Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Old Postcards

An old friend found me on facebook recently.

This is a technological feat that never ceases to amaze me, especially given my Polish maiden name. I haven't heard from this friend in well over 20 years. A whole lifetime.

We had dated when I was in high school; a private, all girl, Catholic institution. I was lost in high school and my art teacher recognized this. She had basically forced me to attend a local theater group to learn backstage skills, hoping I might find a place where I belonged.

I was scared out of my wits that first day. I walked in, completely clad in my plaid uniform, only to find the most diverse group of teens. Truly a real life "Breakfast Club". They were all smarter than I was, all knew each other, and all had previous backstage experience. And I was supposed to fit in there?

The group was led by a student from nearby Wesleyan University. He completely intimidated me. He was a few years older and worldly. He was dynamic. He was comfortable in his skin. He dressed so eclectic. And he expected me to fit in. Just like that. He never treated me any different that the other, cooler kids. So I did belong to this group of misfits and during that school year we produced a couple of plays at Wesleyan's '92 Theater.

I don't remember much about those plays. What I do remember is how the '92 Theater smelled. I can be right in that space by just closing my eyes. It was an old, rambling building with a sprawling basement where we built sets. You could get to the Wesleyan tunnels from the basement. It had an old fashion lighting booth where I seemed to spend most of my time. It's where I learned basic theater skills. And it's where I learned not to "build a boat in the basement", an odd lesson that has stuck with me to this day.

At the end of the year, when all of the plays were done, our group had a party in the '92. We lit up the stage, kept the audience dark and played the music loud. We weren't drinking. It was an honest celebration. I can still see us all dancing on the stage. At some point during the evening I found myself in that light booth with our fearless leader. It was innocent. Just a look that passed between us as we tried to say goodbye. But that look changed everything.

And so a young romance developed. No one in our misfit group knew because the theater season was over. We were an unlikely, taboo couple at best. He was of age; I wasn't. He was in charge; I was his charge. I was white; he wasn't. It probably was only a few months of a relationship, but in our youth, that was forever.

He moved back to New York City at the end of the school year but we continued to see each other whenever we could. One of the things I remember most about this time was waiting anxiously for the mail. He would send me postcards from New York. They were unique, quirky and charming. Almost all were black and white. Vintage cityscapes and old matinee stars. I tacked them to a wall in my bedroom. I would imagine him standing at a newspaper stand trying to decide which one to send me next. There was only a short note on the back of each, but that's all I needed.

The last time I saw him was at South Street Seaport in New York walking away from me in a blue seersucker suit on a hot summer day. I was wearing a a black and white dress.

Sometime at the end of the summer he moved to the other side of the world. I was crushed but there was nothing I could do. So I went from receiving my beloved postcards every few days to receiving mail maybe every couple of months to receiving no mail at all. And that's how it ended. He went on with his life as did I.

I've thought about him on occasion and, truth be told, have even tried to find him on facebook once. When I saw his "friend request" I was shocked. I had to look twice at the name but it was him. All the memories flooded to the surface.

After I accepted his friend request he sent me a message. It was short and heartfelt, just like the postcards. He apologized for hurting me all those years ago. I wasn't expecting that. I was just happy that he had found me.

This got me thinking. Has he been carrying that around with him all of these years? The last thing I ever want to be to anyone is a burden. This recent connection has made me look at my life and realize what an impact this youthful romance had on the relationships that followed. The apology has made me wonder who do I need to apologize to for my past behaviors or choices? Is it ever too late to apologize? And how do you accept an apology for a pain that no longer hurts?

I think it's only a rare few of us who get the chance to apologize. It's an even rarer few that get the chance to forgive. Both of these are acts of Grace and take courage. I'm sure in my youthful, romantic ignorance I hurt him as well. For that, I also apologize. My high school romance has a beautiful family of his own now and lives back in New York. And we are friends once again.


Today I went to one of my favorite bargain shops and there they were. The postcards. Thousands of them. Just the sight of them took my breath away like they had in my childhood mailbox over two decades ago. The sign said they had been recently found in a store room in New York City after 20 years of storage. 10 cards for a dollar.

So there we were, the postcards and I, lost and found in the same week.

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