His name was Frank. He would have turned 60 in September.
Our origin story was romantic and funny; dating back to the mid ’80s. He was 6 years my senior, worldly and intellectual and handsome and he liked me.
I was smitten and caught up, thrilled to become his steady in the foreign city I had begun to think of in more intimate terms.
Of all things he was a doctoral student, suffering through the ravages of completing his dissertation. We fashioned a long distance romance for the ages. Me in DC, he in Vienna. He was becoming a social science authority, I was becoming an adult. We wrote letters – heartfelt, confessionals. We were both hotheads – passionate and stubborn. We argued but rarely broke up. In retrospect, the commitment was astounding really.
When it was time to reunite on the same continent, in the same city, in the same apartment, we no longer actually fit together. I had grown a will and ambition of my own which came as a surprise and affront to him. I was sure he was the one and then he wasn’t so I married someone else and was just as happy.
We lost track of each other and had almost no mutual acquaintances. He had a child and so did I. We ran into each other once on the street and caught each other up on our new lives in progress. That must have been almost two decades ago. I googled him a few years ago out of curiosity and was pleased to see that he had made a kind of name for himself in his field. He had garnered some recognition and made tenure. Good for him, I thought.
An off tweet from someone mentioning Heidegger prompted me to look him up again. I found his name, the uni where he taught and then the obituary. He died in late July and was buried in Vienna at the beginning of August. I was kind of stunned. I just hadn’t imagined that possibility.
The realization of his death dredges up all kinds of memories. There’s a whole history that I carry still of that 6 year relationship that I haven’t considered in ages. And just like that, the vault is cracked open. The memories bubble up and sting my eyes. I suppose it won’t be too long before I go and find that special box that holds all those letters he sent and I kept, the pictures and newspaper clippings, the published version of his diss.
It seems that life has a need to remind us that we did not begin right here, not yesterday. We hold histories within and histories hold us. The weight of a thousand ‘what ifs’ bears down on me. Not because I miss this person but because this part of my history has an end that I didn’t see coming.
I think of the children I have. My sons of other men. I was lucky to get away, to get out of that early relationship when I did. I am fortunate to have the life and all the comforts that I do. That said, this morning and certainly in the days to come, I will spend time recollecting, trying to uncover the significance of those precious days and months; the lessons learned, the moments I chose wisely.
The term “recollect” – to collect again, to gather again the disparate parts. Frank is a dead man and he remains one of my parts. Middle age seems to have a lot to do with parts and belonging I see.