saying goodbye to parker

Earlier this year, I shared the story of my relationship with Parker — a young man I loved in my early 20’s who set the standard for me of what love could feel like and how it could affect me.  From that post, I received a few emails from curious readers, wondering whatever became of Parker and why we didn’t try again. True romantics, they wanted to believe in second chances, and urged me to see if I could make it happen with Parker.

But the thing is, we did get a second chance.  And while it didn’t result in a lifelong love, it did give us both closure and reassurance that what we’d experienced had been real and mutual. Which is nearly as good.

It happened this way….

It was almost 4 years after I’d last seen Parker, and I was in graduate school in Washington, DC.  Our mothers had inexplicably continued exchanging holiday cards, despite an almost palpable dislike of each other.  In the most recent holiday card and accompanying Our-Family-Is-Perfect-And-Happy! letter, I’d learned that Parker had moved to London and begun a new job.  No mention of marriage or a girlfriend. The omission sat with me for some months.

Then one Saturday, I found myself in my hair stylist’s chair, spilling the story of me and Parker.  As my narrative poured out, her clipping slowed down, eventually stopping when she stood behind me, looking at me in the mirror, with tears brimming in her eyes.  “That’s so beautiful…” she whispered. She spun my chair around and gripped my arms.

HS:   Listen to me!  You have to find this man!  This cannot be the end of the story!  You have to find out if there is more!  If there is, it will be the love of a lifetime — maybe you both just needed time to grow up.  And if it’s not, then you’ll have your final chapter. It won’t end with you getting on a bus in the pouring rain and never seeing him again.  Please, do this!  You have to do this!

I was stunned by her emphatic words, but also not.  I guess in some way I’d always known that Parker and I had to have another chapter, whatever the outcome would be.

So I wrote Parker a long letter.  I explained some things I couldn’t have explained before.  I filled him in on my life since our parting.  I told him what he’d meant to me and the ways in which he’d changed my life forever.  And I told him that I’d understand if he couldn’t or didn’t want to write back, or if his reflection on our relationship left him with different feelings or memories.  I just needed to say that I didn’t want him walking the earth, thinking ill of me or thinking that I thought anything but the best of him.

Mail to England at that time took about a week. Nine days later, I came home late from class to a voicemail message from him.

The next day, I called him back and we talked.  And then we called and talked some more.  And some more.  We discovered that our experience of our relationship had indeed been shared.  It had been a watershed for him, too.  Taught him things about himself and love.  Scared him to death and shook him up.  So, after talking for hours trans-Atlantically, within a week, he proposed that he should come to the States to see me…. to see what was still there between us.  I said yes, feeling as if I were a princess in a fairytale.  My friends swooned at the mere possibility of meeting my famous prince.

But then, one night, just before he was to book his flight, I asked him what his parents had to say about his visit to see me.  “Well, uh, I didn’t exactly tell them,” he replied haltingly.

And my stomach dropped.  My mouth went dry.  And the fairytale ended.

Parker’s parents had been the biggest impediment to our relationship when I was in England.  They liked me well enough to be best friends with his sister and to live at their house for a summer when I was doing an internship, but when my relationship with Parker went from platonic to romantic, they flipped out.  Nasty, heated arguments ensued, in which I was labeled with all variety of derogatory American stereotypes.  I was dumb.  I was easy.  I probably had any number of diseases.  I watched them tear him down and degrade our love into something cheap and sleazy and unworthy.  And I could do nothing but stand by and hope he was strong enough to withstand their assaults.

But he wasn’t.  In the end, the final straw was his mother’s coup de grace — she arranged a date for him with a young nurse, the daughter of an acquaintance.  And he, weary of battling her, agreed to go.  I was crushed. And that was the end of us.

With the passage of time, I came to realize that he had gone on the date hoping to show his mother that no matter how many, how young, or how English the dates were, they would not succeed in eliminating me from his heart, but at that time, I was simply too crushed to bear it.  I saw his action as evidence that his parents had won in their battle to rip us apart.  And I reviled what I saw as his cowardice in not standing up to them more strongly.

So, that night, all those years later, clutching the phone to my ear, and with tears coursing down my cheeks, I told Parker not to come visit me.  I could see that the biggest obstacle to our being together was not geography, but his parents’ persistent disapproval of our relationship.  And I saw, very clearly, that to start again would not be to turn over a new chapter, but to revisit an old and painful one.  He was silent, and then agreed.  I think we had one more conversation after that, which was sad but cordial. We offered sincere wishes for good fortune to the other, we apologized that things had never turned out differently, we swore that memories would not be forgotten.

Then we went our separate ways.

But that still wasn’t the end….

His mother continued with her Christmas cards and letters until a few years ago.  Through those I learned that Parker had fallen in love with a Canadian girl.  Shortly after that ended, there followed an American, whom he later married and moved to Chicago to be with.  After a child and a divorce, he stayed in Chicago, started his own company, and is now engaged to another American.  So, apparently, at some point, he decided to stand up to his parents and their ill-conceived ideas of American women.  For that, I am very, very proud of him.

I joined Facebook around the time my marriage was falling apart, as a way to reconnect with my emotional support network, which was mostly based on the East Coast.  Parker’s sister in England found me first, and we renewed our friendship.  Then he followed up with a friend request.  We exchanged a few short, friendly emails, which felt nice and right.  It’s good to see photos of him and his fiance and his son.  It’s good to read snippets about his professional successes.  We are nothing to each other but cherished memories, but that is exactly as it should be.  And I am grateful to be able to see that he is well and happy and successful.

Sometimes our fairytales don’t end the way a scriptwriter would have written them.

Sometimes they just end the way they should.

P.S. — This post is dedicated to Dan, who wrote a post that actually made me cry.  I wish him solace and a conclusion to his own tale.



Filed under healing, love, relationships

7 responses to “saying goodbye to parker

  1. So, here’s what I’m curious about…

    In that phone call planning a visit, you knew it wouldn’t work because he hadn’t told his parents. He agreed. Yet he went on to actually marry an American, and come to live here. Hence, he did have the strength to do what you were both sure he could not.

    Was is that he was just not ready at that time — did the two of you stand any chance of rekindling that flame and nurturing his latent ability to defy the old and biased parents of his? I wonder…

    • You’re spot on, SD — that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? And impossible to know…

      I have no idea if Parker’s love for me would have been enough for him to rise to the occasion and defy his parents, or if it was merely the greatest love of his life up to that point. Perhaps the next girl (because his parents held Canadians in roughly the same esteem as Americans…) raised the bar for him further, inspiring him to devotion he did not feel with me. Or perhaps, at the period of that phone call with me, he was already readier than he realized to break the apron strings that bound him so tightly. It is not a conversation we have had, nor would I ever imagine that we would have. I suspect his sister knows the answer, and I further suspect that she and I will visit one another at some point, so perhaps someday I will have that answer, albeit through third party. Not that it matters, of course, in the outcome of things, but only that it would fill in some interesting blanks. 🙂

      • You were absolutely right to cancel his visit. He wasn’t ready to stand up to his parents and defend your relationship. I love how mature you were in handling the entire situation.

        – K.

      • My immediate reaction was the same as SD’s. Why didn’t he stand up to his parents for you, when he did it for someone else later on ?
        I admire your good sense in accepting this as closure, it would have driven me to distraction.
        And part of truly loving someone (in your present) means giving up on all the other possible maybes, what ifs etc…

  2. cat.

    How delighted was I to have stumbled across your blog!
    I felt so many emotions after reading this; ecstatic, melancholy, on edge, desperate. And aside from the initial heartbroken feeling, this was exquisite. [ not a bad play on the word either ]
    I cant help but want to sit down and talk all afternoon with you. Pick your brain
    You execute your story so well it made me feel like I was somewhere in it. Looking on.
    I know it was probably difficult, but thank you for sharing. I almost always feel like a have a VERY similar, unfinished chapter like this in my life with someone. Reading this helped me feel better about it, but I’m afraid that I will go on forever having the feeling of unfinished business.
    ….maybe you should be picking MY brain :/

    • Thank you so much for your kind words; I really do appreciate them.

      Unfinished business is such dicey stuff. It’s so strange how sometimes we just have this sense of there being more to do, more to say, more to figure out; and yet most relationships end and usually we get closure. So how come we do with some and not with others?

      After I wrote this, a friend asked whether I knew when I hung up with Parker that last time, 20 years ago, that it was the end of the possibility of “us.” And the crazy thing is, I did. Somehow, I really did. And I think he did, too, because after being very single for so many years, he pretty promptly settled down with the Canadian girl. So, I think something shifted then for him, as it did for me. My friends at the time were certain that he would pop up again, but I was equally certain that he wouldn’t. It had run it’s course, and I think we both knew it.

      I have unfinished business with someone right now, too, but I don’t know that we’ll get the chance to finish it. And this situation has reminded me that those on the outside looking in cannot possibly judge when something is over; only we know, because only our hearts know.

      Thanks again for commenting. 🙂

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