Quite by chance, while curiously checking on the size of a college I once attended, I learned that the guy I dated and dumped during my first year of college has become richer than God and is on the college Board of Trustees. He was an engineering major who subsequently went on to face active duty in Vietnam, then returned to enroll in and graduate from Harvard Business School. His career has been characterized by taking the helm of at least four MAJOR corporations when they were struggling. As C.E.O. of each, he successfully turned them around, using six noble principles that he espoused (the first one being the importance of diversity). This was a guy who came from a working-class NYC family. His father, disabled in middle-age by arthritis, was an abusive alcoholic. His mother worked a blue-collar job as the sole supporter of the family of four. This former boyfriend’s incredible success is simply unbelievable – and wonderful. I am very happy for him.
There is only one other person who would be as gob-smacked as I was by this discovery: my friend since that freshman college year, Leslie. Only she ever knew the dirty details of my dramatic and self-centered bust-up with this guy, because what I did hurt her as well.
Leslie and I have always kept in touch, most recently when we spent a couple of days together in Montreal, but I have not heard from her in what seems like a couple of years. I had to call her, but I was pretty sure that I didn’t have her current phone number. A search of the Internet revealed this: Leslie died very unexpectedly from food poisoning while vacationing in Cancun. I had been laughing hysterically at the incredibly unbelievable success of the ex-boyfriend, even for awhile thinking that he must have made it up and sent it to the college alumni association as a joke; I was hit broadside by the death of my friend.
If I may be a bit crass, it’s like the tale of the Catholic Bishop who scored a hole-in-one while playing golf when he should have been in mass. The archangel told God about it, and felt that God should punish this Bishop severely, but God replied, “He’s already been punished. Who’s he gonna tell?”
Yes, who am I going to tell? Those kind ears that forgave me so long ago can no longer hear. How we would have laughed together at the irony and the deserved fortunes of that guy we once knew. But this is part of what growing older is about. Sometimes the promising stars from your youth fade; sometimes those friends who were undistinguished soar. And sometimes friends you have always taken for granted leave.