love

More Than Words

His hands were the first thing I noticed about him.

He was sketching, brushing feather-light pencil lines effortlessly across the page. One of his hands commandeered the pencil while the other scratched nimbly at the nape of his neck. They were beautiful. Whatever was on the paper in front of him was beautiful, too.

I stood for a while, just observing, until it occurred to me that what I was doing was a little bit creepy. So I edged in front of him, clearing my throat. “Do you mind if I sit down?”

He looked up at me, startled that someone had the audacity to disturb him at work. But his eyes met mine and softened a little around the corners, a wordless gesture that gave me the confidence to slide into the seat across from him. I half expected him to tell me to get lost, that he was concentrating and needed to be alone, but he just went right back to his drawing like I’d never interrupted him at all.

Anna Karenina was calling me; I had almost sixty pages to read before AP Lit. Yet I was going cross-eyed reading about Levin’s domesticity, and my gaze kept shifting unwittingly toward this quiet boy and his expressive hands.

After a few minutes of staring at my book with utter futility, I surrendered to my curiosity. “What are you drawing?” I asked, quietly enough that he could ignore it if he wanted to.

He didn’t, though. He didn’t look up, but he answered me, pausing between strokes and biting his lower lip. “I’m not sure.”

“Well, it’s nice,” I said, letting the conversation fade to silence before speaking up again. “I’m Sophie.”

He cracked a knuckle. “Adam.”

When the bell rang, he finally looked at me. The corners of his mouth twitched into a smile I hadn’t expected as he extended his hand across the table. The heel of it was shiny with graphite, the pads of his fingers dented from holding the pencil, but his grip felt like a promise. “Very nice to meet you, Sophie.”

***

The next time I sat down across from him, I didn’t bother asking for permission. He was eating an apple, tongue darting out every once in a while to catch the juice that threatened to escape from his mouth.

“Hi, Sophie,” he said with a genuine grin.

“Hi,” I replied, blushing when his eyes lingered on mine for a little too long.

We didn’t talk much. He drew, I read – Anna Karenina, Great Expectations, A Clockwork Orange. His drawings were strange and smudged and haphazard, but they were all equally lovely. He made the kind of art you’d put in a museum in hopes that someone would be smart enough to understand it.

I jokingly asked him to draw me one day. He laughed and said he didn’t really know how to do people.

“You never had to do portraits or anything?” I asked, wincing as I recalled my pathetic attempt at a self-portrait back in the fifth grade.

“I didn’t say I’d never done it.” He brushed his forehead absent-mindedly. “I just don’t really know how.”

“What do you mean?”

“People are tricky,” he said. “The thing about people is, you can get them wrong. This,” he gestured toward the paper in front of  him, “nobody is going to tell me this is wrong. With people, it’s different.”

I agreed with him, kind of. The self-portrait I made in fifth grade was definitely wrong. But I didn’t believe someone like him could draw anyone less than perfectly. Maybe he was just seeing them the way nobody else could.

***

“I wish I could draw,” I confessed one day as I watched his hands at work.

He laughed. “You can. Anyone can draw. It’s one of the first things babies learn how to do.”

“Yeah, but I wish I could draw like you. You know…” I trailed off. “Well.”

I was waiting for him to say something encouraging, because he was that kind of person, but instead he reached into his sketchpad and pulled out a folded up, slightly torn square of paper. He hesitated, rubbing it between his fingers for a couple of seconds, before handing it over to me.

He stopped me before I could open it. “No,” he said simply as I tried to unfold a corner. “Not right now.” So I slipped it in my pocket and didn’t say a word.

When the bell rang, he disappeared before I had a chance to say anything else.

***

The next day, I kissed him.

I didn’t plan it; I didn’t even consider it ahead of time, I just sat across from him like I always did and opened The Picture of Dorian Gray. It took me seven agonizing minutes to realize what he was doing.

“Is that…what are you drawing?” I asked incredulously as his pencil strokes became rounded, fluid, detailed.

“I’m trying something new,” he said.

“I can see that.” I rolled my eyes. “I mean, that. That’s a person.”

“Yup,” he replied without taking his eyes off the page.

“I thought you didn’t do people.”

He shrugged. “Figured it was worth another shot.”

The person – the girl – took shape in front of my eyes. Angular chin, slightly downturned mouth. Eyes a little too far apart. Feathery eyelashes and bold eyebrows. A slight dusting of freckles on the tip of her nose.

“Me,” I breathed. “You’re drawing me.”

It was both fascinating and terrifying to watch his capable fingers trace my likeness across a piece of paper. No one would mistake it for a photograph, but he was capturing something that was decidedly me, and I knew I had been right the first time I asked him about drawing people. He saw things the way that nobody else ever could.

When he finished, he held it up for me with a sheepish grin, and I smiled back while something warm and heavy spread through my entire body.

“Did I get it sorta right this time?” he asked, nervously raking a hand through his hair.

“Sorta,” I said breathlessly in the seconds before my mouth was on his.

***

He kissed like he drew: carefully, skillfully, and a little selfishly. It didn’t take me very long to figure out that he loved that way, too.

The first time we said it, we were sitting under the tree I used to climb as a kid. I told him about the time I fell off the fourth branch and broke my arm, and he drew me a little cartoon – a tiny upside-down freckled girl, her mouth curled into a surprised “oh!”, dangling from the fourth branch of a towering tree. I laughed until my stomach hurt and kissed him until my lips tingled, relishing the feeling of his wonderful hands as they roamed across my back and shoulders and face.

“I love you, you know,” I whispered to him when we were catching our breath.

“I love everything about you,” he whispered back, running a finger along my jawbone. We laid there under the tree, our limbs tangled together, until the sunset started to spill across the sky and we remembered the rest of the world.

***

“I never looked at that note you gave me,” I told him one day while he was cooking dinner.

“What note?” he asked, scraping a diced green pepper into the saucepan on the stove.

“That folded up piece of paper. The one you handed me, and acted really cryptic about, and never mentioned again.”

He smiled knowingly. “I wondered why you never said anything about that,” he said before starting to hum his favorite ABBA song.

Neither of us mentioned it again.

***

I found him again at our five-year high school reunion. He was sitting on a barstool, his heel tapping on the leg, sketching on a napkin. He hadn’t changed at all.

“Do you mind if I sit down?” I asked, gesturing toward the seat next to him.

“Sophie,” he said, letting his eyes crinkle a little as he half-smiled. “Hi.”

“Hey,” I said back. The silence enveloped us like a blanket, warm and familiar and comforting. Being around him always felt private, even when there were a million other people in the room.

“You know,” he started after a few minutes, “I didn’t…I just, I mean -“

“I know.” I rubbed my thumb across my bottom lip. “You don’t have to say anything.” To tell the truth, I didn’t really want him to. It was easier this way, without words. Words can never really mean everything they’re supposed to.

“I’m glad you’re still drawing,” I finally said, squeezing his shoulder as I stood up to walk away. “You really are amazing.”

I could have let him talk. There were plenty of stories I could have told him, about the rambunctious high school English classes I was now teaching or the incredible man whose ring I was wearing, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Our relationship wasn’t about words and sentences and conversations. It was about feelings and instincts running wild, smudging the lines in a picture nobody could figure out anyway. We were art, and art was messy, and the artist never got a happy ending.

That night, as I unfolded the fraying piece of paper I kept on the nightstand by my bed, I was glad I hadn’t let him say anything. I ran my fingers over the fading pencil marks, the ones that knew me before I knew him, and I saw all the pieces of him he didn’t want me to see. “Art is the lie,” Picasso once said, “that enables us to realize the truth.”

His drawings had always said more than he ever could.

I’m Ashamed To Like You, Because You’re Just Interesting

My seventh grade crush had these really big ears that stuck out of the side of his head, kind of like a cartoon mouse. People used to whisper about them, but I thought they were nice. They fit with the rest of him, all awkward and gangly and full of subtle imperfections. I liked that he didn’t look like everybody else. I thought he looked interesting, and that was better than just being pretty.

I was always kind of weird that way. My friends teased me mercilessly for my taste in men (boys) until I learned that there were only certain types of people I was allowed to like. Straying from the norm would only cause problems, and I was already socially insecure enough without alienating my friends, too.

“But he’s so short,” they complained once when I told them I had feelings for my best guy friend. Another time I got a wide-eyed, open mouthed stare and a “…him?” They could not fathom the idea that I might be attracted to someone who was, well, not “cute.” You know, in the way that middle and high school heartthrobs are supposed to be cute. And in the case of my particular suburb, also white.

The thing is, I’m a sucker for interesting. I’m amazed by how many people I come across who think that’s an insult, a blow to their looks or their intellect or whatever else. Our culture has somehow given that word a negative connotation; it’s simply a placeholder for when you can’t think of anything nice. “Oh…interesting,” you say, when really it isn’t at all. But what can we ever hope to be if not interesting? Why would anyone strive for less?

Sometimes it’s the element of surprise, like when the quiet kid who sits behind you in tenth grade English class suddenly starts rapping Li’l Mama’s “Lip Gloss” from memory. Sometimes it comes from the respect and awe you feel when you see the class clown act so kindly toward everybody, and you think, “how can anyone possibly be that patient?” And sometimes all it takes is exposure to a millisecond of somebody’s greatest passion: a musician strumming his guitar, an engineer discussing circuitry, a sports fan yelling at a TV set. You’re hooked.

Sure, there are times when you get to know them and they’re not as intriguing as you thought. Nice enough, interesting enough, but that’s about it. But there are other times when you get to know them and they’re utterly intoxicating. Everything you learn about them pulls you in deeper, and no matter how much you know, you want to know more. Maybe interesting isn’t the right word after all. Fascinating. Captivating. Complex and wonderful.

I regret that in my life I’ve left a lot of interesting people behind. I spend far too much time caring about what other people think, so much so that I completely tune out my feelings. By the time I graduated from high school, I’d missed my chance to chase the two or three people I’d really wanted. By the time I graduate from college in June, I will have missed at least three more. And for what? For the brief satisfaction of knowing nobody was going to laugh at me?

I wish I had the balls to tell my seventh grade crush how much I admired his tenacity – and his ears. Or to tell the guy I didn’t go to prom with about the time he came over to return my book and it took everything I had not to kiss him. And right now, I wish I could call up the boy I barely know and ask him a million questions, just so that he knows someone wants to listen. I want so badly to not give a damn what anybody else thinks about it.

Above all, these boys should know that they’re interesting. To all of you: there were, and are, people out there who spend a lot of time thinking about you and wishing they were brave enough to say so. Regardless of whether you meet objective standards of beauty or intelligence or humor, there is somebody who thinks you’re the most wonderful person on the planet. Even if they wait seven years to say it. Even if they never do.

And to the rest of us: screw what everyone else thinks. Love the interesting ones. Love the weird ones. Love the ones you never quite understand. Just love.

My Reverse Disappearing Act

I remember running my fingers over the bones in my ribcage. Trying to hold on to the feeling of emptiness, of open space, of nothing. Stroking the hardened curve of my hip as it guided my hand down into the valley of my stomach.

I never thought of myself as a junkie, but I was. I was addicted to nothingness. My energy was drawn from hunger pangs; my self-worth unmistakably correlated to how little space I could occupy. My meals got smaller, my clothes got smaller, my world got smaller. And then one day all that remained were bones and hollowed eyes and a deep disappointment that I hadn’t disappeared altogether.

Addictions don’t just go away. They take an unbelievable amount of effort to overcome. Alcoholics pledge sobriety; gamblers avoid casinos. But what do you do if you’re addicted to being empty?

It’s so easy to just say “today I hate myself, and maybe
if I just don’t eat dinner tonight, then
I won’t take up so much space.
And then everything will
be okay. Just this
one time.”

But then when there’s nothing left, when you’ve shrunk into a half-person, when your highest high crashes into your lowest low – then you can’t string two words together or walk up a flight of stairs. You waste away and you disappear. Isn’t that what you wanted? To feel nothing? To want nothing? To be nothing?

I’ll never be empty enough to satisfy my craving. Human beings are made to feel and love and be; it is our blessing and our curse. There’s no good way to disappear, no matter how many bones you count or sizes you drop. There is too much of me, of everything that I am, to be confined to such a tiny corner of the universe.

It’s not about taking up less space. It’s about giving meaning to the space you already take up.

It’s about
slowly branching out
and sharing your space with
the rest of the world, letting yourself
expand into a deluge of everything you have to offer.

You can’t quit emptiness the way you can quit smoking or drinking. There’s nothing to stay away from. But you can choose to fill your life to the brim, with people and places and things that you love, until being hollow is no longer an option. You can choose to let all the crazy facets of your humanity matter.

I want to have a bigger brain and a bigger heart. I want to do bigger things and make a bigger impact on the world. I can’t be small. It’s time to grow.

Two Heartbeats

“Maybe it’s nothing,” I say as I stare at the gray wall in front of me.

“Maybe it is.”

I gently trace my fingers over his knuckles and give his hand a protective squeeze. “It’ll be okay, you know. I’m here. We’ll be okay.”

He awkwardly shifts his weight to his other leg and jams his hands in his pocket. “Yeah.”

We are enveloped by sounds. A gentle humming seems to emanate from the flickering overhead light while the constant pitter-patter of human steps reverberates through the floor under our feet. Every few minutes a telephone rings, interrupted soon after by gruff mutterings rendered unintelligible by the general chaos in the air. I notice a low rhythmic pounding and realize rather uneasily that I am noticing the sound of my own heart. Or maybe his. Or both.

Sometimes, in the moments right before sleep overtakes us, I wait for our heartbeats to converge. Resting my cheek on the cavity of his chest, I let the thumping echo through my body until every nerve ending signals my own system to follow. For a few moments, the blood pumping through his veins flows through mine, too. We are linked by something so simple, so primal, that no power in the universe can tear us apart.

The first time he ever slept in my bed, he passed out while laying on my left arm, and I woke up with the horrifying sensation that I’d lost a limb. When I woke him up (begrudgingly) to ask him if he could please move, he laughed, this deep, rich, beautiful laugh, a laugh I fell in love with over and over and over again. He kissed the fingers of my limp, dead hand and held it tightly. “When you start to feel again, I want the first thing you feel to be me.” And it was, oh, it was.

I hear his name and snap to attention. Someone walks by with a manila folder, deeply absorbed in its contents. Someone bumps into someone else and spills her coffee, resulting in a myriad of hasty apologies and a promise of penitence. Someone stands in front of us, frowning, one thumb resting nonchalantly under the loop of his suspenders. It is he who speaks, tersely and emotionlessly, those precious few words that bring us closer and closer to the moment of truth.

“We will see you now,” he says with finality.

The one person I am sure I love walks away from me. I wait for him to turn around and look into my eyes and tell me not to be scared, to take my hand and let his pulse surge through me so I can believe that everything will be okay. But he doesn’t. The sound of his footsteps fades slowly with the distance, echoing less and less through the darkened hallway, and I am struck once more with that same startling and horrifying sense of loss.

I want to tell him that when this nightmare is over, when he finally starts to feel again, the first thing he feels will be me. Until then, I won’t let go.

Your Best Friend

When you first meet your best friend, it’s like the answer to a prayer. Maybe you’re two, four, ten, thirteen. But when you meet them, things start to make sense to you. You are no longer forced to sit alone in the cafeteria or bounce through friend groups faster than you can learn your times tables. You know that when you’re having a bad day, your best friend is there to make you feel better. When you’re bored, you can pick up the phone and she’ll be there as fast as she possibly can. You go on adventures, conquering imaginary beasts and braving dark, scary forests. You can tell her anything at all and she’ll listen. She throws you surprise parties and bakes you an elaborate cake on your birthday. Eventually, people start to mix up your names or roll their eyes when you say things simultaneously.

When your best friend has big secrets to tell, you’re the first person she runs to. Even when it’s hard, she knows she can trust you. So you trust her too. You are the only person who understands her, who doesn’t judge her for being the way she is. You aren’t afraid to be yourself around her, to express the most embarrassing thoughts or emotions. You are each other’s better half; neither of you fully exist unless you are together. When she goes through the darkest times of her life, you are there to listen and to beg her to keep going; that it’s worth it. You give her confidence; she returns the favor.

It seems perfect when you’re young. It makes sense. But you change. Sometimes you find out that when she told you the biggest secrets, she was lying. Sometimes the trust that you thought you had turns out to be false. Sometimes you get angry. It’s not perfect because she’s not perfect, you think. You hold a grudge for as long as you possibly can. You don’t tell her how you really feel because you don’t want to ruin the friendship, so you pretend that nothing happened. Then other things start to bother you. The way she acts, the person she’s become. But you never say anything. Maybe you start to take it out on her because you’re so angry with yourself for keeping it all in. You wait years, always apologizing after fights because you just want to get it over with, even though it compromises your true opinions. You wait so long that maybe it’s too late. She’s made a lot of mistakes that she’s never apologized for, and then you realize that you’ve made a lot of mistakes too, and two imperfect and stubborn people don’t compromise easily. So maybe you stop trying because it’s easier that way, because that way you don’t have to fight. So that way it doesn’t hurt all the time. And maybe that’s not fair to her. But you don’t know if you could try without losing yourself in the process.

When you lose your best friend, it’s the most painful feeling in the world. There are pieces of you that never recover from that; the awkward interactions wound you every time. And those wounds are where she lives. You never forget or stop caring, just pretend that you do. You watch her live her life from the sidelines as she takes center stage. You know that even though things have changed, you are with her just as much as she is with you. You are still proud when she succeeds and disappointed when she fails. Maybe someday you will be able to work things out. Maybe you won’t. Maybe she can never again be your best friend. But for a long time, she was. She saved you when you were falling apart. She was your best friend, and she matters.

10 Things I Believe In

1. I believe in lazy Sundays. Sometimes I believe in 6AM, but not on Sundays. Once a week the world can wait a few hours while I continue to dream.

2. I believe in hot, strong coffee. Bitter and black. I believe that cream and sugar taint its magic.

3. I believe in family. Not just the ones we’re born into, but the ones we create for ourselves as well. I believe in the power of a family’s unconditional love.

4. I believe in failure. Lessons are learned through failure that can’t be learned any other way. I believe there is no success without defeat.

5. I believe in whining a little and crying a little and being a little stubborn and being a little jealous. We can’t be perfect all the time. We can let ourselves be a little bit human.

6. I believe in snowball fights. I believe in snowpants and hats with earflaps and warm, steaming mugs of hot cocoa.

7. I believe in soul mates. But I don’t believe that everybody has exactly one. Some souls need a whole bunch of others to be complete, and some can be complete all on their own. Any of those are okay.

8. I believe in storytelling. One lifetime is not nearly enough adventure to satisfy us, and that is why we read.

9. I believe in the uncertainty of the future. It is impossible to be sure what tomorrow will bring. That’s good. I believe we should be kept on our toes.

10. I believe in the beauty that surrounds us every day. I believe that all people and places and things have a unique light that is so often ignored. It is only by letting each of them shine that the cracks in the world open to us the brightness of being alive.

When I Knew You Wouldn’t Love Me

This is a really hard post for me to publish. But if this blog is all about baring my soul, then it needs to be said. 

To the person about whom this was written: if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.

I met you at a coffee shop when I was eighteen. You were shy and kind of awkward and so was I. You walked me back to my dorm even though it was out of your way and told me it was nice that we finally got to meet. I smiled because I already kind of knew that one day I could love you.

You used to come into the gym while I was working and even though you always had a workout to do, you would stop and stand by the lifeguard chair, sometimes for my whole half-hour shift, and make me laugh. You told me crazy stories about your time spent abroad in exciting places, and listened while I made bad jokes about my own boring life. For months I thought about telling you how easy it was to talk to you and how much I looked forward to the Monday night shifts when I knew you would be there, but I never did.

You left my life, but you were always there. You ran through my mind when I least expected it. I thought about your big goofy smile and the way your arms moved kind of funny when you were doing the crawl stroke. I watched enviously as you went on adventure after adventure, never afraid of anything, eager to take chances. I thought about you and how scared I was and how much I wished I could borrow some of your bravery. I hoped maybe one day you’d be able to show me how to be fearless.

In those moments, I knew you could never love me. You were so far beyond anyone I’d ever comprehended before. I had nothing to offer someone who already had the world.

But then you came speeding back into my world like a roller coaster and you stopped to let me on and I didn’t even bother buckling my seat belt. I was more afraid than ever, but you were there and you were so close and I thought maybe it was finally time for my adventure.

You said all the right things. I heard you and I believed you and I tricked myself into thinking that maybe one day you could love me after all. And every minute of time I let myself be with you made everything feel less scary.

One day you were sitting sideways on your bed, plucking your guitar strings with your fingers and talking enthusiastically about your mythology book, when it hit me. I could love you. I didn’t right then, not yet. But I thought about the way you elbowed me in the ribs after you told a bad joke and the way your eyes lit up when you explained to me why sugar cubes spark when you hit them with a hammer, and I knew for sure that it would be incredibly easy for me to fall in love with you.

And I knew you wouldn’t love me. Maybe you thought someday you might be able to, just like I had, but I knew better. I knew you would love someone who gave you that same “Oh, shit” realization I’d just had. I knew you would love someone whose wanderlust was on par with your own, who thrived off of passion and adventure just like you. Someone whose hand you wouldn’t have to hold every time she was afraid.

I could love you, I thought, because with you I am falling in love with myself. You make me feel stronger and braver and wiser and more beautiful. You’ve helped me break down a lot of walls that were holding me back.

But I never did anything for you.

And the second I realized I could love you, I decided you could never know. Because I knew you wouldn’t love me, and you had to realize that on your own.

The Lover I Never Had

This post is written in response to WordPress’ Weekly Writing Challenge. The details of the challenge can be found here.

He looks at me with a cold glint in his already icy blue eyes.

“You lied to me,” I whisper softly, edging away from the sharpness of his gaze. “You lied.”

Leering closer, he smiles the smile of a thousand empty promises, a thousand heartbreaks. “Believe me now, you ungrateful little bitch.”

He backs off again, retreating with deliberate steps into the storm of dust from whence he came. “No one will ever love you.” The wind carries his words to me like a dagger in the chest.

**

I met him on an airplane that was flying from Chicago to Boston in December. His seat was next to mine; our arms were so close that the slightest turbulence caused us to bump elbows and apologize profusely to each other, too embarrassed to meet each other’s gaze. When I finally gathered the courage to glance at him as he asked the flight attendant for a black coffee, I found myself immediately spellbound by the light, bright blue of his eyes. The corners of his mouth crinkled slightly when he noticed my stare.

“Do you want anything, miss?” I heard the flight attendant ask politely, drawing my attention away from the ocean I was drowning in.

“I’ll take a coffee, too, thanks,” I replied, taking the small napkin she offered me.

“Aren’t you a little young to be drinking coffee?” he asked, those beautiful eyes drifting across my face.

“The life of a college student.” I found myself picking slightly at the corners of my napkin, too shy to really look at him. He laughed, a pleasant and almost musical sound that seemed to soften my nerves and make the stuffy airplane cabin feel quite a bit airier.

“What’s your name?” he asked me curiously, tossing me a packet of peanuts that had just been passed to him from the aisle.

I met his eyes, his hypnotizing eyes, and I trusted him more than I should have. “I’m Gwen,” I told him.

“It’s nice to meet you, Gwen,” he said, resting his head back against his seat and offering me a lopsided grin. “I can already tell you’re somebody special.”

**

I cried and he was there and he stroked my hair with his long, slender fingers. “It’s going to be okay,” he whispered over and over again into my ear. “I promise. I’m going to make it all okay.”

**

I was curled up on the couch, half-studying for my algebra final and half-dozing off into dreamland, when I felt his strong hands on my shoulders. “Don’t fall asleep now,” he said good-naturedly, taking a seat next to me. “Not when you’re so close.”

I moaned and let my face fall forward into my textbook. “But I’ve been staring at this book all day. There’s nothing left in here that isn’t already somewhere in my brain.”

He lifted my chin up and looked at me with sincerity in his glacial eyes, the eyes I loved. “I know you’ve been working hard,” he said, running his index finger along my jawbone. “But you need to work a little harder.”

I sighed and touched the hand that was kissing my skin. “I know.”

As I moved toward the kitchen to brew myself a cup of coffee, he reached for my hand and squeezed it. “I’m only doing this because I love you.”

The Lie.

I believed him. He loved me.

**

I returned, sweating and panting, from my 5:30 am run.

Pouring myself a glass of water and wiping my sweaty hands on a paper towel, I took off my headphones and pressed “stop” on my iPhone. It had been a good workout. I’d beaten the heat and run my fastest five-miler ever. All I wanted to do was collapse onto the couch and celebrate with a giant spoonful of peanut butter.

When I reached into the drawer to pull out a spoon, cold arms pulled mine back. He spun me like a top until I was looking straight into his eyes, never releasing his grip on my biceps.

“Five miles?”

“Fifty-four minutes,” I announced proudly, waiting for him to give me the gorgeous warm smile I’d been lusting after all summer. Waiting for him to say that he was proud of me, that he loved me, that I was strong and capable and lovely.

The smile never came. His face remained as cold as the fingers that were wrapped so tightly around me.

“Not good enough.”

His words echoed through the darkened crevices of my brain as I slammed the drawer shut.

**

“Come get ice cream with me,” pleaded my best friend desperately. “I haven’t seen you since June and I miss you!”

He put his hand over the mouthpiece of my cell phone. “No,” he declared menacingly in a voice so low I could barely hear.

“I can’t, I’m sorry. Some other time.”

I pressed “end” and looked up at the face I loved, at the eyes that had become so unfamiliar. I was angry and scared and yet still I barely moved, holding a state of nothingness until he finally told me what I had to do. I was going mad waiting for something I did to make him love me again, for him to hold my hand and tell me he was going to fix everything. Instead, I got an icy stare, a loveless face, a charming sadist.

He was everything. He made me better than I was. He pushed me to be better than ever. He kept me on track and he oversaw my routines and sometimes when I did something right, I saw a tiny glimpse of the man on the airplane who’d drawn me in so cleverly without a word. I craved those moments, no matter how infrequent and difficult they became. I was special; he’d seen that in me. It was my fault that I couldn’t live up to my potential. It was no wonder he didn’t love me anymore.

**

I throw up violently and silently on the side of the road. Embarrassed, I try to kick some dirt over it, managing only to stir up a dark cloud of hot dust. I cough as the heavy air enters my lungs, so that I do not notice him step out of nowhere until he is standing right in front of me.

I am humiliated. I am red and soaked with sweat, still reeking of vomit and stale air and barely able to stand up on my own. And of course he is there. He is always there when I am at my worst, ready to throw the knives of my inadequacy into my already broken heart.

He is fierce. And I am nothing.

Loving You When You Don’t Love Yourself

I wait for you outside the dressing room and hold your shoes because you don’t want me to see you in clothes that don’t fit. When I ask you if you need a different size, you say no so that you don’t have to admit to me that you might be bigger or smaller than you thought. You model the dress you like for me, but you won’t let me tell you that it looks beautiful. You just close the door and take it off and walk out like I never said anything at all.

I sit with you when you cry and wonder aloud if there’s something I can do for you. You always say no. You tell me things are bad for you and that I don’t have to stick around if I don’t want to. You don’t believe me when I say I do.

Sometimes floods pour out of you; not of tears but of words. You have no one, you say. You’ve pushed them all away. You’re out of control and terrified. You shouldn’t get anything good because you always fuck everything up. I listen to you, I challenge you, I reassure you. Like someday what I say will matter. It never does.

I love you, but you won’t let me. I love you, but you won’t believe me. I love you, but you can’t accept it because you don’t think that you deserve it.

I love you because you’re goofy and silly and sarcastic. I love you because you can turn my sobs into fits of giggles. I love you because you care so genuinely about the people you have in your life. I love you because I’ve seen you fight like hell to face your fears, pushing through the darkest of emotions to get to a place that doesn’t always feel satisfying.

I can tell you I love you until I lose my voice, but you’ll never hear it. You won’t let me love you because you don’t love yourself. And I know what that’s like because I used to be that way.

You do deserve my love, but more than anything you deserve your own. You deserve to look back on your life and be proud of the person you’ve become. You deserve to glance into the mirror and see a friend, not a rival. You deserve the happiness that comes from knowing that you are enough, at any moment, just as you are.

I will always love you. Even when you don’t love yourself. But the moment I will love you most is the moment when you don’t need it, when I see that my love for you is simply a reflection of your own. I can’t wait for the day when you really fall in love with a wonderful guy because you can finally see why someone would want to be with you. I can’t wait for the day when you walk down the street with the kind of confidence that makes people stare in admiration. And I can’t wait for the day when I compliment you and you say “thank you” with a huge honest smile that leaves no doubt in my mind that you understand your gifts.

You’ll get there. You’ll love yourself someday. And I’ll be with you every step of the way.

Falling

I didn’t mean to fall, you know. I think I could have been happy just standing on my own two feet for a while. After all, I haven’t exactly been very steady lately. I’m still trying to regain my center of gravity, to figure out how to stay upright without some crutch to grab onto during the terrifying few seconds when I can no longer feel the ground below me. I want more than anything to prove to myself that I can.

But I fell. Before I even had the chance to reach out and find something to hold. Before I even realized the floor had dropped out from underneath my feet and I was stuck to the wall of a spinning castle like an amusement park ride. I fell faster than I thought it was humanly possible to fall. From vertical to horizontal in .6 seconds. A sports car of destruction.

I fell into something that scraped my knees and bruised my elbows. I fell into something that broke my fall with the comfort of an overfilled raincloud. I fell into a darkness that drew me in and slowly led me toward the light.

I fell out of me, all of a sudden; tumbled from the inside of a barrel into the sunlight that was warm and glowing and lovely.

I didn’t mean to fall. But I’m glad I did.