From all outward appearances, Tom and I were nothing alike. He was reserved, quiet, and conservative.  He was extremely laid back, a bit of a country boy, and spoke only when he felt he had something important to say.  It took me a while to get over the feeling that he didn’t even like me, but eventually the things we did have in common connected in a surprisingly strong bond.  Our first dates were late at night when he could drive to my apartment, until one night he convinced me to brave the Regional Rail system to his house in the suburbs.  I got off the train too early and wound up sitting around in the cold for an hour.  After that night he told me he had thought about “the L word”, but it worried him.  Unfortunately, I was not yet equipped or experienced enough to alleviate those fears. I wanted to express how I felt, but I just didn’t know how.

The night before he left for what was at the time a very young war he wanted to see me.  I agreed, but I had company, so it was a brief and slightly awkward goodbye.  I was concerned, I was a little scared, and I already missed him, but I didn’t want to either stress him out or say something and speak where I had no place.  This was not my experience, it was his, so I kept my mouth shut, hugged him goodbye, and let him leave.  It hurt. A lot.

I worried about him for months, searching the internet anytime they mentioned local troops or casualties, until I realized that I had to let it go.  His family most likely never knew of my existence.  If anything would have happened to him, I’d have never known.  It was a hard pill to swallow, but it had dawned on my too late to be able to ask him what I was supposed to do.  Did he want me to wait?  Was I investing too much in such a young relationship?  Was I being silly?  I couldn’t even imagine he was thinking of me, so I let it go.  I dated a little, but he stayed in the back of my mind.

When his name popped up in my instant messenger window one day, I sang.  He seemed happy to hear from me, but he seemed cautious.  He asked if I was seeing anyone.  I told him I wasn’t, but that I had been dating someone for a little while. I still remember his response.  “It’s not like we were dating or anything.”  The response stung, and at the time I shrugged it off and tried to act like it didn’t bother me, because I didn’t realize that’s what he was doing.  I just figured I hadn’t mattered as much to him as he had to me.  I probably still had a chance to speak up at that point and make things right, but I didn’t, and we were never close again.

This story is probably one of the hardest ones for me to write, because I’ve never done it before, and it’s something I avoided for a long time.  Unlike the immature infatuation I had held for Ian, Tom was my first real love, the first person to challenge me.  The first to be worth looking past my own ideas to accept someone else’s.  He taught me how to interact with someone who had opinions that didn’t always match mine and ways that I didn’t always understand.  He taught me to be patient, but he also taught me to follow my heart instead of talking myself out of love.  The person I am today would have told my company to go home and taken a chance in lieu of uncertainty. The person I am today simply would have asked what he wanted me to do.

The biggest lesson here was accountability for my own heart, for my own love.  As a lover, it’s a lesson I needed to learn early to prevent myself from becoming jaded or bitter.  Not only was this the first real love I held in my heart, but it was the first heartbreak that was entirely my fault.  I could have prevented it.  I could have fixed it.  I didn’t, and I believe it drastically changed my course.  Years later I would email him an apology for how I handled the situation.  He seemed to appreciate it and told me to learn from it.  Little did he know how much I had almost immediately.  I just didn’t yet know how to fix it.

Go no, and think.  Where was your first change in course?  Have you been able to make amends with your heart?

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