Saturday, May 30, 2009

Change one thing, change everything

They were high school sweethearts. He - tall, skinny and painfully shy - just transferred from a private school. She - valedictorian material with a little of the hot geek thing going on - was and is still my best friend in the world.

She asked him to the Sadie Hawkins dance and that was it. They were inseparable for all of senior year and the summer that followed.They braved undergrad a few hundred miles apart then ended up together in Columbus; she was immersed in the life-sucking test of perseverance,smarts,and will that was vet school. He had his degree in wildlife biology. They got engaged.

Somehow, as relationships tend to do at that age, it sort of slowly unraveled. He was miserable away from the woods where he hunted and fished. She was tunnel-visioned and hell-bent on getting through vet school. They went their separate ways; it was too painful for both of them to try and remain friends.

She thought about him often, wondered what he looked like now and what he was doing with his life.

Fast-forward almost 20 years.

One day, she's home from work with laryngitis. She picks up a freebie local paper, the kind that end up, unsolicited, on one's doorstep and usually ends up directly in the garbage without so much as a glance.

But, this day, she's home when she wouldn't normally be and reading a paper she wouldn't normally read.

She doesn't believe her eyes. An obituary for a man, 37 years young, with the same name as the man she almost married. It couldn't be. He had a pretty common last name and anyway, last she heard he was living in West Virginia.

With a sense of trepidation she checks the online obituaries of the city's major newspaper. There, before her eyes,looking at the pictures in the guest book, her worst fears are confirmed. He still had the same glint in his eyes and the dimples when he smiled, but he was probably 75 pounds heavier. He had always hated being so skinny, 6'6" and under 200lbs. Many friends and family mentioned in the obit. No mention of wife or children.The family requested donations to sarcoma research in lieu of flowers.

Cancer. Cancer had taken this big, healthy, woodsy hunter-fisherman-outdoorsman. 37 years old.

A thousand thoughts flew through her mind at once: I would be a widow right now if we'd gotten married. He wasn't married. Why hadn't he gotten married or had kids? Would we have had kids if we'd gotten married? Did he suffer? I hope he didn't suffer.

Change one thing, change everything. They don't break up and they do get married. Do they live in the suburbs - like she does now? Or in the sticks, like he did? Do they have kids before her endometriosis took a tube, an ovary, and most of her fertility? Is she now a widow with kids at 38?

Or... Maybe she doesn't suffer a bout of laryngitis and she's at work and never sees that obituary.

Or, like she does the other 99% of the time, she throws that paper in the garbage without even giving it a look.

Change one thing, change everything.

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