One of the highlights of my birthday every year is the guarantee that I will hear from my two Ex-Boyfriends of All Ex Boyfriends- Jon and Stephen. For me, there is tremendous value in staying in touch with these men. It makes me happy knowing that the great highs of First Love and Young Love aren't forgotten, and the great lows of the Break-up and the Heartbreak were worth enduring since we were able to come out on the other side as friends.
Jon was able to complete my sentences for years. He surprised his wife (it's all good, I was their wedding photographer) with a romantic weekend in the Big Apple (hmm... they didn't call or try to meet up for coffee? Guess seeing the Ex-Girlfriend of all Ex-Girlfriends, moi, for brunch didn't really jive with the lovey-dovey theme), complete with tickets to see "Phantom of the Opera." There's a hesitance in his voice as he tells me this, and I hear him exhale as I break into a wicked little chuckle.
Me: "Dude. You can reclaim that musical for new happy memories with your wife, but you're not allowed to FORGET the overwrought, adolescent thing that we had about "Phantom," okay? Do what you want, but you're not allowed to FORGET."
And we have a good laugh, and one of these years, he'll announce that he's going to be a father during our annual birthday chat. And I'm glad I'll know about it and hear about it from him.
Stephen was so full of hilarity that there are a million little catch phrases and keywords ("I don't like the train" said with an Irish accent) that open up a treasure trove of inside jokes and memories. We had a tradition of buying two wine glasses on our anniversary, the idea being we'd have a set from wherever we were for the rest of our lives, two of each kind. I threw them in the big box the night he left. It was a while ago now, I don't remember when exactly, but I needed more wine glasses for a party. In a pinch, I pulled them out of the box, and really, they're just stemware to me now.
And yet... some connections remain. The other night, when Stephen called to wish me a happy birthday, he told me that Tadeiusz, his sister-in-law's Polish father died a few days before. Mark, Danusia and Andrew were in Poland for the funeral. Tadeiusz spoke no English, and I spoke no Polish, but he was kind to me over the years.
The last time I saw him, we were in DC. Everyone was cranky. This kind, Eastern European man who survived WWII in Warsaw hadn't realized you couldn't flush disposable diapers. There was a plumbing disaster of epic propertions. Somehow when the plumber finally came, there had been a mishap with the "Dear Plumber" letter Mark had written explaining the nature of the toilet problem and oh, by the way, "the man who just handed you this letter speaks no English." By the time Stephen and I showed up, there was a DIFFERENT plumber, a giant pump and some sort of accident resulting in dissolved chemicals pouring into the kitchen through the light fixtures.
My heart is healed, my memories storied, and yet... My ex-family is mourning right now, and there isn't a damn thing I can do about it. These are people I spent Christmas Eve with for years. I brought them casseroles when they were giving cancer a proper beatdown. They allowed me to cherish their child. They were my family.
And the truth is, even if things hadn't unfolded the way they did, there still wouldn't be much I could do to ease their sadness right now. I could look through my archived photographs for pictures from happier times. I could send a sympathy card. Thanks to Stephen's patience, and both of our hard work to keep communicating through the Heartbreak, I CAN do those things, even now. So at least there's that.