Her father, unfortunate recipient of prostate cancer, passed away when she was only ten. Following his departure from this earth, her mother followed suit the next year, disappearing into a cocktail of pills, both prescribed and acquired through slightly more nefarious means, before walking out into the wide, wide world, never to be seen or heard from again, though this would take the better part of a decade to transpire. There would be many years, many moves, many men prior to her resignation from motherhood. Denver thanked God she was an only child.
During periods of particularly intense self-loathing, she liked to picture her mother as a Real Housewife, face and body inflated to near-garish proportions, preserved in time with injections of botox and silicone, planning European vacations with her new and improved family that didn’t disappoint by getting sick or dying.
But this wasn’t the same thing.
She wasn’t continuing the cycle of running away. This was no Kate Chopin novel. Unlike her mother, she had nobody counting on her to be there, nobody to teach how to drive, no one to clap for at graduation. She could never abandon those dependent on her. There simply happened to be no one that was.
Following her mother’s lead, the universe seemed to have left her behind as well. Others her age celebrated unions, the creation of new life, milestones in their field. She celebrated making it through another day relatively unscathed. If she had made a wrong turn somewhere in her carefully arranged life plan, she hadn’t been able to pinpoint it. Finish college? Check. Begin career as writer? No check, but she had published a few editorials and short stories here and there. And her job wasn’t bad, most days, teaching bank employees who were mostly complacent to learn the material she was mostly complacent to teach. Semantics were invaluable in the corporate world.
But there was always the less than quiet hum of a dream deferred.
She thought she’d be married by now, not necessarily in the family way, but in the trips to Hawaii and redecorating the guest room way. Nobody plans to be a twenty-nine-year-old virgin, a joke to the gods above, no doubt laughing at her sad human failings.
In high school, before fate saw fit to completely orphan her, she was decidedly virtuous by choice. What mindlessly impulsive teenager needed to add sex to his or her already overly-dramatic life? Not this one. Unlike now, she had been rolling in suitors then- figuratively if not literally- enjoying each flirtation and brief, innocent romance with the naivete and enthusiasm of youth. Most of these relationships buckled quickly under the weight of jealous teenage meddling and short attention spans, but she didn’t mind. She hated to admit it to herself, but she rarely was interested in the young men once she gained their attention and affection. Sadly, no matter how infatuated she found herself, that familiar disappointment would nearly always seep in within weeks, if not days. The pursuit was far more fun. She shuddered to think what the addition of raw physicality and vulnerability would have done to these serial encounters. Her mother didn’t seem any happier for hers.
Once she started college, deeply in love with her major- English Lit.- and not with anything or anyone else, she dodged calls and texts from old acquaintances, exes, and some aptly identified as fuckboys- colloquially speaking. She found that word of her fabled purity had travelled, leaving her with a bounty on her head- or rather, her maidenhead- and there were a number of individuals more than eager to take a shot at collecting. Her friends found her to be a bit prudish and unnecessarily neurotic about the whole thing. They had been collecting lovers for years, after all, and were just fine, weren’t they? (Denver suspected they weren’t altogether fine and that they even perhaps might have wanted her to experience a similar fall from grace and peace.) How dare she resolutely cling to the idealized fairy tale that she would actually be in love with, and be loved by, the recipient of her virginity?
Alex had been one of her best friends then and for years prior. He watched her clumsy relationships from afar, sans judgment, at times reminding her of Nick Carroway from The Great Gatsby, taking in the ridiculous social microcosm that had been her adolescence from his comfortable seat on the outside. She was drawn to his misanthropic humor and refusal to follow the crowd.
They spent hours on the phone talking philosophy, music, life goals. She had felt a sting for weeks when he’d described his ideal wife and subsequent children- brown like him- and wondered why it bothered her so much. They had only been bullshitting, passing the time until the weekly game. It had taken her months to realize she was in love with him. Or at least she thought she might have been.
Not long after Denver’s epiphany, the two went with a group of friends to a music fest in Orlando. They would all be crashing in town overnight and she and Alex had agreed to split the cost of a room. Though the possibility of the two of them as anything more than what they were had never come up, she felt compelled to wear her best matching bra and panty set- lavender with pink sequined hibiscus flowers.
After they had traipsed around the concert grounds, returned to their rooms for sustenance and cheap beer, and then retired for the evening, she watched Alex closely, attempting to discern what he was thinking. Was he interested in her at all? Had he been secretly waiting for his turn to impress her, to show her why the other guys had all fallen away like dead leaves?
The room had one queen bed- she wondered if the receptionist had offered Alex two twins- and so the two found themselves side by side, fully clothed in the modest nightwear of teens: school sports shirts and shorts in primaries and grays. It was cold in the room and she voiced as much, curling into him out of both need and strategy. Yet, either oblivious or immune to her charms, Alex got up, adjusted the thermostat to a more comfortable temperature, and without further awkwardness went to sleep.
Years later, after the two had lost touch with each other over the course of moves, new careers, and multiple new phones and numbers, she heard from a mutual friend that he was in a serious relationship- happy and committed, living together, working out together and by all means living the dream he had all but mocked during their friendship. Yet this was not as surprising to her as the fact that his companion was a man. This had not even entered the realm of possibilities of his rejection of her. He had dated other girls- prettier and more confident than her- and had been the picture of masculine teen angst.
Why hadn’t he told her?
She attributed it to a personal failing on her part, a boy-crazy self-absorption. Alex must surely have sensed. He had always had a seriousness beyond his years.
She’d love to run into him, out at a coffee shop or book store, and apologize. But for what? For not knowing? For not being there through what had to have been a challenging if not torturous time in his adolescence and young adulthood? For not having been worthy of his trust?
There were other names in her story, some that even hurt too badly to mention. But ultimately, they all amounted to a missed opportunity, a declined invitation. Unrequited loves who had chosen other paths, other lovers.
Somewhere along the way she had decided to stop falling in love. Stopped searching. She threw herself into her work and into her writing, efficiently deflecting the paltry trickle of prospects that found her aloof bookishness charming. She’d dodge the bullet for them.