It started with a phone call. My Galway Guy and I hadn’t made concrete plans for our rendezvous. I had said I would let him know when I arrived in Galway and had checked into my hotel. When I shot him a message saying I was there, he called me.
I hadn’t heard his voice in 21 years, and my hand shook when I answered the phone. I said hello and heard a quick gasp followed by a deep voice with a rich Irish brogue exclaiming, “Oh god, your American accent.” I laughed.
We made plans for him to pick me up, which, eventually, he did. He was horribly late. Waiting for him to arrive was torturous.
When he finally got there and got out of his car I didn’t recognize him.
He was 19 years old when I had seen him last. Now he was a man of 40. Not only was his voice deeper, but he didn’t carry himself in a way I remembered. He stood more stiffly, his back impeccably straight and his shoulders firmly held back. At 19 he had been my height and a bit softer around the edges; at 40 he was slightly taller than me and slender and strong. While it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that his hair was slightly gray (mine was, too, after all), I realized I had somehow expected, quite unreasonably, for his hair to still be the jet black of his youth.
However, his face, though narrower and more weathered, was the same. His face was the one thing I saw and found familiar.
He wrapped his arms around me, splaying his hands on my back like he used to, holding my body close against his. My body knew him immediately. My body recognized what my eyes did not. All the minute and long-forgotten details of our time together overwhelmed me. It was definitely him. There was nobody else it could possibly be.
He was nervous. We got in the car and he asked to put “real” conversation and catch-up on hold until we got to our destination. His driving and chatter were adorable. He was flustered by my presence, and somehow this knowledge calmed me. There was reassurance in recognizing I wasn’t nervous alone.
He found a place to park by the Spanish Arch. He had said he was hungry, so we walked to a spot where he could get supper (I’d eaten a late lunch and wasn’t at all interested in food).
We ordered drinks and started catching up while he ate. I learned everything that hadn’t been included in our handwritten letters, or our emails, or, later, our messaging.
I started seeing all the things that were as I remembered, instead of only seeing the differences.
He was still quiet, as he always had been. In fact, in all the important ways, he was still the teenager I remembered. He was definitely still a bit of a dork, as he was when I had known him decades before. And as he was in his younger years, he was kind, and sweet, and gentle and generous. He was still thoughtful, and his demeanor was soft and soothing.
His friend came out, too. Our friend, I should say. My second Galway Guy. I was stunned to realize in a rush of awareness and affection how much the friend had meant to me, as well. I had forgotten how huge a part of the high of that summer the fact of our trio was. I had forgotten how much I had loved the friend, and my Galway Guy, and all of us together and the dynamic we once had.
Remembering the friend and the trio we had been was one of many surprising revelations from the evening.
First, I always felt my Galway Guy had not had feelings for me beyond friendship, and for many years felt a little ashamed of how much our time together had meant to me. My assessment had been wrong and likely based on the depressive issues that plague me to this day. Him not caring for me was a lie depression told me. The truth, he told me, was he was heartsick when he left, as was I.
Also, it wasn’t only my Galway Guy I had feelings for, or who had cared for me. I had missed the friend when that summer ended. I had been confused for years when my Galway Guy would mention the friend, would talk of him still thinking of me. I finally understood it.
We three had been inseparable. The deep sadness I felt at end of summer wasn’t only due to my Galway Guy leaving.
I had true feelings, real love, for them both. I don’t think this is something I forgot over time. I think I didn’t realize it until I saw them both again. Yes, there had been a physical relationship with my Galway Guy, but it had evolved from a friendship, a deep bond that had been shared with both men.
In the fall of 1997, they both were gone from my life, and I was devastated.
We three had a few hours together that night, talking, laughing, reminiscing, but it felt like longer. I loved us together; who we were in our dynamic, our mannerisms, our storytelling and our affection for one another. It was magical. Time stood still and yet rewound simultaneously.
When the time came to part, my Galway Guy brought me back to my hotel. We arrived far too quickly. He got out of the car to say goodbye. His hug was sweet and sad and powerful.
The realization of my affection for both Galway Guys and theirs for me should not have been surprising. And yet, when my Galway Guy was in front of me and the words were blunt, I realized he had been expressing the same sentiments for years. I wasn’t capable of hearing them, but they had been there all along.
My Galway Guy drove away. He was gone, and I was once again left missing both men desperately, longing for more of our camaraderie, longing for more time with them, feeling just as sad as I had been in the fall of 1997.
I was heartbroken back then and I hate that I didn’t allow my past self to feel or process my feelings of loss at the time. Instead, I am feeling both that old loss and the new one now, 21 years later.
Thankfully, our age and income are far different than they once were. This goodbye was not one that will last decades. I will make sure of it. Friends like them don’t come along often.