He was 17 and starting his senior year in high school. I was 18 and lost in the liminal space that threatens to swallow you whole after graduation.
I stood with one foot was planted squarely in the past, the other was slipping slowly toward an uncertain future.
His name was David. He was was my last link to high school, a place I still understood. It was the only place the world still made sense to me.
Like most kids in suburbia, he lived in a neighborhood where cookie-cutter houses lined the shores of the asphalt river that connected us to our school, to the baseball fields, to McDonald’s. To each other.
Our romance started in my senior year, months before I graduated. It bloomed all summer, but as fall approached and school started, we found ourselves living in different worlds.
He was suddenly the senior and I was freshman in college. The thread that bound us to each other began to fray. His world still floated inside the bubble of high school.
I had become an outsider, looking in.
I didn’t see it coming
The end came abruptly on a sunny, fall afternoon. He had finally found the courage to admit he wanted to break up. His small world was consumed by Friday night football games, flirting between classes, and looking forward to graduation.
My world larger, more intimidating, and isolating. We no longer had anything in common and nothing to talk about.
His eyes pleaded for me to want to move on, too. I was too afraid to move forward; too intimidated by all the newness to boldly embrace the new.
We stood ridged at the edge of in his driveway, face to face, wondering what to do next.
The shock I felt the moment he uttered the word “breakup” must be what the trees feel on the night of the first frost. I was ambushed by the cold.
I didn’t see the breakup coming because I didn’t want to. The signs were there, but I was too busy treading water to keep from drowning in my new life. Our summer romance was the buoy that kept me above water and anchored in the past where the ground was solid and safe.
We stood there hurling hurtful words back and forth, defending our choices, and not giving any ground. I questioned him relentlessly, but his flim-flam responses only revealed how far he had already drifted away.
“I just think we should see other people.”
The moment he uttered those words something so bizarre happened that I still question myself about it to this day.
We stopped talking, mouths hanging open, and turned our heads in unison toward the sound. There, at the end of his drive way, in the middle of the cul-de-sac was a car-sized, brown cow. A living, breathing, cud-chewing cow.
It was as if it had dropped out of the sky like a meteor.
The cow was standing in the middle of a neighborhood in the suburbs, where it had no reason to be, blinking its eyes, and looking as confused by its predicament as we were.
The situation was so surreal that I wondered if I were hallucinating from the shock of the break-up.
“Is that real? Is that really a cow in the street,” I asked.
“What the fuck? Yeah, that’s a real cow.”
We looked at each other, wordless, eyes wide. The surprise was like a pin prick that unleashed a dam of pent up emotions that spilled hilarity all over us. We laughed until our ribs hurt. It was all so damned strange.
I didn’t see that coming.
In retrospect, I can see that that was the moment the trajectory of my life changed. It was an unexpected shift that knocked me off balance.
It’s those moments — the pivots you don’t see coming— that force you to shift and move further along your path.
After the tension cracked, levity sneaked in and we no longer had the energy to argue. He relented and suggested we go to see the movie, “Crocodile Dundee.”
I don’t remember a single thing about that movie. Desperation and shock climbed back in as I sat there in the dark. The anxiety made so sick that I vomited everywhere as soon as we stepped out of the theater into the light.
I didn’t see that coming, either.
That pivotal moment
More than 30 years have passed since that day. I no longer blame him for the clunky way he handled the break-up, or the way I grieved for months afterward. We were just dumb, clueless kids trying to find our way without compasses or maps to guide us.
The memory of the pain I felt when he admitted he no longer needed me the way I needed him has faded. But, I still vividly recall the fear I had of unmapped territory; the heartbreak I felt for being rejected; and shock of the moo from that cow.
In life, it’s the things you don’t see coming that force you to shift, to change direction. Situations that seize your shoulders and shake you awake are the ones that propel you forward. They are hard and confusing, but they are necessary. It’s how you grow.
I now have a husband I love deeply, two amazing, beautiful adult children, and two bonus kids I adore as if they were my own. Life truly does go on.
Eventually, the pain from the past fades and what’s left are the lessons that you carry with you as you take your next step onward, forward, toward the crossroads.
Previously published on “Hello, Love”, a Medium publication.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want to join our calls on a regular basis, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.