This story is by Kevin Clawson and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
People talk about love at first sight like it’s a thing. Attraction? Sure. Desire? Okay. But love? No, love takes time. Its an organism that has to grow over time. It has to be nurtured to become a real thing. How do I know this? Well, because, despite all of the time I spent trying to think otherwise, I love you.
I’m not so wistful that I can tell you that exact date we met, but I can tell you that it was roughly 14 years ago. I know that we met at work and, at some point, you became the best part of my day. We only worked in passing at first, but we’d have moments of conversation through the day. And oh, were those the moments! Eventually, those moments began to linger longer and longer.
Our daily ritual became lunch together. It became the time we talked about life. It was the time that I found that there was nothing I couldn’t share with you. It was also where I truly discovered your eyes. There aren’t proper words for them. They were the blue of magic and fire, but I could get lost in them like they were the deepest part of the ocean. I always wondered if you knew how hard I struggled to look away.
What made you all the more special was your attitude. It wasn’t what most people would call a good attitude. No, you were feisty and had a temper and I loved it. My favorite memory of you is your Jekyll and Hyde way of dealing with people. You could be almost syrupy sweet to them when you needed to be, but as soon as you got out of earshot, you’d get so fired up. Your eyes had an extra glow when you were getting mad at someone and, even if it was me, it was electric.
The only thing I loved more than that irrational fury was making you laugh. There was a little bit of crazy in there, I won’t lie, but your smile was the stuff poets wrote about. If I knew I was dying and I had one last thing I could see on this earth, it would have been that smile.
On the days you weren’t there, when I had to have lunch with someone else, conversation would invariably end up on you. The people that I trusted to share my thoughts and feelings with knew exactly what you meant to me. They knew that you were the last thing that I thought about at the end of the day and the first thing that I thought about when I woke up. They knew that, if you were to ever give the word, I would have dropped everything and run away with you to any corner of the world you chose. They knew that, no matter what was happening or who was there, when you walked in, you were instantly the only woman in the room that mattered to me.
But for everything they knew, I never said any of this to you. Partly because, and this is a hard truth, I was terrified of changing something that was so magical. Mostly, though, it was because everything we shared at work wasn’t the whole story.
You had a boyfriend that you had already been with for years. I was with a girl that I had been with for a few years. As is often the case, life was not aligned with the heart. Let me be perfectly clear, this didn’t change how I felt about you at all. Maybe it makes me the worst person ever, but if you wanted me to I would have left her and stolen you from him in heartbeat.
Yet we never tried. The closest we came was diner and a movie. Once. My cowardice was front and center all night. Conversation was the usual “I did this today, you did that today” kind of talk. Not once could I muster the courage to tell you what you did to my heart. I made no attempts at anything during the movie , with you sitting right next to me, and, when I walked you to your car, all I could muster was a hug.
And this is the way life went for us. In my dreams, you were my world, but in my world, you were a dream. And somehow, I was okay with that, because I still had you in some way. But that had to change, didn’t it?
You showed up to work one day and told me you were pregnant. It wasn’t planned, but you and your boyfriend were going to be having a baby. While this was a devastating blow to my dream world, I still would have stolen you and that baby away. But that wasn’t how it was supposed to go. We still had our lunches together and very little between us changed. Except, of course, when it did.
One day you came in and you were engaged.
One day you came in and there was a baby bump.
And then, one day, you came in and you were giving your two weeks notice.
I had all the time in the world before this moment to tell you what I felt and I never did. I knew there was a good chance you knew, but I never had the strength to say it. I watched those last few days tick by and still, I had no strength to make the words. Out of nowhere, it was the night before your last shift. Finally, I put pen to paper and wrote down everything I had ever thought. Everything I had ever wanted to say to you and everything I had ever wanted from you. Finally, in that last moment, I didn’t care about the cost, I needed you to know. I had it all written out and was ready to bring it to you on your last day of work. Pages off feelings that may have been too little, too late.
You didn’t show up on your last day.
For the first time – not when you got pregnant, and not when you got engaged – but when you were just gone, I was completely crushed. You were supposed to be there. You were supposed to read my words and realize what you truly wanted. That was how the fairy tale was supposed to go. But that wasn’t how it went. In that moment, all the magic in my life went out.
Over the course of the next year, I became a heartless person. I found myself in various questionable situations with girls who also shouldn’t have been in those situations and I just couldn’t make myself care. My ability to give a damn about this thing called my heart was gone. Despite all of my misdeeds, and maybe because of them, I had never felt so alone.
Eventually, I met a girl who called me on my poor decisions. I liked her and she liked me. She convinced me to leave the girl I should have left so many years before and we started an actual relationship. It was rocky, and it wasn’t perfect, but it worked. We got married. I got a job. Life moved in the direction it does when you actually live your life like an adult.
Because life isn’t a fairy tale, this is where the story should have ended. But, even though you vanished from my life, you still never vanished from my dreams. Even while I was building a home and a life, you always found a way to creep back into the back of my mind. In every woman on television or on a poster, I would somehow see a part of your face. You were everywhere. The magic that was you was inescapable.
After over a decade apart, I still couldn’t make it a week without you popping up in one way or another. It just became a part of my life. You were the one that got away. The one that wouldn’t quite leave. But it didn’t matter. You were just a figment of a figment of my imagination. Now my life was what it seemed it was supposed to be. It had its own hardships and difficulties, but it was all my own, even with dream you poking at me every so often.
Fate, though is a bit of a bitch. One day, suddenly, you were back in my life. After a quarter of my life passed, you were back. Thanks to the golden age of social media, we were instantly friends again. So we instantly messaged.
For that first weekend, it was like the words couldn’t stop flowing. We talked about the old times and life as it was and had been since you left. I was able to tell you that I wished I had been more bold back then. Of course, I still couldn’t say the dirty “love” word. You confessed that you knew how I felt but hadn’t been able to bring yourself to make a move either. Some of the words were hard to read, but it was all okay because at least I got to read them from you. It was like fate was giving us a second chance.
But, again, fate is a bitch, isn’t she?
Against everything I had learned since the day you disappeared, I got my hopes up. It was unfair to myself and unfair to you to expect so much, but I couldn’t stop it. I let fly the words of the heart and said many things I should have said way back when. For so many years, my heart had been completely yours, even when you weren’t there to take it.
And then the nightmare truth happened. After a weekend of Blitzkrieg messaging, I became almost an afterthought. I wouldn’t hear from you for days at a time. I would wait with such anticipation for messages that took forever to come. And when they did, you said just enough to make me hold on.
Just when I thought it was time to walk away, you worked your magic and convinced me we should meet for coffee. Like a puppy thrown a treat, I jumped at the chance. It was a short visit and you looked like time had somehow forgotten you existed. You looked every bit as amazing as you did so long ago. The eyes, the smile, all of the old traps were there. I was hooked. And still, when sitting face to face, I couldn’t say the words that had been so easy to put on paper. So like the movies all those years ago, the day ended in a hug.
And again, I became an after thought. The conversation never came like it did that first weekend and I found myself fighting to get your attention back to me. Finally, the revelation came. Being the aggressor was only pushing you away. So I found the strength to hold back and wait.
And I waited.
Sometimes I waited for what felt like an eternity. Finally, I came to the realization that what could have been probably wasn’t what should have been. Fate, had deftly done her job all those years ago, pulling you away.
So now I sit, with my heart in one hand and my real world realizations in the other. While I find myself sad, and maybe even heartbroken over the situation, I find myself saying thank you. While it wasn’t the ending I had hoped to find after all those years, I finally had the opportunity to say everything I wasn’t able to before. I was finally able to say my piece and I can say the one word I never had the chance to say properly before. So from the bottom of my heart, with all of the love built over the years, I can finally say, “goodbye.”