I hand the book over to you, where I go next may change me forever, so keep this as a record. A record of just how much, someone with so little, can feel.
Valerie, when I first met you, I couldn’t help but stare. There was something about you that drew my attention though I would never know quite what that was; I was inexplicably drawn to you. It was for this reason that I acted upon my instincts and sought you out, I knew there had to be some reason I felt this way towards you even if I didn’t fully understand why. Nothing deterred me; when I was told you had feelings for another, when you told me you wanted to take it slow and cautiously, none of it stopped the fact that I was drawn to you, and therefore I had to have you. It wasn’t lust, as I’m sure you knew all to well. But there was something else in you that gravitated me.
I’ve lived my whole life unsatiated, nothing I had or did was ever enough. I was never good enough for my parents, never good enough for my friends, and especially never good enough for me. It was only after my suicide attempt that I started to try and come to terms with the fact I would have to learn to accept this or I would never be truly free of my own personal hell. That was a never-ending struggle, but then you came into my life. In such short time you changed everything. I know it may be hard to believe, as I always seemed to be struggling with something when we were together, be it classes, my family, or the problems you faced that you shared with me. But I did have one thing that always kept me going, that put a smile on my face; you. No matter how hard my day was, what situations life threw at me, I fell asleep and woke up next to you, and that was enough. I finally had one slice of my life that I felt I no longer needed to strive for, that I needed to constantly try to improve or otherwise change. I had you, and every day I woke up and saw that this was true, I was contempt. The part of my life that mattered most was finally enough, because of you.
Do you remember the night when I told you I found a job? ENLC, the company that would put me on track to leave Arkansas and start a career that I wanted so desperately to be apart of. I was elated to share how many doors that job could open for me with you. Then you cried in my arms because not once did I mention you, I didn’t mention us as a part of my plan for the future. That was the first time in a long time I was scared. I was scared I was going to lose you, I didn’t want to lose you. I could always proudly tell you the truth, and I never lied to you. I told you the truth; I had no intentions of giving you up for that job. I told you that the one thing that drove me more than anything else was to find someone I could build a home with, and I wanted that to be you. So that’s what I told you, that as long as you were willing to follow me, I would take that job, and I would happily wait for as long as I needed to for you to join me. This never changed, and I was pleased to hear you accept those terms.
When I finally moved to take that job I found people that shared my passions, friends that were all about sharing experiences that I wanted to partake in. I’d never experienced this before, and I haven’t experienced anything like it since. Watching that slowly fade away wasn’t something I was very fond of, but I was powerless to stop; the world doesn’t revolve around me as much as I’d like it to sometimes. But that whole time I was with those people I couldn’t believe how much I felt was going right in my life. I worked on something I enjoyed, spent leisure time doing the things I liked with the people I wanted to do them with. Every day I slept and woke up alone, missing a single puzzle piece. Yet I was comforted by the thought that in the not-so-distant future, I would have you by my side again, and that was enough. I was finally satisfied. However, there was one thing that bugged me. I told you when I moved that the greatest strain on our relationship would be my lack of constant communication with you, that it was something I’d never been able to fully grasp. I tried harder for you than anyone else I’ve ever known, even my own mother; she knew this and was grossly jealous of you for it. But despite my efforts, it wasn’t enough for you, and this troubled me. I texted you, called you, and wrote you letters. Sometimes all in the same week! I’m simply not capable of seeing the importance of telling someone how little has changed in the day-to-day monotony of my life. I’m a creature of habit, my habits don’t change. I wasn’t going to call you to repeat the same thing I told you the day before, except that I had something different for lunch, or that the weather had changed. If that came across as me not caring to know about you, or what you went through daily, I’m sorry. What I don’t consider important in my life doesn’t mean I hold it to be the same for others, if you wanted to talk all you had to do was speak, I would happily listen. Don’t force me to talk too.
When you made plans to come and see me, it’s a complete understatement when I tell you that everyone at work knew how deeply I cared about you, and were so exited to finally meet the person I wouldn’t shut up about. I talked about you visiting for weeks, asked for ideas on where to take you, places to eat, group activities to take part in so you could see just how much I’d come out of my shell and show you the people that I called friends, people that I just knew you would be able to call friends too. The day you arrived I took off work, the only official day off I planned the whole working season. Greg told me to stop talking about you that morning before he left for work. When I realized shortly before you called me that I had completely forgot the time change and was going to be an hour late I was gravely upset and embarrassed with myself. I went 20 miles over the speed limit to try and make you wait as little as possible. I didn’t tell you just how sorry I was about being late, I was beating myself up the whole way back, especially when you told me that it was totally a mistake I would make. I decided I would do everything in my power to make it up to you the rest of the time you spent with me. So I filled our days with activities, I wanted to show you just how much fun we could have together there, when I think now all you really wanted was to rekindle our relationship. I didn’t see any signs that things were wrong, all I knew was that I had you beside me again, and that was enough to make everything okay. But that was just for me, I never stopped to ask you anything of the sort, I just expected you to air grievances like you did when we lived together in Russellville.
The night you accused me of harboring feelings for Jess was the first and only time I was ever mad at you. I always told you the truth. I never harbored feelings for anyone I worked with, they all knew I was happily taken and I would’ve rejected any and all advances. I was hit on countless times by random people at bars but I never once entertained the idea of being with anyone else, because I had you, and you were all I needed. Hearing your accusation cut me like a knife, and the only reason I was able to let that go was because it was you. I couldn’t stay mad at you, especially when you apologized for it. But those words changed me, they planted a seed of doubt inside that I fretted over for the rest of our relationship. Before you left you asked me a question. A question I had heard from you before I moved to Elko; “What happens to us?”. I gave you the same answer that I did then. I was here, waiting for you to join me, and I would wait for as long as I needed to. But this answer didn’t convince you like it did the first time. I had to try harder to impress upon you that my words still rung true. I’m not convinced I ever did just that. When you finally told me your schoolwork was done, and you were ready to start looking around for hospitals to finish your schooling in was simultaneously the happiest and worst day I’ve lived so far. It was when I thought I could finally have you again, and when I lost you. I’ve spent the last three years trying to slowly forget that phone call, but I’ll never forget those two fateful questions you asked me.
After you left I thought deeply about the time I spent with you, how it seemed we didn’t connect like we once did, how you seemed to be more withdrawn from me, as if you were preparing for something that I hadn’t yet fully come to terms with. Then you called me. I’m fairly oblivious to most things, but the tension in that phone call I could have cut with a knife before I ever uttered a word. I knew what was coming and I did not like it. You asked me that question again; “What happens to us?”. I, once again, gave you the same answer I had twice before. I was waiting for you to come to me, my last precious puzzle piece. I was dreadfully scared of how much you were potentially sacrificing to move to the middle of nowhere for me, I was intimately aware that I could never have as much to sacrifice as you did in terms of career potential and I let that weigh heavily upon me. I see now that me spending all that time cautioning you about how much you could be giving up to be with me could also be seen as me trying to convince you not to do so, that was never my intention. My answer wasn’t enough this time, so you asked me the last question I ever wanted to hear from you. “Do you love me?”.
I knew that this question was coming, and I hated every moment I waited for it, and hated it all the more when you finally said it aloud. All the times you had told me you loved me before and I had never reciprocated, it was all coming to a head and I wasn’t ready for the curtain call. But I never lied to you, I have always told you the truth about how I felt and my answer to your question was no different. I told you I didn’t know. That answer I have always held to be the truth, even now. The conversation could have ended there, no words needed to be said afterwards, I knew how much me saying those words would hurt you, I was acutely aware of just how painful hearing them from me would be for you. But you didn’t accept them, you made me pick yes or no and asked me to call you back with an answer you could accept. I never thought about that question, not even in the slightest. I sat alone in my apartment thinking about the answer I had already given you. What more could I possibly say to you after I told you those words? What future could I ever hope to build with you after you rejected the truth? I lied to you Valerie, I called you back and lied to you and said I didn’t love you. The same conclusion you came to when you waited for me to call you back. I was defeated, and there was nothing more I thought I could do. I didn’t want to lose you even though I already had, I begged you to stay, to be my friend, to not leave me even though I knew I had hurt you more than I ever wanted to and that there would be no chance you would ever stay with me, and I hated every moment of it.
When we hung up, for what I expected to be the last time I would ever hear your voice, I sat dumbfounded. I was one step away from completing the puzzle I’ve always dreamed about, the piece I had held on to longer than any of the others, the one I never had to worry about losing, I just lost. It turned to sand in my hands and fell between the cracks of my fingers, taking the rest of my puzzle pieces with it. I expected to cry, I expected to scream in frustration for letting you just slip away and not even putting up a fight. I wanted to be angry, sad, enraged, devastated, mournful, guilt-ridden, grieving; I wanted to feel something, anything! But the truth is much more cruel. I felt nothing. I felt nothing when I gave you my answer, I felt nothing when I lied to you, and I felt nothing when I said goodbye. Nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.
I didn’t go to work for three days after I talked to you, everyone was trying to contact me but I wanted nothing to do with anyone, I had lost the one person I never wanted to lose, and it was all my fault. My life fell apart, I started missing work days, I stopped hanging out with others, I started drinking and smoking heavily trying to cope with my new reality. Over the next few months everything crumbled around me. Work stopped and everyone I worked with went away, my roommate Greg accepted a job in Colorado and I couldn’t afford the place by myself, and the funding for the job dried up and next year the crew would be cut to only 3 people. Like the flick of a switch I was all alone again; I had no work, no friends, and I didn’t have you. So I made plans to move back home. The day before I left I got your letter in the mail; I read that letter over and over, but I felt nothing. After everything you still left a small flicker of hope in me, that I could still keep you in my life. I moved back to Little Rock, and I wanted nothing more than to see you, to hear you, feel your touch again. But all I could think about was how much I hurt you, and how you called me apathetic. How after everything, I felt nothing. So I did what I do best.
But my self-destruction doesn’t end there. When you sent me that text asking about the rest of my belongings you still had, I lived only 15 minutes away from you. I lived a short drive from you for months and you handed me the perfect opportunity to see you again. I couldn’t do it, I asked my mother to meet you and gave her implicit instructions to lie to you and tell you I still lived far away. I wanted her to say no, I wanted her to not lie to you and to tell you I was there with her, but she told me she went through with the lie. I hated myself for it then, and I hate myself for it now. Eventually I moved into an apartment with John, my friend you met in college when he came to visit. I lived with him for a year and a half in Bryant as I worked a dead-end job, and every time I ever brought you up he told me how stupid I was for letting you go, and how much of a coward I was for letting all of my chances of reconnecting with you slip through my fingers. I hated hearing the truth thrown back at me, I had every chance and I repeatedly threw them all away. Almost a year ago now I contacted you out of the blue, a desperate attempt to see if you were still there, if you would still listen. I knew what I did was fruitless, but I couldn’t live with the idea of going the rest of my life without trying to contact you again. The answer I got was what I deserved, and I have no one but myself to blame.
You told me I should seek therapy, I didn’t want to. I feared what I would be told, because it would be the same thing I’ve known since I threw all of those early chances away. That I would just need to move on and find someone else, that you had moved on and what we had would never again grace this Earth. A rather bleak outlook but the honest one. Out of respect for you I went to therapy and two months later I moved to where I am now, in Iowa pouring all of my time and effort into a job that will happily let me work 50, 60 sometimes 70 hours a week to keep myself preoccupied. Yet I still found time to get therapy, and the truth about myself that I found out was absolutely catastrophic for me, and, if anything, made me worse because I now know the truth about myself, a truth that I wish with every fiber of my being wasn’t true, but like the passage of time I am powerless to stop, I can only learn to come to terms and cope with this new me. I want desperately to share this with you because you are the only person I’ve ever connected with in a way that makes this meaningful, and I think even though you have probably buried our past it will tie off any loose ends you may have had.
The therapist I saw before I left the state told me that she thought I was autistic, but she lacked the qualifications to properly diagnose me. She recommended several hospitals near where I planned to move that helped diagnose children and teens with autistic disorders. On my birthday this year I called and told my mother the news, that the therapist I had been seeing in private told me I was autistic and asked for her guidance in moving forward. She broke down and cried on the phone with me. Then she told me she already knew. I asked her to explain and what she shared with me rocked me to my very core. I told you about my past, how when I was seventeen I was diagnosed with severe depression and bipolar disorder. But there was another diagnosis that wasn’t disclosed to me. I was also diagnosed with Asperger’s. After I had thought my battle with depression and and bi-polar disorder were through, there was still something about myself that I struggled to understand, even with you I felt it there, always lingering in the back of my mind, yet I could never quite put my thumb on it and give it a name. Now I have it, and it was kept a secret from me for almost 10 years. For 10 years I have been desperately searching for an answer to what ails me, hoping it was something else I would be able to “cure” or “fix”. Only to find out that the person I trusted the most had the answer, and never told me. It was not a reality I wanted to accept. But nonetheless I moved forward and sought out therapy with someone experienced with young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I found that person, and after months of expensive screenings, tests, and hard-felt conversations later I know now that I have what was formerly called Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, and Alexithymia. Getting these diagnoses was honestly sickening. Not just because of what they are, but because of the fact they aren’t treatable. These are conditions I will live with forever, no amount of medication, wishing, or praying will make them go away or lessen their hold on me. All I can do is cope, understand that I have restraints on the parts of my life that I so desperately hoped I wouldn’t have, and that I will live with them until the day I die, for better or worse.
Why is this so important to me? Because when I discovered this truth I was teleported three years into the past, and now I’m stuck. I’m stuck where I altered the entire course of my life. All of these emotions, thoughts, feelings that I so desperately wanted to scream into existence for you, I just didn’t know how. All of my actions from that time haunt me, they haunt me in the waking world, and even in my subconscious. My therapist called it my own personal form of psychological flagellation, that I’m punishing myself because I can’t punish anything or anyone else. But that’s not true. There are people I can blame and punish for doing this to me, but I can’t bring myself to do so. Instead, I am working through my past and identifying what once felt like nothing, and am giving bits and pieces of what once seemed like emptiness names, names of emotions I was feeling so that I can learn to express myself better. It’s painstakingly slow, and agonizing at times, but I’m learning nonetheless.
So with this I want to share with you what I was unable to before. To prove to myself that I’m not an unfeeling monster, to show you just how much I cared for you, and just what you forced away.
The first time you told me you loved me, I was shocked. It had only been roughly two months into our relationship and I was surprised, and frankly scared, of how quickly you attached to me. Only one person had done that before you, Emily. I don’t need to remind you just what she put me through for you to understand my hesitation to reciprocate then. But she wasn’t the only one. I told you that I had used the word ‘love’ before and it was weaponized both by me, and against me. Julie used it to hurt me again and again for months on end, and I used it in haste with Nhu-Thao because I was blinded by passion and naivete. I didn’t want to make the same mistake with you, so I held back. The next time you told me you loved me was before I moved to Elko. We had been together roughly six months then. Once again I didn’t reciprocate but the reasons were slightly different, and these I never fully explained to you. The truth is I didn’t know what love was supposed to feel like. I had only ever used it under times of great duress. I used it when I thought I was going to lose Julie, I used it when I tried to convince Nhu-Thao that my feelings for her were genuine, and I used it constantly with family to try and reciprocate it back to them. I thought love was supposed to feel a certain way, like how it’s portrayed in movies and fairy tales. But I never felt that type of love for you and it scared me. There was no doubt in my mind I wanted to be with you, I was fearful of losing you, and I was willing to do anything for you, except say those three simple words ‘I love you’. Every time I texted you, called you, and wrote you I thought about this. I thought why could I not convince myself that what I felt for you was love, why didn’t it feel like I was in love with you despite me actively trying to build my world around you? Was I scared? Confused? Why was I so apprehensive to convey a deeper meaning of my feelings for you? When you came and visited me I had a fantastical illusion of grandeur on how our time would be spent together.
I was planning on spending a wonderful time with you and on the day of you leaving I was going to finally reciprocate, and tell you I loved you. Even if I still didn’t know if it was love I felt, with the intention of taking you back to Jarbidge when you moved to Elko, and asking you to marry me.
But then I was an hour late picking you up, then came the accusation, and I spent the rest of my time fearing I was teetering the line of losing you, and that fear struck home when you didn’t tell me you loved me the whole time you were with me, or before you left. So I never said anything, and I waited. I waited for that phone call with bated fear, dreading what was to come, that I was going to fall short with you just like I had with everyone else in my life. And when that time came, I failed. You gave me a second chance, more than I ever deserved, and I failed again. Nobody could reach me in those three days after that phone call because I was in the Ruby Wilderness. I hiked a full day deep into the mountains, I dug a hole and I tried to bury my dream. I buried it with countless tears and words. Words of anger, pain, sorrow, longing, and love. Then I drank myself into a stupor, vowing never again to pour as much emotion into something as I did that dream. When John asked me why I never tried to see you when I moved back the answer was never the same, it always changed. Even if only slightly. I never gave him the honest truth because I thought that fear could never manifest if I never spoke it. I was deathly afraid of seeing you because I didn’t know if I would become overwhelmed by emotions and break down in front of you, or if I would stare into the eyes of the woman I wanted more than anything in the world, and still feel nothing.
I want to hate my biological father. He was never there for me, dropped me every chance he could, and gave me this wretched curse that robs me of the only things I wanted to feel with those I care the most about. I want to hate my step-father for all of the years of physical and emotional abuse, for shunning my feelings and wants because he had to settle for me to be with my mother. I want to hate that therapist that diagnosed me and didn’t tell me. Who didn’t even make an effort to treat the root-cause of my conditions. I want to hate my mother, for not telling me for nine straight years, despite the countless times I came to her expressing how much I longed to understand what was wrong with me. Years she spent silently watching me struggle with the things I cared most about, while she watched me lose you, the first person she actually thought I was going settle down with. I’ve had to listen to my mind tell me that if she hadn’t kept this from me, that if I had only known of my condition, I could have understood that my confusion and fear were born from my struggles to understand emotions. That if I could have had that chance to share to share any of this with you; why I struggled to connect with you on the level you wanted, on a level that I wanted. That you and I would still be together right now. That I wouldn’t be struggling alone with all of these emerging thoughts and feelings because I would have the best therapy anyone could ever ask for beside me every day and night, telling me that they love me, and that I’m enough, and that WE can get through this TOGETHER. But if I hated everyone, I would have nobody. I’m alone Valerie, I’ve been alone since you left me and I’m so very alone right now. I’ve tried to be fine by myself, and I am. I find some pleasure in my success and stability, but it will only ever be just fine, those alone will never be enough. I only wanted these things for one pivotal purpose, to better care for someone, someone I could start a family with. I wanted that person to be you.
Thus ends our story, a storybook I have refused to close for all these years after. I’ve laid my soul out before you, all of my guilt, my anger, my shame, and my love. I do this knowing I’ll never have you again, you have him now. I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t envious, but I have only myself to blame. You gave me two chances to be your everything, then you gave me a chance and countless time to be your friend, and I did nothing with it. He better thank whatever powers he believes in that he has you, because if life was even only slightly more forgiving. I would tell you the hardest thing I’ve had to come to terms with.
I loved you, I still love you, and I don’t want to stop loving you.
My final confession is to you Valerie, because it’s the most shameful, selfish desire that I have. I don’t regret that I lied to you and told you no. I regret that I didn’t say yes.