Sitting across the table, she talks of the time, over fifty years ago, when she was brought to LA for a screen test and how her mother forbid it. I've seen pictures of this woman. In her teens and early twenties (even now, in her seventies) she had a bone structure that would make Lauren Bacall weep with envy, an infectious smile, elfin beautiful and a dancer's fitness.
She talks of the end of a promising professional ballet career when her ankle was damaged beyond complete repair. And she speaks of her plan to join the Navy and become a Registered Nurse and how her mother forbid it because, "Only whores and lesbians join the Armed Forces and you will not drag your family name through that." One culture's view at one point in history.
So she sits and she wonders how her life would have been different- money, fame, meaning? Whether she would have accomplished something. I am biased, of course, because I feel that she did accomplish something by giving birth to me and any change in that delicate web of chance would mean my non-existance.
It reminds me of my father at a time when I was barely old enough to remember- he'd been offered a job in Borneo. High paying, great responsibility, great adventure. I was excited about it, mom did her research and looked forward to it... and Dad decided, in the end, that the risk was too high and his family deserved and needed the security of a life in America. But sometimes, when he was drinking, he would think about what might have been. And that would make me think: what might I have been? What languages, what cultural knowledge, what advantages and skills and experiences from a childhood far away? Or just malaria and an early death?
On the same day I talked to my mother, there was AJ. AJ was, without doubt, my first mature love. The first woman that I loved as a man instead of a hormone-raged adolescent; the first time that the love was combined with a deep respect and liking- had there been nothing romantic, she still would have been my best friend. But I was young. We were both young and neither of us had the skill to make the relationship work through the whirlpools and rapids of learning how to be adults. We didn't know how to deal with our own histories and intensities. It ended (badly? any end would feel bad).
AJ visited, spending time with my wonderful children and beautiful wife (they like her almost as much as I do) and just for a second in the midst of this, there was a wave of what might have been. It hit hard. Less for me, I think. Just as AJ was my first mature love, Kami is my last. And I owe my marriage to AJ, because it was in realizing I didn't have the skills to keep her that I worked so hard to develop the skills and make the decisions to keep my marriage to Kami strong and deep and true. Love is piece of it, but even love requires skill and insight and maintenance.
We can drown in the might have beens. Sometimes it is sweet, and bitter, to think on them. But cherish what you have, because that is real.
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