People have asked if I felt guilty for lying to you. If I had told you everything, you would have cried and you would have yelled and you would have kicked me out or changed the locks or walked away from me. You would have tipped your head back and screamed. You would have said we were over. You would have said I had no right to make you love me.
So I don’t feel guilty because when I asked for forever, I meant forever, and everything else was just noise.
You never lied about being a drug addict. You told me this detail about yourself at the very beginning. You defined yourself by this detail. In time, so did I. You may have lied about snorting pills with your friends, but you never lied about being an addict. I knew on day seven; and still, on day 10, I said yes to dating it out with you.
You were not the only addict. I was addicted to how I felt when I was with you. I was addicted to the future we planned. I was addicted to the idea that I had found you and fell in love with you and knew undeniably that I would wake up next to you until one of us died. I loved you despite your addictions. I loved how I felt when we were together. I loved your good morning text messages and the knowledge that there was a man out there whose body I thought I understood. I thought that I was happy. I thought that I was blessed. I thought I could jump ship and swim. I thought that the ocean would hold me. I thought that you would hold me. I thought you and I were two people in love who always found each other regardless of the crowd in which we found ourselves lost.
I have been called crazy for loving you, and crazy for thinking that life without your love was no life at all. While we were together, gravity meant nothing. We were moving at the speed of sound. We barely got our feet wet; still we drowned.
I loved that we had no boundaries. I loved that you kissed my cheek when I dropped you off at the employee entrance at the store where you worked. I loved that we became partners. I loved that you were so certain that I was your it, because for much of my life, and about so many things, I was never certain, until you, and about you I felt very certain.
Maybe you’ve found someone else and he’s on his way over or already in bed next to you on his side, on the side that was mine, and he’s reading something while you read this. You read to him and say, this is who I was, or this is who he was, or this was something we did that I had forgotten. He asks you why you’re reading it at all, and you say to remind yourself what you don’t want.
Maybe you found someone else and he didn’t work out, either. And you don’t know why your relationships don’t work out. You think that maybe you’re not meant to find your it. You think maybe your it isn’t out there, or he’s living in another city, similarly wondering where his it is. You think that maybe you had found your it, but you weren’t ready for him or he wasn’t ready for you.
Maybe you’ve gotten good at telling your friends and family that you’re OK. Maybe you’ve gotten good at telling yourself that you’re OK. Maybe you think that you’re better off alone.
You don’t let yourself miss me and my son, Avery. You don’t let yourself wonder how old my daughter, Aurora is, or whether Holly and I have divorced. You don’t let yourself wonder if you made a mistake. You try to forget me. You no longer love me
Avery has always liked playing memory-type games. Holly and I taught him his colors and some animals/objects through a memory-type game. He had to match the color with an object or animal that was the same color (e.g., pink matches pig). He speeds through the game now. I can scatter the tiles on the floor facedown, and he will turn over the tiles one by one until he makes a match. He can remember where certain tiles are, even after turning them back over. He makes matches and he laughs and he looks for immediate feedback, recognition, applause, or a smile. Then he hunts for more matches.
When I met Holly, I was not looking for a match, but I found one. And she was a good match. We grew up together. We lived and loved and experienced life. I cannot imagine life without her. We have our children. We have a past. We will have a future. Our marriage had been bad for a long time. I couldn’t let its death consume me. My relationship with Holly is no longer dead. I got my best friend back, my co-conspirator, and we’re going to need each other; parenting two children is hard.
When I met you, I was not looking for a match, but I found one. You were the right tile turned face-side up. You were horse to my rabbit. You were who I wanted without knowing that I wanted a you to begin with. And when I tell Holly this, as I tell her most everything now without worrying that I will hurt her or that I will somehow damage our fragile relationship, she tells me that you were not my match. I thought we were fated, I tell her. I thought I had finally gotten love and forever right.
I will never let a drug addict raise my children, she tells me. Present tense. A warning: Don’t make the same mistake. She doesn’t say our children; she says her children. She does not like that I brought Avery into your home and into your room. You always had pot in your room. Your roommate deals. He had pot in his room. He and his boyfriend got high sometimes when I was there with Avery. You and I had smelled it once, and we had looked at Avery playing with his helicopter, and you had asked me if I wanted to go somewhere else, and I had said yes, please.
Holly says I did not put Avery first when I brought him into your home, and that I did not put Avery first when I brought him into your life. Then she tells me that I can’t give up on love, and that she isn’t giving up on love either.
Let your love out, Will, she says. Trust that the right person will stick. He wasn’t your right person. Only cowards run from love.
Had we gotten back together, I would not have fully embraced the inherent wonder of change. I’ve missed out on who I was supposed to be because I was busy being who everyone expected me to be. Your lessons were – are – your lessons. I am no longer privy to what you need to learn. I am no longer your destination. I am no longer your period. I am no longer your full stop. A semicolon no longer conjoins our lives.
Maybe I’ve found someone else. Maybe he is next to me in my apartment. Maybe I call it our apartment, his and mine. Maybe he’s asleep on the side of the bed that would have been yours and I’m in the kitchen making our lunches for tomorrow. Maybe I’m at the gym when you’re reading this. Maybe I’ve asked him to marry me, or he’s asked me, or we’ve decided that we don’t need to ask because we just know.
Maybe I found someone else and he didn’t work out, either. And I don’t know why my relationships don’t work out. I think that maybe I’m not meant to find my it. I think maybe my it isn’t out there, or he’s living in another city, similarly wondering where his it is. I think that maybe I had found my it, but I wasn’t ready for him. Or he wasn’t ready for me.
Maybe I’ve gotten good at telling my friends and family that I’m OK. Maybe I’ve gotten good at telling myself that I’m OK. Maybe I think that I’m better off alone.
I don’t let myself miss you. I don’t let myself wonder how you spend your weekends, if you still jog or if you bought a different bike. I don’t let myself wonder if I made a mistake. I try to forget you. I no longer love you.
Maybe you were the one that wasn’t quite the love of my life. You were the one where I tried as hard as I could, and it was very romantic, and it was based, perhaps, on ideas and picture-making rather than on reality. You are not the love story I will tell my children, but you will be the love story that will tug at me years from now. The training wheels of a relationship, a friend says to me when I explain this theory. Exactly, I say. I can either look back and say Thank God that didn’t work out, or I can look back and say I really fucked that up. Or maybe we each, separately, have dozens of relationships ahead.
Perhaps all I can hope is that these words are evidence of how deep love can run and how long loss can last. Perhaps all I can hope is that I have succeeded at capturing the unvarnished nature of our impossible relationship – the coming together and the falling apart. The way in which a life, a story, can change on a cold night in January.
I have talked with nearly 100 people about love in the last few months, and each had something slightly different to say about it: it’s fleeting; it’s once-in-a-lifetime; it’s chemical; it’s undeniable; it’s unforgettable; it’s worth dying for. And yet each person I talked to – researchers, faith healers, friends, others who tried to die at the end of a love affair, psychiatrists, social workers, doctors, nurses, even a pastor at a Unitarian Church who said love is about the fact that we’re alive and we know we have to die – said something along the lines of knowing you’re in love when you put the other person before yourself. I thought I was, D. I loved you the only way I knew how to love you – completely, wonderously, foreverly. Although I will miss you from time to time, and I shall never look at the playgrounds at the Charles River in quite the same way, I will not regret.
The truth is the truth, rarely pure and never simple. Oscar Wilde.
All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. Galileo.
You were much more muchier. You’ve lost your muchness. The Mad Hatter to Alice.
We were much more muchier. We lost our muchness.
Keeping something isn’t as nearly important as finding it. I found you. You found me. You wouldn’t let me keep you, but I found myself. Some secrets you can control, at least sometimes; life, you can’t control, at least not always. Everything is connected. We were family until we weren’t. You looked very much like a father. Avery fell in love with you and so did I. I think about you often. Sometimes, I cry.
I know that I was your porch light and you were looking for your door key.
I loved you; I love you.
“Unsent” is an excerpt from William Henderson’s in-progress memoir, House of Cards. Other excerpts have appeared, or are slated to appear, in Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure; Eunoia Review; Hippocampus Magazine; Annalemma Magazine; Curbside Quotidian; How I met …, an online collection of essays detailing intersections, crashes, and other ways we meet people; Sea Giraffe (from which he was awarded the Martius Prize in Nonfiction); the Smoking Poet, Zouch Magazine, Whistling Fire, 50 to 1, Specter Literary Magazine, Revolution House, Ham Lit, The Writing Disorder, nontrue, Xenith, and Writing in Public.
Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Stork, an Emerson College publication; and the New England Blade (formerly In Newsweekly), where he served as editor. He writes a weekly column, Dog-Eared, for Specter Literary Magazine, and he will be included in two forthcoming anthologies: Stripped and The Other Man.
He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association.
Henderson works as a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and is a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @Avesdad, and through his blog, HendersonHouseofCards.wordpress.com.