It’s been twenty years. Twenty years since I last saw him… spoke to him… hurt him… and said goodbye. Twenty years of regret, of wanting to take back the pain I caused him. He didn’t deserve it. I was a foolish child. He had become a man.
I was only 15 when I met him. After school, I worked the drive through at McDonald’s in Greenville, SC., and he would come everyday, at 4pm, and order two cheeseburgers and a Dr. Pepper. It was the same order, every single time. He was so damned gorgeous, with his wavy mop of golden blond hair, deep blue eyes, and dazzling smile. You could feel the electricity in the air as soon as I opened the little window…feel the heat from it… and sometimes I even thought I could hear it crackle, just a little bit.
One day, I glanced out the window and saw him pulling up to the menu board, and I quickly said “that’ll be two cheeseburgers and a Dr. pepper, right?” He looked so dumbfounded. He finally stammered out a “uh… yeah…” and pulled up to the window slightly red, head tilted to the side, looking like “who the ???”. I met him with his order and a huge smile (reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat, I’m sure). That was the day he asked me out for the first time.
Two years later, we were engaged. He graduated high school and went into the Army as an Infantry Paratrooper for the 82nd Airborne. I went to a Christian Academy in Mississippi for my senior year. It would be a little more than a year before we saw each other again.
I’ll never forget how he looked the first time I saw him again. My God, he was so handsome… but then, he always was. He had changed though. He’d spent time in Honduras, where he broke his leg during a jump. He’d been places and seen so many things, and he was no longer the carefree boy I knew. He’d become a man, and I wasn’t ready for that yet. I was in awe of him, and afraid of him too. I was still a virgin, and had been in a Christian school for girls. I wasn’t ready for the man before me… the man who now touched me differently… kissed me with so much passion… unsettled me completely.
I told him the night before he was to catch his plane that I wanted to break up with him. I don’t even remember the lie I told him… too embarrassed to tell him the truth of it. The next morning, he kissed me just before he boarded the plane, and told me he would always love me. As I watched the plane pull away from the gate… I knew I had made a mistake. I wanted to run out onto the runway… to stop the plane…. to tell him I didn’t mean it…but it was too late.
The airport was an hour and a half from my home. I had decided I would call him as soon as he had time to get home, and beg him to forgive me. When I got home, however… those plans would change. My mother met me at the door. He had called his mother from the plane… she had called mine. My mother tore into me for breaking his heart. She said such hateful things… I couldn’t call him after that. She made me feel like I got what I deserved…. that I wasn’t worthy of him in the first place….and he was better off without me.
It never changed the fact that I always wanted to say “I’m sorry for ever hurting you”. He deserved better. He was a good man. I started trying to find him a few years later, to tell him so. By then, he was out of the service, I was in Arkansas, his family had moved, and I couldn’t find him. I have looked for him for 20 years now. I never stopped looking for him.
Last week, I found him. He is a police officer now, and I found his picture and biography on his P.D.’s website. I just sat there… reading and re-reading his bio over and over. It chronicled his life from the time he was in the army til now. All those years… all the regret… the only person I had purposely hurt in my entire life…there he was. I took out my photos of him… from when we were young… and placed them next to the current photo of him I had before me on the monitor. Yes, it was him. Older of course… the wavy mop of hair was no more… but to me… he looks the same. He has the deep, sparkling blue eyes… the same slightly crooked smile… so I sat… and stared… and remembered.
Last night, I wrote him a letter. Last night, I finally told him I was sorry. Last night, I was able to let go of my one great regret. Last night, I was finally able to make peace with myself, for something I’d done so long ago.