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Our Long and Winding Road

I didn't know someone could bring so much solace and so much pain.

Nine months ago, everything was going perfectly. I was actually living in one of the greatest times of my life. I was happier, more confident, and more sure of my future than I ever had been before. Then he came along.

That's how it always goes, isn't it? 

I thought his appearance in my life was a sign that things were just going to keep getting better. He had been a friend for a long time. Someone I always confided in; anytime something went wrong, he was the one I ran to. He had seen me at my worst, and I had seem him at his. But things were getting better for the both of us. 

One night, we were up late. One of our rituals was to drink to the point of slurring, and then sit up all night and pour our hearts out to each other. As asinine as it sounds, it was one of my favorite things to do in the whole world. I looked forward to these late nights, and I cherished the memories of those alcohol-fueled conversations. 

This particularly drunk, particularly late night, the mood began to shift. He lowered his voice, he leaned in, and he began talking of the things he cared for the most. I leaned in, too, and listened. I realized I had ceased talking and was only listening... listening to the endless stream of words leaving his lips. He was something else. He always had been. He had always had a way of drawing me in and captivating me. He understood me in a way no one else could. He knew when to be serious, and he knew when to tell a joke. He knew when to console me and he knew when to tell me to lighten up. He always had the right words. 

The words "kiss me" were no exception. For a few hours before he whispered them to me, eyes closed, never expecting a rejection, I had been having suspicions about this proposition arising. I had always pushed such thoughts away; there wasn't a chance of him feeling this way about me, and if there was, there were too many things standing in our way of a happy ending. All this sounded good and logical to me, for many years. But in the moment, in the dim light of the television, his beautiful face slightly hazy from alcohol, only a few inches from mine, it became hard to turn down the only man who has ever seemed to be a near perfect match for me. 

I don't know what he expected to come from that encounter. I do not know what I expected to come from that encounter. But I know I never expected this. 

Nights turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months. We saw each other every chance we could. We started out so shy... sitting next to each other on the couch, slowly creeping our hands towards each other until they were touching, hearts thumping out of our chests. Hours went by in seconds, telling each other everything there was to tell. In a week, each of us had shared stories and feelings and memories we hadn't dared tell another soul. We talked of God and religion and art and politics and sex and love and, and, and.... 

I didn't think it could get better than this. Sharing my soul with another person, and that person sharing their soul with me. Never before had I connected with someone so deeply as I connected with him. But there was so much more to a romantic relationship than sharing souls. Oh, there was so much more to be shared. 

He was not my first relationship. There were 3 other 'serious' men in my life, and a handful of dates that fizzled out to nothing. One of these occurred the summer before the time in which my story took place, which was arguably the most serious out of the 3. We talked of our future and of tie-the-knot level commitments. He wanted to work to support me and allow me to stay at home and write, to become the author I had always secretly dreamed of being. He told me I was beautiful every day, and he told me he would never let me forget how special I was to him. He was a sweetheart who wanted the same future I did. But I felt nothing for him. When he kissed me, I felt the same as when I was watching a history film. When we talked of the future, my heart was dull. When he told me I was beautiful, I often wanted to ask him to stop.

It wasn't right. And in a few months, my time with him was over. I was saddened, but not by his loss, by my lack of feeling for him. Was something wrong with me? The other two relationships had ended in a similar fashion. It wasn't me. It wasn't any of them. It was us. 

Because when I finally got together with the man who is the subject of this story, all the others paled. It all felt like the first time (cue the Foreigner song). Never before had I really kissed someone, touched someone, held someone close to me. Not like it was with him. 

I couldn't imagine anything better. He and I were connected, mind body and soul. We understood each other on a deeper level than anyone I'd ever experienced, and I couldn't keep my hands off of him. Just seeing him drove me crazy. I was trapped under his spell and, dear God, I prayed I'd never be set free. 

But there is more to life than love. Neither of us had an ideal life outside of our relationship. Scenarios out of both of our hands were causing tension between us. And one morning, it all came to a head. We had been seeing each other about a month, and never had the thought of us parting ways entered my head. As I walked up the path to his door in the early summer morning, I remember noting how beautiful it was. The sky was especially blue, and the clouds were especially white, and the birds sang an especially angelic song. Or, that's how it seemed to a dumb kid in love. To someone who finally beat her losing streak. How silly of me. 

An hour later, I laid next to him in his bed. He gently ran his fingers through my hair, and we didn't speak a word to each other. Suddenly, "how do you really feel about me?" shot out of my mouth. I saw anxiety fill his face, and the next 45 minutes were filled with an emotionally-charged conversation regarding our overwhelmingly-strong feelings for each other (no L-words were exchanged), and our overwhelmingly shitty lives. The conversation ended with me unsure of where we stood, and unsure of whether my losing streak had just been put on pause. Turns out, it had. 

That night, we met for dinner, and a gut-wrenching conversation that ended with, "I'm crazy about you, too, but sometimes feelings have to be put aside and we have to wake up from the dream we've been living in". I'll never forget the way he shoved his hands in his pockets, turned from me, and walked off into the night. I'll never forget how devastatingly handsome he was as he did that.

I'll never forget how the words, "we can't wake up, I'm in love with you" entered my head just as he walked away. And I'll never forget the fact that I didn't tell him; rather I turned and walked away as well. 

The following four days were spent up all night, listening to my heartbreak playlist, not eating or sleeping, and crying. Peak of my existence. The fifth day, he came back for me. And I ran to him, ready to make all my wrongs right, ready to make the second time around the best time around. This time, we were going to make it work. He was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and I would never let him go again. 

I tried and I failed. My spirit was slowly breaking, due to outside pressures on me. He was there for me, but I shut him out. I became scared of sharing the darker parts of my life with him; I didn't want to give him a reason to leave again. Our time together was no longer the dream it once had been. Our distance with each other altered our relationship to become nearly entirely physical, which left me feeling empty and alone. More alone than I ever had felt in my bland prior relationships, and far more alone than when I was single. I loved him but couldn't let him in. I was within and without. 

Alcohol, as its reputation indicates, did nothing to help our situation. We did talk late into the night, as we had before. But rather than gently sharing our deeper thoughts on life and ourselves, we desperately sought the words to describe how we felt for each other and how our relationship was evolving. Neither of us could find our courage in the sober mornings, so we took every chance we could in our intoxication to re-assure each other of our love. 

As things got more difficult for me, he was my lighthouse. I raised my spirits by telling myself stories of times when my hardships were through, and I could devote all of my time and energy to him and our relationship. When that day came, everything would be right again. We would make it then. When that bright morning rose, we would be happy. 

But that morning wasn't in sight. I felt us faltering. I felt his confidence fading. I felt my heart breaking, in preparation of his second departure. I thought his sudden bolt before was the most earth-shattering thing that could happen. But now, I see there is an equal amount of pain in the slow-bleed.

During this time, someone new came into my life. Someone of unknown significance at the beginning. A tall man, with smiling eyes and crossed arms. He spoke methodically, delivering his words clearly and calmly, and his voice was deep and re-assuring. He knew me like I knew me. Within hours of meeting, I talked to him like an old friend. His humor was mean and mocking, and all his jokes were aimed directly at me. His very presence brought sheer joy to me, and I relished being truly happy after so many months of darkness and worry. With him, it was like the rest of the world didn't exist. He was something else. 

After becoming this new person's friend, I found new motivation for my life. I realized there was no point in giving in so soon. I was not done with this man I loved, the only man I had ever loved, and I would not let him leave me again. My life got better, and we got better. The one I loved became more assured of us, he got comfortable, and I was relieved. I felt I had backed us away from the ledge. I stopped drinking, I started writing again, and I thought the only way we could go was up. I thought now that I had gotten all of my shit together, my relationship would only improve. Things could only get better. 

Then, on October 8, we "had to" split up. It would be the best for both of us, he said. He blind sided me, yet again. Only this time, I felt like I had lost my whole world. All I had hoped for, all I had worked for. I had finally made it to the lighthouse, just to have it torn down the moment I arrived.

I fell down a dark, dark hole. For weeks, all I did was work and drink. I went out with friends, but I had no fun. I laughed, but I felt no joy. The sun didn't shine, and the future had nothing but years of lonely heartache. He was my first love. He was the only one that ever really mattered to me. I was going to marry him. I was going to spend my life with him. All of my dreams fell down around me when he left. 

That's when that new man, who had brought back my will to fight before, swept in and saved me again, unbeknownst to him. Somehow, every time I was at my lowest, he reached out and lifted me up. His humor brought light to the dark little world I had made for myself. He and I talked every day. Sometimes about nothing at all, sometimes about everything. We talked of God and religion and art and politics and sex and love and, and, and....

And slowly, my world wasn't so dark anymore. Slowly, I felt happier. I wasn't happy, but I wanted to live. I didn't want to give up. I wasn't quite the lost cause I thought I was. I had someone out there who believed in me. Who saw someone worth talking to every day, someone worth worrying about and caring for. He became more attentive to me in our friendship than my love ever had been in our relationship. I finally began to take steps into a new life, steps down a new path. 

What luck, right when I began to get better, my love came back. And being the hopeless romantic (or maybe just hopeless sap) I am, I welcomed him back with open arms, and my heart swelled and I was suddenly alive again. Fully alive. As we re-built the relationship that had been left for dead, I began to see and feel a change. A change in me. In how I felt about us. 

I found myself missing my friend when I was with my love. I found myself confiding in my friend more than the man I was dating, because my friend was more understanding. I could have deep, night long conversations with my friend without a drop of alcohol. I could reach out to my friend any time of day, and I knew he'd be there for me. I never felt out in the cold, I never felt rejected, I never felt insecure. I found myself wanting more than the man I loved had ever provided me, by no fault of his own. He wasn't the type to be so attentive, and I knew that from the beginning. 

And when I finally told the man I loved that I did, in fact, love him, and he said it back, something didn't seem right. I did love him. I do love him. I always will love him. But I no longer know if this is what I want. Those months of pain after he left me, without even an explanation, completely shook me. I don't know anymore if I want a person who can leave with such ease. I think I want someone who stays. 

I think I want someone who asks me how I am every day. Someone who misses me when they don't hear from me, and tells me. Someone who asks how I feel and knows how to help me feel better when I'm not feeling good. Someone who makes me feel stronger when I'm sad, and insecure, and weak. Someone who likes all the corny 80's music I like, someone who finds my stupid jokes endearing, someone who I can talk to for hours on end and never run out of things to say. Someone who has seen me at my very worst, and has never made me think for a second he would leave me there. Someone with smiling eyes and crossed arms. 

I don't know, though. I never really know. All I know is that this all feels new. It almost feels like the first time... 

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Our Long and Winding Road
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