This morning I sent a birthday message to an old friend. In a sense we had grown up together, then we lost contact for nearly 30 years. When me met again, he gave me one of the greatest gifts I've ever received.
There is a slogan that floats around 12-step programs: More will be revealed. That promise took on a literal connotation for me, when I discovered that I had a gaping hole in my memory.
I had reconnected with some childhood friends and we were talking about old times and people we knew growing up. Then this friend came up. I'll call him Bill. He was a former boyfriend, but I realized I couldn't remember much about him. I couldn't even conjure a mental image of what he looked like.
The only thing I could remember was that Bill and I had a suicide pact, and he had chickened out. For months he had been sneaking sleeping pills from his mom. When we had enough, we were going to take the pills together.
Then one day, he called and said he had been thinking. He had been thinking about the future. About the kids he might have. He didn't want to miss that.
I felt furious and betrayed. I pulled out all the pills and got a tall, plastic tumbler from the kitchen. I walked into laundry room where my mom kept the vodka and filled the glass to the top. In my room, I arranged all the pills on the night stand, then took them two at a time, washing them down with the vodka and trying not to retch. Then I laid down and waited to die.
I woke up in my bed three days later. I found out many years later that I couldn't have killed myself with these sleeping pills. They were part of a "new generation" of pills meant to reduce the possibility of overdose. God looking after me again.
My mother had come in to tell me that a friend was there and wanted to see me. I couldn't believe that anyone would want to see me after what I had done. I was filled with shame and love, all at the same time.
I remember that as being a turning point for me. The time when I decided that I was not going to continue to use my parents' alcoholism and my step father's abuse as an excuse to destroy my own life. I could make different choices.
And I did. Sort of. I did begin to turn my life around. Though not all at once. I continued my self destructive behavior for years. But this marked the beginning of a long, slow climb.
That was all I could remember about the incident. I didn't remember what led up to it or what came after. I remembered that Bill had gone to juvenile hall, and that we had a big fight after he came home. That was it. Aside from that, the tapes had been erased.
Because my attempted suicide was such a key moment in my life, I had wanted for a long time to call Bill and ask what happened. No one else I had asked could answer my questions. But I couldn't see myself doing it. In no way could I imaging calling someone after 30 years and saying, "Hey, can you talk to me about that time we wanted to commit suicide together?"
I was in the throes of my fourth step when I got a call from one of the old friends I had been talking to. She said, "You'll never guess who I just talked to."
"Yeah," she said, explaining that her daughter had bought a car from his dealership. Recognizing the name, she had called and found that it was, indeed, the same Bill we all knew in high school.
"We talked about you," she said. "He said you were the love of his life. I have his number. Do you want it?"
I was stunned. I couldn't remember what he looked like, yet I was the love of his life? How could it be that I didn't remember him?
I was convinced this was not a coincidence, but God doing for me what I could not do for myself. I called the number.
Bill and I had a series of conversations that day as he kept having to hang up to deal with something or other, but he'd call back. It was a blessing because every time we hung up, I was able to process what we had talked about.
He told me unbelievable stories. That he used to sneak into my room at night and spend the night, but one morning we overslept and my mother walked in to find us.
How could I forget that?
Or the time, he said, he nearly got into a fist fight with my ex-boyfriend at the end of my driveway who had come over to "kick his ass."
Bill said we were together for a year and planned to get married. A year. That's how I realized how much of my life I had lost.
Bill filled in the blanks about that day. He had called my mom at work to tell her she should check on me. I hadn't broken up with him after the incident, but with a Dear John letter while he was in juvenile hall, where he had written to me every day. Did I remember that?
No. I didn't.
The fight we had? It was about getting back together. He wanted to. I didn't.
He remembered the conversation we had on the phone the day I took the pills. But he remembered it differently. That future? Those kids? Those were things he had wanted to have with me. He loved me, he said. After I joined the Navy, he looked for me for years.
It was all so hard to imagine. I walked around in a daze for the rest of the evening trying to make sense of it.
In meditation the next morning, a thought occurred to me. God had taken the memories of that painful time and had given them to someone who loved me. Because Bill loved me, he would remember. And he would give my life back to me in the most loving way possible.
I had remembered that time as the worst in my life. I had remembered myself as the worst me. But Bill didn't remember me that way at all. He thought I was the one. He remembered the best me.
I had heard that sometimes meditation penetrated some wall and people would cry. That had never happened to me, but it happened that morning. I cried and cried. Then I felt a little more whole.
Bill and I have kept in touch. And now, every year on February 13, I send him birthday message. It seems fitting that it's the day before Valentines Day, somehow, because the gift he gave me, the gift of my own life, was all about love.
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