06/19/2012 12:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

An Old Boyfriend Popped Up On 'LinkedIn'

SPECIAL FROM BetterAfter50

His name popped up on my screen when I went onto LinkedIn. It was just one sentence. Hey "F." It's John E. Nice to see your name here. I live in Oregon, am married and have twin girls who are graduating college."

That was it. But that was all I needed -- my mind was off and running.

"He's alive? " I had imagined him either not alive or never being able to bear children. John and I had met in the library at Boulder when I was burning a new set of candles at both ends. At the time, I was studying all night, swimming a mile a day... every day. I had sworn off all recreational drugs and felt more directed than ever for the first time in my life. John had came over to my study carrel, leaned on the partition and smiled.

"Hey, I noticed you've been here forever, you want to go outside for a break?"

I forgot to mention I had sworn off men at the ripe age of 19. But he seemed sweet and innocent with an open, warm face. He was tall with dark hair, a very thin body and healthy tan -- we all were then, it was Boulder, after all.

"Sure, I'm actually done -- it's late."

We walked outside to the quad and shared stories for hours. It was a welcome respite from the frantic pace I had been running since arriving at the Boulder campus. From day one of freshman year I had gotten myself entwined with three different boyfriends, found myself at parties I couldn't find my way out of and had partied hard with friends who were all "trying on" Boulder's social scene. I had put on the freshman ten, lived on buttered cinnamon toast and nachos and studied to ski. I skied every weekend when I wasn't hitching to the top of a nearby town that boasted a 15 mile descent -- an adrenaline rush I sought on a weekly basis. I was pushing every edge until I barely recognized my former quiet-tempered, gentle self.

It was November of sophomore year when my advisor questioned me about my major. Stunned and confused, I was masterfully guided as we combined all the subjects I loved and created a neat package -- a major of International Politics. I would have to spend a semester or year abroad to fulfill my language requirement -- that would be French. In those fifteen minutes my path had shifted and I became a young woman who was going out into the world. These were my decisions alone -- my parents had been absent from my life for the past two years -- self-absorbed in their unhappiness. It turns out as I was planning my year in Paris, they were planning to separate.

So when I met John I had just begun to walk my new path. I was clean, clear and directed. I was on my way out. John was, too.

Our friendship blossomed over the next few weeks and months and we found ourselves in hot embraces and heated conversations. We were in our own bubble of connectedness and we planned to meet in Paris in September before he made his way to Spain for his semester. I can't remember thinking we were officially "going out." But I cared for him deeply. So when I went "home" to my summer island of Martha's Vineyard, toned and clear-headed, I felt in control. But that was not to be. My momentum was halted flat as the words floated from my dad's lips to my sad ears my parents 22-year marriage was over.

I moved into a rental with three strangers and their pet python and spoke with John most of July. And then, on that last call to his home in Rolling Hills California, a voice I had not heard -- a woman with a Southern accent identifying herself as Johnny's nanny -- answered.

"He's sick, he's really sick, he's in the hospital."

I can't remember what happened next. I believe I spoke to John after his surgery, or maybe we wrote letters, I'm not sure if he was the one who told me he had cancer -- something that could affect his ability to have children -- I'm not sure where I heard that.

Maybe he told me in person on his three-day visit to Paris before his semester in Spain. Maybe it was when we were standing in Cimetiere du Père Lachaise, wandering around the graves of the great French writers. Maybe it was there, where I took a picture of John sitting on a headstone looking very very thin, his smile so sweet and his words not flowing so easily -- maybe it was then he told me about the new path that his diagnosis had forced him on. He said he would be fine.

We were sad together -- old friends parting way. We weren't breaking up and I'm not sure we were even going out, but I always liked him.

We were both starting our "new lives" -- our paths changed by a sentence: My parents were divorcing and he had cancer. I was in Paris and he was going to Spain.

And then the note yesterday on LinkedIn, 35 years later.

Isn't that the wonder of being 50-plus? I hope to connect. Mostly, though, I hope to see photos of his wife and kids.

(*This is a true story but the names have been changed as "Dragnet" says to protect the innocent.)

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