We met at “relationship group,” a social group that meets every Tuesday at my community college. The first order of duty, like with many gatherings, was to introduce ourselves, then get with a partner who would ask you questions and present you and your interests to the rest of the group. I was paired up with Stevyn.
He wore a red sweatshirt, which I soon realized was his favorite thing to wear; jeans that rested right above his ankles for the world to see the fold of his matching, red, socks; and mildly dirty—or mildly clean—Nike sneakers.
When he first spoke, I didn’t understand a word he was saying. The sound of his voice ranged from extremely deep to very high in a matter of seconds—try mid-sentence—and he would pause between words. Picture Napoleon Dynamite’s big brother Kip: openly nerdy, yet sure of himself and everything he wants.
He was enthusiastic when he told me about his anime drawings and how he’s working on a saga—a SAGA! I have never heard of anyone trying to create their own saga before. Uniqueness is usually what draws me to the opposite sex. When a man has been to different countries, has eaten with his hands, or aspires to create his own saga, those aren’t things that fly over my head; they draw me closer, making me want more.
The way his face lit up when he talked about his creative projects made me feel younger, like we were kids daydreaming about the future. These kinds of conversations don’t happen often, and when they do, the person discusses their life as though it is nothing to be happy about, as though they are just a simple being on this earth, here to live and die. Stevyn isn’t like that. He speaks like he has a purpose and no one can keep him from fulfilling it.
I notice this same excitement about life in other people who have special needs. They possess the energy to tackle anything that comes their way. I had a friend in high school—I don’t know what his condition was because I never asked and it never mattered—and every time he took a test he would run up to me and say, “Nsikan, I took my (subject) test today!”
“Awesome!” I would attempt to respond with just as much energy. “How did you do?”
“I don’t know yet, but I studied and worked really hard.” Then he’d skip off to the next person to share the great news.
I can’t truly say when I knew I liked Stevyn, or how, for that matter. It just happened. One minute, I’m thinking, “Aw he’s cute. I want to protect him,” and then the next I’m thinking, “Will you be mine?”
Stevyn has this innocence you can’t find in “normal” boys. He has a zest for life and is not ashamed of showing it. When he talks about his future, he is the only person I know who speaks as though the things he wants will surely happen. I’ve never heard an “I don’t know” or a “Well, if that doesn’t work” come out of his mouth when he speaks about his aspirations. He’s this way without trying to impress anyone. Perhaps I liked him because I envied that.
At our last relationship group, Stevyn told us he wants to “Break my shell and make more friends.” He went on: “I want to know what to say to people and how we can enjoy one another’s company.” It’s rare to come across someone who longs to make friends, not just to have people around, but to be willing to do the same: to put in the work of being a friend.
I’m too aware of the world. I know rejection and disappointment too well. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten my hopes up for anything. It’s been years since I’ve felt the rush of excitement.
But isn’t that what life is about? Apart from loving and helping, shouldn’t we be excited about being here?
We should. And it’s okay if disappointment and failure come our way, because we can always be excited for the next thing.
That’s something I learned from Stevyn.
Stevyn and I have never discussed our feelings for one another, apart from the time he told me, “You’re a good friend with a great spirit” and I replied, “Well, you’re part of the reason I am that way.”
Unfortunately, we would never make a proper match, because we’d take advantage of each other. I would end up dominating decisions because I always know what I want and he, wanting to please me, would go through with it. With other scenarios, I’d be too afraid of being honest with him because I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings, and we’d both go on without any growth.
So I kept my feelings to myself until it all blew over. Stevyn and I will never have a romance. Luckily, Stevyn and I have friendship, and that means just as much.