It's always when the dust settles that another gust of wind blows it back up in the air. Just when I thought I was barely okay, I received a text from an ex. This wasn't necessarily uncommon for me but not for the reason you may think. I've always felt that if you enter a romantic partnership with someone, you must establish a form of friendship. I know this may be pessimistic, but when the relationship eventually fails, then you don't have to lose that person entirely. You can always go back to what you once had before the romance. It doesn't always work out but I'll take a forty percent retention rate.
Étienne worked at the corner store by my apartment. We used to have casual conversations when I would buy my smokes. I learned that we shared a similar love for video games, instrumental music, and Buffy the vampire slayer. As time passed, I needed a job and I needed one fast to pay my upcoming rent. Without skipping a beat, Étienne offered me on there. He didn't own the store but put in a good word for me. With his reputation, I got the job without having to be interviewed.
He trained me for a week. He taught me how to use the cash register, the lotto machine, and the subwoofer that he installed to make work more enjoyable. During that week, we got closer. I knew that he had a long-term girlfriend that he lived with but I couldn't help but notice that his dark eyes would lighten when I would walk into the store.
On my fourth day of training, he expressed that he had something to tell me. He also explained that he couldn't verbalize it. I remember him taking an old receipt out of the recycling, scribbling words on the back, folding it perfectly in half, and handing it to me. My head tilted left as I read All is not well in Wonderland. I looked up at him and he asked if he could walk me home after my shift.
No one had ever walked me home before. I thought it was a really sweet and simple gesture. On the way home, he told me about his troubles with Stephanie. How she made him miserable and that the spark that was once there had been gone for quite some time. They had been together for almost a decade at the time. He told me that he felt like he couldn't truly be himself around her for fear of her judgment. He confessed that he was autistic and bisexual. Two aspects of himself that he felt needed masking. He expressed that he admired my open-mindedness. We said good night and I felt myself smile for the first time in a while.
As the days passed, we grew ever closer. He told me about his childhood, his dreams, and his favorite everythings. I gave him a small list of my traumas to not overwhelm him but he didn't seem to dwell on them. And on the day that he and Stephanie separated, he walked me home once more and kissed me goodnight.
I won't lie to you, I felt guilty. My overthinking always did get the best of me. I constantly asked him if I was the reason why they weren't together anymore. He always reassured me that I wasn't. "Things were falling apart long before I met you," he would say. They did however remain living together. He slept on the couch and she got the bedroom. He explained that after ten years of living together that they not only shared finances but also shared debt. He confirmed that it would take a while before he could move out and live without her. I won't lie, him living with her made me feel uneasy.
Word traveled around the neighborhood that Étienne was dating the new cashier. When Stephanie learned of this, she called him in a frenzy. She was driving home from work on the highway. She threatened to crash her car if they didn't get back together. Étienne hung up the phone. Thankfully, it was an idle and desperate threat. However, she did start to stalk us. She would drive around the area, scanning to find us. Étienne didn't really care though, he had nothing to hide.
Étienne learned that I struggled with suicidal ideation and self-harm. He didn't quite understand it though he tried his best. He never used it against me though. Even in my darkness, he saw my light.
I was twenty when he turned thirty-four. Étienne didn't really drink but on special occasions. After the corner store closed, we threw a somewhat illegal birthday party for him. The stock boy, the delivery man, my best friend, and I all attended. Everyone drank except me but everyone did in fact dance. It was a good time until Étienne had to get some fresh air. I went outside with him. We sat outside in the spring nighttime air. His face red from drink, he gazed up to the sky. "I love you," he slurred. Before I could react. he started to vomit on the cement. I simply rubbed his back in comfort. We returned back inside as if he hadn't just dropped a bomb on me. My mind flooded with harsh criticisms. I couldn't accept his words, his feelings. I told everyone that it was time to wrap up and go home. Charles, the delivery guy, made sure that Étienne got home safe.
In the following days, I realized that Étienne had no idea that he told me how he felt about it. The alcohol had blurred his memory. I had to walk around knowing this information. Knowing that I did not share the same intensity of emotion for him. This added to the guilt I already had been carrying with me. By the end of the week, I broke things off with Étienne without much explanation.
A couple of months had passed before we got back together. I don't exactly remember the reason I went back but I did. We spent the latter half of the summer together. I would buy him dinner while he worked and he would always walk me home when I was done my shift. We would sometimes lay on the grass outside of the elementary school and talk. He always enjoyed it when I would go on long philosophical rants. He would always listen to me with a smile on his face.
One night, he took me for a drive along the canal. He knew how much I loved the water. When he dropped me off he parked the car in front of my apartment. And sober as a judge, he told me that he was in love with me. I couldn't help but laugh. "No you don't," I scoffed, gathering my things.
His face hardened. "You don't get to tell me how I feel. And this is how I feel," he said frustrated by my dismissal. I couldn't accept that someone could love me. I think a part of me knew that though I wasn't fully conscientious of it.
"You shouldn't love me," I spat out. I got out of the car and ran up the steps to my apartment. This was our second break-up.
The final time we dated, I think was out of my own jealousy. I had heard rumors that Stephanie was trying to get back together with Étienne. It had been three a year since the car incident. Étienne told me that Stephanie had really changed or at least she was trying to. She had been a better roommate, picking up after herself. She was paying her share of the expenses. I couldn't help but eye roll. I explained that he was more deserving than to settle for her. And within the week we were back together.
For my twenty-second birthday, my best friend/ roommate threw me a surprise birthday party. She decorated the living room with Halloween decor. Her boyfriend and mine were both there. Étienne got me a gaming console and a comic book. I felt so much dread that day. He was a nice man, why couldn't I feel the same way that he felt about me? He did lack some emotional depth, no fault of his own, however. Was that truly enough to be a dealbreaker? I rummaged through my mind searching for an answer I still don't think I found. I broke up with him once more and I told him it was the end. He cried but was understanding. Étienne always tried to be understanding.
We stayed on good terms but at a further distance. It was through my best friend's boyfriend that I learned that not only were Stephanie and Étienne back together but they were also expecting. This was three months after we broke up. I couldn't explain it, but I felt betrayed by this. I always expected them to get back together but it still stung.
Stephanie gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I actually got to meet her once. I held her in my arms and watched her giggle. She really loved her dad though. Étienne finished his electrician degree and got a decent job. Eventually, the two saved up enough to buy a house outside of the city.
I moved out as well and got a place on my own. Étienne gave me his air conditioner (his new house had central air and he no longer needed it) and a microwave. It was really sweet of him. Even though I still had a twinge of bitterness, I was happy for him.
Months turned into years but we still kept loosely in touch. He would send me pictures of his daughter. Updating me on her milestones.
A few days ago, he sent me a text. He told me that he had brain cancer. Not just that he had brain cancer but that the doctors told him that he had a 10% chance to live more than two years. It's always when the dust settles that another gust of wind blows it back up in the air.
I've been suicidal since I was seven years old. I have four documented attempts under my belt but his man gets brain cancer? How is that possible? I knew there was only one thing for me to do. Find death.