I’m 24 years old and I have it all figured out. Yes, I just said that. I’m 24, and I have life figured out. And it only took the biggest mistake I’ve ever made–and ever will make–for me to figure it out.
I’m 24 years old, I have a great job, I’m tall, I’m attractive, and I’m outgoing. I was a basketball player in college. I’m a former frat guy, and not the good kind, either. I was the guy who never called. I was the guy who kicked you out after sex. I was the guy who didn’t bother to learn your name. I was the guy who everyone thought had it all figured out. And I thought I did, too.
Then I lost the one person I cared about more than anyone or anything else on Earth. And now I’m broken.
You see, when I was a kid in high school, all I ever wanted was to be in love and have a girlfriend. Then when I got older, I was part of an environment that changed the way I think. I was deep into the hookup culture. I use to think that hooking up with dozens and dozens of random girls made me a man. Society promotes that, my brothers promoted that, my friends promoted that, music promoted that–and I believed it. I fucking believed it. I became the guy who goes out and bangs a random girl every weekend then brags to his friends how I pulled it off and the horrible shit I said to the girl. I was the “cool guy,” I was the guy who got blackout drunk but still woke up with a 10 in his bed. This was how I acted the two years after I graduated, too.
But then a fantastic thing happened. I fell for a woman named Brooke.
About 18 months ago, I began seeing a beautiful woman while living in Manhattan. She was living in NYC for Summer 2013 and went to school about six hours away. She was wonderful, she was beautiful, she was sweet, and best of all, she was innocent. She wasn’t a party girl–just a great woman looking for a good man.
My first thought? Sleep with her for the summer until she goes back to college. Typical me.
And I did. Sure, we went on dates, too, and we hung out a bunch of times beyond sex that summer. Initially, she fell for me a lot harder then I fell for her. It just took me a lot longer to develop feelings because of the shit that I was surrounded by, and that’s what killed us. She was just another girl to me, nobody special, and she was going back to college six hours away from me at the end of the summer, so who cares? I took advantage of how much she cared for me. I treated her like crap, I played games, I ignored her calls, and I would only see her when it was convenient for me. But she was persistent because she really liked me and she saw who I really could be. When she left for school in August, I realized how much I was actually going to miss her. I realized that I began to develop real feelings for her–no matter how small they were, they were there.
I never thought that was possible. I was macho man, I was Casanova, I was Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “Don Jon.” I couldn’t date just one girl–this was blasphemy. I couldn’t take the dive at the ripe, old age of 24. I thought I still had so many more girls to sleep with, so many more girls to party with. I wanted to go to Vegas with my friends next year. This just couldn’t happen. This was crazy.
But it did. And we kept talking, even after Brooke went back to school. I continued stringing her along, because I didn’t know what I wanted and she fell for me harder and harder when she was away. She fell for me so much quicker than I fell for her. Around Christmastime after her first semester of her senior year, she came and visited me in NYC. It was early December, and all she kept talking about and wanting to do was see the tree with me. We had a nice dinner planned for the night, but the tree? No way. Too couple-y. I wasn’t ready for it yet.
I refused to go with her and I made excuses and bullshit remarks about it. I didn’t want to do the relationship thing. I didn’t want to take pictures with her and have them posted on my Facebook and have her get the wrong idea. What if my friends saw? What if other girls I wanted to sleep with saw? I couldn’t have this, so I avoided it as much as I possible. I was too cool for that, I was too cool for her. Sorry, Brooke–it just wasn’t happening.
We ended up seeing my boss at the bar that night, and Brooke told him how badly she wanted to see the tree with me but that I told her I didn’t want to go. My boss said, “For God’s sake, go take her to see the tree, you scumbag.” So I took her. And it was that moment, it was that night, when I was holding her in front of the tree and a stranger was taking our picture that I realized I cared about her a lot more than I imagined.
I remember when we kissed in front of the tree. I remember how I felt. It was short, but it was the most meaningful kiss I ever experienced. It was as if all of the bright lights and all of the happiness in the world was drawn to our aura, to our lips. It was beautiful, and I remember seeing how happy she was. I wished that the entire world was watching us kiss so that everybody knew that Brooke was mine and that nobody could ever make her as happy as I could. And nobody could make me as happy as she could.
But I didn’t tell her this, and I eventually shook it off because I was too stupid, too naïve, too scared to realize what was in front of me. This was crazy–I couldn’t date anyone. It was just a phase, I told myself. But it wasn’t a phase. I stopped meeting girls, I stopped talking to other girls with whom I had prior relationships. I slowly began making the right steps, but I did so too slowly.
Two months later, I made the biggest change of my life. I moved away. It ended up being the best and worst decision I ever made. I learned more about myself in the next six months than I had in the first 23 years of my life. It was when I learned how much I wanted to be with Brooke, how much I cared about her. It’s when I learned she was the single most important thing I’ve ever had.
I moved to the South for six months to live alone in a city where I knew nobody. I found myself. It was something I always wanted to do and something I always said I would do. I was in an environment where I could mold my own world, where nobody had preconceptions of the kind of person I was, where I could find out what I was really made of. It was the most amazing experience I’d ever had in my young, cushioned life. I suggest that everyone in their early twenties does it before life takes over. Live alone somewhere you don’t know anyone. Transform yourself, transform your mind. Become an adult.
For the six months I was away, Brooke and I spoke every week. We spoke on the phone, we FaceTimed, we texted–we were sort of together without any of the official labeling. The more distance we had between us and the longer I was away from her, the more I wanted to be with her, the more I needed her. My feelings grew tenfold while I was gone.
But I never told her.
Instead, I played the game like a pro. I knew how to ignore her just enough to have her keep on running back to me. I didn’t know how to open my heart to her. I didn’t know how to treat a woman right. I would ignore her phone calls on purpose to keep her wondering what I was doing. I would call her late at night when I was drunk. I would lie to her and tell her I was at a bar with my friends when I was lying on my couch eating popcorn and watching a movie on Saturday night. The games should’ve ended. I loved her. But I couldn’t let go of my former self. I couldn’t let go of the asshole I once was.
Brooke moved to New York in July, and I moved home a month later. Finally. Finally, we were living in the same area. We could be together. I was done screwing around. But she had had enough. She stopped calling me, stopped texting me, stopped speaking to me. She refused to see me.
And she still won’t see me. She isn’t calling me. She isn’t texting me. She asked me to let her be–and because I love her, I’ve done what she’s asked. But it’s killing me. She told me she’ll call me when she’s ready. But I don’t think she will. I think it’s over.
I was a boy. But Brooke, please, I’m a man now, and losing you was the worst thing that ever happened to me.
I learned a lot when I moved. I learned that I don’t even really like drinking all that much. I learned that not everyone in the world thinks it’s cool to meet and sleep with random women. I learned that holding someone you care about is more satisfying than the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in the desert. I learned that I’m a bad drunk. I learned that everyone is a bad drunk after a certain point. I learned that leaving your dishes in the sink with ketchup on them makes doing the dishes a thousand times harder the next day. I realized how much I missed Brooke’s smell after she visited me. That scent. It’s faded from my apartment–and it’s starting to fade from my memory. I fear the day it truly does. I learned how to change. I learned what being a man really is. I learned that who I am now hates who I have been in the past. And most of all, I learned that Brooke was the best thing to ever happen to me.
So let me end it with this. It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 96–love is love. Don’t run away from it because you’re afraid. I wish I hadn’t. God, I wish I hadn’t.
So, Brooke, if you ever read this, I miss you more than you will ever know.
I beg of you to share this message, so that people don’t make the same dumb fucking mistakes I made. And maybe one day, Brooke will come across this. Maybe if enough people read this and share it to all their friends, maybe she’ll see me in person. Maybe we can go on another first date and I can spend the rest of my life making up for how I treated her. And I will have all of you to thank.
Pain is but a feeling, feelings pass in time, time passes. I miss you, Brooke.
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