Val recalls the "forgotten years", (years of distance) between her and James.
|Excluding our 15 minute reunion when I was a teenager, last year was the first time I got to see James in person. In over a decade. Thinking about it, even now, it seems so surreal.
A lot had changed in all those years.
At 19, James had joined the army. I found out from his sister, who asked me if I would be interested in writing him a letter that she would send to him with her family's care package. Considering the fact that he hadn't felt the need to mention his intentions to enlist to me before, I decided to leave it be. Perhaps he didn't want me to know, or didn't want to be bothered. So, I remained quiet, listened for news through the grapevine (i.e. my sister, or his), and thought of him often.
By 21, word got out that he was intending on getting married to some girl, and I swear my heart broke when I heard. The heartbreak nor the bad news stopped there. Jenny told my sister and I over a cup of coffee one afternoon how the girl that her baby brother was pursuing was manipulative and mentally unstable. Jenny was concerned that James was being mentally and emotionally abused, and began crying as she told us how this girl was stringing him along. She rejected his proposal of marriage, but threatened self-harm if he left her. Between this insane, demanding relationship, and life in the barracks, James was being worn thin. Jenny expressed her concerns for him, sobbing as she confessed her suspicions that he was depressed and possibly contemplating suicide. He began distancing himself from his family, Jenny included, which was so unlike him. He became distant and secretive, and then Jenny's parents received a phone call about James arriving in the emergency room on base. She didn't specify why he was there. She didn't need to.
It was then that I decided to take a leap. I reached out to him. After years of silence, I contacted him, and we fell right back into the groove of things, as if just picking up where we had left off a few years before. We talked day and night, and I was a bit bewildered to realize that he had the exact same effect on me as he had way back when.
He confided in me about what it was like being in the army, how he felt completely stripped of his identity, a pawn, a puppet made to feel nothing and commit awful sins. He talked to me about his relationship, how he feared it was a mistake, how his mental health was decomposing because of it. I never spoke a word to him about what Jenny had confessed, but each time he mentioned the subjects that brought him pain, my heart broke a little bit more. I provided him an ear to listen, and I felt him leaning on me for support. I was immensely glad to help. We talked to each other constantly about everything. He seemed to be getting better, mentally. His attitude improved, and he seemed to become happier. Or, at least, a lot less miserable. My childhood dreams of marrying this kid began to flit innocently in and out of my mind during this time.
And then one day, nothing.
All of our communication was cut off. At first I was worried that something had happened to him, but then as time drew on, I began considering the very real possibility that his girlfriend was reclaiming him and his life. My fears were proved right when I hung out with the Jen's months later and heard everything straight from his sisters mouth.
Not only had his girlfriend reclaimed him, but they had gotten married.
I was so angry, so hurt, and my heart ached, but I felt relieved at the same time because that was it. My heart couldn't possibly endure any worse from him. He had hurt me as much as he ever would.
More time passed, and he eventually contacted me. He apologized for everything: for cutting communication, for not telling me what was going on. He tiptoed around the subject of his marriage, but thanks to all of my anger and hurt, I didn't let him off that easily. I confronted him, rewarding him with a "congratulations" dripping with the most venomous sarcasm. He wasn't fooled by the expression, and he apologized once again, explaining how he wasn't sure how things had gotten this way. She was like a drug to him. So addictive, and so goddamn unhealthy for him. He admitted that he knew that it wouldn't end well, because together they were toxic...
I couldn't listen to any of it. I had loved that boy for over a decade, and here he was explaining his love and marriage to me. It was enough to make me sick. It just never seemed to work out for us. Something always came up. And more often than not, that "something" happened on his end. I vowed to myself then and there that this was it. I couldn't do it anymore. After years of nothing progressing, of loving a boy who clearly would never love me back, I couldn't deal with it anymore. So, I gave him a sincere best wishes to him and his life, and told him that I would always be there as a friend if he ever encountered those dark evil times again, but otherwise, I thought it best to leave it at that.
Or so I thought.