Innocuous is how it starts out. A simple idea caused by a situation that leads to an eventual shitstorm of problems. Fall of your 49th year, daughter in that pivotal 16th year when life starts becoming her own and she realizes she can soon go in any direction she chooses. Time for an inspirational college trip, a tour through the southern campuses of California combined with a family Thanksgiving in San Diego. A week of bonding, a Griswold Vacation with a purpose.
You are in charge of planning with hopeful input from your daughter about which schools she wants to explore. You brainstorm the heavy hitters: UCSB (your alma matter), Cal Poly, Northridge, UCI, Loyola Marymount, UCSD, San Diego State, UCLA. and a few more along the way that you know very little about but that sound interesting (Cal State Channel Islands-really, that’s a school?!?) You send off quick inquiries to relatives and friends who either attended or had kids who attended the schools. Then you think of her.
The last time you were at UCLA was for a spring formal 1984 at the Kappa Kappa Gamma house. You were a semi-asshole freshman at UCSB and your first girlfriend from junior year of high school was a smoking hot Kappa at UCLA. You remember this because not only did the formal not go well (a few too many gin and tonics), the next day was your birthday and you were planning to spend the day rekindling the old fires, maybe a romantic picnic, that sort of thing.
Along with your semi-assholenesss, you were also a very poor communicator and your date had planned on you coming to the dance then returning to Santa Barbara as she had made other plans. There were no sparks at the formal, you slept alone, and hidden away in the corner of her dorm room and you spent your birthday wandering the streets of Westwood feeling very sorry for yourself. Ah youth. 30 years later you are wondering how to re-connect. You know her name; where she went to college and high school and a few rumors you have heard second hand over the years (She is married, became a lawyer, was divorced, lives in LA). You type in her name and up pops a restricted Facebook page with a new married name. There are a few pictures attached, definitely Jill, a grown up version but with the same smile you remember falling hard for when you first saw it at 17. You send the first message:
Creepy first boyfriend here, taking my 16 year-old to UCLA next Sunday which made me think of the last time I was on campus which made me think of the last time I saw you which made me think, “I wonder if I could find Jill and ask her about UCLA?” which made me think “Of course I can, Facebook knows all.” which led me to this long, poorly punctuated sentence.
Livin’ the good life disguised as a high school teacher in Sonoma. Son 14, daughter 16, wife 20 years, house, dog, chickens, tennis, skiing, writing, happy.
-Walt Williams (Scott)
Innocuous, funny, light, it’s been 30 years, who knows what might come back? You wait for a response, checking every couple of hours. After a day of crickets, you go deeper; you find a mention of her name in a staff listing at a high school in LA, a real estate listing in Santa Monica and a mention of her at a breast cancer fundraiser. You think briefly about using one of those pay-to-stalk sites but decide that would be crossing a line.
On the second day, you search the staff directory of the breast cancer support group from the fundraiser and find she is listed in as a member. Victory is yours as it gives up the elusive email address that you have been looking for. You email:
Been searching for another email for you after no response from Facebook (more of a challenge than stalking you…I think). I am heading to UCLA next Sunday with the family on a college tour and am hoping for some inside dish about what to see.
Would love to hear if you are alive and well.
-Walt Williams (Scott)
The response is immediate.
Hey there, stranger!
Yes, I’m alive and well, sounds like you are too. Never got the Facebook message- my privacy settings are super strict and must have blocked it. What have you been up to for the past 30 years? Call my cell (910) 276-9000 when you have a minute to catch up and I will give you my best imitation of advice for your visit.
Yes! She exists! She is alive and interested in talking! She has forgotten about the horrible formal, maybe this could be the start of something! Then you realize, maybe this could be the start of something. When you started Facebooking years ago you were trolling for friends and discovered that another ex-girlfriend lives in Marin. You corresponded and found out that she was recently divorced and very interested in meeting you for lunch. You returned an email about your family life and never heard back from her again.
You were not lying when you wrote that you are happy. Life has turned out rather nicely. You don’t make the most money and you don’t have the most stuff but you do have a wonderful family, nice friends and a great job which you like going to. You fight with your wife but after 18 years of sharing and growing and changing, who wouldn’t? Still, you start wondering, did you make the right choice?
You call after class and it’s like 30 years never happened. She teases you; you use your humble yet proud voice to explain what you’ve been up to. No lies, no bravado, just the same comfortable discourse like you were 17 again. You catch up about friends, parents, spouses, and kids. She’s proud to have been able to be a full time mom for ten years, happy with her lawyer husband (reinforcing your theory that all women marry their fathers), and happy with life.
But she is also really happy to be hearing from you. You continue to wonder.
You make secret plans to meet up in Pismo Beach, you time the rendezvous after a tour of Cal Poly and you tell your family you are going on a walk to clear your head. You embrace and everything feels right, all the years disappear as you kiss for too long and hug like you just jumped out of an airplane with one parachute. You knew it would be great, you knew you were soul mates, you knew…
You wake from your daydream. There are two types of guys in the world: affair guys and non-affair guys, you are the latter. You like to flirt with women until it gets uncomfortable and you know you might be able to seal the deal if you choose to but you choose not to. It’s the challenge. You have worked far too hard to blow it all for lust, you’ve seen the results; you have watched the series on Showtime and have friends who went down the separation path. Nothing is as good as the life you have created because you created it. Any man with most of his hair and a job and a little bit of confidence can attract mates, the opportunity is always present, the real challenge is growing together once you have chosen the right one.
The college tour is a ball and you never attempt to make any further contact. The trip is about your daughter and family bonding. The Griswold Vacation with a purpose is a huge success. Chevy Chase doesn’t get together with Christy Brinkley. You send the following email Wednesday after you return:
Final tally-tie for first place between Cal Poly and UCLA, San Diego State second. UCSB out of the running (strange zombie race going on Sunday morning while we were visiting-think it tainted the tour).
Favorite quote of the week from 14 year-old son, “Mom’s fittin’ to get krunked” as we walked into the Double Tree after touring five schools and Kate immediately asked if the bar had whiskey.
Finally able to peruse Facebook yesterday and am happy to see you have achieved what appears to be a wonderful life. Special congratulations on your boys, as you may or may not know, he who dies with the best kids wins.
And there it is, I’ll talk to you again in November of 2046.
Nice to catchup tomato,
She replies immediately,
Sounds like your trip was a success, especially if the bar had the needed whiskey!
Seems like we both have done well in life, go figure. It was nice catching up with you. You sound just the same, which is a good thing to my mind. Don’t be a stranger.
And there it ends. A nice reminder to cherish what you have. Happy, respectful, drama-less, innocuous.