If you read this, I hope you’ll figure out why I chose “Marcus.”
It was a quarter-to-twelve. Almost the stroke of midnight.
You accepted my friend request. A feeling of peace overwhelmed me. I fell asleep with a smile on my face.
The next day seemed perfect. It was the anniversary of my first major surgery – the first of two. As I pounded the keys of my laptop, I peered at your profile. You looked happy. Biking through Spain. Drinking peppermint tea – in a bar.
But 24 hours later, you unfriended me.
Since you didn’t block me, and I sent a brief private message. Apologizing for my actions after my second surgery and wishing you happiness. But I’ve stopped waiting for the check mark to fill blue. Clearly, the message died in your inbox.
I hope this reaches you. That it travels 2000 miles – or 3200 kilometres – and finds you well.
Just like you found me 22 years ago.
I keep almost everything. Notes from junior high. My Sony Walkman. Fake flowers from figure skating. My white gloves from jazz dancing. Old photo albums, high school yearbooks. All in my memory boxes.
With the letters you wrote after our breakup. This spring, I reread them from a different perspective than an angry, 17-year-old, post-surgical teenager.
But, as I said, I keep almost everything.
Remember when we met? At a social on September 5, 1993 – Labour Day weekend. Our eyes locked, and you pulled a chair for me. We shouted our first names over Def Leppard’s “Love Bites.” I never would’ve guessed you were shy. You hid it well behind those glasses.
We danced to the ironic ballad, and I smelled your cologne over the smoky air. Drakkar Noir. You said you borrowed a spritz from your twin brother. Nice change from Polo and Obsession. You said “blah blah” was a relative, and he convinced you to come out for the social. And I said I went to school with “blah blah.”
After the social, my friends and I joined you and your brother in that van – the one you used for hauling water skiing equipment – and we headed to a house party.
Where I yawned. You glanced at me with your indescribable eyes.
“Want me to drive you home?”
And I nodded.
I realize this could’ve turned into an episode of Dateline with Keith Morrison. But I knew it wouldn’t.
Without a kiss or exchange of phone numbers, we said goodbye. And you called the next day.
You found me.
I was a country girl in grade 12, who wanted to be a lawyer after graduation. You were a city boy enrolled in engineering. I was 17. You were 25.
A former Jehovah’s Witness and a Ukrainian Catholic. A Heathen and a Saint.
The night I called you from my friend’s condo in the city? I remember you picked me up, and we drove around the city for hours. You showed me the university. You showed me where you lived. The same street as your grandparents. You choked up as you talked about your dad’s surgery. You set your hand on mine, and we shifted gears together. I’m sorry if I destroyed your transmission.
Remember when you brought the montage of your water skiing team video to my house? Set to Trooper’s “We’re Here for a Good Time (Not a Long Time).” You were so proud of it. I know you were hurt when my sister abruptly left the room. I wasn’t sure what to say as you ejected the tape. Understand – in a hockeytown – a boyfriend who water-skied was a rarity. And you were my rarity.
You confessed you were a virgin. So did I.
And after a base-and-half, you went to confession. In my defence, you wore Drakkar Noir.
In the beginning, we rarely discussed religion. Marriage? Not on my radar. I planned to establish myself before I traipsed down the aisle. The typical excuse for ignoring that loud thumping noise in one’s chest.
I just enjoyed the present. We’d call each other three or four times a week. Before unlimited plans. You’d phone me midday at school. Just to say hello. Travel 110 kilometres to visit for two hours. In the middle of the week.
You were my prince.
And I started to entertain the infinitesimal possibility we had a future. Beyond high school and university. Happily ever after.
Until the day I received the news I needed another surgery. As an ex-JW, my subconscious said this wasn’t a coincidence. I believed my first surgery was punishment for leaving the JWs. Two years later, I renewed Jehovah’s anger. A part of his former flock was dating a Catholic.
I pushed you away. But you consoled me. You wanted to stand by my side. And I caved. I needed you. You found me. Now, you needed to save me.
The week after I found out about the tumour? The figure skating competition in my hometown? You sat with my family during my performance, and I waved at you before I left the ice. You were impossible to miss in your blazing neon green jacket. That night, we sat in the kitchen – my feet on your lap – eating leftover chicken. With a silver medal dangling from my neck, you said how proud I made you – and you tipped my chin and kissed me.
It was an emotional goodbye. Midterms for you. Surgeon appointment for me. You left. Stood outside my door. Then returned to hold me.
Minus the surgeries – I thought our love was a fairytale. But in reality, it was a looming Taylor Swift song.
The magic started to fade on December 8th. I bartered with my surgeon. Let me write my midterms. Then you can slice into me. But after hearing “possibly burst” and “looks cancerous,” my surgery was slated for the following week.
When my family came home, I went to bed – certain of a premature death. When I awoke, you were sitting on my bed.
“I’m going to die, aren’t I?”
“I have faith God’s watching over you. He won’t take you away.”
I rolled onto my stomach. “I don’t want to hear this.”
You sighed and moved closer to me. “Tessa… the Lord has been good to me—”
“Oh, God.” I groaned and pushed my face into my pillow. “My head hurts.”
“I’ll get you some Tylenol.”
The chandelier crashed. I didn’t want to hear about the goodness of God. Because my former one wasn’t being fair. I was in love with a Catholic. A clergy collar, incense sprinkling, cross-worshipping Catholic. Evil according to JWs.
I believed if I wanted to live, I had to kill my present.
And I prayed. For the first time in over a year. The night before my surgery, I promised “God” if my life was spared, I’d end the relationship. After the surgery, my friends visited me. They disagreed with my decision. One of them asked, “Have you lost your mind?” Her comment was met with untimely silence. But my tampered, angry, bitter mind was made up.
You held my hand as I broke your heart. One of your tears dripped onto the hospital bed sheets. When you refused to leave, and I unleashed the most unforgivable words:
“I don’t love you anymore.”
Your face crumbled. When you disappeared, I sobbed because you were right.
“…you can’t turn love on and off like a light switch.”
But you persisted.
You sent a friend, John, to my hospital room to make sure I was alright. I didn’t know John, but I told him I was fine.
The day I was released, you called me at home. I refused to talk. You called the next evening. Our conversation was short.
Three days a later. Boxing Day. You parked halfway down my driveway, and then you appeared in my foyer. I wanted to collapse into your arms. But I stood at the edge of the kitchen table. We barely exchanged ten sentences. You drove an hour and a half for five minutes.
You placed your first letter on the kitchen table. And you left. But you never knew I went after you. Too late. And I stood on the vacant, makeshift parking spot and cried.
I grabbed your letter and stomped to my bedroom.
“… if you ever felt an inch of love for me, you’ll call me,” you wrote.
I’d listen to that off-the-hook tone. Angry. Emotional. Bitter. And hang up.
No ruby heels could take me back to September 5, 1993. When I was just a girl at a social, and you were just a boy at a table. But rewinding a tape never produces a different song.
Ironically – your final letter arrived on Valentine’s Day, 1994. With a tear-stain.
Marcus, you tried “to fix you and I (us).” You fought for me. But it was a one-sided battle I couldn’t let you win.
Over the years, we’ve spoken a few times – on the phone and in-person. The last time I saw you was in the spring of 1997. At a bar. I was on the upper balcony, and we bumped into each other. You were drinking water.
Our exchange was brief. Later, I watched from the balcony as you danced with a girl in a red dress. Envious it wasn’t me. But realizing, it couldn’t be. And I was happy you found someone – even though that kind of happiness hurts.
Leaving my religion affected me for years. But it’s no excuse for how I treated you. I apologize for hurting you. You didn’t deserve to be “treated as less than you would’ve treated me.” I apologize for not telling you the truth. And for letting you believe you had your “heart played with.”
You wrote you were “in this relationship as a lover, not a dictator.” While the term lover never applied in the conventional sense, you accepted me and my beliefs. Or lack thereof. And because of yours, I shredded your heart.
Which is ironic.
Because once upon a time – I wanted it.
P.S. Thank you for the Wunderbar and pink parrot you left on my nightstand in the ICU.
*Name changed for privacy