I fell in love with him reading a book that had waited on my shelf for two years with the kind of patience possessed only by books and God. It had not cracked or whined as I'd opened its pages; there was no gruff introduction, no distance it kept as I turned one page and then another. I swallowed his words whole, or contentedly chewed them, like gummy worms, feeling the way they slid over my teeth. I smiled, and laughed out loud, and quoted him, and wrote notes in the margins--sometimes to myself, but more to him: replies, agreements, abbreviated mentions of memories and cross-references. Things to talk about one day. And he agreed with me, yes, but furthered and countered me, too. I would feel, at times, my brow furrow into hard curves--it's not like we never argued. Graceful question marks would occasionally bloom in the margins, causing me to return and reread and roll my brain around in the dark as we drifted to sleep, one under covers, one on the nightstand.
But I didn't quite know it was love until I saw him. Does it count as love at first sight when his words had long since broken down walls stone by stone, spoke grace and commiseration and healing into me, saturated my brain like pancakes in syrup? The words he spoke from the podium were new but the same, and when my moment arrived and I stood at the table, I waited for him to recognize my connection, my attachment. His laugh was easy and disarming, and the photo we took was joyous--a meet-cute if ever there was one. I left that day, two more books in hand, taking care to remember my clothes (the corduroy jacket that smoothed my waist), the weather (clear, cold, breezy), the way I felt like the girl in the middle of the fairy tale, catching sight of the dream and reveling in it long before the hiccups were hurdled.
It's important to say that I knew I was crazy. I knew how ludicrous it was, how impossible, how unreal. But someone would end up marrying him, wouldn't she? And of all the millions of someones, why was it impossible for me and possible for her? Every time I called myself crazy, I was reminded of every crazy thing that fit together at impossible angles to make a life.
But you know how this story ends, I suppose.
Years passed, and like most unreturned love, mine banked and embered, flaring less and less frequently, glowing dimmer and dimmer. And one day a friend texted me to tell me he was married--to a normal, everyday looking girl. She even wrote a blog post about how impossibly weird it was that she married him. How crazy that was.
It would be easy, now, to insist it was just fascination, just obsession or "a weird time for me." My friends allowed all sorts of wiggle-room to let me say it was all a running joke. But that wouldn't be true. No, it wasn't "real" love, not in the sense of a real-life, hands-in-the-dirt, working-out-the-rough-stuff relationship, but I loved him as much as it was possible for a girl in Portland to love a man she didn't know in the other Portland.
I sat staring at the text and waited, with no small degree of trepidation, for the break. The tears. The heartache, the frustration. But instead of a hard wave, it was an easy tide, creeping up and over and then sloping back down and into the sea. The hurt brought something else with it: a sense of things being as they should, a gratitude for what love and imagination can give, and the open space left behind when the pipe dreams drip dry.
I write all that to say this: Falling in love with a writer on the other side of the country didn't kill me. It didn't send me to a psych ward, it didn't distance every normal friend I had, it didn't ruin me for all men. And I learned things--about me, about how love spills and plows through the brain, because of him. There are still vestiges of what we had--the inevitable fossils of any love that has dried and calcified into a shadow of itself. But though the stony edges aren't smooth, neither do they cut and hurt.
I wish him--and her, this crazy blogger--nothing but good. I wish them all the hard-but-worrth-it, the real-life, the dirty-hands rewards of love in this broken world. I wish her a constant remembrance of how crazy life is, and how realized love is a gift. I wish him the same--and that he would not wonder or step down other crazy roads, but blend his life and words to hers. I have nothing left but thankfulness to him, for sharing himself in words to me and ten thousand like me.
I remember those days like the remnants of a good story, snuggled in layers and pillows and turning page after patient page. His remains the only book I read in one sitting, never even getting up to refill my mug. His words still speak hard truth and gentle healing into me when I return to them. But he is hers now, and I am okay. Unbroken. Alive. Waiting for someone else's words, heart, life.