People always tell you that twenty years from now, you will look back on your life and regret not what you did, but what you didn't do.
True, I have my regrets. I have plenty of them. I regret never finishing school, never picking up a hobby, never ordering that thing I wanted that went out of stock quickly, I could go on. I regret things that I did do; lying, hurting myself, hurting others, who doesn't? But there's one thing that I will never regret, despite all the pain that it caused me: her.
As I sit and think back on it all, staring out the window at the powdery snow as I sip my coffee, I remember her. She hated snow. She said it was beautiful, but messy, and she hated cleaning it up, though she always hoped for a white Christmas. She was sentimental like that; one year, I received a Christmas card from her in the mail, with a quote inside that she wrote: "If I had a snowflake for every time I thought of you, we'd have a very white Christmas", as supposedly said by Charlie Brown. Now, I don't know how accurate that is. I'm not even sure it was ever said in Charlie Brown, but I didn't care and I know she didn't either, just so long as she could get across a sweet and festive message that she loved me.
She was always too sweet. She was the kind of person who sent me hand written letters in the mail just because it was romantic and she loved to surprise me; to this day, I still have those letters. She was the kind of person who would take off her coat and wrap me in it just so she wouldn't see me shiver. If she wanted to share food with me, she would always give me the bigger half, despite me telling her no, that I was watching my weight.
That was the saddest thing about her, that she was sweet, a passionate lover in a world that condemned our kind of love. She wanted to hold my hand in public, but I could see the pain on her face whenever people looked at us in "that way". That's what she called it, "that way" people would look at us that I just happened to not notice. She wanted to sneak me kisses, but knew people would cringe at the sight. There was a time when we were sitting on a bench in the mall and she snuck me a kiss. I kissed her back. Right after, a man approached us with a paper and told us to think it through. It was pamphlet on God and salvation through him.
Some would think that's what did it for her, the world's hatred for people like us. I remember her crying and telling me that despite pride movements, she could not feel pride for who she was; she would say she knew that she should accept who she is and be okay with it, but she just couldn't. Some would say that this was the reason she is no longer with me today. I know better and say that it was much deeper than that.
I still remember the first day I saw her. That was back when she was trying to hide who she was. Her hair was longer then, down to her collarbones, and now I know that she kept it long because her father had a strong dislike for women with short hair. She was plain, no make up and simple clothes, and again, I know that this was also because of her father.
We went to the same school. We were in grade nine. I saw her in one of my classes. I remember thinking, "That's her? That's the girl everyone hates? The one everyone tells me is weird?". Well, as it turns out, we were in the same English class that next semester. I never said a word to her until I saw a book she was carrying. Who would have thought that there were other people who also loved obscure British literature, particularly Darren Shan? My first words to her were, "You like Darren Shan too?".
That was the start of our first conversation. We talked of the books for the rest of that class. I remember thinking after class that I wanted to keep talking with her, not just about the books, but about everything. I just wanted to keep talking to her. I hoped she felt the same way. The next day, when I saw her waving at me from across the room calling my name, I was overjoyed to see that she did feel the same.
They say that when you find the person you are meant to be with forever, it will be like that person was already in your life, that when you get to know them, it seems more like you are remembering things about some distant, vague figure who was always in your life. At the time when I first met her, I never believed in things like that. I was under the assumption that people like me weren't meant to find love and that I was going to live alone, and that was fine. But looking back now, that's what it felt like getting to know her, like I knew her in a previous life and I was remembering things about her. It felt as though she was always meant to be in my life, which made me wonder where she had been all my life.
In later years, she told me that we wouldn't have been friends during our childhood. She described herself as too withdrawn, that everyone bullied her and others went along with it, leaving her alone because everyone else was doing it. When I told her more of myself, she told me it sounded as though I was a normal child with friends who was always playing the latest video game, so I wouldn't have liked her. She told me this is why she was grateful that we had met in high school.
I too am glad because looking back on high school and the years after that we spent together, I felt as though we were growing up together. But there was always something haunting about her. Others pretended they knew it about her, why she always looked so sad, even when she laughed, why she wore wristbands, why she chose to hid her face behind the fringes of her hair and the hood of her sweater.
"I want to die."
She told me once in a note she gave to me. That's the way we started to know each other better in grade ten. We wrote each other letters and gave them to each other every morning. They didn't start until she lowered her wristband for me and revealed a series of lines, some red and pink around the edges, others brown and crusty. That was they day I lowered my wrist watch and revealed my own series of red lines. Some would say that's a sickening start of the deepest relationship I will ever know, some would say it's romantic. I don't know what to think of it. All I know is it was the revelation of our scars that sparked our deep connection. It was through our darkness that we became each other's light.
I don't hurt myself anymore. We both stopped when we were about twenty years old, but I still think about it every now and then.
I still remember that sentence in her note. "I want to die. I've always wanted to," it continued, "I remember wanting to when I was nine years old. I was so alone and so sad. I felt so forgotten. I cried myself to sleep, screaming into my pillow, 'Why can't I be dead'. I still want to. Maybe I will".
I should have told her no. I should have stopped her there and then. But I couldn't. This was the first time I had ever felt so close to anyone and told them anything about me. And now that I saw that someone else hurt herself and had a resolve to end her life, I had to tell her the same. I told her of how I started to hurt myself, how I started in grade eight, but got serious about it this year. I told her how I felt that my life was a bore, that I felt as though I were sailing through life like a cloud in the sky, that I was directionless, aimless, doomed to die a death as boring as the life I lived.
Who would have thought that a wish for suicide would bring two girls so close together? Who would have thought that sharing our methods of self-harm and all the ways we hate ourselves could forge a bond so deep and so strong? I certainly wouldn't have and I know neither did she. She was the kind of person who kept to herself and her novels and comics. She liked to be alone, but did she ever crave intimacy. She longed for the company of friends, but like a hedgehog, no one else would come close to her.
She could never find peace, wherever she went. At school, she was tormented. I could see the looks my classmates gave her. I heard the things people said about her and I couldn't understand why anyone would think such things. At home, she was forgotten. Being the second oldest amongst four siblings, with the youngest being disabled, she felt left behind. Her situation with her father didn't help. And amidst all this, she was at war with herself. Even in the silence of her room, there was a war waging inside of her, the opposing sides being two choices, one was to live, the other was to die.
This made me hate myself even more. Here I was, bored with life and thought suicide could be fun, that self-harm was a good way to kill time. And there she was, legitimately unhappy with her life and craving an escape. I would tell her this, that I felt like I didn't have a real reason to be unhappy. She would just look me in the eyes and tell me that pain isn't a contest, that anyone who is sad has a good reason for being sad.
Maybe this is why I fell in love with her. I had never heard these sorts of words from anyone else. I had never opened up to anyone else. I had never felt so close to another human being in my entire life. But of course, being as oblivious as I was, it would take me many more years to realize this.
As all love stories go, we only got closer with time. Over the years, I saw her blossom. She finally grew confident enough to cut her hair. She started to shed her rebellious choice of clothes. She was becoming her own woman. But within her, she was wilting. I could see it. Maybe it was because when we graduated high school and went to university, the look in her eyes was sadder. Maybe it's because she barely spoke to me. Maybe it's because she placed her need for love and affection in a man that I knew she didn't love. I don't know.
All I know is that when I did catch her glance, I felt as though the dark void in her eyes was going to pull me in and drown me in her sadness. She wouldn't have done that to me. I know she wouldn't. Maybe because the sadness within me would also pull her in and we could drown together. That thought haunted me. I wouldn't want to hurt her, but sometimes I was afraid that the jagged edges of my soul would only cut hers deeper.
I was never the empathetic type. When commercials would play on T.V. of children starving, I couldn't feel sorry for them, especially when the makers of those commercials had the money to feed them and were asking us to. I couldn't feel bad for others, but for her, my heart was constantly breaking. I had the unwavering need to save her, to pull her from her misery and hold her, to protect her from all the bad things in the world so that she would never be sad again. I wanted to save her smile before it was lost forever. I know it's not up to others to save people, and that's what she told me constantly in later years, but I couldn't help but feel it, the need to keep her in my life no matter how hard it would be.
Two years later, her and I quit school. The closeness between her and I returned. We always talked of how happy we were that we now had so much time to spare, but how down we were that we didn't know what to do with our lives.
"I could always die, but it didn't work," she told me once. That was the day she told me something that I wish she did when it happened. It was January of our senior year of high school. She had been planning. She even got what she needed. She went home one day and finally did it. She had swallowed twenty sleeping pills, but felt afraid instantly and called an ambulance. She spent a night in the emergency room recovering from her suicide attempt.
That was the first time I ever cried for another human being.
They say that you never truly appreciate the value of something until you lose it. I always appreciated her. I always valued her existence, but I think then, at the thought that I almost lost her and didn't know, my value for her existence, for her beating heart, the fact that she was standing before me, increased tenfold. A hundred times. A thousand times.
"I tend to kill the things I love," she said to me once over coffee, when she explained why she had parted ways with the man in her life, "I've always done that. One of these days, you'll be next. I just know it."
The prospect of being loved enough by her to be terminated was terrifying and I hope she didn't mean it. But in a way, I understood. The unrelenting black cloud of depression must rain upon you poison that seeps into your head and upsets the chemistry of your brain. Maybe that's why her and I can't believe we are beautiful or see the future as bleak; maybe that's why her and I reject the people who love us and lock ourselves away. Maybe that's why her and I quit school and became aimless people without ambition.
I watched her after she said that, the way she avoided my eyes and started chewing her thumbnail. She was never able to maintain eye contact and chewing her nails was her worst habit, but there was something about her that I just couldn't place my finger on. I knew she kept secrets from me and I wish she didn't. I wanted to be the one she trusted the most. I wanted to be her number one. But she was hiding things from me; this I was certain of. And if she wasn't going to tell me soon, I knew she would never tell me.
One thing you should know about me is that I am certain I am always right, and I can't stand the thought of being wrong. People have told me that this is problematic of me, and while I know that they're right, I can't help it. Then again, people are usually right when it comes to my problematic traits. But when it came to her keeping secrets from me, I knew I was right. This was confirmed the night she told me her biggest secret.
"I love you."
"I just wanted you to know that," she typed over an IM, "I've been in love with you for a few years now . . . I'm sobbing as I type this, but I just want you to know."
As most would feel, I was shocked, but I felt what most probably don't upon hearing that your best friend of seven years and of the same sex told you that they are in love with you; happiness.
It felt like butterflies in my heart; there she was, the person I cared the most about in the world, and she told me that she was in love with me, when I thought no one could ever love someone like me. I was elated and just wanted to hold her tightly against me and tell her how happy I was.
But I knew from her side of the conversation, she was crying. I could understand why. This must have been hard for her to say, especially since she had been feeling this for so long. I suddenly felt extremely sorry for her.
I knew I had to see her. I had to keep seeing her. It was her feelings that felt so right to me, like I had been waiting for her to say that for years and didn't realize it. I suddenly felt the urge to sleep beside her, feel her arms around me, and hear her whisper into my ear over and over again, "I love you".
What was this? People have enforced the belief that this was wrong, that she was wrong, that her kind of love wasn't supposed to exist. So, then why did this feel anything but unnatural? Why did I feel that I needed her now in my life more than ever? I thought these things over and over throughout the next month we spent together after her confession.
Something about her seemed different, like she had both lifted a weight off her shoulders, but another one had taken its place. Was it because she felt I didn't return the feelings? Strange, I thought that if I told her so, I would be lying to myself. But me? In love? Why didn't I realize it sooner like she did? Why didn't I realize it when she told me? What was taking me so long? Why did I need a confession from her to rethink my feelings for her?
It was when summer was breaking through spring and we took a walk down to the riverfront park that I started to really see her through a lover's eyes. I guess I had always noticed the way her eyes lit up when she spoke of something she really loved, the way her smile beamed, the way the wind caught her hair, the way she wore her clothes, the way she looked at me adoringly. It was only now that I really saw those things, the way they made my heart soar, the way her presence lit up my life, the way our hands fit so perfectly together.
As the sun set and the lamps on the walkway started to light up, our lips touched. She held my hand as our lips found each other, studied the curves and lines of each other, became one with each other. During that kiss, I felt as though time and space had vanished. Even the sound of the river waves disappeared. For those seemingly long seconds, it was just our lips; it was the unity between us connected by her mouth and mine. I felt as though I was falling into her, that we were becoming one, that this moment had stopped time, that only the two of us existed in the universe.
When we finally pulled apart and the world returned, she looked me in the eyes and smiled at me. It was right there in that moment that I thought to myself, "What was I so unsure about?".
And just like that, her and I became lovers.