Today is the birthday of a guy I haven't seen in over five years. It's probably just about that long since I've spoken to him on the phone, too, but not a single year goes by that I don't remember his birthday and wonder how life is treating him. Some people you never forget even when you know that you really should. I should have forgotten this guy long ago but apparently my heart is even more stubborn than the rest of me - which I find pretty darned astounding all things considered!
I met Sam (not his real name) well over 20 years ago when I worked as a 911 dispatcher at the Stockton Police Department. The way we met was a fluke - he thought he had sent a message over his cruiser's MDT (mobile digital terminal) to another officer working patrol with him that night but instead it ended up on the screen at my dispatch console. The message read "This is fun, isn't it?" and thinking nothing of it I replied back with "Yes, it has its moments." That message was fate and changed my life forever.
We ended up chatting back and forth (I guess you could say that it was the precursor to instant messaging, something that hadn't been developed yet in 1985) and came to the conclusion that we both had a lot in common, especially our slightly off-the-wall sardonic senses of humor. Even though we worked in the same department and the officers' locker room was directly across the hall from dispatch, I had no idea what Sam looked like. I knew his voice from the radio but other than that I was totally clueless, but if you could get to know a person from just conversations on a computer terminal I was more than looking forward to meeting the man himself.
I got the opportunity about a week or so later when the phone rang at 9:30 at night. As a side note, at that time my son Michael, who was 4, and I were living with Scott, a good friend I had made while attending college in Stockton. Due to the rotating shifts that I worked at the PD, I really needed some flexible childcare and Scott needed a place to live so he moved in and more or less became "the nanny". It was a great arrangement as Michael and Scott got along great, Michael could go to sleep in his own bed at night, and I wasn't paying out the nose for childcare. I really miss Scott, too, but that's a story for another day!
Anyway, as I was saying, I had the chance to finally meet Sam when the phone rang at 9:30 shortly after I had bid Scott a good night and gone to bed. As soon as I heard Sam's voice on the phone, I knew who it was and my heart skipped a beat. He apologized for calling so late and then asked if I'd like to get together to meet. "Sure, when?" "How about now?" "NOW??" Well, who was I to say no when I had been wanting to meet the guy ever since that first errant MDT message popped up on my dispatch screen? I said sure, he said he'd head over, and I jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes, and decided I really needed to wash my hair before he came over. Scott just stood there in amazement and amusement while I ran around the house like some sort of mad woman in an obvious tizzy over meeting a man. Trust me, that sort of behavior is not normal for me and Scott had known me long enough to know that I was excited and nervous at the same time. I suspect he got quite a kick out of the whole thing but I was a total mess!
Finally the doorbell rang, I opened the door, and there stood one of the most handsome men I'd ever laid eyes on (well, in my humble opinion anyway). His smile was exactly as I thought it would be, he had a gleam in his eye that made my heart beat all that much faster, and I honestly think the earth stopped for just a moment or two. Yeah - sappy, I know, but oh so true! After introductions Scott excused himself to his room and I was left standing in my living room with this guy who I had probably fallen in love with as soon as I opened the door. If I remember correctly I was babbling a bit but that became a regular habit of mine when I was around Sam. Please believe me when I tell you that I am not a babbler - at all. Reticent might be a better word if truth be told but that trait had disappeared.
After we had talked for awhile, Sam asked if I'd like to go for a walk. He had hurt his back earlier in the week while on duty and found it more comfortable to walk than to sit so I said "sure" and went to tell Scott that we were going out so he'd know that he was alone in the house with Michael. Scott told me the next day that I was quite the giggling, babbling fool at that point but he found the whole thing horribly amusing. Great - my reputation for being a cool, calm, and collected dispatcher of emergencies had obviously flown out the door when I opened it to let Sam in but I didn't care, I was doing that cloud nine thing that people like to talk about and I didn't care.
The neighborhood that I lived in wasn't the worst part of Stockton by any stretch of the imagination but I suppose it wasn't one that people regularly went out for strolls after dark in too often either however, I figured that considering I was out walking the streets with one of Stockton's Finest, I didn't really have to worry about it. I especially didn't worry about it when he told me that he had an ankle holster and was armed (all off-duty officers in Stockton were to be armed at that time, not sure if it's changed now or not). We ended up walking and talking until almost 3:00 in the morning and I don't know when I have laughed so much either before or since. It was magical. There is no other way to describe it.
There was, however, one thing wrong with this whole picture - Sam was married. He and his wife had been separated for several months, he was living on his own, and was planning on filing for divorce. In retrospect, that should have thrown up all sorts of warning flags but it didn't. Maybe I was still young enough and naive enough to think that when people separated and lived apart that their marriages were over and it was just a matter of formalities as the marriage was over and done with. My first husband and I were separated for over three years before I finally decided enough was enough and filed for a divorce. I had always told him that he was the one who wanted the divorce so he was the one that could file but he had no problem still listing his status as "married" on his tax return and financial paperwork for college. We hadn't been married in the traditional sense for a very long time, there was just no formal document declaring the marriage officially dead. I guess maybe I thought that might be the case with Sam.
For several weeks following that first magical meeting we went out when our schedules allowed us to, talked on the phone almost constantly while finishing each other's sentences, and I was in a total state of euphoria. Then the other shoe dropped and Sam told me that he and his wife were reconciling and giving their marriage another try. For the sake of his children (he had two) and for the sake of his church (he's Mormon) he thought he owed it one more chance. To say that I was devastated would be an understatement. I was heartbroken and even though I had always believed that having a broken heart was more a state of mind than anything else, my heart physically ached. It was the most painful thing I had ever felt in my life up to that point but I understood his reasons and couldn't fault the man for wanting to be a father to his children.
The hardest part was that we still worked together at the police department. Every time I heard his voice on the radio or on the phone, my heart would break a little bit more but I sucked it up and did my best to get over it. The problem is, I never got over him and when he decided to leave his wife again almost a year later I found myself right back where I shouldn't have been - still in love with the guy and hoping against hope that this time he really meant it when he said it was over. It wasn't and when he went back to his wife and children again I was even more devastated than the first time. There was no way that I could stay in California and be near him knowing that I'd be just as likely to cave if he left his wife for a third time. It was at that point that I packed up everything I owned, piled myself and Michael into a Hertz-Penske rental truck, and drove from California to Connecticut - just myself, a 6-year old boy, and a heart that was never going to stop loving a man I couldn't have.
I started my life anew and tried my best to leave Sam in California but the problem was that I had packed up his memory with me in that rental truck. I eventually met and married my second husband and added two beautiful little girls to my family but there was always something wrong, something not quite right. I mistakenly thought that by marrying someone else, I'd forget Sam, that his memory would finally fade away into the mist but it didn't - it was there like a ghost in the house and a reminder that my heart belonged to someone else. When my marriage ended ten years later it really wasn't a surprise to me and I always felt like I did my second husband a major disservice in marrying him when I might have loved him but wasn't in love with him. When we divorced I told him that I sincerely hoped he would meet someone else who would love him the way that I couldn't and he found that woman in his current wife. I'm happy for him, I really am.
I haven't been so lucky. There are times when I think I am still in love with a memory, with a ghost, with a man that I can't seem to get out of my system over 22 years after our first meeting. He's still with the Stockton Police Department and I still worry about him. I still wonder how he's doing and if he's finally happy and I wonder if he ever thinks of me. I'll probably never know. Our last contact was a little over five years ago but that's another long story that I won't bore you with.
So, on this - his 48th birthday - I just hope that he's happy and healthy and safe while I still miss the man who was my other half. Under other circumstances, we would have been ridiculously happy with each other but apparently it's not to be so in this life. Still - I believe that it's better to have loved and lost than to have hated and won and I've also learned that you can't settle in life. It's better to be alone than with the wrong person. Hence, I'm alone.