Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No Regrets

There are people that come and go in our lives. Some who are with us for long time that are forgotten after years of absence; others, who are with us for a relatively short time, but are remembered, no matter how long they are away from us.

I only knew Joy for a year, maybe longer. She stopped being part of my life more than 30 years ago. But as a young teen, she was my first love.

It was her wonderfully twisted sense of humour that first attracted me. Her wit. Her sarcasm. Her sly eyes. She took crap from no one, would dish out a double helping of any trouble she was handed. Woe to those who ever wanted to bring trouble to her.

Joy's round face usually had a smile. And it was that smile that distinguished her from her twin sister, Joanne, who tried—and failed—to fool me into believing that she was my girlfriend. I remember one time, at their house: me, sitting on the sofa, listening to Leonard Cohen, waiting for Joy to rejoin me after a trip to the washroom. The person who came into the living room and snuggle up to me got shoved away: "Back off, Joanne. You're not fooling me," I said.

It was the smile, the way that Joy carried herself, that was unmistakable.

Joy and I broke up and got back together a handful of times in the year that we dated. Our biggest challenge occured when my parents found out that we were having sex (we were way too young—being a parent now, I shudder to think of my girls in any similar situation in the years to come). Joy and I got through that patch, but I finally broke up with her when my new friends at my new high school took me in a different direction from Joy and my old high school—my family moved from Gatineau to Ottawa. It wasn't just the distance that turned me away from our relationship; it was also my new environment, my new life. It was a tough breakup, but it had to be done for me to move forward. It was tough, but I have no regrets.

I saw Joy and her sister a year or so later. They were visiting their brother, who lived nearby. We spent a couple of hours together: I had my driver's licence, and the three of us went for a drive. It was nice to catch up, but it made me realize how much I had changed since our breakup. I was fully immersed in my new life, and our relationship seemed so far removed from who I was that day, though I was and am still aware that our relationship had had a strong hand in making me the person I was. After that day, when I said my goodbyes to Joy and Joanne, I expected to never see them again.

I was wrong.

In 1989, the year that Lori and I started dating, I had returned to my parent's house after having lived that summer on my own in New Edinburgh. I had moved back in with my folks after leaving my full-time job at the camera store to go to university. And though it wasn't surprising that my parents would be protective of me, living under their roof, it was strange for them to treat me like I had never lived on my own at all. So when Joy called up and wanted to get together, it was amusing for them to want to shield me from her, as though somehow she would get me to leave Lori to start dating her again.

We met for coffee at a place on Bank Street. Joy hadn't changed a bit. And yet, she had changed a lot. She still had that round face, those mischievous eyes. But in speaking with her, she seemed to have mellowed. She had already had children but was a single mom. Some 22 years later, I barely remember the details of our meeting. We didn't stay long; perhaps for only one cup of coffee. But what I did take away from that meeting was that Joy and I were very different people. While I didn't regret the relationship we had, I couldn't imagine what had held us together for that year almost 10 years earlier. Again, when we said goodbye, I fully expected it to be our final goodbye. We had had closure on our relationship—twice.

Last week, I received a message on my Facebook wall with a request to "friend" someone (I hate using friend as a verb, but the digital age has flushed the English language down the toilet—that's another blog post of its own). The message was simply "I don't know if you remember me...". It was Joy.

How can you forget your first love? Though she had only been in my life for a year or so, though we had only seen each other twice since our final breakup, though I hadn't seen her in 22 years, I remembered Joy. And I accepted her friend request.

We exchanged e-mail messages. I told her about my work, that I was married, with two kids. That I was still living in Ottawa, though I lived for a couple of years in South Korea. Joy had three children: her oldest, 29; her youngest, 21. She had never married and was single. In her words, she had never found the right person. And she was still in Ottawa.

And so we agreed to meet, to catch up.

Joy said that she hoped I would recognize her, but it was she who didn't see me sitting at a table on the patio of the pub. I'd have recognized her anywhere. She still had that round face, those devilish eyes that had been so full of fun when we first knew each other.

Joy is happy. Her three kids have grown. She's a grandmother already, soon to have two more grandkids arrive—both of her daughters are expecting next month. She has a good government job. Her health is good.

We caught up. Our lives had gone in very different directions, neither necessarily better than the other. We had grown into very different people than we were those 30 years ago. We had seen and experienced different facets of life, each with its ups and downs. We learned about the people we had become and we were happy for each other.

There were no regrets.

When we parted ways, I had already learned that our goodbyes were never final. I didn't tell myself that this was our last get-together. And so I told her to keep in touch.

And I have no regrets.


  1. I would really like to thank you for this blog post. As you seem to describe her perfectly. The love I have for her could never be described with words. I am her youngest daughter, 24. Joy's 2 new grandsons were born the same day, one at 2am and one at 9am. There is no one in this world who has ever made her feel so accomplished as you have. I sincerely and forever thank you for this.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Sara. Your love for your mother is clear in your comment.

      But to say that "There is no one in this world who has ever made her feel so accomplished" as I have sells you, your brother, and sister far too short. I would argue that Joy's children and grandchildren have given her her biggest sense of accomplishment.

      I hope that the next time Joy and I get together, she brings you along. It would be my honour to meet you.