It was the middle of summer when intrigue set in. Not the beginning of summer when excitement is buzzing with the prospect of new beginnings; and not the end when sweat beads from your brow. It was that perfect middle time when it feels like it could last forever. It was that time when chances were taken.
Maybe it was her golden hair, maybe the green scarf donning her neck, or maybe her passion for literature and the unknown, but something said to him, take that chance.
The summer hadn't thrown many new and exciting things her way, until that day in the middle when she sat down and gave the board a cursory glance and she noticed, in the top right corner a little icon that said "1 is new".
Opening mail--any sort of mail--always created butterflies in her stomach and opening this message was no different. If anything, the intrigue was heightened, the mystery intensified because of the medium of the internet. The butterflies intensified as she realized who the message was from: that new guy, the witty one whose post about being accosted in a bookstore by an old woman had left her in stitches.
She smiled as she read that he wanted to get to know her. And so, she replied back, which she hardly ever did, because she wanted to get to know him as well.
He waited for a reply nervously, which was strange because he never gets nervous about these sorts of things, but for some reason, she made him nervous.
When he did get a reply the next day, it was that moment that changed not only the summer, but seasons to come.
The reply was ordinary enough. Simply a hello back and an invitation to chat.
She took him up on his invitation and soon the idle chitchat and short emails gave way to long talks and late nights
They had never online "dated" before. How does one do that? They didn't let their physical distance deter them, however. Since all they had were words, words was what they used. With words, he could take her out on dates to a carnival, a night picnic on an empty field, a tour of the Eifel tower. They could go anywhere together, even if they were so far apart.
One such “date” took place on a crisp fall night when he started describing how she had just heard a knock on her apartment door. He described her opening it to see a handsome blonde-haired, blue-eyed man sitting before her, looking dashing in a tux and holding a bouquet of roses. Then, he described how that dashing young man whisked his lovely lady away; to her a night filled with romance, stars, and rose petal filled restaurants.
The "dates" got really creative, even playing off of her living in the south. They would play this game where they would write each other letters as if they were from the civil war. He, a soldier at war; she, a woman back home on the plantation. They tried to keep it as creative as possible to forget about the actual distance.
They had many “dates” like this, using words to make up for the distance that separated them. These “dates” never failed to make her smile, although she was a little wary of them at first. Would these sorts of dates make it even harder to be apart? Or would the intimacy of these dates make it feel like they were close and add normalcy to their unorthodox relationship?
It turned out that both of these were the case. But the romance and sweetness that he bestowed upon her during these “dates” was like nothing else. It was special and their dates were unique. Eventually, after many long nights spent describing idyllic times, they spent an entire day and most of the night talking, which led to what would be the first of many Skype sessions.
Their first Skype was awkward, which is normal for a first time? His hope was that she could understand his speech, something that most people couldn't. He worried maybe shed find him TOO disabled. What if she thought he was ugly and thought she had made a huge mistake? Other people looked at him different and he knew she was a dev, but could what they have be real? Was she? But he knew the Skyping had to happen in order for this to continue, so he took the risk. She was worth it.
And when he suggested that they Skype, she almost turned him down, almost made up some excuse as to why she couldn't. Meeting guys kind of always made her nervous, she never knew what to say. And what if her roommates heard her talking to some random guy on the internet? It would have been easy to say no, after all it was like three in the morning for her. But something told her to give to go ahead and do it this time. After all, he seemed nice enough, and genuine enough, and not like a creepy perv . . . he seemed worth it.
When she first saw him, there was a little bit of a shock. He wasn’t what she was expecting at all. He looked so normal, just hanging out on the couch, goofing off on the computer like any other guy. And, he was really even cuter than he’d looked in pictures. Suddenly, she was even more nervous than she’d been to start with. The first couple of minutes were awkward hellos and nice to meet you’s and commenting on what they could see of each other’s apartments. She was embarrassed because she had to ask him to repeat himself once; he was embarrassed because he had to ask her to speak up because she mumbled. And then, he cracked a joke about the awkwardness of it all, lightening up the mood. She knew then that nothing had changed from earlier; she still really liked him.
There’s something thrilling about the first night you spend with someone, just aimlessly talking and getting to know each other. She learned that night that he was a wonderful storyteller. He was witty and charming and made her laugh so easily. And, he was polite and considerate and he tried everything he could to make more comfortable with the dev side of herself. And he was so concerned with making sure she felt comfortable and not freaked out by his disability, he didn’t want to scare her away. It was sweet.
She was like no other girl he had encountered. They way she looked at him was simply... different. Different in that, for most people, there was that awkward initial few minutes of proving you were mentally competent to hold a conversation. Maybe it was because they had talked online for days before and she already knew he didn't need a helmet to step outside, but never the less, she was different. He, in some ways, felt guilty. Sure, she was a dev and is supposedly okay with all the disability stuff, but he feared maybe she wasn't thinking things out. He felt guilty he was leading her on in a way. That maybe she didn't know what she was getting in to. He had never felt as though he had the "right" to have an experience like this, in that he never thought he should "date." But it was as if her slight gestures and look in her eyes gave him permission to go for it. So he did.
That first Skype date lasted until four o’clock in the morning for her; one o’clock in the morning for him. The next day she walked around on a cloud, replaying every part of their conversation over and over again in her head. The night had been so pleasant and even after one “date” she was already hoping for more. And many more followed soon afterwards. They soon fell into a routine of talking the afternoons and nights away. They laughed and goofed off and got to know each other more and more each day. And then slowly, things started to change. Her whole life she’d shut her emotions off, ignored things that hurt and things that were scary, but suddenly she found herself sharing her deepest fears and frustrations with him and they discovered in each other, someone they each could goof off with but also be serious with.
And so, as the leaves began to change and the air grew colder, they fell into a mutual like that warmed them to their cores. After many more nights of goofing off and laughing and confiding in each other, she felt a weird and foreign feeling in her being that she could identify. But underneath the foreigness and weirdness, there was a simultaneous good, tingly, fuzzy feeling that she would eventually realize on October 6, 2012 was love.
He thought he knew what love was. Before her, he fell in "love" with someone, but this was different. At first, he didn't know if what he was feeling was love. He DID know it was something though. Then, he realized something, the "love" he felt before had sadness accompanied with it. That's all he knew. For his entire life, a crush, a infatuation, love, they were all joined with sadness. So, he realized, this WAS love. He knew because for the first time he felt love with joy. And he felt love in return.
October 6th was when all of that came together and as they awkwardly sat over a glowing screen, they both mumbled to each other, "...I think...I love you."
Her heart dropped as she said the words. Would he think she was nuts or clingy or crazy? After all, they barely knew each other and they’d never met. That fact alone made her hesitant about moving forward, made her hesitant about letting the words escape her lips. Everyone around her questioned the validity of their relationship as it was. But the hesitancy disappeared as soon as she heard his voice and saw the look of adoration and love on his face.
Saying “I love you” wasn’t the only exciting thing that came about in October. October was an interesting month for the both of them. It held timid suggestions of a visit in December. But visiting was a complicated topic. He couldn’t travel, meaning she would have to come to him. Meanwhile, she received nothing but criticism from her family and friends about the idea of a visit. But, they decided to try and make it work anyway. And so they started making plans, scouring travel sites and becoming Kayak rates, and saving up money for the plane ticket.
In the midst of all of this, they each told their closest friends about the other. One morning towards the end of October she woke up to this terrifying, cryptic message:
“You have no idea how glad I am to be able to read your email and write this text. Something happened tonight, I’m ok, but…I’m just glad I’m able to tell you I love you…I know you’re probably freaked out now, don’t be. We do need to talk today…I know this is very vague, but I don’t want to get into anything on what is supposed to be a lovely good morning message. There’s so many emotions right now, but the main thing is I can sit here and write that I love and you have no idea how happy I am to be able to do that. I love you, I love you, I love you.”
The emotions got to him and after a few moments of reflection he knew that was probably not the best message to send her. Earlier that evening he had gone to a concert. He had gone to several before but the past couple of months he had a hard time with his breathing. Everything was fine and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, his lungs stopped “working”. Literally for about two minutes he couldn’t breathe. And because it was so loud he couldn’t get anyone’s attention. He felt trapped and thought he was going to pass out and die. He saw white spots. And the whole time the only thing he could think was “I didn’t get to say ‘I love you’ to her one last time . . .”
Eventually he was able to get out of there. But something big was on his mind: this experience made him rethink their relationship altogether. He questioned whether or not he should feel guilty to continue dating her. What if he did die? He didn’t want to put that pain onto someone that he loved. Was it right for him to date someone when he knew that there was a high probability that he wouldn’t be around long enough to share the kind of connection he would want her to have? “Should they end it?” he’d asked her.
She’d spent the day worried and sort of angered by the cryptic message he’d left her. She probably listened to the voicemail a hundred times, comparing it to the others he’d left, trying to discern whether he sounded different or not. What could have happened? Her best friend tried to calm her down by saying that maybe the “something” that had happened was he kissed another girl at the concert or something. But some voice inside told her that it wasn’t anything that light and petty. So, as silly as it might have been, she prepared herself for the worst—she prepared to see him drastically changed, like with a ventilator or a trache or something—when she finally talked to him that night later on Skype.
So what a feeling of relief it was when she saw him that evening and realized that nothing had changed, outwardly at least. She listened as he told her of the previous nights events and tears started slowly rolling down her face as he raised the question of whether they should continue what they were doing or not. Her answer was, of course, yes. They decided that hardships were simply going to be a factor in their relationship and they promised each other that if they stuck together they could get through anything together. They were a team.
Amidst all of this emotion, they fell into a familiar and comforting routine of supporting one another with their love and ending their nights drifting off together nightly and always saying “I love you” as they closed their eyes.
As scary as some of the times in October might have been, these times were nothing compared to the trying times ahead of them.
December was nearing and the talk of visiting grew more serious. The pressure was on to solidify plans. Talks with the parents needed to be had and tickets needed to be bought. One night in November she went to visit her parents and told them everything—that she’d met a guy, that she loved him, that he was disabled, that he lived across the country, and that she was going to visit.
Her parents were less than enthusiastic. And they brought to the forefront of her mind every question or concern she’d ever had regarding their relationship and then they dwelled on those concerns. “What would people think?” they’d asked. Where would this lead? Her father asked, “Have you lost your mind—do you really think it’s safe to fly across the country for someone you’ve never met?” To that, she could only concede that her father was right; there was a certain level of danger in it, but that also, she trusted him. “I know him,” she said. “And…I love him.” That sentiment was met with groans and rolling eyes and lots of protests. “How can you really love someone you’ve never met and have only had contact with over a computer screen?” her parents asked. She shrugged and mumbled that she didn’t know, but she could. After hours of talking like this and going around in circles, she felt browbeaten and defeated. As she left her parents house that night they asked her one final question: What sort of life would she be able to have with a man as severely disabled as him, if any at all?
These questions gave way to an emotional night and the beginnings of many strained relationships. And again, the two found themselves questioning whether they should end what they had or keep going.
A week before Thanksgiving, a time where everything and everyone should be feeling warm and pleasant, their world turned upside down. They had decided to keep what they had going, regardless of what her family thought. This was especially hard for her because she valued her parent’s opinions the highest out of anyone’s. But, the decision to continue this unorthodox relationship was hers to make. And people had done crazier things for love before.
It was with that attitude that they decided to approach things from now. The dates were set: December 14-18 was when they would finally meet; all that was left was for her to buy her plane ticket. But, as they sat there the Monday night before Thanksgiving looking at tickets and figuring things up, she suddenly felt overwhelmed. She was afraid of what would happen between her and her family, her and her friends, and . . . she was a little afraid of what would happen once she arrived and met up with him too. Of course, that fear was the one she pushed to the farthest recesses of her mind.
They didn’t buy the plane ticket that night.
Instead, she proposed that they take a break. They should try not talking until after Thanksgiving and think things through. “That way,” she told herself, “I know that if I can get through five days without talking to him, I can get through the rest of my life without talking to him as well.” She knew that this break would eventually lead to an end.
And so they parted with a simple goodnight, she logged off of Skype, called her mother and a close friend, and then cried herself to sleep. Everyone said she had made the right decision and that this would be the best thing in the long run, but she wasn’t too sure about that. If this decision was the right one, then why did it feel so incredibly wrong?
She spent the next few days in a haze. Wednesday she decided that they needed to talk and that things should end. He texted her through a program on his computer and that afternoon when she texted him to get on Skype the message was automatically sent back to her, indicating he wasn’t on his computer. She kept trying to send that one message the rest of the day, until about two o’clock the next morning. She never got a response. So she resolved that they’d talk on Friday, because you can’t end a relationship on Thanksgiving, that’s just bad manners.
By chance, she happened to check her email the next morning and saw an email from him, wishing her and her family a happy Thanksgiving. This email both infuriated her, because they had explicitly agreed to not talk until after Thanksgiving, and made her exceedingly happy. And she told him so in her response back. Thanksgiving passed in a hazy blur and gave way to Black Friday shopping that wasn’t nearly as exciting as usual and suddenly it was Saturday and she realized they had to talk.
At home in her apartment that night she texted him the same message that she had days before: a simple “hey”. They each logged onto Skype and in a voice thick with tears she told him that she couldn’t do this anymore. Even though she loved him, she couldn’t keep hurting her family and the only way she knew not to do that was to end what they had. “But don’t YOU deserve happiness too?” he’d asked her. And while he was right, she just wasn’t sure. She contemplated for a long awkward silence. Earlier that night she’d met a couple who had just been married after a transatlantic long distance relationship that lasted for a year. The woman had leaned over to her and whispered, “We made it work; it just goes to show that if you want something bad enough and you’re willing to fight for it, then everything will work out.” And then much to the woman’s surprise, she had burst into tears.
But that experience had left her thinking. Was the universe sending her some sort of sign that everything would be okay? Was this an indicator that she shouldn’t give up and she should fight for love? She looked at him and all the reasons that she fell in love with him rose to her mind, pushing all of the doubts and fears and concerns out of the way. He asked her quietly, “Tell me you don’t love me.” She didn’t answer. He asked her again, this time with tears in his eyes, “Tell me you don’t love me…” and with a quiet shake of the head, she couldn’t. “Neither can I.” he said.
And so once again, they decided to try and make things work . . . and that it was time for them to meet.
But, it wasn’t all smooth sailing until the fateful day in January when they would meet. Her friends and family had expected her to end it with him. She had told everyone she was ending it, because that’s what she was planning on doing. And so, everyone assumed that what she had had with him was done. And, perhaps wrongly, she didn’t dispel this notion. It was easier to simply go through life keeping what was going on to herself, than to explain that they were giving things another shot and have to start defending her decisions again.
As the days were growing colder and shorter and winter was directly upon them, she surprised him one day with news that warmed them both inside, the same way that a fire warms you up on a cold night. “What if,” she asked suddenly one day, “What if I came in January over the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend?”
He was elated, but he worried she was saying this out of guilt from December. He wanted her to come, obviously, but he was hoping that SHE wanted to come. He told her yes, of course. A few days later she sent him a text of a photograph that was a confirmation ticket. It was actually happening.
He had a whole bunch of preparations in his mind to what he wanted to do over the weekend and how he wanted to pick her up at the airport—with one of those white cards that said her name. He bought concert tickets to surprise her with and looked at different restaurants where they could have dinner together. She was coming in a few weeks and each day seemed like agony for both of them.
Then suddenly about two weeks before she was to arrive he noticed a pain in his nose. He thought nothing of it and went about his normal routine. But it got worse and worse. And the day before she was supposed to come he became severely sick. It was too late to back out but he knew he would have to disappoint her to all the plans he couldn’t make. He could barely sit in his chair to pick her up at the airport on Thursday night when she arrived, but he made sure his face showed how ecstatic he was when she stepped into his van. She was beautiful. He’d seen her before, but only in pixels. To see her inches away from him, to smell her hair, to see her smile . . . he didn’t care how sick he was, he was better just by her being close to him.
Her heart had dropped when he’d mentioned to her that he was sick. She started worrying constantly. Not because she knew that all of their plans would be on hold—dinners and concerts and sightseeing would happen another time—she worried that something would happen to him. Even though he downplayed the situation to her, she knew it was serious.
When the plane landed she couldn’t believe it. She was actually there and in just a few minutes she’d see him. She grabbed her suitcase, made her way through the airport, and outside to the curb where she saw him waiting. Were things going to be awkward? What if they met in person and things went horrible? But, all of her fears were alleviated as soon as she hopped into his car though and he smiled at her and quietly said, “Hey, babe, you’re here.”
It wasn’t a long car ride from the airport to his apartment. They made small talk about her flight, the weather, and his sick. The encounter had the dual tone of a first date and of two old friends catching up after a long absence from each other. When they got to his apartment, before they went inside, they waited in awkward silence for the car to be parked. She stood five feet away from him, awkwardly waiting, and suddenly at a loss for words. “Thanks for inviting me,” she finally said.
He smiled, and even in the dark, it made her feel all tingly. “Well, yeah, of course.” Another awkward silence. “Well, give me a hug, silly,” he said playfully with a chuckle. She laughed, dropped her bag, and wrapped her arms around his thin shoulders. “I love you,” he whispered in her ear. She whispered it back and they headed inside.
They spent the next few hours just talking. She’d never seen Back To The Future so he showed her that and they had their first movie night together, holding hands on his couch.
It was hard for him to breathe and talk at this point, the sick was getting worse. His gut was telling him that he needed to lie in bed, but he just didn’t want to. As it happens, the body takes over the brain and told him this date had to end.
The next couple of days he was in bed sick. He couldn’t get out of the bed and he felt terrible that she had to see him like this the first time they met. He wondered if this was all going to be too much for her and be terrified. All he could do was try and make her feel good and loved and hopefully she wouldn’t worry.
But she did worry. She loved him and it pained her and scared her to see him so sick. The next day they played things by ear. They sold the concert tickets and then watched Back To The Future II. One of his friends came and introduced herself and she went with her to walk around, see the city a little, and have some girl time. When they got back he kept saying that he thought that by tomorrow he’d be better.
But he wasn’t. So she stayed in the living room, not sure what she should do. She wanted to spend time with him and wanted to know he was alright, but she didn’t want to be in the way. Eventually his dad came out into the living room and told her she could go in there. She dragged a chair over beside his bed and grabbed hold of his hand. He smiled, although it looked like more of a grimace, and apologized for how the trip had turned out. She just shushed him and started talking. Talking about stupid things, like a test she had coming up, gossip from her roommates, and how much fun she was having simply being there with him, even though it was like this. He sort of just nodded at a lot of what she was saying and every twenty minutes or so they were interrupted because he couldn’t breathe very well and that had to be taken care of. She tried not to let him see, but she was scared. This wasn’t at all what she’d expected and . . . she was terrified of what was going to happen to him.
This routine lasted the rest of the trip until it was time for her to go. He was too sick to take her to the airport, so a friend of his took her. Goodbyes are always hard. But this one was especially so. “I don’t know when I’ll see you again,” he whispered. Her eyes teared up. “I can’t even Skype right now.” And the pain of the goodbye felt like a knife twisting in their stomachs. As he lay in bed and she sat beside him, they whispered that they loved each other and started to make plans for another visit. That eased the pain of saying goodbye a bit.
The trip, although it’d been vastly different than either of them had planned or imagined, was something unique and special that they were both grateful to have had the chance to experience.
It’s summer again. And the air outside is just as it was almost a year ago when they first said hello. The months since January included a progression of health and a few more visits together. Today, even though things still seem imperfect to those around them, together they sit and write this tale knowing each other is perfect.