“It is.”
“We could just get in the car and start driving.”
“We could.”
“A road trip. To anywhere. It wouldn’t matter where.”
“We could.”

shutterstock_114034636-2But we wouldn’t. Not because we both wouldn’t want to, but because it would be stupid. One of us had to remember that. If he wouldn’t, I would. I owed him at least that much.

When we first met, I suppose we could have called it love at first sight. But we didn’t. I insisted most strenuously to myself that it was not. Which wasn’t a lie. Not exactly. I idolized the guy. Would go to hell and back for him. Would have more than one chance to put hell-and-back to the test, too. Collaboration as equals? Fine? Playing protégé to one another? Also fine. But romantic love?

A heedless impulse to martyr yourself on another’s behalf hardly makes you good sweetheart material, even if the desire is reciprocated. I don’t know where I got the sense to see that, being an otherwise silly, hopelessly pent-up romantic. But thank the good Lord I did. Christians make a habit of studying at the school of Christ’s total sacrifice in order to learn what love is, but none of us is Jesus. Jesus had an advantage over mere mortals, also being God. We haven’t got God’s reserves. Even when we fervently desire to be mere conduits of God’s infinite love, we’re leaky pipes. Our plumbing is — quite frankly — a bit on the moronic side. Call it a consequence of the Fall.

Within a few hours of meeting this young and exceptionally G-rated combination of Johnny von Neumann, Richard Feynman, and John Nash (in case you were wondering which part made him dangerous), I had resolved not to do the one thing I rather overwhelmingly wanted to do, at least not for a while. Partly, I was still too much in awe. Partly, I was simply frightened. And very suspicious. We were both innocents. In his case, I was firmly convinced, the innocence was due to some innate and wonderful goodness of his. In my case I knew innate goodness played a lesser role: I was merely oblivious to the way romance was done. In any social circle. Much less that minuscule intersection between hard-science über-Bohemia and Campus Crusade for Christ.

Moreover, neither of us was quite right, were we? The rumor among our friends quickly spread that we were perfect for each other: alike both in having a touch of madness as well as an inquisitive intensity unusual even in nerds. He was just a little too expansive; I, a little too grimly cynical for someone so obviously naïve. Something had to be not-quite-right with both of us.

It didn’t follow, though, that two not-quite-rights would be right for each other. Things could go horribly wrong, I feared, long before I could even name what that fear was. What our friends expected was something that – if it happened – I did not want to screw up. Only much later would I realize the obvious: romance can’t even begin without some reckless disregard for the other person’s sensibilities, without some disregard for what happens if you do screw it up.

So we just became good friends, clichéd as it sounds. I thought the girls he dated were beautiful and he thought the guys who flirted with me were handsome (no matter what a neutral bystander might have thought). We gossiped together, letting slip secrets too embarrassing to share with the crushes we wanted to impress.

Eventually, we both ended up on the brink of engagement to other people. Then, both our romances collapsed within weeks of each other, and all hell broke loose.

My friend and I can never really know what might have happened otherwise, but having each other around may have been what kept us both alive and out of jail. The girl he was so sure would soon be his wife left him – perhaps just to further her career – which drove him rather more literally nuts than he was used to being.The guy I had foolishly believed was about to propose left me abruptly for someone else, likely out of sheer sexual frustration, mere months after declaiming he had loved me in secret for years. (Years of loving me in secret, and a few months was too much? I could scarcely contain enraged shame as the real facts emerged: this guy had a habit of leveraging his status in church into attachments with vulnerable women. Though I told myself over and over again to be glad I wasn’t quite as vulnerable as he thought, it didn’t help.) My friend and I, both habituated to taking rage out more on ourselves than on others, and both in uncertain health, took turns watching over each other to ensure neither of us did anything too severely stupid. Whatever it took – all-night vigils, trips to the hospital: this was the hell-and-back part.

Finally, the raw, gloomy spring turned lush and warm. “Spring is in the air at last,” my good friend said. We sat on the alleyway stoop, watching lilac bushes down the hill ripple as birds quarreled in the breeze. Spring was in the air, I agreed, and he repeated it.

We didn’t get into the car. We didn’t start driving. By now we both knew what we’d both want, if only we wouldn’t screw it up – and by now we were both painfully aware that, for the foreseeable future, the odds were especially great that we would screw it up. So instead of taking a road trip to nowhere, we made a deal:

Since he was the older one, if neither of us was engaged by the time he turned 30, we’d talk about marriage then. Not now. Now would be too stupid, so soon after mutual heartbreak, so soon after all that hell and back. It takes more than self-sacrifice to make a compatible marriage: So what if we had managed to look after each other without fear or disgust during our worst days? If being together meant inflicting more bad days on each other to begin with, what good would we really do each other? We agreed we both could use time for self-improvement before marrying anyone, even each other.

We are married now – to other people. Wonderful people. People who didn’t risk doubling our mutual weaknesses, but who instead complement them. We both chose domestic tranquility over romantic martyrdom.

My friend and I aren’t as close now – many of his old friends aren’t very close now, it seems: that’s just the way family life worked out for him. And I would never want to intrude on the domain of the woman who’s made him such a splendid wife. Valuing friends’ happiness means valuing their spouses’ happiness too.

My friend and I have nothing to regret – and better reasons than most, perhaps, to be grateful for that nothing. Even so, sometimes

when the moon their hollows lights,
And they are swept by balms of spring,
And in their glens, on starry nights,
The nightingales divinely sing;
And lovely notes, from shore to shore,
Across the sounds and channels pour —

I remember the stoop, and the alleyway, and the road trip we never took, and simply miss an old good friend.

There are 27 comments.

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  1. TG Thatcher
    TG

    Thank you for sharing this gift.

    • #1
    • July 18, 2015, at 1:57 PM PDT
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  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This is a gem, Midge. Thank you.

    • #2
    • July 18, 2015, at 2:03 PM PDT
    • Like
  3. Dave Sussman Contributor

    Wow… Not the ending I expected.

    Plenty of lessons here and so well written.

    Thanks for this window into your life Midge!

    • #3
    • July 18, 2015, at 2:05 PM PDT
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  4. PHCheese Member

    Ships in the night, but passed very close. Beautiful!

    • #4
    • July 18, 2015, at 3:03 PM PDT
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  5. Boss Mongo Member

    Thank you.

    • #5
    • July 18, 2015, at 3:17 PM PDT
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  6. Trink Coolidge
    Trink Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wow. I was going to try to quote a few of my favorite lines . . . and realized it’d require a higher membership category. Wow.

    • #6
    • July 18, 2015, at 3:30 PM PDT
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  7. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive

    I’ve posted this before, but it seems especially apropos:

    Each verse is about a different woman in Kerry Livgren’s life. The third, of course, is his wife.

    I’m glad you and your friend had the good sense to avoid likely romantic shipwreck. I’m sorry the closeness has faded. I’m glad it’s to make space for something healthy and enduring.

    • #7
    • July 18, 2015, at 5:22 PM PDT
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  8. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    One of the greatest posts I’ve ever seen on Ricochet, just amazing. Thanks, Midge. You have a truly unique gift.

    • #8
    • July 18, 2015, at 6:33 PM PDT
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  9. The Reticulator Member

    David Sussman:Wow… Not the ending I expected.

    Plenty of lessons here and so well written.

    Thanks for this window into your life Midge!

    Also thanks.

    • #9
    • July 18, 2015, at 6:37 PM PDT
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  10. PHCheese Member

    I had a girl friend when I was 15. I went away to prep school and she went to away to reform school. Besides a brief encounter a few years later , I didn’t hear from her for 50 years. With the advent of the internet she tracked me down. Her and her husband have come to visit us three years in a row for a week at a time. Her and her husband have prayed for me every night since 1967. The whole story deserves a post of its own someday.It is quite amazing.

    • #10
    • July 18, 2015, at 7:27 PM PDT
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  11. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    PHCheese, you said it, it does deserve its own post. It sounds inspiring already.

    Although I have to mischievously admit that it did bring to mind a Reader’s Digest joke, vintage circa 1962, when actress Elizabeth Taylor’s scandalous marriage break-ups were much in the news: “My pastor told us we should pray for Liz Taylor. I pray for her every night, but I never get her”.

    • #11
    • July 18, 2015, at 10:29 PM PDT
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  12. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Phenomenal.

    • #12
    • July 18, 2015, at 10:40 PM PDT
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  13. Martel Inactive

    I think of every person I’ve encountered on Ricochet yours are the comments and posts I’m most inclined to either like or agree with.

    • #13
    • July 19, 2015, at 6:38 AM PDT
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  14. Mike Rapkoch Moderator

    This truly is wonderful. I’d say it’s sad, but things obviously worked out well for both of you.

    • #14
    • July 19, 2015, at 11:08 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. Southern Pessimist Member

    Christians make a habit of studying at the school of Christ’s total sacrifice in order to learn what love is, but none of us is Jesus. Jesus had an advantage over mere mortals, also being God. We haven’t got God’s reserves. Even when we fervently desire to be mere conduits of God’s infinite love, we’re leaky pipes. Our plumbing is, quite frankly, a bit on the moronic side. Call it a consequence of the Fall.

    Profound and beautiful.

    • #15
    • July 19, 2015, at 12:37 PM PDT
    • Like
  16. PsychLynne Inactive

    MFR,

    It’s a slow Sunday afternoon, because I’m feeling too lazy to do anything but read…and not wanting to read anything too demanding.

    I’m so glad I was pulled in by your title. This is a lovely, lovely post. Thank you.

    • #16
    • July 19, 2015, at 12:52 PM PDT
    • Like
  17. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Mike Rapkoch:This truly is wonderful. I’d say it’s sad, but things obviously worked out well for both of you.

    It is perhaps not as sad as it seems.

    I used to think the poem I quoted was profoundly sad. And alienating. This was before I even met my friend. What if we are just islands surrounded by the “unplumb’d, salt, estranging sea”? What must it be like to feel that once “we were / Parts of a single continent”?

    Well, now I know. It turns out it’s not so bad, after all. Yes, it is a little sad, but not in the what-if sense. Other old friends of his, friends he did not agree to an option on a mutually-arranged marriage with, also feel the same sadness – family life appears to take up his energy to an extraordinary extent, even when compared to other family-oriented people. But if that’s what keeps him happy and on an even keel, we can’t be too sad: after all, none of us succeeded in keeping him on an even keel like that.

    Is the separation of South America and Africa tragic, just because both continents bear the marks of where they once joined? Should we bewail the existence of the Atlantic, a perfectly fine ocean?

    • #17
    • July 19, 2015, at 3:08 PM PDT
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  18. Judge Mental Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    It is perhaps not as sad as it seems.

    The word I want to use is wistful. Some things don’t work out like the movies. This is your unique story, but that aspect is universal. I’ll bet you’ve made a bunch of us think about people from our own lives.

    Great job, Midge.

    • #18
    • July 19, 2015, at 7:25 PM PDT
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  19. Pencilvania Inactive

    Lovely writing, Midge. I often get fed up with the “Live fearless/just do it” mantra that gets pounded into us from all angles. You can look fondly on the road not taken, and take wisdom from that as well.

    • #19
    • July 20, 2015, at 5:05 AM PDT
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  20. Fricosis Guy Listener

    I have an ex-girlfriend I think of the same way. That ride you described reminded me of the time we nearly eloped.

    We had been friends, then became lovers…lovers with great chemistry. The problem is that our chemistry is that of sodium and water. Or we’re a Teller-Ulam design. Even my eventual amends and our reconciliation was a fraught and explosive process. I can barely talk to her without getting angry.

    We are, however, still married to our one, and only, spouses.

    • #20
    • July 20, 2015, at 5:14 AM PDT
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  21. Manny Member

    Wonderful story, and so well written. I loved that part about the “leaky pipes” too. :) Thank you for sharing.

    • #21
    • July 20, 2015, at 5:25 AM PDT
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  22. cdor Member
    cdor Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Well done, thank you Midge. A beautiful insight into your soul and a lovely crafted piece of writing.

    • #22
    • July 20, 2015, at 5:59 AM PDT
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  23. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive

    Fricosis Guy:We had been friends, then became lovers…lovers with great chemistry. The problem is that our chemistry is that of sodium and water.

    Funny you say this. I recently chose to end what I thought had been a good friendship of over six years that ultimately resulted in two very good public presentations together, because I came to a shocking realization: we don’t like each other. We like the idea of each other. But the primarily remote, electronic, shared-work-interests-driven relationship wound up on critical life support after a couple of rounds of us angering and hurting each other, and I finally woke up one day and said: this isn’t how friends act toward each other, and pulled the plug.

    Midge’s writing here affected me—hard—because she looked squarely at a compelling feeling, said “that’s a dangerous illusion,” and walked away, when I’d just done the same thing. I don’t think our culture has a lot of good tools for avoiding or identifying these illusions. So no wonder Midge’s story is so powerful (I mean in addition to her writing skill, vulnerability, and honesty).

    • #23
    • July 20, 2015, at 6:47 AM PDT
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  24. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Great Ghost of Gödel: Midge’s writing here affected me—hard—because she looked squarely at a compelling feeling, said “that’s a dangerous illusion,” and walked away, when I’d just done the same thing. I don’t think our culture has a lot of good tools for avoiding or identifying these illusions.

    In our case, we didn’t even know whether the compelling feelings were illusory. Quite possibly, they were not. Nonetheless, pursuing them could have led to a world of hurt, which, under the circumstances, would have been a most unloving thing to do to each other.

    Conservatives like to talk about the virtues of emotional restraint, but how can we figure out what emotional restraint entails without some acknowledgement of the emotions that emotional restraint can be called upon to restrain?

    After all, restraint doesn’t mean “not feeling”, it means “feeling, but containing oneself anyhow”. Perhaps stories about what that looks like in real life deserve to be told more often.

    • #24
    • July 20, 2015, at 7:34 AM PDT
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  25. Fricosis Guy Listener

    Great Ghost of Gödel:

    Fricosis Guy:We had been friends, then became lovers…lovers with great chemistry. The problem is that our chemistry is that of sodium and water.

    Funny you say this. I recently chose to end what I thought had been a good friendship of over six years that ultimately resulted in two very good public presentations together, because I came to a shocking realization: we don’t like each other. We like the idea of each other.

    Midge’s writing here affected me—hard—because she looked squarely at a compelling feeling, said “that’s a dangerous illusion,” and walked away, when I’d just done the same thing. I don’t think our culture has a lot of good tools for avoiding or identifying these illusions. So no wonder Midge’s story is so powerful (I mean in addition to her writing skill, vulnerability, and honesty).

    Yes. Midge’s post got me right in the gut. Love and friendship is sustained by illusion. We overlook warts and slights until something breaks that spell.

    • #25
    • July 20, 2015, at 7:43 AM PDT
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  26. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    In our case, we didn’t even know whether the compelling feelings were illusory. Quite possibly, they were not. Nonetheless, pursuing them could have led to a world of hurt, which, under the circumstances, would have been a most unloving thing to do to each other.

    Well said, and strictly speaking, I’m sure similar observations could be made about the circumstances I’m referring to. We can always debate why we seem to end up locked in mutual anger/hurt cycles; we can always question why they—or we—aren’t being as charitable, as forgiving, as people who are close are supposed to be. “I guess we’re not really friends” may be the cynical veneer on cowardly giving up.

    Or it could simply be finally acknowledging reality. The risks inherent in finding out “for sure” (whatever that’s supposed to mean when human emotions are involved) are categorically not worth it. This finishes the issue, very much in the “Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife” sense.

    • #26
    • July 20, 2015, at 9:46 AM PDT
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  27. Super Nurse Member

    Pencilvania:I often get fed up with the “Live fearless/just do it” mantra that gets pounded into us from all angles. You can look fondly on the road not taken, and take wisdom from that as well.

    This is also lovely, and feels true. Do you think we convince ourselves to think this, or that it really is true? Sometimes I do wonder about that road not taken. I am happy to be sure, and lucky to boot. A part of me still always will have in the back of my mind what could have been. I don’t imagine it would be better, but only having one life to live almost makes one wish to believe in future lives.

    • #27
    • October 17, 2015, at 8:05 PM PDT
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