I will always look after you.
It was a promise I made to myself long ago – a promise that began to form on my lips that day I sat beside you in the gym, that day you gave your awkward self-introduction and I thought, yes, I can make this work. It is a promise that I make again now, every day, every week that I check on you, every conversation we have, every bit of advice I give. It is a promise that I make again every time I see your familiar face because as the years have passed, I have come to understand this sad yet simple fact: that in this world we live, human beings cannot survive without each other – and if not me, then who?
You may not understand the cyclical nature of this yet, but someday you will. Someday, standing in the rain, gazing at the imprint of your shadow on the carpet, you will think: I will look after you. You will realize that I was able to take care of you because other people took care of me – and so by taking care of you, I am making it possible for you to turn around and pay it back. You will realize that you needed your queer seniors and mentors, that they were there for you in a way others could not be, and you will recognize that the next generation will be just like you – yearning for advice and validation and love, and from who? For what?
Time doesn’t always work this way. Love doesn’t always work this way. But we must do our best, and our best is all we can do.
When you scribbled out your letters to me, when you choked out an awkward, embarrassed “I love you,” I renewed my promise. When we talked about who we are and how we are seen to be, I renewed my promise. And when I left you, when time and distance and personal choice drove us apart, I renewed my promise. We aren’t the closest of friends – we never were. But my promise was never conditional, and someday, in the future, yours won’t have to be. Someday, you will stand against that brick wall to be photographed, and you’ll watch as you allow your own promise to be made tangible. Someday, someone will write you an awkward, embarrassed “I love you,” and you will remember that lesson from long ago arguing that time doesn’t have to be linear. I close my eyes and cry, you close your eyes and cry, I offer you love and you give it to someone else. Don’t get caught up in their lies, I told you once. Don’t limit yourself. I hope you will take that to heart one day.
But it’s funny, because we’ve both already failed. I promised to take care of you, but when we were both drowning, when we were both struggling for air, desperate for someone, something, to save us, we were too afraid to reach out for each other. We faced each other, watched each other, and stayed still and stone-cold silent. And why? She went out for a smoke, you went out for a breath of fresh air, and I closed the window. For days we spoke without talking, suffered without crying, died without screaming, and I can’t help but think I’m a failure. One promise will never be enough.
It will never be enough, but sometimes it’s the best I can do. You will learn this, too, one day. You’ll stand on the roof horrified as you watch her fall, and a tiny piece of your heart will say, you did your best. Too often, it’s an excuse. But sometimes, it’s the truth – and sometimes it doesn’t even matter if it’s the truth, because it’s just what you need to hear, what you need to know, what you need to believe, to keep on living.
I promise that I will look after you – and I will keep on living. In this world, our wills can coexist.