I used to tell myself that a life of cautiousness was a sign of maturity. By evading damaging situations and relationships in my youth, I would find an adulthood without the scars and bruises that plague more reckless friends. They may have better stories, but I had a clean slate. The bad guy in no one’s story.
I would leave bars early when friends tried to introduce me to acquaintances and coworkers. I have never had much of an interest in the overly masculine pleasures in life — rarely would I comment on the figure of a woman passing by, or delight in the accumulation of beer cans on a sticky apartment floor.
There’s a certain choreography in the life of a twenty-something; it isn’t difficult to recognize a fix-up, and I did my best not to get tangled up in such emotions when I knew I wasn’t ready for the commitment.
It takes only one or two storms before it becomes painfully and abundantly clear: cautiousness is not a substitute for maturity. It is naked cowardice masquerading as wry prudence. When the curtain is raised on your misgivings, and the hot, scalding spotlight affixes its unforgiving focus on you, you don’t remember a single line, and you question why you are on this damned stage to begin with.
So when I made a mistake — the only mistake I truly could have made — I unraveled. The two people who knew me intimately, more than my own parents, more than the best men at any wedding I may ever have, now feel like rafts being carried out to the horizon by an unrelenting tide. Shrinking dots, being carried further and further away, leaving me with solitude and sadness on a shore all my own.
All of this, because of my inability to commit, to be honest, to be willing to choose. I forced two best friends to confront an awful, hideous reality. I was dividing my time between them both.
As I coped with the fallout of my actions, and subsequent outing, the mind wandered and stumbled through avenues of alternating self-pity, justification, and utter disgust.
This could only happen to me.
It wasn’t malice. It was love, splintered down the middle. It may be still be love, but there are still sharp edges and jagged fault lines.
How could I have done such a thing? I’m no better than the liars and cheaters from film and literature who are meant to represent past mistakes and complete, spiraling heartbreak.
I’m not sure what the right story is, anymore. I don’t know what I was thinking, why I thought it may all work out, or why I thought I was immune to the type of punishment I would receive. My years of practiced cautiousness did not prepare for such a harsh spotlight of consequence.
Weeks, months and years from now, I may have the perspective to write a better story. A better explanation for why I took the two women who made me whole by taking half of each of them. Maybe it is wishful thinking from a young man who feels no bigger than a child. Maybe I’m still refusing to grasp the true gravity of my actions. If only each of them knew why I did what I did.
To Red: from the moment we met, I was left breathless by the crackling pace of our conversation and unyielding magnetism of our parts. There was no doubt that we would be together. I was intoxicated by the constant Rubik’s Cube you presented me with — if love is a battlefield, you planted the mines. I may have stepped on every single one. Sometimes I made it through. Victims of our surroundings, we thought too much. Our love was never as effortless as our first encounter. It is why the weddings we attended together were so perfect. Away from home, free to be one, singular unit, we radiated a new kind of passionate, enviable heat. I saw a perfect present and a future unencumbered by the weight of the social graces that we could never solve for. I have never felt more exhilarated, more alive, than during our good times. In the monotony of daily life, you accused me of being thoughtless, when all along the crosses we bore were lashed together from planks of fruitless, miserable, overwrought conversations that we never knew how to have. We were having that dialogue in the silence of our hearts. I never stopped thinking.
To Boo: from the moment we met, I found myself quietly struck by your command of my most closely held interests and truths. You seemed able to telegraph my actions before I knew what they would be. You mounted a long campaign to prove to me that we had a foundation unlike anything anyone had ever seen. You entered my life as an immediate confidante. I think I may have been willing to tell you my family secrets the first time we met. There was no hesitation, and no second guesses. It was correct. It was stone masonry, deliberate, artisan craftsmanship with no point of weakness. You began to reinforce everything I felt about myself, and, in turn, made me see the true value of our unique camaraderie. Life is meant to be spent with someone who sharpens the peaks and fills in the valleys. Watching TV and listening to music never should have felt exhilarating. You made it that way. I never stopped thinking.
You were both first. You both held singular ownership of my heart and mind and soul.
I didn’t talk to my parents, or any of my friends, because I never saw the use. The accomplished young men who comprise my inner circle don’t want to hear the anguished, over-saturated, self-indulgent poetic ramblings of an indecisive rube.
I received two hearts — given to me to protect and preserve, and I dropped them both.
I still can’t admit to myself that I broke them, because that sounds like a premeditated action. I never meant to. I never thought I would. I was so lost in the universe I had created for myself, so sure that things would self-rectify, that I found the energy to care for both. Whoever I was with, I was entirely yours. Glances and interwoven fingers and genuinely interested ears belonged to whoever needed them.
Whatever hatred either of you harbor is merited. I understand. If we never get back to the level of trust we worked so hard to establish, I will not question it. And while I do not deserve it, I must ask one final, momentous favor.
Wherever you may go, whatever the universe has in store for you, please remember my one, great truth. I loved you. With all of my heart.
In a different circumstance, one not tarnished by work and foolish guardrails and feigned cautiousness, there may be a shining token of my thoughts and emotions adorning your finger, and my crooked, tight-lipped smile staring back at you. We shared the purest expressions that humanity has to offer. I am not a bad person. I am a person who has done things badly. I am eternally grateful for the love you have shared with me in return.
I am sorry. From the bottom of my broken, still-churning sick heart. But you and I were special. This mess was borne from a place of fear and a faith that something was going to become obvious.
I am the sum of my two parts — a scared boy and an occasionally witless man. My only hope is that those two identities are why you fell in love with me in the first place.