But not THAT kind of “Dear John”
I began writing this while I sat in the Manchester International Airport, anxious to get on the plane that would take me home to you. It’s been a long time since I wrote you a love letter (as opposed to a loving note in a card), and this medium seemed appropriate this time around–a sort of broadcasting of what your love means to me on your 34th birthday, the year of so many changes. So here it goes.
I never knew how to love until I met you, and as we both know, often I didn’t make it easy because loving and being loved, truly, requires an opening of the self to vulnerability and uncertainty, to reward but also to the risk of pain and loss. By 18 when we met, I was already a professional at safeguarding my heart, using people here and there as playthings that would eventually lose my interest. I had never put much thought into my “perfect man/woman,” and I had certainly never wanted to get married–I rolled my eyes so hard when, in middle school, one of my best friends wanted to draw her friends in their future wedding dresses.
But then you happened. And you didn’t walk into my life. I stumbled into yours, as you sat on the floor of the Tallahassee Mall, casually leaning up against the wall of a restaurant that has long since gone out of business. I can still see your blue board shorts, well-worn tie-dye tshirt with a peace sign and read “Make Love Not War,” Birkenstocks, tattered visor, and short buzz cut. Your tanned arms were stretched out as you balanced them on your bent knees, head tilted back in relaxation while you waited for me and your best friend to arrive to see a movie we had yet to choose. (Unfaithful was an awkward choice in hindsight. Hahaha.)
“Shit, shit, shit,” I thought. “I’m not going to get away from this one easily.”
And I never wanted to get away. I knew that I loved you within two weeks of us dating. I knew before you asked that there was no way I’d let you go without trying the long distance thing when I went away for college. I knew before we reconciled that I didn’t want to lose you after our first big argument around month 7 of our relationship. I knew I’d never find anyone more special than you when I confessed that I wanted to get a PhD, which would derail our original plans after I finished my MA. Your response upon my laying it all out–that you’d have to follow me not just to the PhD program but to wherever a job turned up afterwards–still makes me cry with disbelief that we found each other.
“That’s okay. I’ll follow you. They need accountants everywhere,” you said.
I don’t think you appreciate how rare that reaction is. I know that had I been in your shoes, I couldn’t have done it–the same way I know that I’d make a terrible military spouse unless I was the one in the military.
But more than anything I know that I would not be this open to love had it not been for you. You cracked the wall or thawed the heart or something. You threatened to pull the car over when I wouldn’t communicate; you followed me from room to room when I was upset; you hugged me and waited for me to speak; you gave me room when I needed it, but never let it go; you dragged me out of myself, kicking and screaming, longing to remain locked away where no one could hurt me. But no one could know me either.
I’d like to think I’ve done something similar for you, but you taught me the most important parts about love: to love is to have emotional courage in leaping into the abyss and to trust that it won’t simply swallow me whole. It is a relinquishing of the ego and pride to connect with another on a profound level, to seek understanding and knowledge of another Self’s inner life, a life filled with its own desires, aversions, dreams, and fears. Until I had learned all of this from you, I had never really loved.
And it is because of you, and only you, that I step into parenthood with open arms and an open heart, daring the world to crush it.
Feliz cumpleaños. Te amo hasta el cielo y las estrellas para siempre, mi Juanito.