Telling the Truth
With wide eyes and partially crossed legs I sat uncomfortably on the short cement wall. I'd nearly wrung my clammy hands raw as I debated about what I would say. In order to insure that no one saw me before I wanted them to, my back was strategically turned to the sliding glass doors through which passengers exited the secure section of the airport. Every thirty seconds or so I'd glance over my shoulder, frantically search the faces of the passengers on the escalator, and turn back again hoping no one had noticed just how frequently I was checking if he had arrived.
After a brutal twenty minutes I started to relax a bit and converse with my family. When I wasn't looking, the sliding doors opened and Will and strutted through them with an intimidating, but somewhat sleepy sort of confidence. I jumped up from my cement seat and rushed behind my mother, who I preceded to use as a human shield until I could breathe again. Will was a twenty-three year old Kiwi that had recently graduated college with a degree in accounting. He had a dark and mysterious look to him that resembled that of a dreamy english professor; someone who had lots of profound things to say, but only spent words on those he felt were truly worthy enough to hear them.
Insecurity hit me over the head with a bat. Ever since I was a child I'd felt uncomfortable speaking to people who didn't yet understand my lack of verbal grace. I'd preface friendships with, “I promise, once you get to know me, you'll like me!' as if who I was at first glance was not something worth appreciating. Based on the look of him, I felt that I was going to have to convince Will that I was a creature worth loving, which was a disheartening thought.
By some cruel stroke of fate and to my utter horror, Will and his brother ended up in the back seat of my car on the drive home from the airport. I cherry-picked my words, trying desperately to impress Will without seeming too obvious and praying that I didn't wreck my car considering the fact that I still felt as jumpy as a half-starved street cat. As we pulled into my driveway it was suddenly evident just how uninterested Will was in having anything to do with eighteen year old me, which came as a massive relief and caused a bit of the tenseness in my shoulders to loosen.
It was mid-February, and the sky in Fairbanks was beautifully blue, as it tends to be around that time of year. We had more and more light every day, which brought me a new sense of excitement as I was still emotionally charged thinking of all my New Years resolutions and just how wonderful I believed that 2017 was going to be. At first, Will didn't even seem to notice that I existed, but slowly his real intentions became evident. I'd look towards him and realize that he was already looking at me. Our eyes would locked and in an instant my stomach would fill with seasick butterflies. With a strange sort of abandon and excitement, and before I knew his favorite color, we became a package deal.
Heart break isn't something you plan. No one plunges into a relationship hoping it'll go up in flames. I remember when I was fifteen I watched an elderly couple that I loved dearly tear each other apart. Every day was another battle. Every day for thirty-five years they'd struggled to love each other, and every day they seemed to fail. Their lives were lived with one hand wrapped around each other's throat and the other holding tightly to their marriage license. The sharp words and loud arguments made me wonder if I would ever marry at all. If this was what loved looked like I was not interested. Not to say that anyone was bold enough to admit that they fancied me when I was fifteen, or at any point for that matter. It seemed that I was invisible to the male species for most of my teen years. I didn't have the problems my friends had, but it was okay.
A few months prior, a wise friend of mine had said that Will could be the most incredible, ripe, and beautiful type of peach in the world, and I could decide that I didn't like peaches. This, she assured me, would not be a tragedy, rather a moment of discovery. Of course, I brushed her comment away as I would a humming mosquito. I like peaches, I thought to myself.
No one ever told me that loving is hard. Even if you aren't dating a douche. It hurts and it challenges you. Love asks you to tell the truth when you really don't want to. The first time William said he loved me we were sitting in an Italian restaurant which was actually just a pizza joint that had a few crappy pasta dishes. My hair was elegantly twisted back and I wore a flowing white and floral dress. Both Will and I were over dressed, which made me feel somewhat restless as we sat in the loud greasy restaurant. Having noticed our fancy attire, the server perceived that this was no ordinary date, so as we sat he frantically grabbed several random candles from around the restaurant and put them in the center of our table. I could feel heat creeping over my cheeks, heartlessly giving away my secret just as my elder sister had routinely done when I was nine years old. Before I'd even had a moment to think, the words jumped out of my mouth; I told William I loved him too, and immediately I lost my appetite. For the next two months I tried to figure out if what I had said was the truth. But Will meant it. In that dimly lit pizza joint, it was true for him. He loved me.
Over and over he'd say it. Even when my hair was a mess, my face was makeup free, and I was painfully grouchy, He'd remind me that he believed me to be the most beautiful woman in the world. One night he pulled me up from the couch and he twirled me around. William, bless his heart, didn't have a single coordinated bone in his body, but he knew how much I enjoyed dancing, so he'd dance. After a few minutes of clumsily spinning around in silence, He stopped, held me for a moment, and said those three fateful words for the hundredth time. I love you.
I should have been over the moon with joy. Here was a man who thought I was a treasure. No gift or restaurant was too expensive. No request too small or insignificant. He worshiped the ground I walked on. Maybe, this is just what love feels like, I'd tell myself. After all, what did I know about love? All my life I'd been invisible but now, Will saw me. It was just a phase, it would pass, and soon I would love him in the same way that he loved me. Lenard Cohen said that love was not a victory march, its a cold a broken hallelujah. So I trudged on as William tried to decide if he wanted to have our wedding in the summer or the spring.
His actions confused me, and I'd never noticed just how heavy his brow was or how sharp his words could be. Though we seemed to know everything there was to know about each other, somehow we had missed the most important things. My shyness irritated him, his directness hurt me, but the flowers, expensive desserts, and the way my heart sped up every time he'd grab my hand made the other stuff feel a little less important just long enough for those three words to escape my mouth again. Even with all the affection, gifts, and sweet words I couldn't imagine waking up to Will every morning. With every special little moment it seemed as though part of me grew more and more dim. My internal wild flower was wilting.
I was trapped in winter, waiting for a spring that never came. My toes were cold, and my body weary. Finally, I was ready to admit the truth to Will and to myself in spite of the pain and humiliation it would cause. As I explained just how unsure I was about my feelings all the moments I'd said I loved him came rushing through my mind. His eyes filled with tears. With every word the knife went deeper into his heart and I felt more like a fraud. My body shook as I spoke. Love without the promise of forever is nothing but heart break, but if it doesn't want to be together forever, was it really love at all?
In one fowl swoop, I broke his heart and somehow I broke mine too. As I hung up the phone, my face began to heat up and an anger I can't explain bubbled within me. I wanted to be angry. It felt better than the pain. For a brief moment I was convinced that I hated Will, and the next moment my tears broke through my eyes like Hulk busting through a wall. William's tear-filled words ran through my mind again, “Oh baby... I just... I need to know that you... love me too...' But I didn't and I couldn't and I hated myself for it.
For the following weeks I mourned the loss of a life that I never really wanted. I put 'us' in the ground. I said goodbye to who I thought we would become together. At the same time, I felt a deep sense of relief, like I'd finally done what I needed to do all along. Yet, the dull ache deep within me persisted. The pain was so real that it took every bit of my mental and emotional energy. I was a walking shell. For months I hardly spoke to anyone outside of my family.
While I knew breaking it off was the right thing to do, I also felt that I had blood on my hands. That I'd butchered someone whose only crime was loving me. Simultaneously, it seemed like every friend I've ever had was getting engaged, which didn't help my situation whatsoever. As I watched my first relationship burn to the ground, many ladies that I loved dearly were silly with excitement as they posted photos of their beautiful engagement rings. I couldn't even look at social media without smoke coming out of my ears. One of the hardest things in the world is watching someone who has something that you've just lost, without allowing bitterness to grow deep within you.
The night of the breakup, as I sobbed on my Dad's shoulder, I was reminded of my older sister's first serious break up. She'd spent what felt like days screaming, crying, and begging us to explain to her how this could have happened. Shocked thirteen year old me pleaded with my dad to never let that happen to me. He looked at me and lovingly said that as long as I trusted him, I wouldn't have to go through something so painful. That night, in lou of my first breakup I asked my dad why he let this happen when he'd promised to protect me. My sympathetic dad had nothing to say in response to this question, so he just sat there and held me.
I was angry at God, angry at my dad, and everyone else who'd let me do this. I was angry with myself for hurting Will after he'd been so vulnerable with me. Yet, moments after I asked my dad that childish question, I asked the same question of the Lord. His response was simple and sweet. God told me that trusting Him doesn't mean that I wouldn't experience storms, it meant that even after my heart had been chewed up and spit out, He would be there to comfort me, rock me, and tell me everything was okay. Just as my father was doing right in that moment.
I'm not going to lie and say that its all sunshine and roses without him. Every once in while I'll see a man with an intense brow, deep dark brown eyes, and a jaw line that so reminds me of Will that I freeze and all the memories come rushing back. Days with encounters like these often end with many tears and a conscious fight with the longing to have Will again. I've spent more time than I'd like to admit wondering how he's doing now, and if he's forgiven me. Wondering if he's moved on, or if my absence still haunts him.
While I'm ashamed of the way that I carried myself through this relationship, I know that I am not who I was that first day in the airport. I'm more convinced of my own selfishness and imperfections now than I've ever been, and at the same time, I love the woman that I've become. Somedays I doubt that I'll be able to find someone who can love me the way that Will loved me. Yet, somehow through it all I am stronger. And somehow, even in the pain, confusion, and mixed emotions, I'm okay.