Written by Lisa Romeo / Reviewed by Graham Oliver
Photo by Michael Daddino
Lisa Romeo’s “Your Boyfriend’s Back” originally appeared in Issue 29 of Front Porch Journal. It received a 2015 Pushcart Nomination in Nonfiction.
ONE OF THE GREAT abilities of memoir is to simultaneously tell two completely different sides of the same story. You have the younger version of yourself, the one going through the events of the story, looking ahead with hope and uncertainty and innocence. Then you have the narrator, the present-day version of the self, the one who can look back with curiosity, pity, wisdom, or confusion. Or all of the above.
I loved Lisa’s piece, in part, because she managed the two sides of her story masterfully. It’s the tale of learning that a high school sweetheart, Joe, has passed away by reading about his death in a magazine in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. The high school sweetheart had been 53 when he died, and Lisa was waiting for her son to finish physical therapy.
Adult Lisa can tell us about high school Lisa asking her parents to go visit Joe at his college and explain that her parents were “informal about rules, but not insane, and said no,” an opinion of her parents that her younger self probably did not share. Lisa’s sympathy with her parents is especially poignant due to her position as a parent herself while telling the story. She takes us along with her as her brain sits “blinking between disbelief and denial” as she makes the connection between teenage Joe and her own teenage son.
Ultimately, this essay is made powerful by the fact that Joe was so removed from her mind as an adult, as a parent, but the time that she spent with him was able to trigger this instant flood of emotions, this reevaluation of the time of her life that overlapped with this other person and the decisions that led up to their divergence. That’s the global sense of the essay, the feeling we can all relate to: thoughts or memories that spring forth unbidden, that catch you by surprise and press your face against the glass case of your history, saying “This meant something to you!” and bringing that weird mix of regret, nostalgia, recognition, and distance that accompanies any journey into your own past.
Lisa’s essay could’ve been a sentimental Facebook status update, but she took it and elevated it to something more meaningful, more universal, more beautiful. I’m proud to be able to nominate it for a Pushcart Prize, and I’m glad she sent it for us to read and publish.
—Graham Oliver, Nonfiction Editor