A Kiss, and a Confession
[Warning: the beginning of this post contains emotional content unrelated to our continuing love story. If you’re just here for Part the Third and have no wish to hear emotional rambling from Yours Truly, skip down to the part below the cartoon. If you missed the first part it is here and the second part is here.]
Before I get started on the next chapter of our love story, I just want to give all of you a giant thank you. Writing these stories is very cathartic and healing for me. However, the process is very bittersweet and draining. Spending time rediscovering these old memories and stories is joyous, but the fact that I can’t hold her or be held by her or – well, the loss becomes more present after I leave the writing bubble. Doing this takes a lot out of me. But the response and support you all have given me throughout has made a real and tangible difference.
When Julienne died, I no longer had a purpose. I don’t mean that I had purpose as someone who took care of her as a person with cancer; I had purpose for the first time in my life the day we got together. My purpose was to be with this amazing person, to support her and her visions and dreams while getting support from her, to see every day and share it with her. After she was gone, I had nothing. I wanted to be able to write this story, all of it. I wanted to collect all of her writings on cancer, published and unpublished, and put them together so another young person afflicted by it could find it twenty years from now and see that they aren’t alone and gain a tiny bit of comfort. I wanted to do those things. But I had no idea if I was capable of doing it in a way that was good enough for her, the way she deserves them to be.
Meeting Julienne was a test of sorts. Could I tell this story in such a way that wasn’t just depressing, or boring, or cloyingly syrupy sweet? In short, could I tell it in a way Julienne would have liked to read? I’m grateful that I can say that I think it is good enough (barely – it should be better, but perfection wouldn’t be good enough). Your support has convinced me that it is. This week, I rediscovered my purpose in life, and that is to keep moving through it by telling her story, our story. She always said that if a blog post or Instagram story helped one person – just one – going through something, then the effort was worth it. I hope this helps someone today, and tomorrow, and ten years from now, and forever. I’m going to finish this, the whole thing from its fairytale beginning to its fairytale ending, as openly and honestly as I can, with all of the beauty and ugliness of love and cancer and life that I can put forth.
Thank you for helping me find my purpose. I love you.
So there I was, in the booth, minutes after saying not goodbye but see you in a few weeks to this incredible gorgeous opera-singing composer-representing dog-loving beer-drinking faire-going soon-to-be-attorney-for-fuck’s-sake who was, inexplicably from my end, seemingly just as into me as I was into her. I knew she was way out of my league, but she acted like I wasn’t, like I was somebody worth being seen with and spending time with and that part just completely blew me away.
See, I was a late bloomer. And that’s being generous. We moved to Florida when I was 12 in the middle of the school year. My teeth were bad (I’ll never forget this kid who had super-bad buck teeth calling me Bucky the Beaver. Damn that hurt), my hair was bad, my clothes were bad. I’d switched schools, sometimes in the middle of the school year, 5 times in 5 years, from 3rd through 7th grade. No, we weren’t a military family, just a fucked-up one in the wake of my dad’s suicide (or murder! Ha! Who knows! What a wonderful world!). All of that had a bit of an effect on my ability to socialize and integrate with my peers. So when I showed up to school in Cape Coral, Florida, I was a mess. And I was treated accordingly. Kids that age are fucking cruel, man, more casually cruel than any creature on earth, including cats. The boys were bad, but the girls were worse.
Anyway, that helped my self-esteem blossom into a healthy self-loathing. I did have a few friends – well, a friend (chest thump with a fist twice and a point out to my boy Jimmy) – who did what they could to help correct my most egregious fashion choices (turns out knee-socks with stripes, while cool in 1977, were not so cool in 1984), but I was a pretty hopeless case. Three years later, with better socks, newly-removed braces, and a new haircut (I’ve had the same haircut for almost the entirety of my life since I was sixteen! Men’s fashion is bullshit), I looked very different. But I didn’t feel very different. I was still a loner, a social outcast, unable to communicate well with people and afflicted with terrible social anxiety (I still have that, by the way. Some days I’ll skip lunch if I don’t bring it to work because I can’t handle the idea of talking to a cashier whose sole reason to be in the place I want food from is to sell me food because I’m afraid that I’ll do something wrong. Middle school will fuck your shit up, man). I’m better now, thanks to alcohol, good friends, therapy, and Julienne, but I’m not fantastic and I don’t believe other people when they tell me any different. Except Jules.
Anyway, the idea that Julienne, so well-spoken, and funny, and charming, and hot, and witty, and kind, and beautiful, and whimsical, and everything else, would want to spend time with me was baffling, but I wasn’t going to pass up the chance. In my mind, she had sailed through life with beauty and grace, nodding politely and gracefully to all of the people that bowed and curtsied as she passed. How could she not? Take one look and exchange two sentences with her! She’s extraordinary!
In reality, though I didn’t know it yet, she’d struggled just as much as I had. I spoke about her body images issues in the last chapter, but she had more struggles as well. She had more friends than I had growing up, but that isn’t always a good thing. Competition, social pressures and stigmas, and the circulation of really unhealthy ideas and beliefs can wreck a person’s self-esteem just as much as isolation and ostracization (seriously, we should just send everyone to elementary school, then let them be home-schooled for a few years until puberty has finished setting in, then send them back to high school. Middle school is where self-esteem goes to die). So can relationships. For example, take a look at the first sentence of the last paragraph where I describe some of Julienne’s outstanding attributes. She hated when I did that at first, I came to learn. She called it “listing”.
See, the most significant and longest relationship she had before me was with a jackass who would do that same kind of thing. He’d tell her she was beautiful, smart, funny, et al, just like I do when I write about her. Then later, this jack-off would tell her what a stupid, ugly, piece of shit she was, and that she was worthless, and she came to believe that rather than believe any of the “listing” things. She’d only be able to listen to praise if one thing was said about her – and still not really believe it – but “listing” only caused her pain. The fact that this guy, who knew jack shit about anything at all, could do this to such an incredible person like Julienne is proof that none of us know what’s going on inside someone who we think Has It All.
(Later, after I’d managed to course-correct this to a degree [but never completely], I would put this into my vows to her: “I promise that I will refrain from listing your extraordinary attributes, like how brilliant, beautiful, witty, kind, talented, driven, strong, exuberant, hot, loving, charming, gentle, fierce, and otherworldly you are. [pause] I said refrain, not stop.” Holy fuck do I miss her.)
So anyway, I was back in the booth, thinking about how I was going to handle this situation while I did the worst part of faire – breaking down and prepping for next week. Some places had it easy. We sold things mostly made of steel. Steel doesn’t like moisture. Steel gets all sad and rusty when mixed with water. So basically everything had to be oiled, wiped down, wrapped up using the same goddamn pieces of bubble wrap every week because the idea of using new bubble wrap occasionally was apparently unthinkable and also, more importantly, would cost a little bit of money and we can’t have that now can we, then stored into boxes hopefully organized in such a way that next Saturday morning they were in nice groups of similar things that went in the same spot. It never seemed to turn out that way.
While I’m fucking up all the organizing and prepwork I’m supposed to be doing, I’m thinking about to not fuck up this newly reforged friendship/relationship right out the gate. When should I text? How much should I text? Should I text? Do I wait? Don’t look needy. Don’t look uninterested. For fuck’s sake, don’t try to be cool. Don’t be dumb. Don’t be too smart. For super-serious fuck’s sake, do not immediately jam your foot in your mouth. I settle on one idea: don’t send multiple texts in a row if she isn’t responding. Wait for her to respond before sending another. For the love of god.
I somehow managed to finish fucking up all my work, and Matt, Holly, and I walked to the parking lot to drop her off and then head to my place to drop me off. Sitting in the back seat of Matt’s WRX, I summoned all of my courage, bravery, and resolve to send her a message conveying how happy I was that we’d reconnected.
Then I realized I got a text from her.
It was really good to see you.
GAHHHHHHHHH THIS IS REAL THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING
OK man, game time. Agree strongly, but not too strongly. I’m really really happy I got to see you. The feeling is definitely mutual. OK, not bad, you’re kinda repeating yourself there, but you did ok. You didn’t say anything dumb, so we’ll call it a win.
Then we exchange some texts about dinner on the weekend of the 27th. 26 days away. 26 days to get into the best physical, mental, and emotional shape of my life. No pressure. I’m going to look for somewhere between York PA and Newark DE. Fuck. I need to find a good place for dinner with this amazing faerie queen between YORK PA AND NEWARK DELAWARE. Between those two places there is exactly nowhere and nothing, but I figured that’s a bridge I’ll burn when I get to it. We establish that we’re about an hour and a half away when she’s at her parent’s house. Not too bad. I tell her so, and that it’s the same distance I travel just about every weekend I’m not at faire to see my friends in Bethlehem PA.
No response. I put my phone away. Don’t look needy, don’t look desperate, don’t say something dumb.
An hour later, she sends me this:
And then this:
My first picture of her. She’s casual, she’s cute, she’s snuggling a puppy, she’s approachable, she’s human. And best of all she said, “Discuss.” DISCUSS! She wants to hear from me. She wants to discuss. It’s cool, man, it’s all cool, you got this, it’s talking about dogs, you love dogs, you had three black lab mixes, even you can’t fuck this up. I send this:
Now, take a look at my joke about cats. I made that exact same joke in my last post, not even realizing I had made that joke to her 5 years before. I’ve self-plagiarized for fuck’s sake. But, more importantly, focus on the fact that I’m basically shitting on small dogs.
And then – oh, and then – I got this:
Good job, asshole. “Don’t stick your foot in your fucking mouth” I said. You just insulted Spaniel Day Mother-Fuckin’ Lewis before you even knew there was a Spaniel Day Mother-Fuckin’ Lewis.
Did I backpedal? Oh, did I backpedal. I backpedaled like a third-string cornerback lined up on Randy Moss in his prime. I basically turned around and sprinted in the opposite direction and hoped for the best.
Of course, having landed her shot, she laughed it off and told me his name and about how he was getting her through law school. Then she sent me another picture (!) of her, holding Lewis and standing by a horse.
So I send her a picture of Smeg, my beloved first dog who died of (of course) fucking cancer a few years before. We talk dogs a little more, then she says she’s off to watch a scary movie and go to bed. And then she says Again, it was really great seeing you today :).
My god another smiley face yes yes yes.
I am on, like, cloud nine hundred thousand nine hundred ninety-nine. I’m elated. The next day, I send her a text around noon, wishing her a safe trip back to Miami (subtext: hi, I’m still here, I hope you didn’t like sober up and decide that idiot with the hat isn’t worth your time, I hope you still like me). 45 excruciating minutes later, she responds, thanking me and letting me know when she’s leaving and hoping that I’m having a good day. OK, cool, she’s not ghosting me which would have been completely understandable.
8 hours later, she sends me another text. Asking for my Facebook info. She’s going to be bored on a plane for a while, she says. I let her know where to find me. It’s basically resume presentation time. Here’s what I look like in my everyday life. Here are things I think are funny. Here are photos that I am willing to have shared with the public at large, or at least with my “friends”. We have entered the Facebook Friend zone. We now have things to research about each other.
At this point, I’m rapidly becoming borderline obsessed with her, and unbeknownst to me at the time, so is she. She goes through my Facebook basically all the way through. Every picture, every nerdy thing I talk about and do, all of it. Which is smart. It’s a good place to look for warning signs and potential trouble. It’s even hard to fake some shit because your friends, the real ones, are more than willing to drop into the comments and ask what kind of crack you’re smoking. Facebook is awful in every way except for maybe three things, but vetting someone’s bona fides is one of those three. Mostly I just looked at her pictures and daydreamed about her. Man, is she beautiful.
The next day, well, things accelerated.
We exchanged a few banal texts in the afternoon, nothing major, small talk. Then around 6 pm we start again. More small talk about food, and then we start asking questions. Tell me something about you that I don’t know yet. What have you set your mind to recently. What kind of music do you like. Do you have siblings. Why Delaware? Which is always a good question. I got asked it a lot when I moved there from Florida. It was during these texts that she made it clear that, to her, I was very attractive. It was strange. I didn’t feel that way, but she was talking to me like I was talking to her. She didn’t think I was out of her league. She must’ve been out of her mind. I felt like… the way that only Julienne could make me feel. Worthy.
We texted each other like this FOR FOUR HOURS.
Now, I get that this doesn’t sound like a big deal to most of you. It was to me at the time because of who I was talking to, obviously, because I wanted to talk to her all the time anyway. But to anyone that knows Jules, and especially anyone who texted or messaged with Jules, this is a very big fucking deal indeed. See, Julienne is, how should I put this, the worst texter/messager of all time. Not in content – she’s fucking wickedly brilliant and heartfelt and funny, better than anyone I’ve ever known in that medium – but in responding. I would learn this later (and she did warn me early on). After we were together, she could text me a question that I’d respond to right away with an answer and followup question, and that would be it. No response. I’d get home, and she’d ask me the same question BECAUSE SHE NEVER LOOKED FOR OR SAW A RESPONSE. It could be one second after her initial text and still nothing. It was a hilarious and frustrating thing that she did that I always understood because I knew how her brain worked, and texting did not fit her paradigm.
So, in retrospect, I’m amazed that we texted each other pretty solidly for four straight hours, until around 10 o’clock. Then she asked one final thing.
Follow up question: Is it ok to call?
And she called me, and everything changed.
Julienne wanted to know if I’d ever used Skype. I had a couple of times, several months ago, but couldn’t remember how to do it. Plus, I’d done it on my PC which wasn’t very mobile or convenient, but I did have a Surface I could try it on. I installed it as we spoke on the phone, my heart racing because I’m talking to her and I’m going to have a video call with her and see her and quick comb hair change shirt look presentable how’s the apartment eh good enough ok here we go bam.
There she is, smiling at me. I figure this’ll be like a phone conversation, a few minutes before bed, no biggie. I have to work in the morning, it’s already past ten, it’s awesome just getting to see her and chat for a little bit before bed.
We talked all night.
Literally all night. We carried our laptops with us as we moved from couches to bed and talked until the sun rose, then talked some more. Around 7 am we fell asleep. I slept for a little over an hour and went to work. I was a zombie and more than half brain-dead, but I didn’t care. I was happy. Deliriously happy. I saw her fall asleep and I watched her until I fell asleep, then I saw her when I woke up again to get ready for work. The experience, that first night, of doing that was so extraordinary. That feeling of seeing her, closing my eyes, waking up and seeing her there still was such a profound feeling of something that was just so right.
(That has always stayed with me. The hardest parts of my day, every day, are when I wake up and she isn’t there, and when I go to sleep and she isn’t there. I look at her picture but it isn’t the same. I cry every morning because of it, and I’m crying now thinking about it. Nearly every single day for 5 years the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was her, and the last thing I saw before sleep was her. Even after she passed, she lay in honor at her parent’s house and I slept on the couch in the room with her so I could see her before I slept and when I woke. As I write this, six weeks ago tonight, Friday, August 9th, was the last time I fell asleep looking at her. It hurts in a way that I cannot fully explain. It is lonely and it is longing and it is pining and it is despair and it is a word we have not yet invented to encompass the very depths of sorrow and loss.)
We just started talking about everything we could. Music, movies, our lives, everything we could fit into 9 hours. I learned that Sleeping Beauty was her favorite Disney movie, just as it was mine. We played music that we loved and the other person didn’t know. It was easy and natural and all of the normal self-consciousness that I felt was just gone. Seeing her and Lewis as I sat in my apartment, an apartment where I’d had guests maybe 5 times in the prior year, was like a balm. I’d never realized how shitty being alone could be when it was basically the only state you had. She explained that she’d had to do a long-term long-distance relationship before (with a certain jackhole) and she knew some ways to help make it easier, and this was one of the main ways.
It became our new normal. The weekend was a little trickier – I left Friday to pick up my brother to go to a music festival, then left from there Sunday to go work the faire, and I missed her like whoa (as she would always say) – but once I got back, that was our routine. On Skype from when I got home to when I went to work, unless one of us had something to do.
Those three days where we didn’t have much contact left an indelible mark on us both. I couldn’t stop thinking about her while I was gone, and it became very clear that she felt the same way. We stayed up all night that Sunday the 7th, talking about more things, and our discussions were very frank. I talked about my divorce and the affair that I’d had 4 years prior to its ending (as I’ve said, I’m no angel) and why I did it. It was important for me that she knew about it. She talked about her prior relationships – she dated a lot more than I had – and how she was still friends with a good many of her exes, which was a new experience for me. We were very open and frank about our feelings and experiences. Never once did we feel judged or shamed by the other. I trusted her and she trusted me, right off the bat.
Then…. OK. See, this part is a bit tricky to talk about or around because, well…. See, Billy, when a man and a woman or a man and a man or a woman and a woman or a non-binary person and – OK, see Billy, when two, well, or sometimes more than two, or…. OK, Billy, when human beings like other human beings very very much they sometimes –
Don’t worry. This is not a kissing book. I mean, there is a kiss in it, but I think you’ll be ok. Nothing sexual will be discussed here, other than obliquely, because ew. I mention it only because it contributes strongly to the events that will soon be following. Julienne and I were very attracted to each other. Very very much so. After this point our text messages more closely resembled that of two teenagers. We’d been talking for a week at this point and we were already very much pining for each other. And that is all I will say on the matter. I mean, her parents will read this, for crying out loud.
(At some point I will write a separate post to talk about what cancer did to this aspect of our lives. The disease robbed us of so many things, but what it did to our intimacy is one of the most painful aspects of all of this. It hurt more than losing the ability to have children, for both of us. It’s one of those things that still slams a knife in my guts and twists, every day. It will not be a pleasant topic, but it is part of the truth about living with cancer.)
So the next morning, Monday the 8th, which I stayed up all night to reach and went to work with no sleep at all, a week after we reconnected, she sends me a text message, at 10:09 am: Ok I’m buying a plane ticket. Actually.
She’s going to come up on Thursday, September 11th. She’s going to fly in, take a train to Wilmington, I’m going to pick her up from the station, and it’ll be the first moment we have alone with each other in person. But I have a problem. A very big problem.
I’m in love with her.
I was smitten when I met her. I was enchanted when I was texting her. But by the end of Sunday, staying up all night (again) talking to her, I was done. I was full-on in total and complete love with her. It was like I’d already known her before (once upon a dream) so everything was just accelerated emotionally for me. We hadn’t even kissed, and I was, without question or hesitation, in love.
Now, that sounds nice and romantic and awwwww, but practically, at that moment, I knew it’s a disaster in the making. How can I keep this bottled up? I didn’t own a trilby so I couldn’t just profess my love to someone who was an almost complete stranger ONE WEEK PRIOR like the world’s most desperate and clammy-handed neckbeard. How could I handle this?
Now, all of this goes through my head in a nanosecond. I’m so excited I’m rattling in my office chair. Surrounded by people. Yep. My office was one of those supercool hip new workplaces where all of the cubicles were super low so everyone could see everyone and every single phone call anyone took in the office was like having them sit next to you the whole time. I fucking hated it. There I am at work finding out the most remarkable person of all time was coming to see ME in three days and SHE IS JUST AS EXCITED ABOUT EXCEPT I’M IN LOVE WITH HER GODDAMNIT WHY’D YOU DO THAT YOU STUPID BRAIN.
So I’m a little excited. I think you get the idea. But I’m also incredibly nervous. And because of who she was and how we were with each other, I sent her this:
Smooth, right? I’m fucking suave. And she calmed me down. I was still worried about my feelings, because I didn’t want to push her away by falling too hard too fast. But it wasn’t like I was going to stop her from coming up to see me. Oh hell no.
The three days passed like a 72-hour QuickBooks demonstration. We talked constantly in a way that would make teenagers say, “Whoa, like, you should, like, calm your shit, ‘kay?” (I’m assume that’s how teenagers talk. Maybe I should have put a YEET in there or something) I made my apartment look like the opposite of what a single guy living alone in an apartment for a year who until a week prior had no prospects for company, in the time-honored tradition of putting it all into the spare bedroom (all the detritus from a 17-year marriage was in there anyway, so it looked like a pawn shop already so whatever). All the while I’m thinking about nothing but her.
Thursday comes and we’re both insane. As evidence, this is what we are saying to each other:
Keep in mind, we are, by every definition, actual adults. Nothing in these texts would indicate that fact at all.
I left work early to wait for her by the entrance doors. I’m pacing, I’m checking my phone every two seconds, I’m scanning the crowd. And then. There she is. I see her in profile. She is looking around for me (ostensibly. She told me later that she had spotted me previously and was only pretending to look around. She is a scamp through and through) and I just take the sight of her in. She’s wearing a red shirt, her “magical booty-giving wonders” jeans (her words), and her ever-present knee-high boots. She’s impossibly beautiful, like someone in a movie who just appeared where the rest of us real-life slobs live. She’s brighter than life and better than anything I’ve ever seen. I wait for a couple seconds, just staring at her, knowing that we’re about to have our first kiss right here, right now, in the middle of a train station in fucking Wilmington.
I’m moving towards her and a few seconds later she “sees” me (scamp) and starts moving towards me. It’s every bit the most clichéd scene in every romantic movie everywhere (but those clichés have to come from somewhere). I have tunnel vision. The only person or thing in focus is her. We meet. “Hi,” we kind’ve whisper-say, then our arms go around each other and I’m kissing her, and
(I just started crying, hard. That moment, that perfect moment, was a distillation of every joy and wonderful moment that was to come for us. It was like I’d been holding my breath for forty years and then everything I’d ever waited for was right there. It was as full of promise and wonder and joy and passion as anything I’ve ever experienced. I can close my eyes and I’m right there, holding her, and it’s such a blessing to have that moment here and present even now, and so fucking painful because I will never be able to do that again. I’m a ghost searching forever for something that’s gone and can never be again. It hurts so much.)
My head is spinning deliriously as we walk to my car, hand in hand. I don’t remember much of the car ride, just spending most of it holding her hand and not believing what is happening to me, to us. The night is the greatest night of my life up to that point, with the promise of better ones to come.
Later, her head is on my chest as we are lying in bed. “I have something to confess to you,” I say.
What? There’s no real trepidation. We trust each other already, completely.
“I think… I’ve fallen in love with you.”
There’s a little inhale, not quite a gasp. Her hand tightens on mine. I’m scared of her response, but not that scared. Yeah, she says.