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You met me at a very strange time in my life.
What I mean is that you met me at a time in my life when you were the last thing I expected to meet.
You met me when I was co-starring in a Jewish production of The Importance of Being Earnest and, if that’s not strange enough, it was also a time when the only war I’d been truly exposed to was a touring cast’s production of the musical Hair.
It was a time when I understood love, and heartbreak, and loss in the scope of a world that is much smaller than my world now that you’re in it.
You met me when I was attempting to follow a set path for my life and, though I was fine to acknowledge you at the time, I was pretty sure your presence on that path was fleeting; you were just an unplanned blip in a 10-year plan that had no lasting room for you, and I expected you to fade into my repertoire of memories of things I’ve done, but that don’t define me.
And although all the other parts of me that existed during the time when you met me (my hopeful career as an actress, my first non-theater job in the city, my little house on Franklin Road) are now safely in that repertoire of my past, you are still here. You are the only thing that stuck with me through that very strange time; you are the only thing from that past that I’ve let nestle comfortably into my present, and indefinitely into my future.
Which is completely silly, because you’re arguably the thing from my past (and my present)(and my foreseeable future) that I hated (and hate)(and will hate) the most.
Although honestly that first non-theater job in the city is a very close second.
There are a lot of words and phrases that define me. In the past, they have been “actress” or “first clarinet” or “bachelor of arts.” Today they are “editor” or “bill payer” or “morning DC metro rider.” But in your one word, you are a thousand more words than any of those other words have been. Those words may be me on the surface (behind the tired indifference on my face pre-coffee or post-gym), but you are me in my heart. And in my bones. And in my blood.
You have changed not the way I see the world, but the breadth of things I am able to see in the world, and thinking back to the world I lived in before I knew you is like thinking back to a fable in a storybook that only existed for a moment, on paper, and in my imagination.
And when you are over, for this round at least, you will leave more scars than my morning metro ride. You will leave more heartache than a bombed audition and more annoyance than a late credit card payment. You will leave more frustration than any single missed Skype call, and more rage than the time when all you asked from me during your nine months was to send a container of Old Bay, and all the stores I had time to check before the post office closed were completely devoid of Old Bay, because apparently people outside of Maryland don’t understand the importance of properly seasoning a crab cake or an MRE.
You will be more than those things, because you have taught me that a missed Skype call may be missed, but the life who gave life to that call is still living, which is good enough for now.
(And that no post office employee is going to sympathize with you when you’re crying at 11:30am on a Saturday about a missing container of Old Bay, because that’s something a crazy person would do, and you are not crazy. So maybe you should stop crying.)
(At least in public.)
You have made me stronger in three years than any one thing in the combined previous twenty-three. You have tested my patience, you have tested my ability to love and be loved, and you have tested my ability to be lost, and then to find myself again. You have tested my ability to live—on my own, with you, and without you. At times (such as, perhaps, that day in the post office at 11:30am, sans Old Bay), I have performed poorly. Often, in fact, I perform poorly; I won’t pretend I’m the example of how any sane person should be with you.
But I’m still living. And I’m still loving. Within you and without you.
“At the time, my life just seemed too complete, and maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves.” –Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Aileen Brenner is a soon-to-be army wife who currently works as an editorial assistant for a legal magazine. She blogs about her fiancé’s tours in Afghanistan, her coping mechanisms, her love of cheese, and her journey from a gun-fearing childhood to military wifedom at http://armypantsandflipflops.com.
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