Summer of love

As this summer nears its end—I promise I’ll get that last Summer Reading List post up before Labor Day!—I can’t help but look back and see what a difference three months makes. And, for that matter, what a difference a partner makes.

I’ve mentioned her many times on PPC, but it was always with a note of sorrow. For three years, I alternately tried and gave up on trying. Whether it was my inability to get a job, a lack of transportation, bouts of severe depression, or a global cabal attempting to establish a New World Order by creating an overblown pandemic, something always kept me from getting to her. Nothing brought me down harder than getting a simple text message (“I miss you” always did the trick) from the woman I love and knowing in my heart that I could do nothing. I couldn’t even respond with anything approaching truthfulness, because I didn’t miss her. You can’t miss what you never had, after all.

A few weeks ago, however, the stars finally aligned. I drove into a city I’ve never visited, through a storm even more turbulent than my emotions, to a nice house on a nice street. As I parked my mom’s car—the only vehicle I had available at the time—I felt like I was going to throw up, and my mind was flooded with questions, worries, doubts. Would she recognize me? Would she want to talk to me? What would her family think? It was all I could do not to turn the car back on and back out of the driveway.

She came out to meet me, but…not exactly. I’d imagined that we would embrace like long-lost lovers desperate for one another’s touch; instead, she stood a few feet away, staring at her phone. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I thought was indifference on her part was actually the same fear I felt.

Since then, we’ve spent four weekends together, and Labor Day will mark our fifth. They aren’t really “dates” in the traditional sense, although we do have date-like activities. We go to restaurants, visit landmarks, and she even convinced me to try an escape room. Twice, we’ve stayed at hotels in our respective towns, and that was out of both caution and respect. At home, we’ll watch movies or play games, but that’s so much different with her.

What I’ve learned most in this time is perspective. We’re a lot alike, and it took seeing her in person before I truly understood what that meant. The problems I thought were mine alone are, in fact, something we share. And that means we can solve them together, just like we did for that escape room. Sure, working out a future in a fast-collapsing world is much more difficult than finding the clues that unlock a door, but I don’t have to do it alone.

That’s the thing. When you’ve gone so long without any kind of hope at all, even the simple knowledge that you might not have to face the future by yourself is…well, it’s a feeling that goes beyond mere relief. It makes you want more. Not necessarily in a physical or sexual sense, the desire and passion you expect when people talk about love and relationships, but every aspect.

If I act over-romantic, it’s because of that. I want her in my life, and I would do anything to keep her, because I know what it’s like to go without. I don’t yet know if we’ll last. But I hope we do, and I know I couldn’t have done even that much when this summer started.

We will walk this road together
We will face this hand in hand
With music and love on our side,
We can’t lose this fight
Tomorrow our dream comes alive
— Dream Theater, “Ravenskill”


Some things are worth the wait.

Over the past three years, I’ve written quite a lot about Leslie. She’s usually “the woman I love” in my posts, and that started for two reasons. One, I didn’t know how she would feel about her name being used in my writing, especially of the nonfiction sort. Two, I’ve spent so much time wondering if I’d lose her that I didn’t want too many permanent reminders of my failure.

Because I have thought I’d lost her on multiple occasions. Almost always, that’s my fault. My depression and anxiety were too much to handle, and it just became impossible to even imagine the notion that she and I would finally get to meet and live the life we wanted in each other.

I endured three years of anguish, doubt, and self-loathing. In that span, I lived through an overblown pandemic, a national coup, four times when I seriously contemplated suicide, periods of up to three months without talking to each other, and more breakdowns than I can count. I dreamed of her. I cried for her. I asked myself if life was worth living without her, and I could never make myself believe that it was. I still can’t say for sure, but now I know I don’t have to.

We waited three years to meet in person. Most people would have given up long before that. And, to be honest, sometimes I gave up. Even when I did, though, she never gave up on me.

Last weekend taught me a lot of things, but the biggest lesson I learned is that other people just don’t see me the same way I see myself. Sure, my boss—to name one example—can tell me he sees something in me that I try to hide, but those are just words.

I know words. I’ve written millions of them, and I know how hollow they are. All the words in the world mean nothing if you don’t back them up. “I love you” is little more than a pleasantry when you send it in a text or say it over the phone, but it finally becomes real when you’re hearing it from the woman who has told you she wants to spend the rest of her life with you because you’re the best man she’s ever known.

Depression is like looking at yourself through a lens of smoky glass. All the colors are muted, details are hard to make out, and everything just looks darker than it really is. I’ve lived like that for so long that I forgot what it was like to be truly happy. Hearing the emotion in her voice, seeing the light in her eyes, feeling the way her body relaxed the second I put my arms around it…that is happiness of I kind I’d never known until Friday evening.

I’m not a womanizer. I could never project the confidence to be a pick-up artist. If I had a headboard, I certainly wouldn’t use it as the scoreboard for my sexual conquests. That’s just not how I am. So I’m not happy because Leslie complimented me. I’m happy because she made it possible to see that I was worthy of receiving compliments. That I deserved to be spoken of in such terms. That I can be loved, and love her in return.

This is what I was missing. It’s why I’m writing this post with tears streaming down my face, because my emotions have been in overdrive for the past 72 hours.

We talked about everything, it seemed. We learned things about each other that no amount of internet connectivity can teach. For me, one of them was that she thinks she’s the one coming out ahead. That was hard to accept. When we first met online, I was nobody, nothing. I had no job, no reliable transportation, and no future I could see. I was a week away from giving up on the idea of relationships entirely, because who would want me?

We made promises to each other, and first among them was this: never again. Never again will we be kept apart by outside forces. Yes, it’s another three weeks until our next chance to meet—assuming I don’t do something crazy before then—but we both understand that. We won’t let it stop us.

I’ve been dead inside for far too long. Last weekend gave me a chance to feel alive again, and it gave me something—someone—to live for. I never want to lose that, or her.