The problem with opportunities is that, in the moment, they are not always recognizable as such. Often they are just things that happen, mundane, forgettable things, and only in retrospect do they acquire the character of missed chance. By then the door has slammed shut and the sign on it says, "Sorry we missed you! Be back never." I imagine that if we were able to review all the opportunities we've missed — for love, or wealth, or positive change of any sort — we would be driven insane with regret.
Sometimes we get wise to the blown opportunity as the door is swinging closed, or, for the purpose of extending the metaphor, rolling down, and we attempt to Indiana Jones-it through in a desperate, last-ditch, headlong slide. But life, more's the pity, is not a Spielberg film wherein scrappy underdogs and wisecracking adventurers emerge victorious. Life is a series of bitter disappointments and occasional pleasures, in more or less equal measure, ungoverned by a script, unaccompanied by a manipulative score, with denouements followed not by credits but by further crises. It's an ongoing battle to stay interested and continue participating, and if you happen to have one of those missed opportunities in your past that continually niggles and gnaws at you, it's liable to make you nuts, because that chance is never going to present itself again.
But sometimes it does.
It is 1983 and I am on a single-minded mission to slay all the grade-A cooters in and around Austin, TX and making an appreciable dent in that group, even while making the occasional foray into the lesser classifications under the impairment of certain flaw-filtering intoxicants. I am a cad, a bounder, and a hound, and will say virtually anything to further my agenda of belt-notching. I do have a live-in girlfriend, a vapid and beautiful model, but not from any notion of monogamy. She is a prop of self-esteem and a tool to elicit covetousness, supremely effective in that regard and nearly as unprincipled as I in the matter of fidelity. In what I consider a fair trade, she gets a smart boyfriend, I get a shiny trophy, and we both gad about unfettered.
There is a young woman in the scene I have taken lustful notice of, a sloe-eyed Mediterranean beauty of lush proportion and visibly undeniable heat, with the further unlikely accompaniments of intelligence, warmth, and humor. Unfortunately, she is locked into one of those death-grip off-and-on relationships with someone I have second thoughts about crossing. Normally I treat other people's relationships with the same casual indifference I do my own and consider boyfriends only an impediment when they're actually in the room, but something about this guy makes me bide my time. Get into enough fights and you learn to recognize the real tough guys, and I am definitely not one of them. I am well-known for plunging gleefully and heedlessly into brawls, and just as renowned for a nearly constant condition of facial marring in the way of black eyes, fat lips, and stitched brows.
So, having set my cap in her direction, I wait patiently for a viable opening to present itself, and by-and-by it does, a party at her house where she is unencumbered by either the boyfriend or any other pesky hopefuls sniffing around. We get to talking and the party fades into a backdrop as our eyes and attention focus solely on one another. With each passing moment I am more enamored and feel, with every prolonged gaze into her warm brown eyes, like I have just crested the feature hill of a rollercoaster and am commencing a plunge, and must briefly look away. I thrill to the slightest touch and feel an excitement atypical of the experience of impending conquest, because I am not, for once, focused solely on that tawdry goal. I am in the Now of our mutual thrall, glowing and incandescent.
Nonetheless, once the party has broken up and we've moved to the couch and begun snogging in earnest, I make a determined move toward what I naturally assume is the inevitable denouement of our coupling but am gently dissuaded. I am a little puzzled by this because not only is our mutual attraction crystal-clear, but my hormone-and-amphetamine-fueled powers of persuasion, augmented by a florid and expansive vocabulary, are rarely withstood. I persevere, also gently, but in time it becomes clear that it's not going to happen. So we talk, and canoodle, and talk some more, and I am inflamed with attraction. I spin elegant, baroque scenarios of pure romance, I name-check great loves of literature and antiquity, and I mean and believe every word. I convince myself and her that we are commencing a romance of grand and enduring passion, and when we part it is as tender and heartfelt a goodbye as ever was, and the phrase tear myself away acquires real meaning because, as we disengage, I feel as if I were running asunder a whole that was meant to be.
It's funny what the cold light of day can do to dampen enthusiasm and douse flames. When I got back to my empty apartment — my girlfriend was in San Francisco on a shoot and hooking up with her ex — and began getting ready for work, I said to myself, what the fuck was I thinking? This is a complication I don't need. Fun's fun, but I was contributing maybe 15% to our combined household income and enjoying the hell out of the style of life to which I'd become accustomed. Practical matters and a rapidly diminishing high guided the following actions I was to later deeply regret.
There was a knock at the door and it was her, looking unaccountably gorgeous and bearing a lunch she'd prepared for my day at the auto-parts warehouse. I melted inside at her thoughtfulness and shuddered in panic, terrified at the fix my lustful mouth had gotten me into. I said something like, Look, I'm sorry, but I have a girlfriend, trailing off with a cowardly shrug. I still recall, thirty-five years later, in vivid detail the way her face fell and the light in her eyes dimmed. She nodded with a rueful half-smile and walked out without a word.
It didn't take me long, perhaps three days, to realize the grievous error I'd made and I shagged ass back to her to plead my case of idiocy and beg for another chance. I acknowledged her superiority in every way over the miserable excuse for a girlfriend I was currently sporting. I apologized, I wept, to no avail — she wasn't having it and made it painfully clear that I'd missed my chance. I slunk away, beaten, and in the weeks and months to come I utilized the only weapon at my disposal, whenever we crossed paths: a pleading, pathetic gaze that got me absolutely nowhere.
Life went on, as it will, and I continued stacking girlfriends like cordwood, but I could not shake the feeling that she was The One who'd've not only tamed me but brought me children and lasting happiness. Years passed, I moved away, and still she, and especially that crucial cringe-inducing memory of my casual cruelty, remained a part of my Greatest Hits of Regret playlist, in heavy rotation most wee hours. Over time I forgot her name, but never her face, and especially in recent years her memory has returned with greater frequency and intensity. Understandable in the utter absence of female companionship, i.e., in prison, where one's thoughts tend to stray in that direction. I had plenty of more recent and fulfilling memories to indulge in, but I'd never been able to convince myself that I hadn't blown my one chance for the one I was meant to be with.
While inside, my Facebook page was being maintained, so when I got out I had hundreds of new "friends," some of them actual, some of them unknown to me, to catch up with. One, a fiftyish punkette with a beautiful smile and operating under a nom de 'net, captured my attention. As we exchanged messages it became clear she knew me, though I couldn't for the life of me place her. One day she invited me to look at her photos and one stopped me in my tracks. I wasn't sure — 35 years had passed, after all — but my galumphing heart certainly believed it was her. Hey, I casually wrote. Did you used to go out with so-and-so back in the early 80s?
She replied in the affirmative. Fuck! This was it, the moment I'd dreamed of. I needed to collect my thoughts and say this exactly right. I'll be right back, I wrote. Please don't go anywhere.
I then wrote, rather poetically, I think, of the deeply permanent impression she'd left on me, the lasting magic of that wonderful night, and most of all, my sincere and significant regret for the shabby and insensitive way I'd treated her. I expressed my delirious happiness at having found her again, fearful for so long that I'd never have the opportunity to apologize, which I did, in the grandest, most magniloquent and heartfelt mea culpa ever seen on Facebook Messenger. To which she replied...
I don't remember any of that.
Crushed? A black hole couldn't have done such a neat job. This was not at all how I'd imagined things going. She did remember Flynn the Philandering Asshole, but not us ever hooking up, which my ego could simply not accept. Perhaps she'd suffered an intervening stroke or brain injury that had wiped the sweetest part of her recollections. She asked for details, which I provided, a little sulkily, hoping my hurt would show through. Still no bells rang, but we continued our chatting and eventually started talking on the phone. The ember that had been smoldering for so long burst back into flame as we talked and texted daily. Boldly, and perhaps hastily, we began discussing a possible future together, which again engendered that rollercoaster feeling but this time it felt like the track was a little rickety. Downright perilous, in fact, and I couldn't shake a feeling of impending doom. What the hell was wrong with me? Here was a trim, attractive, warm, intelligent, successful woman actually considering forming a union with this rusted-out collection of neuroses and bad habits and I feel like the walls are closing in. This, I thought, bears further scrutiny.
I searched my soul, or rather the master file of experiential diagnoses that passes for one in my pragmatic essence, and concluded that the love-center in my brain had been hijacked by my ego and libido many years ago and refused to let go, insisting that an entire night spent in the arms of a beautiful woman without sealing the deal was unacceptable and must be remedied. It wasn't the pain of lost love or missed opportunity of connubial bliss, it was thwarted desire and terminal horniness.
My choices were clear. I could continue the charade, travel to Texas, finish what I'd started, and then concoct a wild story to explain my subsequent absquatulation — secret CIA mission, maybe — or, essentially, repeat that long-ago scene in my apartment. I chose the latter course for its simplicity and safe distance, was roundly and justifiably cursed and denounced, and breathed a sigh of relief, albeit tinged with sorrow.
Opportunity does not knock but once. It is a veritable Jehovah's Witness of doorstep disturbance but sometimes the wisest path is to just turn up the stereo and ignore it.