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Slowly, and then all at once.

Writing Prompt: Write a letter to the one that got away.


We haven’t spoken in years. I haven’t even seen you since long before I claimed my diploma. It’s funny. I thought once we parted ways, I would constantly give in to the urge to Facebook-stalk you, that I wouldn’t really be able to let you go, that we would still trade meaningless notes across cyberspace. Good thing I got rid of my account.

To be perfectly honest, when we first met, I didn’t think you were anyone special. You didn't take my breath away at first sight. You were just another coworker to train in a long line of temporary employees. I thought we’d only know each other in passing, maybe for a month or two, even a semester while we worked in shifts amongst parties and class schedules at a University where it was easy to be just another face in a crowd. Somewhere between running a cash register and answering stupid questions from shoppers, playing beer pong with mutual friends and eating bad protein bars on the way to class, we became friends. I’m still not sure why. We didn’t really have anything in common.

You were majoring in something involving numbers. I was majoring in something involving words. You couldn’t understand how someone could love the written word as much as I did. I couldn’t understand why you would want to spend the rest of your life doing math problems. “What’s your favorite color” was your favorite pick up line. A few of the girls from work and I used to tease you about it. I can’t even remember how that came up, but for some reason, we thought it was the funniest thing in the world, especially when one of the new girls would launch into an explanation of why yellow was just perfect. You loved movies where people blew things up. I loved movies where it turned out nothing was as it seemed. You stayed up late. I got up early. You loved steak. I loved salad. You did things fast and loud. I preferred to watch and smile. We shouldn’t have clicked, but we did.

I remember spending three hours on the phone with you on a Saturday night. A Saturday night when we both could have been at house parties, flirting with other people, getting drunk off our asses in the college way, and instead, I laid on my bed and listened to you prattle on about your classes, not wanting to go home the next weekend, hating work, worrying about your best friend in the marines, and your ex-girlfriend who went to our school. I propped my feet up on the wall while you clicked away playing some stupid computer game that I hated. You listened to me talk about my worries about my major, how I thought I was taking the wrong path, my dislike of my roommate, how much I missed my high school friends, and how I would never understand how sorority girls could spend all day in high heels. We talked about nothing and everything, and it was comfortable. I liked being so close to sleep in the middle of the night with your voice in my ear, listening to your breathing slowly evening out, but I ignored what that could have meant.

We changed our majors at the same time, right about the time you left the job and I used it to fill empty hours in my day now that I wasn’t reading volumes of poetry as part of my assignments. We both moved on to subjects involving more science. Our studies moved closer together and we moved just a step apart. You would come in and see me when I was working, coming up behind me and touching my hip to get my attention when I was on the phone. I probably should have recognized it as an intimate gesture at the time, but it was just one of the things that made up our friendship. I would take a break to grab a smoothie with you, and we’d talk about the freshman in my behavioral psych class who kept hitting on me and the girl you made out with who turned out to be engaged. Now, I realize we probably did it to make each other jealous, though we never would have admitted it. There were so many questions of why we weren’t together from coworkers and friends, how we could spend so much time together and have nothing physical happen. I couldn’t explain it. I would stammer and stutter excuses about you being interested in other girls and me not looking for a relationship.

I lied. It was easier than admitting what I was feeling.

Looking back now, I think about John Green’s words from Hazel in The Fault In Our Stars. Hazel fell in love with Gus just like falling asleep, slowly, and then all at once. It’s the perfect description. I wish I could come up with something as gorgeous. I can’t pin point the moment where it was more. I don’t know when or why it happened, just that it did. We talked all the time. We met for study dates even though we didn’t have any of the same classes. We were each other’s date to parties. We would fall asleep between text messages. When we went home to see family we would spend half the time on the phone together. We were everything and nothing, and over time, it was frustrating and confusing, and it couldn’t move forward because neither of us was willing to take a step.

You and I wanted completely different things in life; I imagine we still do. You loved horses and uniformed heroes. You wanted a ring and kids and a white picket fence one day. You loved beer and country music. You wanted hunting trips in the fall and fishing in the summer. I guess horses are cool, as far as animals go. And country music can tell a great story. But I wanted none of those things. I love my isolation. I like sitting by the window and watching the rain pound the streets, not being out in the sun. I don’t want to subject children to my authority. I prefer vodka if I drink at all. I’ve never liked to fish. Watching them be pulled from the water, flopping and gasping for air they can’t breathe, it’s never filled me with a sense of accomplishment.

There are days when I wonder what it would have been like if we had done more than hold hands to keep each other steady at a party or fall asleep on someone’s couch at three in the morning because we didn’t have the energy to go home. I remember how perfectly in place I would feel with your arm around my shoulders. I think about how I could have gotten lost in you if I just let go, stopped holding back. I could have let the clichéd butterflies win out when I was around you. I think about how you once asked me why I was so quick to argue with you, why I let you get so far under my skin when you would tease me while I could let everyone else’s words roll on by, and I told you I didn’t know – you were just irritating. We laughed and let it go, but I wonder what would have happened if I had told you the truth, that I was slowly falling for you and it terrified me.

Then, I remember the fish. How getting lost in you, I probably would have been just like them, leaving the place I truly wanted to be for something shiny and plastic and dangerous. I would have pulled against the line once I realized what was happening, that I was stuck. I would have thrashed and fought you, I would have gasped for air that I couldn’t quite catch, and I would have died in your hands as you boxed me in. We weren’t good for one another. I know that because of the way I let you make me feel as our friendship slowly faded away. You were never going to be the kind of guy I needed you to be, and I never would have been the kind of girl you needed me to be. I know that.

So, I think maybe it was better this way. Maybe I learned something about myself when I pushed you away. Maybe I’m still afraid to fall. Maybe I’m still afraid that love will leave me gasping and stranded. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

But I know now that I’ll recognize that feeling when it comes along, that I won’t continually hide it from myself, and that I don’t want to spend my life wondering about what ifs, that the next time I start to slip over the edge, I’ll let go, just to see what could happen. Even though I let you go without a fight, even though we never took that next step, our relationship taught me not to hold back every part of me. I’m still working on that. But it’s mostly because of you.