OWe were in the back of a car, while our two friends were in the front. The four of us were coming back from the beach, and it had been a normal day for a group of 22-year-olds with few responsibilities – just hanging out not knowing or thinking about what was next. I say this because it was not a special day. A good one, but not extraordinary in any way. Besides how I felt.
Alice was lying with her head on my lap. She was sleeping and I was playing with her hair, I felt like I wanted a million more moments like this. I started dreaming about what it might look like. We would make pottery together. We would play tennis. We would curl up on the sofa watching football in matching shirts. We would go for walks in the bush, holding hands the whole time, talking about hypothetical worlds made of trampolines and stuffed animals.
I knew Alice wanted to be with me. Not because I had noticed all the obvious signs, but because she had told me so months before in a letter (which I still have, in a shoebox in my closet). The letter basically said, “I’m in love with you,” and I’m pretty sure my answer – delivered verbally – was: “Don’t worry Alice, I’ll always be your friend.” I probably thought that was a very mature and compassionate way to handle things – I was 22.
The stupidest thing was that I already wanted to be with Alice when she sent me that letter, massively. But for various complex and interrelated reasons stemming from my fear of losing two best friends – Alice and Hannah, my ex-girlfriend who happened to be close friends with Alice too – I never came to terms with my feelings.
But in the back seat of the car, staring at her cute little ears, my dreams of me and Alice making pottery and watching football helped my initial fears fade away – to be replaced by an even dumber fear. I finally understood how I felt, which meant that I had also decided that telling Alice would be terribly wrong.
This is how I imagined it:
“Alice, I love you and I want to be with you.”
“I’m sorry Nick you’re a great friend but I’m in love with this sexy rugby player who’s also a doctor who’s really funny and cool. Also I’m kinda annoyed you’re telling me that now and not him six months ago when I opened my heart to you in a letter, so why not end this friendship?
I had no proof for this. But I wasn’t the most emotionally intelligent guy.
A few weeks later, I had one of the most awkward and unromantic conversations of my life. It all started with this absolute pearl: “Alice, I have something to tell you but it might make you sad.”
Alice’s face was grave, funerary. I will never forget him.
I told her I wanted to be with her, but I understood if she had moved on. She hadn’t, and she said exactly that.
I was thrilled but it was such a weird and awkward moment that I didn’t really know what to do, so I just said, “Let’s kiss now?”
It was 12 years ago. Since that day we’ve made pottery together once, watched only a handful of football matches (none of which Alice liked) and had a few bush walks (hand hold moderate).
My dreams of having a full-time recreational partner never came true, but Alice gave me something much better: more love than I thought possible. Alice texts me during the day telling me she loves me. She tells me that I’m handsome, that I’m the best boyfriend in the world and that she’s proud of me. She thanks me for everything I do for her and she gives me kisses, hugs and hugs like puffs of air, as if they were just thoughtless and instinctive parts of life.
It makes me want to love Alice the same way, in so many ways. Almost every time she passes, I put my hand on the back of her neck, squeeze it, or kiss a part of her that hasn’t gotten much attention lately, like a knee. Loving and being loved so much has also changed me. It made me feel lovable, better able to love myself, and in some ways better at loving everything around me. Now I wonder if I should have gone when I first got Alice’s letter. But who knows if everything would have gone perfectly.