Relationships columnist Zahara Johnson on 'The guy we once knew'

For The Baltimore Sun

She paraded through the house, grabbing just about everything. Starting in the living room, she quickly progressed to the kitchen, wrapping up every spoon, fork and bowl.

My friend Ashley was moving and her last-minute packing looked like a sporting event.

"No, this won't fit," she said, trying to stuff a large oval vase into a tiny square box.

I'd known Ashley since fifth grade, and it had been years since we sat and had a serious talk. The topic? Men, of course.

I was going through some things with my (now ex-) boyfriend and she with hers.

"I still have dreams about him," she said. "Dreams about us making sweet love and then I wake up and it's back to reality."

I caught her staring afar, like her dream was on replay.

She and her now ex-boyfriend got together in 2007 when she was just 16. They called it quits only two months ago.

I thought back to high school when her now-ex would remind me every day, "Yo, tell Ashley that I like her." Ashley and I were close in high school and his way to her was through me. So for several months I had to suffer through his pleas and reminders. I would scurry the other way when I saw him coming, because I knew exactly what he wanted.

When I finally got around to telling Ashley about her secret admirer, she was anything but interested.

"I wasn't looking to be in a relationship," she said. "And I definitely didn't want him. I just thought he was wack."

But somehow, his persistent imploring (and gifts) eventually won her over.

This was the part of their relationship that I remembered. They were that token high school couple that everyone thought would get married, have a horde of kids and a white picket fence.

"When did things change?" I asked.

"Right after I had the baby," she said, while jamming a pile of clothes into a trash bag.

Ashley and her ex have a 3-year-old daughter together. She was there pulling out all her toys, being counterproductive to her mommy's packing.

"After I had the baby, he changed," she said. "I did not expect that from him."

I always remembered her ex being a well-mannered, respectful, and somewhat geeky guy. In our talk, she told me stories that I could barely believe were about him. The accounts of lies, infidelity and deceit surely weren't about the boy who stalked me daily, just to get her attention.

She recalled feelings of loneliness and regret when she suddenly found herself raising a child alone.

"I used to blame myself because now she's not going to have the family I wanted her to have, the family that I didn't have," she said.

We took a break from our exhausting conversation to watch her daughter. She was playing in her mommy's makeup. She smiled as she looked in the mirror, applying lipstick to everywhere but her lips. Her hands, face and the mirror itself now had glittery red markings. Ashley gave a little smirk and shook her head, as that was another thing she'd have to clean up.

"It's crazy [that] people change for the worse," she said in a soft, tired voice. "I do believe that eventually he'll be the [man] that we know."

I then asked, "What's the most shocking part about all of this?"

"The fact that he didn't put his family first," she replied.

It was impossible not to ache for her, but I was optimistic. Her ex was no stranger to begging, so I knew she had to be getting a million apology texts from him.

"When's the last time he's reached out to you?"

She looked at me. "He hasn't," she said.

I was going through my own relationship troubles at the time. Hearing of her experiences provided little hope for me. Unfortunately, life happens and people change, regardless of how much time and love you give them.

We were in her bedroom now. I sat in a chair not too far from a closet she was rummaging through. I watched her and thought, if love didn't work in her favor, what on earth was going to happen to me?

Zahara Johnson's column appears regularly in b.

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