I’m at work, and the snow is coming down, fierce and unrelenting, outside. He drifts again into my thoughts, as he does so often at times like this. A flicker of a memory, made romantic over time, of a 17-year-old me sitting in some random high-school class, looking out the window, worrying about my drive home. He offered to drive me, to drive my car for me, take me safely home and then somehow (how? walk?) get back to his house across town.
I said no. (I always said no; I still say no more often than yes.) I spent that afternoon worrying about the accumulation, the slippery roads, the stop signs on steep hills, and then when the bell rang and I’d collected my books, I drove myself, slowly, steadily, through the narrow streets to my house. I don’t remember the drive, actually, except that it was uneventful, lasting no more than 10 minutes. And yet, I remember that moment in class. I remember the offer, from the boy who wasn’t my boyfriend, wasn’t my crush. Wasn’t even really a friend – just someone who for some reason, offered to do something kind for me.
What would have happened if I had said yes?
Now, twenty-five years later, I can see things a little more clearly. Maybe that would have been the beginning of an unlikely friendship, maybe the beginning of something more. Back then, he was just a guy – not unpopular, but not popular either, and being popular used to be important. I don’t remember a girlfriend; he sort of floated on the periphery of all of that. He was tall, but not the lanky, gangly tall of most 18-year-olds. He was a big guy – a little too big to be comfortable in his own skin, at that age – and had soft curls framing his gentle face, and a wide grin, that like his body seemed a little to large. He wasn’t on anybody’s list. We all favoured the soccer players, or the hockey players, or skiers. He wasn’t any of those things; if he skied or played hockey or soccer, it was just for fun, just for himself, and it wouldn’t have registered on our radar.
I do know he was a good person. Sweet. Funny. I know he had a brother, a close family. I know that he was fair, and that he was always present, reliable. Kind. Kind enough to offer a ride to a scared, skinny girl in history class. I know I liked him, even though I never imagined myself with him.
What would have happened if I had only said yes?
He’s living overseas now, in Japan, maybe Korea. He has a beautiful Asian wife and a bouncing baby boy. That’s all I know, and I only know that from friends of friends who post on Facebook. He and I don’t keep in touch – we never did. We never had a reason to; beyond that one generous offer (and typical refusal), I don’t remember having very much to do with each other at all.
I see his life now, snapshots of his life, of his travels around Asia with his beautiful baby and smiling wife, and I realize again how silly we all were back in high school. This boy – man now – chose a different path, began choosing it even then, and yet nobody was willing to give him any credit for that. Originality is a defect when you are 18, despite the encouragement of our parents to be unique (the same encouragement I heap onto my own children now, even as I cringe, knowing I may be inflicting on them the pain of eccentricity).
What would have happened if I had said yes on that snowy afternoon, all those years ago?
I am not completely naive. I don’t expect that he and I would have built any kind of life together based on one 10-minute drive through the snow-covered streets of my childhood town. We likely wouldn’t have even become better friends afterwards, save for a few days of awkward glances and low-lashed hellos in the school corridors. That drive probably wouldn’t have changed anything in my life, and yet the memory floats back to me whenever a storm rages, all these years later.
The pleasure of my memory is the possibility of adventure that it holds. Maybe, in those ten minutes, I would have seen the man he has become, the man who has finally grown into his size and his loose, sloppy grin. The man who holds a round little buddha baby with such softness that it makes you wonder what whispers are spoken into that tiny brown ear at night. The man who wasn’t afraid to leave his home and country, seeking adventure and experience on the other side of the globe.
It’s not the man that I miss; I love my husband, and I don’t question our place together. Rather it is (as it always is, isn’t it?) what the man represents: turning your back on the commonplace, trying something new and scary, doing the unexpected, and learning that you do it well.