I met him in New York City. We are on a charter bus, me sitting in front of him with my friend next to me asleep. Thousands of lights streak by with the rain and I watch as he speaks to his friends, simultaneously the center of the conversation and dodging through the outskirts, making a bold statement with only contentious intent and then sinking into the shadows as the other kids fought it out. I remained silent, unable to fully concentrate on what was being said due to a dizziness that I attributed to being carsick but what I later realized was just crushing infatuation. I wasn’t following the conversation until I heard the word “depression.” I sat up straight.
“I know a lot about that,” I said. He was the only one that looked at me.
“So do lots of people,” he said.
“Yeah, well,” I said, “it’s different for me.”
He looked at me, and despite the dark, I could picture the warm brown of his eyes sitting quietly in an expanse of bloodshot white. I prepared myself to explain to this near-stranger what I meant by “different” with an ambiguous string of words that I’d rehearsed before.
“You’re still here, aren’t you?” he said. The corners of my mouth dipped into a hesitant frown. He made me feel, in that moment and every moment over the next two years, so deeply ordinary that I confused it with comfort.
“Yeah,” I said, swallowing the lump in my throat. “I guess I am.”
Our first kiss was in December, just a month (of many phone calls, private lunches, book exchanges, and neurotic laughter) later. We were in his bedroom and the lights were dimmed. I laid in bed, weary and chest full with the nervous tick-tock of my heart. He stood in front of my dresser, varsity jacket on but hat off, white socks on but red Nikes off. He crawled into bed beside me. We were facing each other completely horizontally but still inches apart. My left shoulder throbbed quietly under the weight of my body. I took a breath and shifted toward him. I breathed, he breathed. Our lips touched, and we simply breathed together in a lazy fashion, an intimate fashion. Finally, my hands found their way into his hair and his around my waist, and we kissed, fell deeply into each other, lost in a world of two, emerging only after I’d forgotten how to breathe on my own.
In the winter, we holed ourselves beneath his covers and soaked in our depressions, our respective blues deepening the other’s until we were buried twice as deep in apathetic exhaustion. The winter months of 2014 were heavy with blizzards, and as soon as the snowstorms hit, it was clear to me that he had years before cultivated his depression so deftly that it was not a hindrance but an amplifier to his character. He was most handsome when he was brooding, when his thick bottom lip sat heavily atop his chin, when the tips of his hair poked into his eyes until I swept them away with the palm of my hand.
My own depression felt catastrophic and unsolvable. It was like a misshapen pebble lodged in my ribcage; it was barely detectable but every breath still hurt. He made this feeling — this awful weight inside of me that had been continually worsening since the year before — seem normal. He treated it as an unquestionable fact of me and himself. On this topic and all others, he spoke with such conviction of his own knowledge that I found it difficult to find fault in his words. Under his wing, I learned to embrace my depression and make it as much a part of myself as his own was of himself. He’d stroke my bruises like they were trophies, kiss my tears away.
When I was getting bad again, he could always tell. He’d drive over and we’d go on an adventure, boarding the subway to wherever we decided to go that day. We people watched, made up the lives of those complete strangers, fed pigeons and climbed fences. All night phone calls, 24 hour diners, movies stargazing, handholding- we even tried to make fried Oreos once, and I burned my wrist pretty badly (I still have scars to show). The night drives were the most special to me. Blasting music as the lights streaked by, pressing my face to the glass, my breath fogging up the window. I would write our initials, intertwine them, whip around to face him, bright-eyed. He would glance over, and we would share an unspoken moment, drinking each other in, a moment perhaps lost upon the sea of moments, gone in the fabric that is space time. I felt like a part of him then, something so right that I was momentarily dizzy. We did everything together, and when I was with him, the people faded away and all the stars were just a flicker. It felt so good, so real that I knew it couldn’t last.
I decided to study abroad after what I still maintain was the most difficult time of my life. Before I left, I asked him if he was worried. “Relax, Lily. We’re going to be fine.” He didn’t hear me, having already started to retreat back into his individual world, unconcerned with the fact that I’d lost my grasp on mine.
I left for a world separate and foreign to me. I was utterly alone in the first months. My depression was made worse because during the first few weeks of January, I felt a growing distance between us. Phone calls were avoided; texts went unanswered. It was cold, and I sank alone, holding myself beneath my covers and wishing that he were there. When I did manage to get him on the phone, his voice sounded worlds away. It took most of the month for me to muster up the courage to ask him over the phone, “Do you still love me?”
“To be honest, Lily,” he said, and my body would no longer accept oxygen, “No.”
When I was in third grade, I was the only girl on an all boys little league baseball team. Being a swimmer, I lacked hand eye coordination and mostly got in the way during the game, so the coaches got in the habit of putting me far in the outfield where they knew no 8-year-old could ever hit the ball. The grass was never fresh but always dotted with buttercup flowers. At that time in my childhood, I had trouble holding my bladder — an ailment that was not a night terror but visible during weekends in Vermont when my mother would have to wash my snow pants after every day on the slopes. In the outfield, the home plate seemed blurry with distance, so when I felt the familiar pressure in my bladder, I felt comfortable squatting down in the grass and relieving myself in my pants. I would crush buttercup stems between my fingers as I peed, assuming that no one would notice what I was really up to. Of course, the onlookers of the game weren’t really that far away, and my parents did have to take me home from the field every day. But there was not a doubt in my mind that I was getting away with it.
I had been chained in the outfield with him. I had decorated the chain with flower petals to disguise the sharp shavings of rust that chafed against my ankle, and everybody around me could see what I thought was arcane: the isolation of our world. Now, from home plate, I could see plainly that I had gotten lost deep within our relationship. I was somehow both by the dugout and still in the outfield, alone, and I couldn’t yet figure out how to stop straddling the diamond and come back to earth.
It is hard now to see how I had ever fallen in love with him, but the proof is in the monotonous slate of white that was my winter with him, the ache in my rib cage when I remember his abandonment. Now that I’m in a much brighter place in my life, I could never imagine being sucked into something so deeply depressive. Had I had the maturity to recognize it’s consequences before it was too late, perhaps I would have stopped myself from falling in love at 15. Sometimes I’m so incredulous of my teenage self’s vulnerability that I tell people that I wasn’t actually in love with him, I just thought I was. But life has proved time and time again that love, whether it be at 50 of 15, is just as deep and real as you fall.