"But I Never Met You"
Do I just lack the willpower? Is that why I’m struggling to fall asleep in your bed?
I’m in an impenetrable, protective burrito now. I had used your soft microfiber quilt—the very same one I got to replace your original quilt I accidentally ruined. In this warmth and safety, I suddenly realize that I like you more than I should. I start tossing and turning to find comfort in that thought, but I keep rolling in unpleasant introspection.
After all, what do I love about you? What do I know about you? I’ve seen you only a few times, but I never met you.
I start from the first day. When I had sat down in my first class of the Spring semester, I was expecting the usual murmurings of winter vacation stories. My expectations were met with tales that entered my ears as grainy static. The professor walked in, brining silence with him. Once he shut the door, he talked about his syllabus and started a glib discussion about Constitutional history in America. I heard your voice somewhere in the middle of the mindless banter.
I liked your voice. I liked how smooth yet powerful it sounded, how it boomed above the nonsense of incoherent arguments. I listened to your every word and compared you to others. The way you strung together thoughts in the very same way a seamstress in her prime would fashion together pieces of delicate fabric—that was impressive enough for me to find you.
I was on the other side of the room in the corner next to the windows, and the brightness of the sun irritated my eyes, but I still saw you. You were sitting at the front of the row nearest to the door. You could have leaned against the wall as I did, but you were leaning forward against the edge of your desk. I was enamored by your rapid-fire responses even though others were clearly afraid of your aggressive pursuit for an intelligent conversation.
I carefully watched that attendance sheet travel through the classroom. Watching everyone write their names on the paper churned the acid in my stomach. My eyes followed every hand, counting every name and doing my best to sneak a peek at every signature, until that flimsy paper made it to me. I managed to find your name on that list and match it to your seat. This was a small victory that I still cherish as if I single-handedly won a global war.
I knew what I saw, and I still know what I saw, and I will likely never see anything else. I saw a beautiful determination glisten in your dark brown eyes as your glasses sliding down your large, sweaty nose. I saw that curly dark hair of yours. I saw your broad shoulders, and your shirt didn’t even try to hide the muscles on your arms or that little dome of fat protecting your belly. The scruff on the bottom of your chin was charming. You would scoff before biting your bottom lip and shaking your head as if that could shake out the stupidity you just heard—and that was often.
Class let out, and I knew I’d see you again even though I didn’t talk to you then. The second day into that semester, you were sitting next to me in another class. I knew your name, and you knew mine. We had many reasons to talk that were not wasted. We first spoke in mundane terms of how we knew each other from another class, but then it shifted into government conspiracy theories that I could only entertain and snub with sarcasm.
Even so, I couldn’t help but notice. Whenever you weren’t outwitting others, your smooth voice softened. You didn’t sound angry as you did when you tried to pick through the flaws in people’s debates. Your words slid through the air like a drop of morning dew rolling off the tip of a leaf. I liked that duality about you, but that was where I wanted it to stop. I wanted to stop knowing you at your voice, at your eyes, at your stature and physique, at your glasses.
I didn’t want to know you any more than I did, yet you kept talking to me, and I kept falling in love with your thoughts every day. As the semester marched on, I wanted to exert all the effort I had in order to get closer to you even though I knew it wouldn’t work out. Every so often, a thought floated through my brain: maybe I could even create a special place in your heart exclusively for me. I wrote these feelings off as a whimsical fantasy, but they still lingered despite my surprisingly easy restraint.
I told myself that I only wanted to know your name. I told myself that the most I would do is know what you look like and what you sound like. I promised myself to not get close to you, to never know more about you beyond your surface, to never be any part of your life beyond classmates. You’re too exceptional, and I would only drag you down with my constant depression and even more constant underachieving. You’re better than me, so you should be able to do better than me.
Yet somehow, we had agreed to using each other with no strings attached. I was scared to call this love. After all, “love at first” sight is a ridiculous fiction if not outright self-destruction. It’s a fairytale others tell children so they don’t feel ashamed of being superficial and frivolous with their feelings towards others, so they don’t have to exert willpower to know this person, so they don’t need a meaningful opinion of this person to decide if it really is love. This lets people fall in love with love or, on a good day, an imagined version of the person—but never with the actual person. If I had to conclude these feelings were that of love, then I prayed desperately that I loved an imagined version of you.
Did I know anything more than your real love of World of Warcraft, that you really wrestled in high school, a real torrid love for G.K. Chesterton that rivals my love for Ernest Hemingway, and your real nerdy ability to see everything as allegorical economics? No.
You also had a real manic-depressive mother, a real gambling-addicted father, and a real drug addict brother who’s applying for disability. Did I love any of that? No, and it would be an insult to you if I said I could overlook that.
I didn’t fall in love with the real former Marine who sold life insurance and attended the same college as me and took the same major as me. I only knew my version of you. I only knew you as a man who worked hard in order to help his fellow vets while constantly trying to escape his childhood by carving a cozy place for comfort into his future. Did I know about your work with military veterans? Of course, but that wasn’t enough to truly know you. If I ever “thought you were the type of person to do something a certain way,” you’d get a bit mad—almost insulted—and politely remind me that I don’t know you. And whenever you say that, I just shrug because you will always be right about that.
I only saw a stubborn man with strong beliefs protected by an unbendable determination that could have only been forged by a lifetime of hardships. I saw an overachieving man who worked hard for everything he wanted—the type who would crawl through any depth of Hell if that meant he’d win another scholarship or a simple trinket as a raffle prize.
I finally stop flailing around in your bed. I’m still wrapped in your blanket, and I’m now crying in your apartment. You kindly let me sleep off some depression at your place. You kindly come in frequently to ask if I want any food or drink. You even kindly make sure I took my medications. I caused you an unnecessary amount of trouble over the past few days, taking time that you could have been using to work towards your goals, yet you never show your anger or voiced any complaints. You are inhumanly calm throughout it all even though I was silently breaking down right in front of you.
There’s a handsome man with a handsome voice who has a few chips in his shoulders yet still has an enormous capacity to care for others hidden beneath an abrasive outspokenness. Is this you? Yes or no, I don’t want to care either way. I only know what I saw, and what I am seeing is probably never real. I doubt I will ever know you beyond those dreams.
I can only toss and turn in that truth. That isn’t the most comfortable way to fall asleep, though.