October 10, 2012

I want to tell you a story, because you do not know, and because I want the universe to bear witness to the goodness of the one I love, who himself did not, does not know it. although I understand why everyone who loves me says, "you deserve better," I want to tell you a story about why that's hard for me to hear.

when people who are not my close friends ask me what's going on (if I have had occasion to explain to them that things right now are difficult), the concise answer I give is, "I met a guy and we became best friends and then we fell in love, only he had a girlfriend and now we are not speaking anymore and the loss is very difficult to bear." but here is the longer version.

we met through some mutual friends. we went wine tasting with them and ate pizza. in the car he and I talked the entire time, taking up almost all the room. I spent the whole conversation wildly laughing. we took the scenic route through the vineyards on the outskirts of town and I ended up having to pee so bad I thought I was going to black out. very embarrassed, I had to ask him to pull over at a gas station. 'this is very gauche,' I said, and he laughed and said, 'I love that you just used the word gauche,' and pulled over and let me out and that was that.

he wrote to me the following day, asking about my interest in running some races that were coming up, leaving me his phone number. he had to send it to a relatively unused social media account, because I had deactivated facebook in the midst of getting over scott. I didn't get the message for two weeks. when I finally replied, he texted me that night. 'want to get lunch tomorrow?' he asked. then we sat up texting, me laughing my brains out. I had met his girlfriend, who hadn't been introduced as his girlfriend, and I thought, maybe she's just a friend?

we went on a two hour lunch the next day, sitting next to each other at the ramen place down the street from my office, having a conversation like we'd known each other our whole lives. we walked back to my office, bumping arms. he dropped me at the door of the building; we shyly smiled at each other, and he wished me luck at the half-marathon in vegas, which I was leaving the next day to run.

in vegas, you might remember I got very, very injured. he texted me throughout the weekend, and when I got hurt was more unabashedly sweet and supportive than it felt like scott had ever been. 'you are a rockstar,' he said, as I cried in the bag check area. he checked on me later that night and for every day afterward. beginning that weekend we talked every single day for over a hundred days. (yes, I counted.) that was the nature of our friendship, throughout. over 12,000 texts, all told.

we ran a race in eugene. we each came in third overall, first in our age groups, our times separated by two minutes. afterwards we got coffee and pastries with his friends, and the minute I got into the car I got a message from him. "you are amazing," he said. "my friends think you are so great."

so it went. I began to read all my favorite books again. I practiced my clarinet so that we could play stupid out of tune duets together. I took up a lot of the things I had forgotten about since abandoning them in college. I felt for the first time in years as though I had found a fundamental kernel of myself, that he brought out. we talked about running track meets together, about taking trips. we talked on the phone once a week. we sat up late most nights texting back and forth. I was suddenly, completely happy. someone recognized me.

in february I tore my calf. I texted him from the car, having hobbled two miles through the cold to get back. he called me immediately and I answered the phone in tears. 'what can I do?' he asked. 'I would give anything to come up there, but I can't.' he called me three times that day, giving me injury advice, offering sympathy, checking in. two days later he brought me a gift basket: a huge bucket of legos, a bottle of wine, a chocolate bar, glow sticks (I had just built the blanket fort; they were for lighting purposes), neon knee socks. when I recounted the contents of the basket to a girlfriend, she burst out laughing and said, "holy crap, he's you."

he called me one night after a bad day he'd had; he was in the car and I'd just finished rehearsal. he blurted everything out while I paced up and down the hall, needing to finish cleaning up the rehearsal studio, not wanting to hang up. he had until he got home to get off the line. about eight minutes. I thought, 'why is it me he's calling?' but I would not question it, I would not break it. I loved him. if I could have crawled through the phone and given him a hug, I would have.

every week and a half or so, I'd drive down or he'd drive up and we'd eat pizza, go on walks, make sarcastic jokes, talk about life. the nature of our friendship was intimate and familiar. there was a mostly unspoken undercurrent of love, which did on occasion coalesce into language. "I love you so," he would write to me, late at night, and my heart would leap straight out of my chest. I was too afraid to reciprocate, so for months and months I never did.

as spring turned to summer, we began to ride bikes, to make elaborate plans for our time off together. together, on bikes, he and I hammered out this year's birthday list -- the contents of which he and I alone know. we sat one day at a food cart table and he said, "you have handled your injury with such grace. I know how hard it is," and although it was such a simple thing, it landed at my feet like a life raft, like air after a near-drowning. how easy it was to feel cared for, and how hard it had so often felt in the past.

on bikes we'd ride fast; we'd race; he was faster than me so he'd pass me and then look at me in his rearview mirror and call, "I can see you grinning." we rode all over the place, him all the while glancing over at me from his handlebars, a searching, intense look I could never define on his face. a look I came to recognize, so often did I see it.

one day we biked to a little park by the river, and that was how we began skipping stones. we parked our bikes -- mine was brand new and I was terrified it would be stolen -- and we walked down a little path to stand by the river. immediately I began to pick up rocks, and he followed without a word. we sat there for maybe ten minutes, talking about the water line from a recent flood, talking about moss, talking about all the things we wanted to do.

skipping stones became a sort of sacred thing, a way of spending time together doing something but also not doing something. I brought good rocks in my pocket sometimes, small ones for me and bigger ones for him. this made him laugh. we'd find somewhere on the water and throw them, his traveling farther than mine, me barefoot, sometimes with my feet in the river. we'd scout for rocks and hand good ones to each other. we'd get silly and start just throwing huge rocks into the water, to hear them splash, to splash each other. then we'd often sit and just be quiet.

on the way back we'd pick berries: salmonberries, blackberries. I'd hand him the ripe ones and he'd hand me the tart ones. "a little tart," I'd say; "you are," he'd reply.

we talked about kissing but did not kiss. we talked about holding hands but kept ours to ourselves. we talked about where we would run off to if we could. we talked about what we'd do if we lost our jobs, where we'd move. one day we went hiking and as we drove out, we discovered one of the roads was closed. rather than backtrack, we scouted an alternative route along a tiny gravel road, dust flying in the windows. it was a beautiful day, just before my summer furlough. we weren't convinced it was a real road but we kept driving anyway. I leaned my head out the window and sighed. "I could just live in one of these houses and mow the lawn for the rest of my life," I said. "yes, but where would I put the jaguar?" he asked, joking.

later on that day we sat under a waterfall for ten minutes, and I thought that it was the moment when we should by all rights kiss, but, of course, we didn't.

at a picnic on the river one spring afternoon, we sat on a blanket watching some teenagers have a tennis lesson. he made jokes about them in a low voice. suddenly, a man came down the hill with a cat on a leash, which we could not get enough of. while the man's back was turned, the cat sauntered over to us and plopped down on our blanket, right in his arms. we scratched the cat's belly until the owner came over and apologized. later on, we were talking about our grandparents. 'when I'm eighty,' he said, and I thought, 'we'll know each other when we're eighty?' and something inside me took wing.

"come home," he would say, every time I left town. "come back," I would say, every time he drove away. "for good?" he asked, once. "for good," I answered.

on my birthday he came up first thing in the morning; we went hiking in the gorge, had a picnic, ate birthday cake at the top of angel's rest. we went back into town and wandered around cargo, trying on silly masks, playing with the trinkets. we bumped arms. we tried to get beer at bailey's taproom but they were closed until late afternoon so we ended up at rogue, where I drank a giant beer and we ate tater tots and got sunburned. we had been talking for a few weeks about how I could have anything I wanted, because it was my birthday, with the implication that we could kiss. back in my apartment, at the end of the day, we hugged with a kind of wild longing that felt almost palpable in the air. we could not bring ourselves to do it, so instead we hugged four or five times before we each had to leave again, him pressing his cheek to my cheek, an electric current between us. I came up at that moment against the last of my integrity, driven utterly to despair by the regret that I would never know what it was like to kiss him, sorry beyond all measure that I hadn't just done it. it ate me up. there were days it felt I was made of nothing but longing.

summer: bike rides and ice cream, the continued making of plans. when I came back from north carolina the language between us turned more urgent. something shifted; I could not say what.

I could tell you about the one beautiful, perfect day in mid-august when at last, unable to face another crippling regret, I kissed him on my doorstep while he was mid-sentence, telling me a story about his childhood I had asked to hear; how perfect it was; how I feared for a millisecond that he would draw away in alarm but, of course, how he didn't. how we came into my house and sat in the chair in my living room, how all the truths came out that day, the force of our longing, the fear of what would happen, the thing that had grown between us. I could tell you how it felt to finally wrap my arms around him, to hear him say, "you've made me a better person," to be so close, curled into my chair, lulled by the heat. I could write a novel about those few hours, but I won't say anything more about them, so sacred are they to me now.

I will say that when he left I ran out to the car and kissed him again and he said, "you're afraid you won't see me again," and I nodded, and he said, "you don't have to be afraid." the next time I saw him was the last time I saw him; may be the last time I will ever see him.

the last time I saw him we had lunch and went for coffee. he reached over and held my hand in the car, changing gears with his left hand so he didn't have to let go. over espressos, our arms and legs touching, we talked about what we were going to do about this impossible situation, how hard it was for him, and yet how if it hadn't felt right, we wouldn't have let it happen. leaving, he stopped in the bathroom, and when he came out he strode over and hugged me, picking me up off my feet. we walked back to the car hand in hand. "I think you are the best person I know," he said. "I really mean it when I say you're my favorite." nearly back at the office, still holding my hand, he kissed it. we did not kiss. this was the rule. for the first time, I didn't treat it as if I might never see him again. I sat in the car with him for a long time, not wanting to get out. "every time I drop you off I feel like I'm dropping you at the airport," he said. finally, I got out. as I walked towards the office door, he wolf whistled. I stuck my tongue out at him and laughed. it was all I could do to keep walking.

I wish I had turned back.

what was between us was beautiful, and transformative, and true. I never grew tired of him, never didn't want to talk to him or see him, never didn't miss him when he was gone. when we were together it was playfulness and joy, honest, open. he turned me into a better person. we turned each other into better people. so, while it's maddening, I'm sure, to watch me grieve over such an impossible situation, please understand. my grief is as much about disappointment in what has happened to my friend -- and concern for him, for the rash insane choices he has made -- as it is about disappointment that it did not come to pass. there were times when I believed that what we had was devastating and unsustainable, that I would rather not be friends than go on wanting him. but now I know I was wrong. I would swallow down my desire forever, I think, to avoid having lost him entirely. but so far, no one has presented me with that choice.

I love and miss him, my best friend. I believed he was stuck and fighting hard to find his own inherent goodness, and haven't I been there, and not all that long ago? I forgave him because I have been exactly where he was, and I knew how hard it was, and how empty I felt, how lost. how much of a shell of a person I became. so I believed in him, in how brilliant and funny and wonderful he was, and I believe still, whether or not anyone thinks I should. my stubbornness iron will at work, I suppose.

1 comment:

  1. Jess, my dear. You deserve all that and more. I think, if anyone tells you that you deserve better, maybe what they mean is that you deserve what he gave you and you deserve for it not to be taken away. Because the love you described is exactly how it should be. Love SHOULD be easy and not full of strife, it should be wild and wonderful and full of joy.
    We, as human beings, are so complex. He ended up in, or put himself in, an impossible situation and I feel badly for both of you. It would be too rash to assign judgement and say that he is a bad person, because he isn't. Neither are you. You are human and life is really fucking complicated. Good people do terrible things. It's regretful, often for the duration of a lifetime, but true of all of us. I guess what I'm saying is, I hear what you are saying in this post. The way you are handling this speaks to your depth of character. The way you live your life causes me to have a huge amount of respect for you. I don't say that lightly.