Last minute, I was invited to join a few women at La Brea Bakery. We’d volunteered together at an event a few months ago. The last to join, the table was congested with coffee cups and cellphones. I listened for a brief time before engaging in a conversation that appeared strangely somber for the occasion.
Eventually I would learn why one of the women, Julete, was visibly upset. The one who extended me the invite, Julete had passionately pursued acting before going back to school for her master’s. We met at an event in which she had coordinated and I had volunteered. While a crew was starting to unfold tables and chairs, we shared our Hollywood horror stories over the last of a random bottle of champagne.
Just as my coffee arrived, someone at the table said that Julete had learned earlier that her first boyfriend from her hometown was killed in a car accident. At shy of 16, he was the young man she believed she’d marry. A woman seated across from me said, “We were talking about old flings, and then Julete told us that her first boyfriend died two days ago.”
In a nonchalant voice, a woman seated to my right said, “So, Bonita. What was your first boyfriend’s name, and have you ever Googled him?”
Before I could reply, another woman asked, “Do you ever think about him?”
When relationships begin to fade away in my life–and relationships that wither happen quietly–I let go. I will cling for dear life to a relationship, but when it becomes clear to me that the relationship has reached a kind of slow death, it’s over for me and I gracefully accept that what we shared had lasted as long as we both wanted and needed each other. There are rare occasions when I might wonder how so-and-so is doing, but “wonder” doesn’t rise to the level of my wanting to reach out to that person.
Oddly, several days subsequent to the coffee at La Brea Bakery, the conversation about “first boyfriends” came back to me. Something I don’t feel the urge to do is to search the Internet of people from my past. But I typed my first boyfriend’s full name in a search engine. Based on my own name (which for many years was pretty darn unique), there could be a plethora of Philips with the exact last name.
Through a Website, Legacy.com, I discovered that Philip passed away in 2003. Had I not been invited to that coffee, I would most likely go through the remainder of my life not knowing that my first boyfriend had passed away over a decade ago. He was so young.
I process life with the belief that experiences we endure–no matter how detached we are to them–aren’t the equivalent to a stray bullet. In other words, each experience is connected to the next. Each has its distinct intent. Likewise, I trust that many things which happen to us and appear as coincidences are things of a spiritual nature.
So, the invitation to La Brea Bakery to sit with women who happened to be discussing flings and first boyfriends wasn’t by chance. The universe planted disconnected souls at a particular time in order to experience a felicitous epiphany. Epiphanies, as I’ve discovered, often pop up out-of-the-blue or at an inconvenient time.
For many years I’ve made futile attempts to make sense of mystery. But as it should be, I evolved. I have come to a place where I accept the true beauty of the mysteries that add meaning and purpose to the very heartbeat of my life. Our lives often fall short of revealing answers to complex questions. As is the case in some Zen teachings, it’s like “the sound of one hand clapping.”
Through the Legacy post, there was no information about whether Philip experienced a cruel death, or had it been sudden, like Julete’s first boyfriend. The reminiscence of Philip is vague, really. Yet, subliminally, I have sought the qualities that drew me to him in men that have traveled in and out of my life over several decades–from the professional athlete to the always unemployed college dropout who was “born-again,” but dealt cocaine in a house in the Hollywood Hills.
At first blush, we are drawn to outward appearances, so Philip’s looks drew me in. Likewise, the way he walked, his natural gift for being smart and clever–the attributes that made him so appealing to my innocence as a teen-ager.
We grew a part within a year. One summer, he was in L.A. for a friend’s wedding. We met for a quick bite to eat before he left. He’d maintained his unique charm, with a laugh that was infectious, and he was still good-looking. Philip had a gifted equilibrium: he was endearing, and naturally smart. You had to like Philip.
When Julete and I were walking to our cars after leaving La Brea Bakery, she said solemnly, “He was the one, Bonita.” I don’t believe that to be the case. Still, my sincerest hope is that while they were with each other, Julete experienced fervent intimacy. It is almost certain he had a hand in shaping her womanhood, which is perhaps why his death touched her so profoundly.