This is my third of three entries this week for therealljidol. I invite you to read and vote for the many fine entries. This is in response to the topic "Re-do," where we can redo any topic from this season. I chose to re-do the topic "Three Little Words." If you like, you can read my original entry for that topic first.
I met him at a Millennium Party, where my geeky friends were celebrating 2001 as the true mathematical beginning of the millennium (there having been no year Zero). He was that rare bird, a geek of African-American heritage. He was tall and quasi-muscular, with adorable glasses, and we joked and flirted throughout the evening before absconding to a stairwell for a make-out session. By this time in the evening, he said, he'd usually have received a drink in his face. But he was funny, and I was recovering from some bad relationships, so I just laughed at his sometimes inappropriate jokes.
After our first real date, we began a relationship, of sorts. Living in cities three hours apart, we saw each other in person once a month, along with regular e-mailing and chatting. After a year of dating this way, I had introduced him to my family and all my friends but never even got to talk to his dad on the phone. It was understandable, I told myself; after all, the guy lived in California, and we were on the East Coast.
Gently, he tried to tell me. He told me that there were parts of himself that were just walled off, and that anyone who loved him would have to understand that. Once, he'd been married, and when that went sour, he'd sworn he would never marry again. The woman, he said, now had a child, and when he saw her around town, he was happy for her. She was better off.
In time, I began to wonder: Was he harboring a dark secret? Had he been abused as a child? Was he in a witness protection program (which would have been supported by his dislike of having any photo of him shared online)? Or was he simply incapable of love?
I had learned not to tell him "I love you" for fear of the pat response, "I know." Or worse, silence. My words, I thought, echoed down the hole into the oubliette he had built for himself. He could hear them, but he was incapable of returning them.
Once, while we were getting out of my truck, just as I was stepping outside, I thought I heard him say those three words I longed to hear. But when I came around and begged him to repeat it, he only smiled and said, "You know what I said."
But I didn't know. And I needed to hear it. It was tearing me apart. In many ways, he was my dream boyfriend: smart and caring, supportive of my efforts to rebuild my life. After an embarrassing drunk dialing session, where I kept calling him and calling him, trying to break through his walls, he had calmly told me that I needed to get counseling to get over my old issues of trust.
He was right: I was a survivor of emotional abuse, thanks to a longtime live-in boyfriend I've dubbed Leechboy. Between that and my first marriage, which had been a troubled one, as well, I was incapable of being in a healthy relationship. Perhaps that's why I latched onto a guy who should have been a friends-with-benefits only, demanding from him something he couldn't give.
And then, it happened. We were volunteering at an anime convention with some of my dearest friends, and exhausted from setting up on the first day, we were relaxing in the hotel lobby. My boyfriend had ordered pizza, and when it arrived, a grateful female friend exclaimed, "I love you!"
"I love you, too," he answered. With those words, my world exploded. I stomped out of the room in tears.
It took another six months for our relationship to end, and the day that it did was at a meeting for this same convention. That day, peculiarly, he was wearing a weight belt under his leather jacket, and when I tried to hug him, I felt only hard metal. It was over, he told me. But I'd already known that for six months. To me, he was and will remain Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, showing multiple faces to the world but hiding his true self in a basement no one can reach.
Some words of wisdom, gained from hard experience: if the person you consider to be your "significant other" tells you the he or she is not right for you, believe it.
This is the story I should have written when I first read that prompt. I even thought about writing it. But it's funny, even 12 years later, how difficult it can be to face the truth.