Flawed: A Tale of First True Love Gone Wrong
I was the misfit in high school. I had only been on a handful of dates when a friend offered to set me up with Evan*. Our first meeting was clumsy, if not awkward.
"I'm Stacy," I stuttered. He smiled and then lapsed into silence. I noticed his hand. I tried not to gape -- I knew it wouldn't be polite. He caught my eyes drifting.
"I have Poland Syndrome," he said. I nodded.
From my own research, I had learned Poland Syndrome was a birth defect, emphasized by a defect of the chest muscle on one side of the body and webbing of the fingers of the hand on the same side. It had left Evan with webbed fingers and a disfigured hand.
When he asked me to the prom, I surprised everyone by saying yes.
In the weeks leading up to the prom, I primped. I bought a dress, straightened my hair, and wore makeup for the first time. When Evan pulled up to my house in the back of a luxury black car, I looked out the window and stared. He shyly walked up the door, holding his webbed hand behind his back.
In my parent's house, he nervously pinned the corsage onto my dress. And then we walked off to his senior prom. At the prom, we danced and laughed with his friends. He introduced me to his teachers, and called me his "date for the evening." After a few hours of pleasantries, I walked off to the bathroom, and ran headfirst into a classmate.
"I see you're here with Evan," she sneered, her mouth turning into a sneer of disapproval. "What was it, a pity date?"
"No," I replied quietly. Still stinging from the remark, I went back to my date.
At the end of the night, he dropped me off at my parent's door. I stood by the doorway, lingering just a little bit longer in the hopes he would get the hint.
Just kiss me already!
He leaned in close. "I had a really good time tonight," I told him. "So did I," he mumbled.
Then he hugged me. Before I knew it, he was off, his body trotting back to the black car.
I walked inside, not wanting him to see my tears.
A year and a half later, I went off to college, to a small, public university in the middle of the mountains. I began to date. The boys were different from the boys back home -- they chewed tobacco and used catch phrases like "y'all" and "pot-belly". I found my thoughts wandering back to Evan, and wondering how he was. Yet I didn't have the nerve to call him.
One day as I sat in my dorm room, I typed an instant message to Evan.
"Hey, how are you?" I typed.
We started talking. He was a newly minted film major, while I had professed my love of the written word. He was shy, and quiet, except when prompted, while I could talk for hours. We were complete polar opposites. But the more we started talking, the more my feelings toward Evan began to grow. Evan was sensitive, and sweet, and I was starting to wish that something had happened between us. I started to wonder if we had made a mistake.
At the end of my freshman year, I packed up my things. When I returned to the suburbs of my hometown, I texted Evan.
"If you're in the area, do you want to hang out?" I typed. Holding my breath, I waited for a reply.
"Sure," he wrote. "Where can I pick you up?"
A few nights later, we went to see "Knocked Up". He had his arm around me, and I shivered in anticipation. As we drove back to his house, I fumbled with my lip gloss.
The whole ride back, my thoughts whirled inside my head. Why was I spending time with him? Did I have any idea what I was getting myself into?
We stood out by his car, our awkward conversation beginning to lull. I was so close to him I could almost smell his minty breath and musky cologne. I opened my mouth to speak, and he kissed me.
I had been kissed before -- by five boys, to be exact, but not like this. His kisses turned me to warm jelly, and as we slid behind his car, I closed my eyes, secretly thrilled that it had finally happened.
That's how we started.
Throughout the summer, we dated. By the time the leaves had turned colors, we had fallen in love.
I didn't know how to define love. But we loved each other deeply, and honestly, in a way that was untainted and innocent. He was my biggest supporter with my writing, commenting gently that I was talented, and off to change the world.
A few months later, when my last living grandmother passed away, he held me as I cried in my room after the funeral. He never complained, even as I left ring marks of tears across his shirt.
As our relationship blossomed, we began to send old-fashioned love letters through the mail. I learned to adore his atrocious spelling, and dreadful handwriting.
But while we were intimate on an emotional level, we sorely lacked in a different department: the bedroom.
He wasn't comfortable with his body, and I wasn't either. While he would kiss me aggressively, hungrily, he would always stop, as if he was afraid of my response.
The truth was, I wouldn't have rejected him. But at 20 years old, I lacked the self-esteem to admit my own fears. How do you tell someone they are attractive, when all they see is someone who is flawed? I could barely say the word sex without blushing, let alone express my own wants and needs out loud.
He was the same. The longer we put off our physical intimacy, the more insecure we both became. Our bond was frayed with a deep level of anxiety. His anxiety, in turn, fueled my own; as I remembered the reaction of strangers anywhere we went. When we held hands in public, his webbed fingers clasping mine, strangers would gawk, sometimes openly at our display of public affection. While I would smile at his touch, or warm breath in my ear, I wasn't blind to the outside world's perception.
However, a part of me was afraid. Selfishly, I was afraid of my friends' reactions, frightened that they too, would react cruelly towards our physical intimacy.
In my heart, I knew Evan was different than anyone else I had ever known. In some ways, he was like a little boy trapped in a man's body. He constantly needed my love, affection, and attention. I gave it to him, all too eager to lift him up out of his pit of insecurity.
"You look great," I said, as I kissed him hello on our anniversary.
"No I don't," he replied sullenly. This was typical. Evan was always the first one to play down his appearance, even when he looked especially attractive.
But deep down, I knew he had to learn to fight his own demons. Just like I had to learn to fight mine.
While we would talk for hours on the phone, our relationship was long distance, spread out over a six-hour drive. While he attended school in upstate New York, I had transferred to a school in Philadelphia. He would press me to come visit him, and I would do the same, but we both knew the infrequent visits were taking a toll.
On one of our weekend visits, I turned to him. "Are you going to leave me?" We were lying in bed together, holding each other, as I echoed my deepest fear out loud.
"No, I'm not going to leave you. I can see us being together through the end of college," he answered.
"What about after that?" I asked.
"We'll have to see," he said, choosing his words carefully.
I had expected a different answer. After months of phone calls, of tear-drenched letters, of fumbled, hot kisses, of acting as each other's best friend -- this was the beginning of the end, and I was too blind to see it.
I wanted a man who was confident in himself, who loved his body. Was that so much to ask? Rooted with guilt, and anger, I started to ignore his phone calls.
We broke up a few weeks after his birthday. He was anxious to see me -- I had hidden a hand-crafted wooden box as his gift in my closet. But when he arrived at my dorm that evening, he looked up at me.
"We should talk....." he finally choked out. The words left a gnawing pain in the pit of my stomach.
He wanted to take a break. I wanted to break up. He started to cry, and I did too.
"You need to learn how to love yourself, Evan," I said.
He could have said the same thing to me. Throughout our relationship, I focused on Evan's insecurities, ignoring my own. I was ashamed of the scars on my neck and shoulder, the scars that left me feeling as vulnerable and naked as a newborn.
I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and scream at him, Can't you see? I'm just like you, but the words would never materialize. And so, we ended it.
Friends tell me that our love was an illusion, wrapped up in a romantic fantasy that we had concocted for each other. On my worst days, I like to think they're right.
Nevertheless, I think about the men and women who sustain a relationship without sexual intimacy, the men and women who found a way to beat the odds and maintain a healthy and satisfying relationship.
Since dating Evan, I've come to love my body, scars and all. Although we've lost touch, I hope Evan has finally been able to accept his body. He's a beautiful person, both inside and out.
* Name has been changed.
Stacy Lipson is a freelance writer. You can reach her at her website.
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