At middle age, time stalks you like a wild animal, taunting you with reminders of imperfect moments, moments of lapses in judgment that claw at your consciousness. The challenge is to sort through the memories, to savor those that brought happiness and joy and scrap those that wrought shame and regret, but then you realize all of your memories are part of the self you once were, and you cannot forsake that self.

Then one memory in particular catches your eye, its frayed edges echoing a tattered relationship you left behind when you were twenty. Peering through the microscope of maturity, you see that it holds a secret.

You know, that boyfriend who drove 3,000 miles from California, in hopes of rekindling a cross-country romance? He just knew you were the one – and maybe you did, too, for a while, as you thought back to the playful intimacies and wild wanderings you shared, you and he tumbling tempestuously in the tall grasses of cliff-side meadows below which stretched the unbounded blue of the Pacific Ocean, the whole world seemingly pulsating at your feet.

Aglow beneath an afternoon sun, you explored your bodies, his unruly blond curls tickling you in private places and later those same glimmering blond locks inspiring excitement as you tramped through the muddy, rutted streets of Mexican villages, where children would come running to gather around him to ask for money and touch his hair in fascination and shout “Blanco! Blanco!”

Until your aimless exploits ended and you heeded the call of home. And another guy entered your sordid life.

You should have had an inkling that the coastal cuddling with Blanco would not continue when, after heartbreaking hugs and mutual weeping goodbyes in the San Francisco airport, you stumbled onto the jumbo jet back to Atlanta, wasted on weed and swimming in a serene sea of Valium, and your airborne seat-mate, an oil tycoon from somewhere in Texas, plied you with martinis until you were miles-high woozy and laughing and enthralled in a numb sort of way with the weirdness all around you and the stranger beside you and you didn’t have a care in the world, least of all for Blanco.

You got your land legs back and soon settled into a furniture-less apartment where, after some boozy barhopping, a new honey rocked your world. And this new guy began to have that inexplicable hold on you. At the time it didn’t matter whether it was all physical — it was — because you weren’t stopping to analyze what you were doing, you just did it and if for the moment it felt right, it was just fine by you.

Anyhow you were young and free and Blanco was out of sight, out of mind.

Too bad you didn’t have the guts to tell him, when, 1,500 miles into his cross-country trek to see you again, Blanco called you from a pay phone in the middle of Missouri. If there were cell phones back then you could have let him down easy with a simple text message: “Sorry, I don’t think it will work out, can we just be pen pals? LOL.”

Instead, when he rattled into Atlanta on a near-empty gas tank, exhausted and hungry, you told him you weren’t a couple anymore, so you kicked him back to California. You pitied him leaving Atlanta all alone behind the wheel in his rickety truck, nothing else going for him.

In the breakup’s aftermath, you rationalized your relationship; in particular, the way his tantalizing azure blue eyes and big, broad goofy smile always managed to make a quick-change into mere fun and games and therefore the relationship was doomed from the beginning to be a fling, a short-lived joke. Yeah, fun for a while; but once you hear a joke ;one too many times, it becomes boring and it’s not as funny anymore, and you knew that even though Blanco had a serious side because he cried hard real tears that slid uncontrollably along his round, reddened cheeks when you told him he had to travel all those miles back home to the opposite coast without you by his side. You also knew that your relationship would naturally have slumped for lack of substance and was destined to fizzle.

Yes, you made those tears fall and made him the saddest and most distraught person on the planet, the salty water that bled from his eyes matting down his golden curls until finally there was an emptiness between you that left you both stranded in a parched, lonely desert.

The cold truth of the matter is that you broke someone’s heart.

Forty years later, a tightness in your chest — a chest bedecked by breasts whose sagging skin reveals as much about your age as it does about the gravity of your guilt — grips you as you reflect on the brutal hurt you caused.

But there is power in causing someone else to feel something! Even though it was a bad feeling, you created an emotional effect, you made someone fall in love with you and then grieve that they ever loved you, and this gives you confidence that you can be imperfect and still be breathing. Steadily breathing in the inglorious imperfection of a decision to be true to yourself.

And that is the secret.

So now you smile as you remember his toothy grin and crazy laugh and lusty abandon, and those untamed lips landing casually on yours, cool and earthy, and how for a few thrilling weeks he nurtured your adventurous spirit and actually helped you become more of who you were meant to be. And even if your life today is a tangled mess, you and Blanco, wherever he may be, are both breathing the same air, in and out, in and out. It will always be there, the sharing, the sensual, sultry air of a Mexican summer.

Ellen Berman is a professional marketing and advertising copywriter with an extensive career as a freelancer and in corporate America. She is a widely published journalist. An Atlanta, Georgia native, she now lives and works in Franklin, Tennessee as a copywriter. She plans to publish her memoir.