As I sit here eating my dark chocolate bark with quinoa and cranberries, I can’t help but remember the day I met him. I was quite young and still a bit fearsome of encounters with boys of his kind. My first glance of this dark stranger was from across the room, and I could tell right away no one liked him much. He was glowering alone, not necessarily looking for companionship, with the others in the room none too anxious to give it to him.
I was terrified of him on the one hand, but irrevocably intrigued on the other. Why did everyone dislike him so much? Was he really so bad? What adventures might await me in his arms?
I crept closer to get a better look. I casually stood by the refreshment table near his comfortable but lonely chair, and took the opportunity to see into those mysterious eyes: the fascination of the unknown lay there, deep in his soul, unapologetically next to the fiery twang of disappointment and grief. Clearly, any journey with this young man would be a frightful one. So why was I still intrigued?
I could stand it no more and finally asked someone his name.
“That guy over there? You don’t want to know. He’s weird. For some reason things always end badly around him; I’d keep your distance.”
Unsatisfied, I asked yet another peer to tell me more about this rustic newcomer and received the same dismissive excuses over and over. It appeared that if I wanted to know more, I was going to have to approach him personally.
But I didn’t know how. I danced around the idea for weeks, catching glimpses of him here and there – at school, the supermarket, in the neighborhood – but never finding the courage to get within even 30 feet of him. I noticed others would engage him every now and again; the naive ones, who were perhaps unable to sense the danger. They would flirt with him, spend an afternoon with him, sometimes even see him regularly for a few weeks. But it would always end eventually. For whatever reason, the friends would, in the long run, decide to keep their distance, suddenly move out of town, or become one of his mockers, adding to the circulating stories about his “curse”, as they called it.
Perhaps I never would have met him. Perhaps I never would have fallen in love with him, if he hadn’t pursued me first. I don’t blame him; I was the only one left he hadn’t met. I was perhaps the most terrified of him out of anyone I knew, and who doesn’t want to meet someone so obsessed with avoiding them?
He started appearing everywhere, watching me from afar, attempting to approach me when near, and sometimes appearing to just laugh at me in my attempts to get away. It was game to him, I imagine, but a rather terrifying one for me. Sometimes I would lay awake at night, fearing he might have the gall to watch me through my window. I’d lock the doors and the windows tight, check them several times, and keep my border collie in my bed with me just to be safe. After a while, I even started to avoid leaving the house for fear I might run into him (for it was almost certain to happen, after all). I only ran the errands that were the most important, stocked up on food to last me days at a time, quit my job… I even tried calling the police once, fearing he was outside my door. But they knew him too well.
“Oh, he does this to everyone. You’ve got to embrace it at some point because he won’t go away.”
I let my fear of this man envelope every moment of my life. Until. Until one day. One day, I’d had enough. Deep inside me there still lay a part of me that was roaring for challenge. A part that wanted to achieve and become someone great, and my fear of this man was getting in the way of accomplishing my dreams. I couldn’t let him have a handle on me like this anymore. I couldn’t continue to hide.
I decided to face him.
I didn’t have a moment to lose. I knew he wouldn’t be hard to find. I got dressed, took a confident look in the mirror, and stepped boldly into the sunlight, ready to face my fears.
He was nowhere to be found. I went to all of the usual places: the grocery store, the gym, my old job….my loyal stalker was nowhere to be found. Some suggested he had finally moved on, others thought I had imagined the whole thing, and most of them said I was better off without him. But I knew I couldn’t let go of my obsession with him until I saw him face-to-face. Until I found out what he was up to. Until I told him how he had ruined my life.
Weeks went by. I began to miss him. My fear of him had been so acute, I had forgotten the vast and deeply intriguing person I saw briefly in his eyes that first day. I began to long for him again. To find out what he had to offer. I wanted to face my demon, but I also wanted to understand my attraction. What was it about him that made me feel this way? How could I possibly be so simultaneously terrified and invigorated?
And just when I thought my muse may never be explored, he returned. So simply and easily. Just waiting for me on my doorstep when I returned home from work one day. He sat there casually, no smile on his face but no grimace either. I could feel his energy like a tractor beam colliding with a force field – drawing me in and pushing me away all in one wonderful moment.
“Where have you been?”, I asked, accusingly. He looked at me knowingly, barely flinching at the strangeness of the question that began our first-ever conversation.
He smiled. “Around”, he responded.
“But…” I said, beginning to feel exasperated, “you were here. All the time. Everywhere. And then you were just gone. I don’t understand…” I trailed off as he stood up and walked closer. My instincts told me to run away, but my feet stayed firmly planted. I would no longer be a slave to my fears. I looked him straight in the eye as he sauntered up to me. He came so close I could feel his breath on my chin.
“Come with me”, he whispered. He held my hand and lightening shot through my body as if my heart had started pumping for the first time. He pulled me towards the street and we were off.
We went everywhere together that day. We showed each other small-town secrets the other didn’t know about, we tried new food, and we boldly walked into situations that terrified us: climbing mountains, making speeches at city hall, swimming in choppy waters during a thunderstorm. Never had I experienced such anxiety and disappointment. Nor had I ever experienced such exhilaration and accomplishment. I could feel my soul growing, my perspective expanding, and my heart strengthening. It was as if the tiny little seedling of myself that was buried deep within me had finally been nourished and set free. I was living.
I didn’t want the day to end, but as it always does, the night came. We eventually made our way back to my house, sopping wet, covered in mud, and grinning ear to ear. He left me at my door, swept his hand softly across my arm, and walked back out into the darkness of the evening.
“Wait!” I cried. He stopped for just a brief moment. “I still don’t know your name! You are not allowed to leave until I know your name!”.
He turned around hesitantly, as if unsure how to proceed. Then a look of determination overcame him and he walked back towards me, his eyes locked into mine. He took me in his arms, ran his fingers through my wet hair, and kissed me. It was a kiss to last a lifetime. His cold and off-putting demeanor was absorbed and overtaken by his soft hands, his gentle lips, and the sweet smell of his breath on my neck.
“Failure.” he whispered in my ear.
“…Excuse me?” I inquired.
“Failure,’ he repeated again. “My name is Failure.”
He rested his forehead briefly against mine, then shattered the moment as he disappeared into the night.
I knew it wasn’t the last time I’d see him. I would no longer avoid him, fear him, or procrastinate meeting him. My heart was outstretched to embrace him, and my soul open to all the gifts and successes that came with his pain.
I had fallen in love with him.