We drank a toast to innocence, we drank a toast to now
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness but neither one knew how
We drank a toast to innocence, we drank a toast to time
Reliving in our eloquence, another 'auld lang syne'
The beer was empty and our tongues were tired
And running out of things to say
She gave a kiss to me as I got out and I watched her drive away
Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned in to rain...
- Dan Fogelberg, "Same Auld Lang Syne"
Have you ever hung out with an ex? Bad memories, some people say, make this a difficult undertaking.
In my (admittedly limited) experience, though, the good memories are much worse. The hardest thing about being around someone you used to be in a relationship with isn't remembering why you broke up; it's remembering why you were together and knowing that you'll never have that again.
The summer after my first year of college, I went out for an afternoon with my old high school girlfriend (the Ohio Renaissance Festival--yes, I'm that guy and we were that couple). We were still friends and we were still into a lot of the same things, and it was nice to have someone back home I could hang out with. It was just a little bit awkward, though, catching glimpses of something that used to be and would never be again.
It's not that I was lonely, or that I pined for the old days. In fact, I was in a wonderful new relationship in college with the woman who would eventually become my wife. I would never have traded that for a chance to go back to high school. But that didn't stop the moment from being a little strange and bittersweet.
I found myself having similar feelings last week as I attended the rank testing at my old club. It was my first time there in almost three months. I would have been testing that night myself had I not been sidelined by an injury early in February. As it is, I'm now at a new club
for many different reasons, the most pressing of which is impending changes to my schedule. I'm not dissatisfied with the new club, and I still have reservations about the old one, but that didn't stop the dojo from feeling like home.
To kneel beside my friends again, to take a few rolls on the familiar softness of that mat again, and to hear the kind voice of my former head instructor again were all wonderful--and a little bit sad. For all that I've complained on this blog, this club is family. It got me started in the martial arts, it introduced me to a lot of friends, and it taught me many lessons that will stay with me for a long time.
During the tests themselves, I had the luxury of losing myself in the aikido (the one exception was the test I would have taken, featuring the friend who would have been my testing partner--that one stung a little). I watched, silently analyzing my friends' technique, or walking through the techniques myself in my mind. I caught myself breathing in rhythm with the kokyu nages
and moving my hands along with ikkyos
After the testing was over, we all went out for drinks. Everyone wanted updates on the status of my pregnant wife, my job, and my music (respectively: well, going to hell, and should be picking up soon). I hadn't been gone long enough yet to keep me from fitting right in. We talked about aikido, about beer, about movies, about anything and everything.
The head instructor made sure to tell me they'll always have a place for me if I want to visit. I'm sure I will. Perhaps some morning classes over the summer after the school year is over. And I'd like them all to meet my daughter after she's born. I'm looking forward to it, but the thought of visiting the place that's been like home for the last couple years is a strange one.
I left the bar a little earlier than I would have liked. I had to work in the morning, and my wife was waiting for me at home. It had been a good night. By the end of the evening, I was in full club-member mode, and my goodbye was the brief goodbye of someone who would be back for the Thursday night class.
But, of course, I wouldn't be.
(The original post on The Young Grasshopper can be found here