Everyone has at least one person they remember fondly as “the one that got away”. Looking back, I honestly think I have a few. However, it is that very first one that got away that will forever stick with me and haunt me.
I knew him back in high school. We met during my junior year when I was moved downstate to live with my sister. When we met, we both were with other people, but we clicked instantly. He was that larger than life, walks to the beat of his own drum type of guy that just seemed perfect in every way. I admittedly had the biggest crush on him. We seemed forever drawn together, walking that fine line of innocent flirtation while staying loyal to the people we were with at the time. It was a puppy love level of infatuation for me, the likes of which teenage rom-coms are made from.
One fateful weekend, I had gotten in a fight with my then-boyfriend and he had ended the relationship. Likewise, my crush had just split from his on-again, off-again girlfriend. Our window had been opened, albeit very briefly. Our group of friends hung out that weekend but we gravitated directly towards one another. We found ourselves leaning on each other in our shared heartache. We talked and talked and eventually we kissed. That night felt like perfection to my teenage self.
Within a few days, we both ended up back with our respective exes. Our window had closed and would never reopen for us again. I cannot regret it because my high school sweetheart and I would have our daughter a couple years later. Yet, part of me always held tightly to that night and pondered the what ifs. If I had to only choose one person to hold the title of the one that got away, it would be him.
What lingered even moreso than the kiss were his words that night. I had never had anyone be so sweetly kind, compassionate and encouraging towards me before. He had gone on and on, telling me what a fool my ex was for ever letting me go. He assured me I was smart, funny, beautiful, creative, wonderful in every way. He told me I deserved so much better in life and that I should never settle, that I deserved to be happy and be with someone who cherished me and treated me right. By the time he was done, I felt as if I was perched precariously on a pedestal I did not deserve.
He had said every single thing every woman longs to hear, yet at the time I could not believe any of it because I had already begun my spiral into depression and self-loathing. I was convinced he had only said those things to be nice, out of some strange obligation to make me feel better. Yet for years I clung tightly to those words, cherishing them as something I longed to be true, that one day I might be worthy of his words.
As years passed, we talked less and less and eventually lost touch. I was trying my damnedest to escape my past and, regrettably, that meant losing anyone connected to it, as well. The last time we spoke, we shared pictures of our children and stories about our lives. We laughed and joked like no time had passed because that was always our way. We never talked about our one night, not then, not ever. He talked so passionately about teaching and fatherhood. He seemed honestly happy. My life was far from there but I painted on a smile and wore that mask to reassure him that I was doing peachy, as well.
We never had a chance to speak again. A little over a year later, he killed himself. Apparently, he was an expert at wearing a mask, as well. He had been struggling with depression himself for years. We were more alike than I had ever realized.
I didn’t even find out until almost two years after his death. It tore me apart in so many ways. I had an irrational guilt I could not shake because I kept feeling like I should have been there, been a better friend. I got drunk for the first time ever because I needed so badly to escape myself and my feelings, even if just for a night. I couldn’t stop crying. I kept wondering why, when I had walked that edge myself so many times, he was the one dead while I was still alive. It felt so unfair.
My mind kept going back to that one beautiful, fateful night and all those amazingly wonderful things he had said. He saw so much in me even when I could not see it myself. I had always cherished those words and prayed that one day I would be able to be that person, to find some truth in them.
There are no words or actions that could ever bring him back. You cannot change the past. I found myself longing to do something, anything, in remembrance of him, something that would honor his memory. I will continue to write and to reach out to others struggling with depression, but that is a mission I began even before feeling the pain of his loss. While he will forever be on my mind now whenever I talk anyone off that ledge, he deserves something more personal and meaningful than that.
Again, I find myself back at his words that night. I have decided I shall embrace them fully, repeat them all daily as my mantra until they become my reality. I will learn to love myself and to see myself as the woman he believed me to be all those years ago. I will fight harder than I have ever fought to overcome my demons because he once saw a beautiful light in me and I refuse to snuff that light out.
I will embrace myself and love myself fully. I will see the intelligence, beauty and worth in myself. I will no longer settle nor will I let anyone ever again treat me like I am less than a person. I will learn to treat myself with as much kindness and compassion as I have always shown others and I will learn to forgive myself for not being perfect.
I used to think I wanted more than anything for his words to be true. Truthfully, what I want more than anything is to have him back and to make things right. Unfortunately, I cannot unring that bell so I shall settle for making his words into reality so a little piece of him will forever live on in me.
To that place where beautiful dreams go to die, I send lovingly to Matt: A piece of my heart will always be yours and will always love you. It is that piece that I shall use to love myself, as well, for you saw it all in me before I could ever see it in myself.
Republished on Your Tango on 12/1/16.