On Saturday, I found out that a very good friend from college passed away from breast cancer. I'm extremely sad, not just because Kate's no longer here on Earth, but because I screwed up our friendship, and I regret that I never fixed it.
The year I finished grad school, I was dating a woman (we'll call her Jackie). Things were unstable; actually, she was unstable. Mercurial. Whatever word you want to apply to someone who was sweet one minute, angry the next.
Kate had come into my life earlier that year. She actually dated one of my roommates, and after they broke up, we began hanging out. (Her cousin dated another one of my roommates.) I was so caught up in Jackie's drama that I didn't realize that Kate was interested in me.
One Saturday night, I had a choice to make. Jackie was acting her usual erratic self, and I left her apartment to go to a party that Kate was holding. She was a little tipsy, and while we slow-danced, she intimated that she would like something more than friendship. I hemmed and hawed an excuse for why I needed to turn in early. We never spoke of that moment, but it was always there between us.
By the time Jackie and I ended things, I was leaving town for a postdoc fellowship. Kate and I wrote flirty banter over the next few months, and she promised to visit me. The last time I saw her was on the next New Year's Day, when I flew back to hang out with my former roommates and grad school buddies. I still have the picture we took that day, and I still remember the hug we shared as I left.
By that day, I knew that I was going to propose to my current wife, but I didn't have the guts to tell Kate. I was afraid that it would change things between us, which it would have, and I took the cowardly way out by letting her hear the news from someone else. When she found out, she wrote me a nice card expressing her surprise and wishing us the best.
In reading this post, it all sounds very high-schoolish: the "does she, doesn't she," the sexual tension, the charged subtext of our conversations. It makes me sigh at how silly I acted in my 20s and how differently I would act today with a few years' perspective and maturity.
I don't want you to think that I regret how my life turned out. I married a great woman, we have a great family, and I wouldn't change that for anything. I just wish that I had been mature enough to be honest with Kate and let our friendship evolve into something different. I was an idiot, and while I think she knew that (and, hopefully, forgave me), I wish I had told her that I was an idiot and had asked for her forgiveness.
More than anything, I wish she were alive to raise her children.