When I was 17 (I still think of that as one of my favorite ages), I was close friends with a man named... we'll call him Joe. He wasn't too much to look at... kind of short compared to my 5' almost 10" and skinny. He did the best impression of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons: "Eggscellent...."
Over the years, he keeps creeping slowly into my thoughts, and I'm not sure exactly why. Some of my friends remember him, while others don't... it doesn't really matter. What mattered was that one single decision - one single choice - could've led me down a path 100% different from the one I walk now.
"You could come with me, you know."
"I know," I said, nervous and scared. "I don't think it would be the wisest idea... my parents would worry." (Me, at 17, trying to be a grown-up.)
"Alright... well, keep this for me." He took off his jacket, a huge, brown suede coat, and handed it over.
I smiled and started to take my own leather biker jacket off. "You wanna trade?" I asked.
He chuckled and said, "No, just keep my coat for me."
"Alright," I said, smiling. "I am the coat keeper."
He drove off in his Taurus and left WA State behind as I stood there in the parking lot and gingerly smelled the suede, wondering what adventures I'd just passed up.
And it isn't like we had a massive romantic connection. It was something else. Something that, in my mind, transcended physical desire and worked its way more into intellectual, spiritual, and emotional connection.
Over the years, Joe popped into my head countless times. While I was married because I felt lonely with my husband... he was abusive. He was also insanely jealous of anything having to do with any male counterparts - friends or otherwise - from my past... especially the ones I cared about even slightly.
When I was alone because I wondered what would've happened.
And while I was writing because that was what we did together over coffee at Denny's.
It's a mystery.
Everyone and their brother is on Facebook or Myspace. I looked repeatedly on both... nothing.
Once, I thought I came close and wrote to someone with the exact same name... it wasn't him. (And I know Joe is a common name, but that wasn't really his name, kay?)
I'm not even sure why I'm writing about this now, almost 10 years later, but he popped into my head again today. It happens from time to time... I just wonder.
What would've happened had I chosen to run away with him, nine years my senior, 11 years ago?
I guess it could've gone anywhere. I wouldn't have my kids. I could've gotten addicted to meth or something. Could've been homeless, raped, or even killed. But I also could've just sat in the passenger seat of that Taurus sleeping, waiting until we reached whatever destination, and written poetry and had coffee in random states all over the country.
The child in me plays with this notion.
The grown-up is saying, "Stop typing, Jen. This is so stupid."
Then why does he keep shoving his way into my thoughts?
Maybe I'll never know.