I don't really remember when we met. I was really more friends with your across-the-hall neighbor, and to be honest, rather foolish and flirtatious with said neighbor. The first time I really remember you was one day when you were scolding him for missing me in chapel. "C'mon, man," you said, blue eyes wide. "I always notice my friends!" Thinking about it now, you were angry with the other guy for being oblivious (only one of the masculine traits you would attack in the coming years). At the moment, though, I was just grateful for your verbalizing what I was grumpily thinking. After that, there were a few more incidents (properly described) that cemented our friendship. One rainy night, a friend and I banged on the boys' dorm door and you popped out, barefoot, and played in the monsoon with us and our pathetic, broken umbrella. You watched me cry my way through every huge paper that first year, all without freaking out or fleeing the scene. When I was having a major self-esteem freak-out about my upcoming gym class, you drove me to the store to buy pants that made me feel hot. ("These better be the best darn pants in the whole world!" you snapped at me in the car.) You knew both sides of the circumstances of my first serious broken heart, and you didn't throw it in my face when it predictably blew up.
Most people either feared or disliked you on sight. I did neither. Somehow I understood and accepted your sarcastic bitterness, your pessimism, your apparent chauvinism, and your brusqueness. It was like I already knew you before we began, and it was easy to just continue on. You sort of just rolled into my life . . . and stayed.
On my twentieth birthday, you rescued me from awkward advances from an awkward boy, then went ahead and talked me down from the emotional cliff. That was the first time you gave me any type of good advice, and I think, perhaps, that was when I began to really love you. Instead of reciprocating, you found someone else. That became the motif of our relationship. When you were free and unattached, I was very interested in someone else--someone "better," I told myself. When I yearned for your affection, you were in love with the pattern girl--someone skinnier, shorter, funnier, smarter, classier, more intriguing, more ambitious, and much more obnoxious than I was. Somehow, we stayed friends through it all. I called you whenever I needed help with picking up guests or checking car engines or taking care of my plants over break. You answered your phone all those times, and, unasked, you held me as I wept from stress and hurt and fear. Without fail, we had screaming, knock-down drag-out fights every time we spent too much time apart. You always "won," but I really won because I avoided doing the one thing you aimed for. ("You know you want to hit me. Right here," you'd say, patting the side of your face.)
I watched you grow up while we were at school, but so much of you remained enigmatic to me. There were so many things I hated about you--the way you stole my food right off my plate, how you ignored me when someone "better" arrived in the conversation, your chuckle right after making a jerk-ish comment, the stubborn belief that you were always always right. There were times when I silently cheered for people who called you "arrogant" or "rude" or worse. But mostly, I was on your side. I never understood why you went through random phases when life was good, and everything was looking up. It made me vaguely uneasy when you were so optimistic; I didn't quite know how to handle that version of you. And I couldn't fathom why you endured my ignoring you for weeks, then suddenly responded to my frantic phone calls with such tenderness. I didn't understand . . . but I was grateful. Was that the real you, trying to get out?
I think that was really you--the one you should be. You wanted to be the understanding, enthusiastic, tender version of yourself . . . but you didn't know how. No one ever showed you, maybe, or you felt strange and unnatural when you were like that. I wish I could tell you how much I believe in the real you. I wish I could tell you that I know you can be the man I started to see in you--the one who's tender, and thoughtful, and strong in all the right ways. I wish you would believe me . . . but I'm pretty sure you'd laugh and roll your eyes.
And then I just might hit you.