Life is sometimes funny, bittersweet, and even ironic. There are pivotal moments in our tender years that follow us well into the narrative of who we are. The space between is often paved with a blend of poignant memories, rites of passage, unseized opportunities and the haunting of words left unspoken. The series of events that ultimately unfold as we fumble through adolescence isn’t scripted and – try as we might – can’t be re-written. We can either resign ourselves to wallow in remorse, or we can seize a shot at redemption when the opportunity presents itself.
I was an awkward boy when I was coming up. Not awkward as in eccentric or strange, but awkward as in shy and very unsure of myself. I was born into a staunch Catholic family and went to parochial school. For the unindoctrinated, this only meant two things: (1) that your entire existence was predicated on guilt, and (2) the notions of expressing your feelings or desires quickly got you labeled as impetuous and incorrigible. I can speak from experience that if you ever strayed too far away from the established dogma, the benevolent Sisters of Mercy would (in their own inimitable way) conspire to bring you back “into the fold”, shall we say. But, I digress.
Contrary to the above paragraph, this isn’t a story about dogma. It’s really a story that starts out with an awkward boy and an awkward girl sitting together upon a storefront stoop on a summer day in the mid-Seventies. Apologies in advance for that bit of literary whiplash I just caused you but stay with me because, I promise you, this is all about the space between two people who met early in life and the irony of how unscripted events can sometimes lead to redemption from the sins of the past.
I started working from a very young age. Some people reading this will know that my family had a neighborhood grocery store. I was 12 years old when I learned a lot about small business and the importance of a strong work ethic and working with people. I made a whopping $15 a week – when you’re 12, this is the textbook definition of “rolling in it”. I wasn’t exactly introverted in that environment and lots of people knew me. I could hold my own with customers of any age. The store was one of the rare places where I didn’t have to be shy.
Everything sort of went “sideways”, as they say, on a warm day in June. There was this neighborhood girl, you see. I had seen her around before – sometimes with her family, other times not. Picture an attractive, unassuming, kind … crush-worthy girl. So, of course, being the clumsy, awkward, doe-eyed boy that I was in those days, my cat-like reflexes kicked in and I did the most unintelligent thing I could muster – avoid her. While she was crush-worthy, I was cringe-worthy. What a pair.. This dance went on for weeks. She would come in, I would suddenly find something to do where I could see her from afar. It was a whole thing.
I think she got wise to me, though. There came a day where she just followed me and proceeded to talk to me. It’s not that she was bold, it’s that I so wasn’t. After what felt like an eternity of me trying to formulate some really cool banter, my Uncle wisely told me that it was time for a break and shooed the both us to the outside stoop where I inexplicably regained my composure and just….talked. School, the weather, mutual friends, favorite everythings, movies, music – I would have talked about the most mind-numbing topics one could imagine. She was easy to talk to and we just connected. Our occasional stoop time was always good, always special – a rite of passage that got me out of my shell.
All throughout that time, and for many years afterward, I never once let on about the crush. It’s hard to say why, exactly. Fear, no doubt. We all build prisons of a fashion in our own headspaces. We fear not having enough courage, we fear rejection, and we hesitate too long on things that later make us remorseful. These are all demons of our own making. For any of you that follow music, the Eagles got it right when they wrote the lyric in Already Gone, “So many times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key..” I’ve always regretted the silence of things left unspoken.
Over the years we randomly kept in touch. Catching up, exchanging pleasantries, trying to set up casual meetings that never came to pass for one reason or another. Year after year passed and I kept a futile torch aflame. There comes a time in all of our lives when we face another rite of passage – that of having to let go of things that seemingly no longer serve us. It gets too hard to move forward when you’re tethered by things that you think will never happen. You start to re-frame your outlook and take on a new forward-looking mindset. Still remorseful, but able to wrap my head around it
Flashing forward to the present… in a most unexpected way, our trajectories crossed again. We’re no longer that awkward boy and awkward girl sitting on the stoop. We have each our own libraries full of diverse life experiences, each having both mountainous highs and riverbed lows, and both evaluating what’s next. The stoop is no longer a place we can rendezvous to, but we have slowly been interacting and talking about the universe it would seem. Like old times. Little by little, some of that old remorse seems to be fading away. Maybe redemption is at hand, maybe not. What’s important is that the space between doesn’t have to be silent and unspoken for anyone. The sacrifice just isn’t worth it and serves no end. Life is too beautiful to not be free to live your life out loud.