When you met me I was broken, though neither of us knew it at the time.
I was 21, you were 19. To you I was Zelda. To you, I didn’t care what other people thought and was unapologetically myself. By living openly in this way, perhaps I drew you in. Yet I was still struggling to grasp on to who I truly was, to see how I fit into the world. But I let you believe I was dazzling, because I found you incredibly alluring.
I understood your interest pursuing my friendship on the day you revealed to me your truth. It wasn’t until this admission that it all made sense. But I wasn’t shocked. It felt as though we were arriving upon the truth that was there the whole time. But along the way, I also realized, that I was in love with you. And in the most self-centered of intentions, I took it upon myself to share your secret, the one you entrusted me with care, the one that was first spoken aloud to only me…I spoke your truth without your permission as I explained my feelings for you. It wasn’t necessary to share. And still I poured it out anyway in an effort to make sense of my own feelings.
* * *
I was getting ready to leave for New York to intern for the summer. On the night of my going away party, you and I had a moment alone outside, and you asked about the guy who came to see me, the guy who kissed me as he left. I told you he didn’t matter, that you were the one I really wanted, and in true Robert fashion, I exhaled the words and dramatically walked away. You stood back stunned but I’m sure you weren’t completely surprised. It was another truth that had been there all along, just now revealing itself in the moon glow.
We both understood it wouldn’t work. You were young in this. I was too emotionally invested. Leaving to New York would be a good thing. And we kept things light. But a month after I left somehow the word had broken. It didn’t get far but still someone knew about the secret you told me and confronted you about it. That day was devastating. How could I have been so selfish? You hated me. I told you everything would be OK and that I would fix it. That’s what I do. I fix things. I’m a fixer. I’ve always been able to dig myself (and others) out of any situation. I would handle it. It would be handled.
Somehow I could find ways to put it to rest. I made it my mission. But the damage was done. I can’t imagine how you felt. Being stripped and seen. When you weren’t ready. I did that. I fucked up. And still, a month after, you took me back.
* * *
For a while I kept busy. School, internships, work. I turned 22, you turned 20. You supported me every step of the way, even came to my graduation. You told me I was going to be very successful and I held on to that. You always thought the world of me, and I of you.
* * *
In our second summer, my love for you returned unexpectedly. You wanted me to take you out so I did. I brought my best friend Christina. We all headed out for your first club & bar experience. I was determined to get you a dude but knew it wouldn’t be very difficult. Every guy had his eye on you and it was just a matter coordinating. You had never kissed a guy before so I wanted to make sure that at least happened. But in an interesting twist, like magic, we leaned into each other. You said you were too drunk to know why but it happened and all I could do was avoid talking about it when I saw you again. That’s when it came back.
* * *
I fell into a deep depression the fall after graduation. I had a degree but no career, and found myself less busy than ever. I was forced to face myself, to see who I truly am and understand my own insecurities. Everything came bubbling to the surface like a pan being soaked in hot soapy water. All the residue floating to the top. Soon you became my strongest trigger and greatest comfort.
On the night of October 9th, I told you I loved you. I asked if you had feelings for me too. On the morning of October 10th, you told me you did not and never will. I told you I would need time apart so I could gather myself. I made a dramatic joke to myself that I hoped I would collapse and an ambulance would take me away so I couldn’t see you at our usual places. The next day I discovered my appendix had gangrene and I had to have surgery to get my appendix removed. I was in the hospital for a week and on bed rest for another week once I was home. You went against my wishes for space apart to check on me while I was in the hospital. I told you I’d be OK. A week later we were talking again. We couldn’t keep apart for much longer.
Once I healed, I knew I needed to write about my experiences of the past few months, experiences that featured you. And you were OK with it. You approved. You encouraged it. “I know you need to do this to heal, and I support you.” This was a rare response. You meant a lot to me which is why I talked to you before I hit publish on my blog and your approval proved yet again just how much you cared. I gave you a new name. And I shared my story.
* * *
On Halloween, you convinced me to go out with you. That was the first night you met and talked to a guy. You drove me that night but things were going well with this dude. You asked if I could find a ride home so you could stay the night with him.
Christina had to take me. I cried the whole ride home.
* * *
With my gut now less trusting than before, leaving an absence where my appendix used to be, the unraveling of the year seemed to worsen. The soaking pan was degreasing quicker, water hotter, more soap added to the mix. This created some of your most awkward nights out.
It seemed every time we’d go out, I’d find a way to have a meltdown, to see myself as ugly, to proclaim my awkwardness and inability to fit in these spaces. You fit in just fine. I wanted to be you, I wanted to be as cool as you, as pretty as you. I wanted to fit in like you. But I didn’t. To make matters worse, the thought of you with anyone else sat heavily on my arms and legs, warming my body like an x-ray, invasive and uncomfortable.
I put the pressure on you to fix me. I expected you to go out of your way to keep me happy. You tried your best to help me talk to guys, to boost my confidence, to help me be the person you thought I was but the mask was lifted and it terrified you.
* * *
The worst night came a week before my birthday. I was sent into the ground by a guy who bought everyone else in our group drinks but me. It reinforced my ugly, it reinforced the false storyline in my head. I told you I was going to kill myself on my birthday.
You had no words. Only silence. Only fear. Only strong concern. Your silence broke me further but I knew I had placed too much on you. I was no longer the free-spirited nymph from Chandler, I was a witch in the woods. Snapping, breaking, falling apart—the only place I should have been was safe in my cottage. But still I was here.
But this was truth that had always been there, just now coming into the moon glow.
When you met me I was broken. Neither of us recognized it at the time. Now it was clear.
* * *
Two days after my meltdown I saw a counselor who changed my life (and saved it). Things were turning around. I was healing. You cheered me on. You saw that. You were still there.
* * *
The more I suffocated my former self, the more I doubted your love. I couldn’t understand why you stuck around, why you liked me or if you still did. You were coming into your own now, I was no longer your fairy godmother. I wasn’t cool like your other friends and you made it a point to set me apart from them.
I was spinning mad, the pan was almost clean. Residue to be drained. Finally.
* * *
In February, I invited you to a reading. I was asked to perform an essay from my blog. After all we had been through, I knew I wanted you there. This was my very first reading. I needed my champion. But you never showed up.
It’s probably for the best, I performed an essay called, “A Kiss Can Change Everything.”
* * *
When March came I let you go. It was an overwhelming sensation of freedom.
This freedom was for me to explore who I was, to gain a sense of my own self-validation. I wanted you to validate me. Sure, I wasn’t crying at the club saying I was going to kill myself anymore, but overcoming suicidal thoughts was just the beginning. Rock bottom ushers in a new beginning. And I had to go on the journey without you in order to heal in the next phase.
* * *
After not speaking for 6 months, you texted me.
The alert was like an airbag in my chest.
We chatted like old times. I knew you so well. But after time apart, you had been growing and changing so much hat there was a level of slight disconnect.I was incredibly proud of you but part of me was sad I missed events along the way.
I hadn’t stuck around for the growth. I had to go grow myself.
On that fateful day you texted me is when I met him. David. I later discovered that he would perform the final act in my journey through self-love.
By letting me back in, it was a strange mystical passing of the baton from one soul mate to the next. You were the lamppost that lit up where I needed to go, and now I was here.
* * *
This is what I know for sure. I was a terrible friend.
My intuition was correct that there was something special about us but my low self-esteem paired with a self-inflated ego misinterpreted it as love unrequited: “ah yes, you’re in love with me but just can’t admit it, when will anyone ever find me worthy to love?” But I was wrong. This was just another notion that enforced the conspiracy theory in my mind that I am unlovable and that if I saw a man fitting into the role of lover in my head, then that’s who he shall be. I set the role up to be unattainable to fulfill the impossible fantasy. To validate my subconscious negativity. What you and I had was much deeper than any romance. It was purer than that. It was love that could have existed in any time or place in the universe and still find a way to bring us back to each other, even if just to lock eyes for a moment in a crowded room. It was love that shook us up, knocked us down, made us uncomfortable and blessed us with gifts to cherish forever.
I once read that when people show you love, that’s God showing his love for you through them. As it turns out, I wasn’t ready to receive it when you showed me.
If there’s one thing you taught me, it’s how to receive love as it is for what it is, to embrace all good things for being good things, without wishing it came into a form that fit the movie script written inside my head. You taught me to love unconditionally, to forgive when a friend betrays your trust, and how to love someone for all of their flaws, not in spite of them.
Thank you for teaching me this. I will appreciate it always.
Images by Noemi Gonzalez.