The Only Thing I've Ever Wanted

One day, whether you are 14, 28 or 65

You will stumble upon someone who will start a fire in you that cannot die.

However, the saddest, most awful truth you will ever come to find

is they are not always with whom we spend our lives

From "Hunting Season", by Beau Taplin

I remember the moment I first saw you. December 7th, 2007, around noon. I think that Friday was my first day of middle school. My family had moved us all in about a week earlier. My parent's dream was for us kids to become Americans. My dream was to run away from my childhood.

Our home got broken into on St. Patrick's Day of that year. I've never felt safe again. First robbery out of six so far. Just finished up some surgery that year too. After three years of going to the ER, every month, for some heart condition. Living on borrowed time. I was bullied (by girls no less), and I bullied others. Suffering begetting suffering.

I thought this would be my lot in life. The only thing that kept me going was the one promise I made to myself, after a particularly bad day at school.

I will survive. I will not die here.

When the time came to move, I thought my life in America would be the same as my life in Canada. Maybe worse. All my friends said so, to try and get me to stay. I remember how I thought all the kids in America would mirror my one whip-smart American friend, or learned calculus by eighth grade. I remember the desperate evenings looking over a copy of Barron's "Painless Algebra" to try and make up for lost time. I remember constantly looking over my shoulder. Always on guard. This scared, angry little kid looking for a fight.

I needn't have worried. That first day, when I saw you laughing in the cafeteria with your friends during lunch period, I thought to myself, "if angels lived in America...maybe life here isn't so scary after all".

I loved everything about you. I loved the way your hair shimmered with the sunshine. I loved how your face lit up with those dimples when you smiled. I loved the sound of your soprano voice. I even loved the adorable way you cleared your throat. I don't think words could really say just how much I wanted you. How perfect I saw you. Maybe that's why I'm painting a picture, and hoping a thousand words is enough.

I think that's why I avoided you like the plague. You terrified me.

You terrified me because I didn't want to feel. I wanted safety. I thought I could find safety in glory, wealth, status, the things other men respect and maybe fear. I thought these things would keep me and mine safe from all the terrors in the world. So I wouldn't hurt anymore. So I wouldn't suffer anymore. Wanting you got in the way of that, and to that end I saw wanting you as only a distraction.

You terrified me because no matter what I did, I couldn't get rid of this feeling, this all-consuming, white-hot inferno, this alien fetus growing in my heart. I'd never felt anything, in kind or scope, like wanting you before. I was afraid I'd do anything for you, like losing myself. I only felt in control when I wasn't around you.

You terrified me because deep down inside, I was ashamed of who I was, this broken, scared little boy. I knew if I let you close and you really knew who I was, you wouldn't ever want me. I knew that my terror made me cruel, and if I ever hurt you, I'd never forgive myself.

Yet you were the reason I got up in the morning. Why I looked forward to the next day, and the next, and the next. All the way until it was too late.

I remember the day I gave up wanting you. Officially that is, if there is such a thing. September 26th, 2011, 2:45PM Eastern Time in Cafcala's art room. I remember writing that letter on the nice thick paper in the art room, sealing it, and giving it to our mutual friend. I remember thinking it's over, I won, I conquered my emotions and my heart, and maybe I could go back to the way things were, back to the days before I met you.

I was wrong. You don't choose between your mind and your heart. Because while the mind serves, the heart has no master. There was no going back. How could I?

My heart turned on me that day, and ever since I've been trapped in a frozen conflict, this civil war without end. I want wanting you to be over. I don't want wanting you to ever be over. It kills me to remember you. Remembering you makes me feel alive. I want to be the guy who can have you. I am the guy who can never have you.

Can you want what you've never had and experienced? Is a broken heart the most terrifying thing in the world? No. There's at least one thing more terrifying than a broken heart. That's the heart that refuses to break. The heart that yearns only for ghosts.

For years, I was scared to go to sleep at night. My subconscious would just play the same movie, again and again. The thing I was afraid to want during the day, and couldn't help but want in the night. A happy life spent with you.

I'd fantasize that after tucking the kids in at night, or an evening dancing at home, or having sex, I'd stroke the hair out from your eyes and tell you how much I loved you.

Then there were the nightmares.

Sometimes you'd appear as this ghostly appartion, black smoke shrouding a human form. I'd beg this apparition for mercy, for forgiveness, for the ability to forget you, but it was always silent. Sometimes, I'd be tied to a pole near the beach, watching this hurricane of fire come in over the sand. Helpless against the tide.

Funny enough, the nightmares scared me less than the dreams. I deserved the nightmares. I didn't deserve to see you. I could fall asleep peacefully after waking up from a nightmare. I got up just fine after a dream.

It got so bad, I tried rationing sleep for a month. Turns out a panic attack, having trouble breathing, and having EMS called to your dorm isn't much fun either. So subconscious movies it was.

I plunged headlong into an abyss of apathy. I stopped caring about myself. My grades turned to :shit:, because I didn't want to be smart anymore. Intelligence just reminded me of that fallen choice I made. My heart wanted something to burn, and the temple of knowledge I built for myself started looking a lot like firewood. I mindlessly piled it all on for this pyre, this torch I couldn't stop for you.

I would estimate I cried over you about an hour a day, three or four days of the week, every week for the first three years of college. There's this nice library called Bostock on campus, and I went ahead, picked a nice soft couch on some floor somewhere where people couldn't see me, and I cried until I started choking on my own tears and snot. No, not a pretty sight. I learned to choke quietly so as to not distrub others studying.

Only now do I remember enough things to forget many, and appreciate those memories that remain. When everything else fades away, the only memories left, maybe the only memories worth remembering in the first place, are the ones that make us feel.

I tried to move on, but it hasn't worked. I tried because my parents told me to. I tried because I wanted to forget. But mostly, I tried because I promised you I would.

It's not like there aren't other girls in the world, there are. Girls who are smarter than you, funnier than you, sexier than you, or (probably) more emotionally compatible with me. But I never wanted any of them anywhere near how much I'd wanted you. My mistake was I waited for that feeling of wanting you to naturally come back for somebody else. It never did.

In the end, I didn't get what I thought I wanted, and I didn't get you either. After wanting you, how could I want anything else? So I never did move on, nor have I really tried, if I'm honest with myself.

Everything else. The awards, the grades, the salaries, the career. I do it because I'm told to do it. Or I'm afraid of what happens if I don't do it. Or I've just been doing it for so long that it's part of my identity. It's all so different from that feeling of wanting you. I never wanted anything else but a quiet life with you, and be able to earn your love and affection every day.

You. It was always you. You're all I've ever wanted from life.

All I've ever wanted was to go home, and home is where the heart is. You're my home, and I can't ever go back. After years of aimlessly wandering in this parching desert, home sounds so much like Paradise. Maybe it is, and I think it's my dream.

And for all that, I don't really know you. You're so perfect to me because we've talked less than an hour one on one. All you ever were was a mental projection, a hollow vessel I dumped my teenage hormones and insecurities. I don't even know what your favorite color is.

I thought that maybe when we're adults, we can talk about such childish things. But I should know better than say things like that. There's nothing childish about love and longing.

Yet, for all this imagined loss, all the internal strife and pain and suffering I've painted, I'm so happy you came into my life.

Where would I be now, if I had never met you? Maybe some alcoholic hotshot banker or cynical econ analyst on Wall Street, having finally gotten what he'd always wanted. Maybe some middle manager, married to somebody he's never loved and kids he wished never existed and a mid-life crisis he's too afraid to show the world. To refuse to wander aimlessly looking for a home, because he doesn't believe home exists in the first place. If I had never met you, that would have been me.

It isn't though, thanks to you. That will never be me. I am who I am because wanting you taught me so much about the man I wanted to become.

Wanting you made me respect the terrifying power of love and longing. More than truth, or fairness, or justice, love is why we live. What does it really matter if somebody takes all I have, or burns down my house, or wrongs me otherwise, if I can remember you, hope for another like you, and maybe hold that person in my arms and call her my home? What good are things if I have nowhere to call home?

Wanting you taught me why I should care about myself. To know you're safe, and warm, and comfortable, and to know the world is kind to you, helps me believe the world can be kind to me. That I can be kind to me. It gives me the strength to carry on.

Wanting you taught me it doesn't do to suffer. If there is such beauty in the world as you, how could I choose to suffer?

Who else could teach me these lessons, if I've wanted nobody else for thirteen years? Who else could strike those lessons home, at a time and place where the temple would only fall on my own head to set me straight?

Don't you see? You saved me. Now I get happiness. Now I get sadness. I get to live in the best of all possible worlds, because of you. Where in this dark, lonely world would I be without you?

So if you've ever felt that you couldn't change the world, I just wanted you to know you already changed mine.

(I submitted "On Failure" as part of a writer's workshop feedback session, specifically the section on $RACHEL, and got a favorable response. This piece builds on that feedback and storyline, and hopefully helps give me more of a sense of closure and resolution, which I'm still working on seven and a half years later. This is all real.)