The other night, I dreamt of you.
In my dream, you came to my church, and I was happy to see you. Then you told me that you were going to marry the woman who played Jan Brady in the Brady Bunch. (I'm sure the Brady Bunch reference came about because Florence Henderson just died. Now, why you were going to marry the person who played Jan Brady, that's another question . . .)
I congratulated you, because I was happy for you.
And then, to other people, I started wondering aloud, was I not "spiritual" enough to have a boyfriend?
You were the third boy, and the first Christian man, to kiss me. I was 19, and I think you may have been 20. We stood at the doorway of the dormitory I lived in at the time, and we were saying good night after a wonderful, romantic date. I feasted on the memory of that kiss for months. That summer, I sat in an English literature class about Shakespeare, and I daydreamt about that kiss, about how it felt on my lips. It was light and sweet, just like a first kiss between two people should be.
And then, that October, after an FSU football game uncharacteristically held on a Thursday, you told me that you weren't sure if I was "the one" and decided to stop taking me out.
I respected that decision. Because it was more than I got from my high school boyfriend, who broke up with me and never bothered to tell me that the relationship was over.
A year later, you left the church we both attended. The last time I saw you was in the checkout line of a Publix, where you said hi to me, and I didn't respond. I think I just smiled. I've regretted that many, many times.
I know now that a relationship between us may not have worked out. I wouldn't have been a good girlfriend, nor would I have made a good wife. I didn't have the maturity to understand that a relationship between a man and a woman required a certain give-and-take, that I was called on to be a partner and a helper, not just a taker.
One other reason that a relationship between us would not have ultimately worked out is because the entire environment we were in was so rigid, unhealthy, and fake. Dating relationships were forced and stilted in so many cases, with rules and regulations about how long you could talk, how much time you were allowed to spend together, and when you could go out on single dates. Could we have had a healthy relationship? A healthy marriage? A healthy family? The only honest answer I can give, I don't know. Knowing who I was at the time, my gut reaction is to say, "No."
I'm married now. I've been married for 23 years to a wonderful man who's an intellectual, who strives hard to be a good husband and a good father to our son. Our son is a teenager with autism. My husband has stepped up to the plate and been an involved father with him. That can't be said about all fathers.
Ironically, I ended up living in the same city you called home, and I attended the same church that you did when you visited home. I wondered at times if we'd run into each other. We never did. I have no idea if you were living there when I did, and I know you did not attend the same church I did. And in another piece of irony, the man I married attended that same church. Perhaps you talked to each other and didn't know it.
There are two questions, though, that I've never had answers to:
1. Did you make the decision to stop dating me on your own, or were you told to stop dating me because I was somehow "not spiritual enough"?
2. What happened that caused you to leave the church?
I've wondered about these two things, because I know that in the church we were part of, things went on behind the scenes that we were never told about but that affected us. People left, and since we were "encouraged" not to associate with them, and we were often given the "spin" version as to why they left, we probably never had the whole story as to why they left. The onus was put on the person that left. We never stopped to think that there might have been a problem with the church, or with the structure that we were part of.
I've wanted closure on those two questions for a very long time. But I also ask myself: Just because I desire closure, does that mean I need it? Suppose the "closure" I want just leads to more questions than answers? Or suppose it gives me answers that I wish I did not know?
You were not the only one who left the church we attended, or who left the group of churches we were part of. I know of a long list of people who did exactly that. Some of them went to other churches, and some of them simply left God. Given my experiences in religion, I'm surprised that I still have any faith left. I still struggle with many aspects of faith in God and in Christ, I ask myself questions that often have no answers, and I get angry at God during many difficult circumstances.
But as I've been writing this, I've been listening to a series of Christian songs on my Spotify playlist, one of them being Building 429's "Impossible" and another one being "He Reigns" by the Newsboys. I still believe.
I'm sorry I wasn't a better friend to you. I'm sorry I didn't try to come alongside you when you must have been struggling. I have prayed for you often in the years since you left church and school. I hope you have found faith again. If you're married, I've prayed for you to be faithful to your spouse. If you have children, I've hoped you've been a good father to them. If for some reason you're divorced, I hope you have treated your ex-spouse and any children decently.
And, if by any chance you are no longer alive, I pray that God will have mercy on you. We know that God is a just God, and that he is a merciful God. James 2:13 says that "mercy triumphs over judgment". I believe God's mercy will triumph.
May God bless and care for you, T.
Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.