You don’t know me, and you never will, because I don’t know myself, and that’s what frightens us so much about life, isn’t it? That’s the reason we go to therapy or have friends, to discover ourselves. You don’t know me, and you don’t want to. Why? Because I am a boy who is silent in the halls. I am the boy who is afraid to say the wrong thing so much that I only talk when someone listens. But you know this, don’t you? You’ve spoken to me because we were babies together once. You spoke to me when we were little and silly, giggling at sidewalk chalk and your too-small mittens. Your mama knew mine, and so we knew each other.
But after we were older, after we were in high school something changed. I don’t know what, but it was there, and it was a change for the both of us. I fell for you, and your interest in me fell away. And it was there and so very real I thought that one day you would jump up and shout it in my face, play it for me like a movie screen.
You are quite pretty, and that frightens me. You are quite popular, and that frightens me because it means that once you were like me but now you’re not and that means I missed something, I missed a step. I counted so carefully, I still don’t know which it was.
You forgot me and you found him, him after him after him. I decided this was my step, and I found her after her after her.
You don’t know me, and you never will, because they know you so well I don’t have to. They know that you love pandas and primroses and four A.M. pizzas on Fridays. They know you love him, and that he broke your heart, and this him is cute, and maybe he looked at you? Maybe he touched you hand… was it on purpose?
I know these hims, these hes that touch your hand, and I want to scream at you to run while you still can! To RUN, before you get pulled into their dreamy eyes and easy grin, to RUN while it’s still an option, while you haven’t lost your sweet smile and your shining blue eyes that are so prideful. But I could never tell you to run, ever, because that would be me saying to you that I know you, and I don’t know you.
Sometimes I wonder if I am one of these hims, the hims that you think is cute or the him that touched your hand- I’ve been hims for girls before, but never have I been your him.
You don’t know me, and you never will, because I can guess what you do, but can you guess what I do? No, you cannot, because the other hers are doing things with you and ignoring me.
Once I had the nerve to talk to you in the halls, to ask about life and what class you were going to next, and would I see you there?
You were confused, I think, that your preschool buddy was coming up to you, but you smiled and you were kind and warm, very polite in the face of my babbling and nervous drooling. When I walked away hitting myself, you murmured to your friends, “Is he one of the nerdy kids?”
Yes, my love. Yes I am. It’s rather funny the way school works like that, how things are divided up like that. Now that I am certified to be nerdy, you know who I am. You have me figured out. You think I will go home and study and play computer games, maybe moan about women with other nerdy kids. It is just like the way that I believe you will go home, meet a boyfriend or two (my fantasies are often jealous like this) and go with friends to paint your nails and chat, before surfing the web. Just like the assumptions we make on school work, projects, calories and dentists, you believe now that you understand me, as I believe the same.
You do not know, and I think this is so interesting, that I will go home and walk up my hill, Ed Sheeran plugged into my ears singing “Perfect,” and try hard not to let myself connect the dots between the love of his life and you.
You also don’t know that afterwards I will be scrawling this down in my untidy handwriting, shaking my head at myself as I do so, slightly mortified by my un-mannish approach of getting over you. Which is funny, because I was never with you, because I don’t know you.
You don’t know me, and you never will, because why should you? What reason could you have, what reason could I possibly give you for wanting to get to know me? It really does not make sense. You are up, high above me, rolling your eyes with the angels and while I run through the thorns, you run through the roses. I am writing this hard, the tip of my pen pressed angrily into the page, but sometimes I cannot help it. As much as I like you, as often as I admire you from a distance and wish I had the courage to step closer, you sometimes infuriate me, because you, your scarlet hair and your diamond smile, remind me that I can love you but never have you because you belong to him and all hers that populate our small, self-centered world. By now you wonder why I like you. What’s the point? There is no point, of course. The world is right, as it always is.
I am perceptive. I could totally find the words to write it, the emotions to describe the electric current in my veins that paralyzes me like ice when I look at you, but all I could ever say is this: “It’s just… it’s really… it’s stupid, there’s no good explanation, but… ugh, I don’t know! Ask Oprah! Ask J.K. Rowling! Ask any rich idiot! I just don’t know, okay??”
This is why I do not share my personal feelings with people, or allow them to ask me questions. It also brought me to my wonderful realization: I could be the happiest man in the world, but I cannot fix myself alone. No one can, and neither can you, my love.
Sometimes when I read what I have written, I roll my eyes and wonder: why do I like you? In my entries, you look shallow and pretty to me, a magazine cover to fall for. But then, and I agonize over this: Oh, no, these words don’t quite capture all of it. See, I forgot the details, like the time you handed me a pencil in science because I lost mine, or the time I saw you comfort that girl in the halls- remember that? She was new, a freshman, and crying so hard her parents had to come. You hugged her and stroked her hair and kissed her head, and you ordered your friends to go get the principal and they did, tripping all over themselves to please you, maybe be the next person in that hug.
Or the time that that him of yours, the one with the black hair? You had left him because he cheated, and now he wanted back in. He was loud, waving his hands around, seeking support, but you stayed quiet and spoke in a soft voice. Finally he went too far after three polite rejects, and I saw the steel flash in your eyes. When he touched you, you snapped your wrist away like a whip and cracked your hand against his face. Calmly you told him you were not interested, to never touch you again, and went away to the next class, leaving his dumbfounded, his cheeks bright red.
I watched you go. Yes, I thought, that is the girl I fell in lo- I like.
You don’t know me, and you never will, because now you have the ultimate him. He walks you to every class and carries your books. He murmurs in your ear at lunch, and he never asks for anything from you. You wear a silly, happy smile that I recognize as my own when I think of you, and you and your friends gush about him during lunch, before he walks up and you try to act as though you weren’t, your face bright red but smiling. You play the games with him. You go to his practice (soccer, football, basketball, baseball in the spring, and bowling, for goodness sake.) You hold his hand, he clips a chain around your slender neck, and you look after him, thoughtful, and wonder if he is the one.
It breaks my heart. It shouldn’t. It wouldn’t. It won’t. It didn’t. I curse myself quietly, at this heartbreak that should not be real.
I found a strategy against it eventually, by imagining that you liked to hand-feed your boyfriends, or that you hated puppies, or you snore when you sleep, or you have a whole secret side to you that I would hate. It works- except it doesn’t.
So I get more hers, because I am attractive and seventeen and heartbroken, and because I think of it as a rivalry, like who will hold on to their hims and hers the longest. I daydreamed about you breaking up with him (gently, because that’s the kind of person you are) and then running into my arms, whispering that you cared for me like I did for you, and then holding on tight and not letting go.
But when that dream finally happened (partially) it caused a whole new wave of pain that I was unexpected for, and that shattered me more than it did when you had him.
When you were sad, the sun cried.
When you were sad, the cats and snakes came out of hiding to watch you, with big, mournful eyes.
When you are sad, the glass that separated people shattered.
And when you were sad, I was sad, too sad for anything else to take it away.
Just seeing you moving through the halls, your attempt at a smile plastered on and your eyes red cracked the sternest teacher. Your voice wobbled in class. You stared at your shoes, and prayed your heart would mend. I prayed for that too, because I hurt for you, and because I wanted you to be happy again.
So finally I fixed it. Even if you were happy with him, at least you were happy.
I spoke to you, using our past connection and employing you to make it work. I spoke to him, told him how much you were hurting. I could talk to people, and I eventually made you talk to each other.
My heart mended once you were happy, but broke again when you were happy with him.
I took counseling. I worked hard. I studied till my eyes blurred, and I focused on my career. It pushed you out of my mind, and for that I am grateful.
I found a college halfway across state. I was scared. I thought of you and was brave.
You don’t know me, and you never will, because I didn’t ever tell you, not even when
you came to me on graduation day, and you hugged me goodbye. You told me you would remember how I helped you fall in love again, and you would always be grateful. You would even come visit me sometime, if I wanted you to. You pulled away, sniffing, and your eyes were red. You smiled at me and then turned to take his hand.
Then you were gone.
I drifted through my first year of college like a ghost. I lost weight. I didn’t say a word. I kept my head down in class, I didn’t have any hers. I continued to journal.
My second year I came alive again. I laughed with strangers. I had hers at the back of bars while my friends hooted at me and grinned. Sometimes a thread tugged at the corner to my mind, but I let it stay there, frayed and quiet.
Third year I met my first real her, and I let a little bit of myself fall for her. I smiled and kissed her head. I let her sunshine grin warm my heart.
Fourth year she dumped me, and I discovered I had given her a little too much of myself. I got drunk, stupid drunk, and thought of her. Then, in my slurred, wasted brain, I realized this meant I was over you. I was single and heartbroken! That high school girl? Please!
So I decided to tell you, and I went right home and I copied down entries of my journal (which is what you’re reading, by the way) and I printed it and I MAILED IT ALL THE WAY ACROSS STATE TO YOU. My result was a splitting headache and an anxiety attack that lasted a good couple of days. I did my best to forget the whole incident. I found hers. I graduated. I did not think of you. And it worked.
You don’t know me, and you never will, because now I am free. Now my life is real. Now I don’t think of you, except to reference “this crazy crush I had on a girl in high school.” And I am very proud of myself. Now I don’t need to see your diamond smile or your blue eyes every day or I’ll go crazy. Now I don’t need to think about you and whatever him you have right now.
It still stuns me how hard it is to fall out of love. I tell my friends, the ones that have their hearts broken and trampled, this all the time. “You fell in love with her quickly, like a bolt of lightning. Your heart will never mend, you say. No, that’s not true. You fall in love, but you can also fall out of love. It takes time, and energy, but you can do it. Focus on your life and everything positive about that. Don’t think about her. I promise, you will fall out of love.”
It turns out human emotions do not work that way.
I won’t go into it, but you came, your hands full of my letter. You came and you were wary. I was terrified. I tried to tell you that I had fallen out of love, that it wasn’t true anymore, but the words die in my throat. I simply stared at you.
It is like a wake up call, like water drenching my body, like my hand resting on a flame. It is energy, electrical, beautiful energy that courses through my body at the sight of you and it terrifies me, so much that I take a step back and ask you to leave.
You are hurt, but you are kind and nod and tell me it was nice to see me. You say that you just wanted to know about the letter that you were curious and didn’t want me to be sad over you. I tell you thank you, I appreciate it, and you turn to go.
I am pathetic, I know, but something about you walking away broke me in two, activated my fear of you leaving me and walking out of my life again, and my words tripping over themselves, I ask you to dinner.
We are together, and it has been eleven years. It shocks me that what feels like so little time can be filled with such joy. I am deeply, completely yours, and it continues to amaze me that this would happen, that this did happen. I never thought it would, and I smile at you everyday as a thank you.
So my love, you know now. You know how I fell for you and when.
Our love story, 1983
By Michael Gueller and Rachel Hart