Not everyone has one. A “one that got away.”
I have two.
Once my parents split prior to my fifth birthday, I started living two separate lives.
One was in small-town Ohio with my conservative, overprotective, sometimes overbearing, but always loving and caring mother.
The second was 500 miles away on the Iowa-Illinois border along the Mississippi River with my fun-loving, less-strict, but equally loving and caring father.
So I have two homes. The Ohio one—where I lived during the school year—always seemed like the real world. The Iowa-Illinois one always seemed like the fairytale during my summer and winter school breaks.
I know it sounds silly—America’s heartland seeming magical in some way. Let’s chalk it up to a little boy smitten with his father whom he rarely sees.
So I have two very different sets of memories and feelings about my past, depending on whether I was with my mother in Ohio, or my father in Illinois.
Yesterday, after more than 11 years, I came face to face with the Illinois version of the one that got away.
Her name is Erica. She’s still sweet. She’s still gorgeous.
Had I never met my wife, and stuck to my original college plan of graduating with a business degree and eventually joining my dad’s Iowa-based company, it’s not a stretch for me to think that she and I might be living under the same roof.
But life happens.
I pursued writing. I did meet my ex wife. And we started a life together in Florida after graduating.
Erica eventually married and moved around to exotic places like Puerto Rico and Hawaii before returning to the mainland to live in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.
Three years ago, her relationship soured as they so often do these days. And she is now divorced and lives back in her hometown with her girls, just minutes from my father’s house.
And, of course, because she’s still sweet and gorgeous, she is in a serious relationship.
She and her boyfriend spent much of the Fourth of July with my family and friends at my dad’s place where my son and I are staying for the week, and which is truly a playground for adults. We have fun here.
When Worlds Collide
Her boyfriend’s name is Jason. I liked him right away.
He works in the same industry as my father. And he’s a car guy as are so many who hang out around here.
Most importantly, he’s kind. That’s something that’s hard to fake. I was thrilled to see she’d found a good one.
We stood around dad’s massive garage bar the rest of the day, drinking beer and tequila and swapping stories about this and that.
Then Jason mentioned he has family in Ohio.
“You ever heard of Greenville?” he asked.
“Shut up,” I replied. “My mom lives there. Which is crazy, because no one lives in Greenville. It’s smaller than this garage.”
Jason mentioned the town in which I attended kindergarten. He’s actually been to the small town in which I grew up with my mom more than 500 miles away.
His mom lives there now with his stepdad.
“What’s your stepdad’s last name?” I asked.
He told me.
“Rick?” I asked.
His stepdad graduated from the same small high school in 1976 with my mother—the center of my other life, my other world.
I had started day drinking around lunchtime so the weight of the coincidence didn’t fully hit me until this morning.
There are things in this world—awe-inspiring, humbling, thought-provoking things—that reinforce my belief that there are greater forces at work in our lives.
Sometimes it’s looking into my son’s handsome face.
Sometimes it’s the gorgeous night sky.
Sometimes it’s the powerful sound of the surf as the ocean dances with the beach.
And sometimes it’s being reminded that it’s a small world after all.
And that someone who matters to you is happy and well cared for.
And that two worthy souls can find each other at just the right time, staking claim to their well-deserved slice of Happily Ever After.