Nineteen and One Day
Updated: Feb 10
I didn’t know what I was getting myself into; eighteen years old and demanding of affection, yet terrified of nothing more. It felt so good to be called cute, to be called pretty, to be wanted in some way or another. Maybe most other girls figured this out earlier, in middle school, well dressed, well liked, confident on the outside, not fearful of attention but fixated on it.
That’s something that bloomed later for me. I didn’t want to be seen, and I certainly didn’t know how to be wanted. Why else would I cover myself in my dad’s fraying old flannels and never leave the house without a beanie? Masked as a teen who just discovered Nirvana, I could disappear.
Regardless, falling in love seemed far out of reach, if not impossible. It didn’t bother me to be eighteen and to have never kissed anyone. It didn’t weigh on me because there was never anyone I wanted to kiss badly enough to fight off the agonizing, stomach churning anxiety that came along with it. Until, of course, it happened accidentally-- and still, I wore my dad’s teal fleece, zipped up to conceal any hint at a figure beneath it.
He was so different. Maybe that’s why he never felt comfortable with people, my first kiss. Maybe that’s why he thought of himself as a novelty, a wild card, a clown beyond a friend to the people in his life. I never did find out what exactly tore through his thoughts; I don’t think it’d help to know how the person you love eats themselves alive.
I did love him. Someone said to me recently that I’ll forever compare everyone to him. To his standard. What standard is that? A panicked, strung out, anxiety-ridden, pack-a-day smoking, dip-spitting kid with receded gums, and nerves so intense I barely existed in his presence? Or on the other hand - a gentle hearted, silly, thoughtful, intense, brilliant, clever, passionate and selfless person. Caring through his pain, loving through his agonizing worry. Intent on being good to me, intent on proving himself capable of the love I gave. But he was sick, he couldn’t love me that same way. He exhausted himself. His brain was unforgiving, malnourished, over-complicating of even the simplest things.
I called him Special, because he was. I called him Sweet, because no one had ever been more so to me. He was so much more than the trouble he faced, caused, drowned in. He was more of a friend than I’ve ever known, and so part of my soul does linger in his traceless footsteps. Wherever he is, my love must shadow over him. It has to, or else where is it going? It can’t exist in me and go nowhere, floating aimlessly with no recipient.
I bloomed because I knew him. I kissed him, nineteen and one day, and he held me, and made me laugh. For the next two years it didn’t matter what he said to me, what he did to me, who he was or who he pretended to be, I just wanted to be held by him, always. Any act was forgivable.
This is how those years passed by:
Intensely, I loved him. I never knew eyes were for staring in so deeply.
We held each other as often as we could, as you do.
We spoke unspeakable things we carried with us, spoke from the inside out, revealing everything.
We needed, we needed, we needed each other.
I couldn’t picture a day in my life he wasn’t somehow a part of.
And then it got harder, and then it started to hurt, and then I started to break.
He was already broken, he had started out that way.
I was a distraction, for as long as I could be, from his inevitabilities.
He did things he promised he couldn’t, he hurt me in ways he promised he wouldn’t, he took his own perseverance and set it aside. I imagine it was easier to be the deadweight you feel like you are than to maintain the idea you’re anything better.
So I sat idly by, ignorantly by, while he kissed me, then went to the bathroom, and backslid. Or sometimes the kitchen. And probably the car. Anywhere where anyone wasn’t. He’d go into the kitchen and close the door behind him, so he could smoke out of the window and not bother me too intensely with the smell. Smoking was okay, it kept him calm, it was something he could hold on to, if nothing else was allowed.
Of course it wasn’t allowed, of course it was drenched in shame. To sneak away, God knows when, in search of anything powerful enough to lift your brain from your skull and let it disappear for a while. To not have to be you, until you weren’t anything but the poison you inhaled.
I stayed up for nights in a row, watching him pace through a studio apartment. I’d beg him to lie down with me, and he’d try, but he’d scare me. He’d scratch the bed, or himself, or point at nothing and ask if I saw the broken glass too. He thought it was deep in his skin, he thought snakes were crawling across the floor, and outside he was certain there was a protest marching down the street. Someone, somewhere, was looking for him. He couldn’t be awake, but he couldn’t sleep. When the crystal meth became a tornado inside him that wouldn’t allow him to rest, he’d use heroin to try and shut it all down- but the wind only picked up and the whirring grew stronger. The brain he wanted so desperately to avoid living inside of lit up all over and consumed him through each hour.
How he ever hid it from me, I don’t know. I was a kid. I hoped it wouldn’t happen, and trusted he’d get better; but it didn’t work like that. Loving someone doesn’t always matter. My will to see him through it just didn’t matter, it made no difference, even though he was all I wanted in the world. I should have known when he first told me he was an addict that it was going to be too much. Nineteen and blinded turned into twenty-one and blindsided, unaware that a world existed beyond him, outside of him and within me.
It’s a hard thing to talk about, because as disturbing as it was for me, I don’t mean to make myself the victim. I don’t have anything profound to say regarding addiction, but I know now how it feels to be helpless. I know what it looks like and it is heart wrenching.
On the flip side, I know what I can and can’t handle.
I know how powerfully I can love another person.
I know how easy it is to lose myself in someone else, and I hope I also know how to avoid it.
I feel--now that time has gone by, now that I’m a little older, a little better, a little more a part of my own identity--grateful. Grateful to be beyond it, but grateful to have known it. Grateful that he let me go, and forced me to exist without him. That he couldn’t allow me to be responsible for him, or to wait for him to one day get better; although of course I’ll hope endlessly that he will.
I feel older.
I waited to bloom, but I wanted to blossom.
Then comes time, and I never saw it coming, to do it all over again. Contrary to what I decided to believe, he was not the only person in the world I would ever fall for. I shrugged it off: well, that was fun, that was traumatic, that was a lot. I guess it’s over with, there goes my person, there goes the match that sparked a fire in me. I understand it is all believed through naivete--and perhaps some societal sprinkling of the hopelessly romantic--but I told myself he was The One, and this was The End. I’d had it and held it and known it and now it was gone.
But frankly I’m not even twenty-two. What was I thinking? ...I was thinking no one existed who was quite like him, and I was right, and that’s okay. Because you are vastly different, and I like you a lot.
I hope this one doesn’t end in hurt, but if it does, I hope I grow to appreciate it for everything it’s going to become, in past tense, will have been. I can handle it now if I could handle it then. As long as it stops raining outside, as long as I remember myself through the knots in my chest and the buzzing in my brain.
I spent so much of my teen years seeking validation. Waiting to be allowed to like myself, to value myself, to understand the inherent worth that comes with being. It’s not that it took a relationship to find myself, it’s that I let the relationship define me, and I had to lose it to remember how to plant my feed hard into the ground. This scary, naive, muddled love that I found, this fear that I found, this pain that I found, this hope that I carry--it all changed my life, and that’s okay.