My One & Only Zero,
We met in the Spring of 2002 when I was fifteen, and you were turning seventeen. We went to different schools, but shared friends. I was a Freshman, and I had been invited to join some older students for Senior Ditch Day. We went to Lake Pleasant – my friend Donald and I, and two of his friends from your school, one of whom they called Huston. Huston and I seemed to be hitting it off, but then I was told he was talking about me behind my back afterward. Donald, ever stirring the pot, relayed the gossip to me via AOL Instant Messenger. He wouldn’t give me Huston’s screen name, but he did give me yours, and told me you were the best friend. I messaged you immediately, ranting and raving, and the rest is our history.
From day one, you were the light. You were so funny. You were kind, intelligent, and special. We had inside jokes from that first conversation, and we messaged almost daily from then on. I didn’t know what you looked like. I had never heard your voice. I didn’t even know how old you were yet, or where you’d been born, or whether you had siblings or two living parents. But I felt close to you, and I trusted you. You made it easy. We had so much in common, right from the start. We loved music and art and wolves, and shared a love of crude jokes and clever banter. You were my intellectual equal, and that was precious to me.
I talked to my friends about you, as if you were someone I saw every day, and not just a name on a computer screen. They called you by name, or rather, by the silly nicknames I gave you. They asked about you and knew things about you, as if they knew you, too. In those early years, we spent very little time together in person. We saw a movie once with Becca (she and I laughed because you had a curfew back then), we called corners and worked harmless spells with Natasha and Brenda (witchy women to this day), and one night you came to see us was the night you met Kevin and Jennifer, the former of which is still one of your dearest friends. You and Kevin were fast friends. That was just your magic. People loved you at first sight, and I was no exception.
I look back now, and I think the reason I started to shy away is because I was in love with you. Maybe not in the deepest way at first, but I felt something I wasn’t prepared to own up to. I asked you once, what did you remember most clearly about me? You said, “Your voice, and the way you laugh.” When I started dating, it wasn’t you. It was Kevin, oddly enough, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I’d forfeited something. By the time I was sixteen, I was dating Devlyn, someone so different from you, so much less special, it still feels obscene. After that, we drifted apart.
In the interim years, I thought of you. I wondered about you and missed you. I knew, once I was on the drugs and running with that new crowd, that I was someone you wouldn’t be able to know anymore, and I stayed away. We didn’t speak again until I was twenty-one, and half the country separated us. I had moved in 2007, back to the Midwest with my family and Khamryn, whom I’d been dating for a year. He and I were never meant to be together, but we were, and my happiness paid the price. But then I found you again, just like the old days, on AOL Instant Messenger. It was like the beginning again, exchanging instant messages and texting every night. We even started talking on the phone, which was terrifying and wonderful and quickly became my safe harbor in the storm my life had become. You were my comfort, my source of wisdom and stability, and all over again, I was falling in love.
I was with someone I shouldn’t have been. Khamryn and I came together while I was on drugs and searching for new experiences, and during a time that he was also vulnerable and in need of a companion. Unfortunately, instead of terminating that ill-advised agreement, we stayed together because we thought we were supposed to. This was a difficult conflict to describe to others, and an even more difficult conflict on which to seek advice. Somehow, talking to you felt safe, and when you gave me advice, it was because I asked you to, and not because you insisted upon it. I could tell you anything, and I did. I told you everything – so much so that I still cringe when I remember what you know.
You knew all along I was falling for you, but you kept your silence. I think, more confidently now than I did then, that you loved me before I admitted to loving you. I think you loved me just as long as I did you, in your own way, at your own pace. In 2011, I was twenty-four, you were twenty-six, and I finally admitted I had real, life-altering feelings for you. I had recently ended my five-year relationship with Khamryn, I’d found a job I would come to love, and I was moving back in with my parents to start over, yet again. I remember the moment I realized I had feelings worth mentioning. I was standing in the driveway, talking on the phone with Jennifer, who still lived in Arizona. We were talking about something funny you’d said, a sort of jab you’d taken at me, and she was laughing at the joke. She said you were funny and I said, “I know, I hate him.” She laughed. “I do!” I insisted. “No,” she said, “I’m laughing because it’s funny, because you used to say that about Khamryn.” That’s when it hit me. I had already claimed you and I didn’t know it until just then, or maybe I knew all along, and I was afraid to do anything about it.
You weren’t surprised at all when I came clean. In fact, I think you literally said, “I know.” That exchange has followed us all the way to the present – me telling you I love you, and you reassuring me that you know, have always known, and will always know.
We carried on that way for a while, letting our friendship evolve over the phone, both of us with the knowledge that we’d crossed over a line somewhere. Eventually, pieces began to come together. Jennifer was inviting me to come back to Arizona, to live with her and start over without the safety net of my parents. When I asked you what you thought of me coming back, you said, “If you do it, do it for you, not for me.” You still don’t think I listened, and that’s fine. I know the truth, and though part of the reason I came back was to be with you, in the end it was for me, and it still is. To be perfectly honest, you did very little to prevent me from coming. If anything, you goaded me. You wouldn’t even admit your own feelings; you said, “I have to do that face to face. I can’t do something like that over the phone.” Challenge accepted, my love.
I moved back in November 2012, and I could not wait to see you again. It had been ten long years since I had seen your face, and I was humming with fear and anticipation. So much was riding on that “first” meeting. How we received each other then, in our adulthood instead of as children, would be the catalyst between one of the biggest decisions of my young life, and my future. Jennifer took me to your house. I brought you a milkshake. Your father wore a nice shirt to greet me at the door. I was nothing but terror and nerves and second guesses. I found you upstairs, cleaning the bathroom. I still remember the way you looked at me – you widened your eyes and drew out your face, and I laughed – you eased the awkward moment with your humor, just the way you always did.
You were beautiful. You still are.
That first night was intense. You sat in your computer chair in front of me, and I sat on the edge of your bed. I did everything in my power to tell you, without words, to touch me. I would have paid any price for the courage to say, “Hold my hand.” I would have settled for a brushing of knees. It felt like suffering, to finally be so close to you, and feel just as far away. At the end of the night, we hugged. I was screaming inside. To this day, I still never want to let go. Every embrace is too short. After that first night, we moved quickly. Or rather, you did, and yet you didn’t. You made me wait for our first kiss, but once our lips met, we tumbled head first into more intimate touches. You never mentioned “going steady”, but laughed easily and did not resist when I brought it up. New Years Night 2013 was our anniversary, we decided. It was official, finally.
It was rough, for a long time. For us, crucial things were uncertain that were never uncertain for other couples. It wasn’t just that neither of us owned a car, or that our schedules were so different, or that you worked so much and slept so little. I don’t have to say what made it so difficult – we both know – but there were so many times in those first couple of years that I was so afraid we would not weather it. As close as we already were, as much love as we already had, I was terrified of failure.
That I am not well psychologically is not news. I struggle with my own mind, and my own emotions. Those first two years, it wasn’t just my tattered mind that made it difficult for us, but it often felt like it was me. Of our cluster of issues, we shared responsibility, but I was certain it was me. Always me. Even when I raged and blamed and sulked at you, I always found a way to blame myself. You strained under it, and so did I. Those first two years were our greatest test. Things didn’t get easier right away, but the trials grew somewhat farther apart. One thing, however, always plagued us. You know what I’m talking about. It seemed, for a couple of years in a row, that this one wedge between us reared its head on our anniversary. It was almost like a ritual, and it was torture. One year, I even asked you for space. We barely spoke for two months; that was a bleak, empty couple of months. We did come back together, but that wasn’t the end of the struggle. It wasn’t until early 2017 that the old hatchet finally disappeared beneath the soil. It isn’t behind us yet, but we understand each other more than we did before.
I am more in love with you now than ever. I love you wholly, flaws included. I love you more than I have loved any other human being, with only the exception of my parents. But the three of you have something very important in common: You gave me life. People say, “He completes me.” Not quite. I say, “When he is with me, I remember I am whole.” You are my humor, my courage, and my compass. I am greater than my weaknesses, because you believe in my strengths. I am brighter than my own darkness, because you see my light. I am better than my fear, because you keep my brave. When I tell you I miss you, know it is because your absence takes something with it. When I remind you that I love you, it is because that is easier to say than the words that spin and twist and roil in my heart and my mind when you are near. You are essential to my happiness. You are crucial to my sense of justice and value in this world. It has been five years, and the touch of your skin is still fire and electricity. A kiss still makes me dizzy, as if it is the very first time. I still bite my lip and blush when I think of you – a touch, a long kiss, the way it feels to make love to you, no matter what playful or passionate form the act takes – I am as hopeless for you today as I was on day one.
When I tell you I love you, understand how much more I wish I could say. Every day. Every time. Understand, when I say, “I love you,” I am telling you I would do anything to protect you. I would do anything to preserve your happiness, to keep you safe, to give you everything you deserve from this life. You are precious to me, in a way that no other person ever has been, or will ever be. For as long as I live, I would be content to know only your touch, kiss only your lips, and sleep beside you alone, above any other man, above any other woman. What trials we have yet to face, I will face beside you. What distance we have left to cover before nothing else holds us back, I will travel with my hand clasped securely in yours.
I love you, Daniel, with everything I have.
Your Ludicrously Scatter-Brained Basket Case Girlfriend,