My whole life I never believed I was going to get married. I was (and still am) a stubborn, independent woman who believed that there would never be anything more important than the love I had for myself. At 14 years old, when all my friends were getting boyfriends or girlfriends, I was getting A’s in advanced placement classes and looking at which college would get me the farthest away from life in my small town.
That’s when I met her. Olivia.
I heard her name before. She was quite popular in our circle of friends. The first thing she said to me was, “So, you’re the girl everyone’s been talking about.” My heart caught in my throat and I could barely stutter out, “All good things, I hope.”
Our high school romance was short lived. She ended up in the arms of another girl and I ended up at my top school: Loyola University Maryland, where I achieved my bachelor of arts in technical writing. Four years later, we met again. I was dating a boy at the time and she was with the same girl. I went to her house and cooked shrimp scampi. I taught her how you could eat the shell. She taught me how to clean grime off a pan without steel wool. After those few hours, we both realized in those small moments, we loved each other more than the people we had been with for years and a few weeks later, both ended up single again.
But, there would be another twist to a love that constantly continued in “almosts.” Almost together, almost touching, almost kissing, almost calling, almost messaging, and, most of all, almost never seeing each other again.
A few weeks later, I received a call that I was to attend an interview in New York City for a job in Tokyo, Japan. Once she received word that I got the position, she didn’t try to pursue me. What was the point? I was leaving. I was leaving and I had gotten everything I wanted. My advanced placement classes got me my fancy liberal arts college bachelor’s degree, and my degree landed me my dream job close to 7,000 miles away. We didn’t speak again after that.
I lived in Tokyo for three years. I became a teacher, then later an editor and social media coordinator for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Even then, my mind was dotted with small memories of her, and I would wonder where she was from time to time and if she was okay; if she was happy. While in Japan, my parents moved to Hamilton Ohio, a small town outside of Cincinnati; a place filled with corn and tall grass, but most of all, emptiness. I had never been to Ohio and, returning to the United States only once a year, I could no longer visit my friends in Maryland like I once had.
Olivia went through some rough times and lost her job, later building herself from the ground up at a plasma donation center. Her talent and leadership shot her up through the ranks. She was plucked by a competitor and sent out for manager training in Spring of 2016.
Reaching my third year in Japan, my boyfriend at the time proposed to me. I felt nothing more than a visceral wrong. I never wanted to get married and, after a series of unfortunate events, I decided that I had to return home. I got off a 14-hour plane ride broken and distraught. I had built a life 7,000 miles away with friends, excitement and a great career, only to find myself in the dark corners of my mind, shaking with symptoms of acute PTSD and unable to break free.
On a childhood bed in a childish room in a strange home in a stranger place, I scrolled through Facebook, looking through my old friends and wondering if I should tell anyone that I had even returned state side. It was then that I came across a very short post, “Hey everyone! I will be close to Cincinnati for a work training. Anyone know anything interesting to do there?” I looked up to see who it was.
I quickly commented, “I’m here!” to which she quickly replied, “Aren’t you in Japan?” to which I reverently responded, “Message me!”
This began a flurry of conversation; an explosion of “I thought you were married!” and “I thought you were engaged!” and before long, what could have been the strangest of conversations began a stream of consciousness that we had always easily flowed in an out of; a rhythm that we had always possessed.
“Are you seeing anyone?” I asked, in an attempt to be nonchalant that only the grace of a screen and a keyboard could afford me.
“Yeah, actually.” She said, “I have a girlfriend.”
I asked her if she was happy. She couldn’t give me a straight answer.
“Of course,” I thought. She had never been one to stay single for long and with women lining up for her affections, I wasn’t surprised by my place in the back of the line. I didn’t believe I had ever crossed her mind over the past three years, and that this potential meeting would be platonic at best and awkward pleasantries at worst.
“So, I am actually being sent to a town near Cincinnati,” she explained. “Have you ever heard of Hamilton, Ohio?”
Really. Really, universe? Really. I think you are just trying to screw with me now.
“I live in Hamilton, Ohio. That’s so crazy! Want to meet up for dinner when you get here?”
“I would love to.”
She was going to be in Ohio for a month and in the week before she arrived, I tried to mentally, emotionally and physically train the feelings out of me. It had been almost 7 years since I had a crush on her and over three years since we had seen each other. Feelings don’t last that long. Fleeting crushes and a relationship that never even was could not possibly arouse the fire inside me that I was trying so desperately to put out. I waited for her messages all day, and tried to tell myself, “She has a girlfriend. She never even liked you enough to date you. She probably hasn’t even thought about you at all. Stop getting your hopes up for something that doesn’t even exist.”
Then, she knocked on the door, and in my third outfit and second makeup attempt, I opened it.
And it was in that moment, I knew I was in trouble.
We saw each other a dozen times while she was in Ohio. It was as if we had never even been apart. I told her I was determined to go back to Japan despite how bad my emotional condition had gotten. She urged me that maybe staying in the United States might be the best idea, that maybe I should start a new journey here. I told her I felt like I needed to prove something. She told me the proof that I was still here was enough. She helped me heal. I told her I felt that a light had been turned off inside me. After not even speaking for a number of years and not even being friends, she held me when I cried. She showed me that time could never break a connection of friendship. She guided me through my darkness and slowly in some small corner of where I thought I would never see joy again, there was a small, pale light flickering in the distance.
She left Ohio and returned to Pennsylvania after her training. We exchanged a few messages but I didn’t want to interfere with her girlfriend. I didn’t want to be the person that destroyed something someone else was trying to build. I had to start building myself back up again.
Then, I got a phone call.
“I broke up with her,” she said. “I wasn’t happy. You were right. She was sucking the life out of me.”
“Why don’t you come back to Ohio for a few days? Your sister lives in Columbus and it would help you get your mind off things.”
“Sure, let me see what I can do.”
A few days later, we were sitting in a hotel room, debating whether we should get an extension cord from Walmart to watch a scary movie. She turned to me on the bed and I looked at her. I looked at her and she looked at me. I could feel a familiar catching in my throat. I looked at her and I really felt like I saw her for the first time. I felt like I saw an impossible future that had weaved itself through all of my self-doubt, all my insecurities and all my “almosts”.
She kissed me. She told me, “I always thought about you. I always wondered where you were; if you were okay, if you were happy.”
I couldn’t just lead up to the fact that she proposed to me months later next to a little box in our bedroom on a day where we both hadn’t showered with a video game on the PlayStation 3 in the background. I couldn’t explain that even though I had no makeup on and was in a dirty t-shirt I made her put on a suit, dress shoes included. I never wanted to get married. I realized the truth was I never wanted to get married to anyone else.
It is believed in Japan that people are connected by a red string of fate. The idea is that no matter how long two people have been separated, no matter how tangled the string of life gets between them, they will always find their way back to each other. After a tangled romance spanning almost a decade, I cannot help but think back to our first encounter and remember my own blushing words when I think about our future, “All good things, I hope.”
From Natalia Weiner, one half of the couple
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