Brighter Than Sunflowers

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W died on August 13, 2011, at 38 years old. He jumped off a bridge. No one knows why. He left a note that provided no answers, and he spoke to no one before he died. By all accounts his act was quick, decisive, planned.

W had carried a torch for me for many years. I never noticed until about two years before his death. We were at a party together, and I, slightly inebriated, sat on his lap. Then came the flash of attraction. I suddenly noticed him, as a man, when I never had before. A couple of days later, I invited him out to a party I was at. Later that evening, I spent the night with him. He was happy.

At breakfast the next morning, we talked for a long time. I was attracted to him and cared about him as a friend, but his feelings were much deeper than mine. We both knew we wouldn’t work as a couple: not only was I poly and he mono, not only did we live in different cities, but I would never feel the same about him as he for me. We shared few interests and no goals in life. We even had difficulty talking on the phone, we had so little to talk about. Our friendship was dependent on the social setting it was embedded in, and the attraction was a little something extra.

We agreed to an indeterminate friends-with-benefits situation. I would give him as much as I could and felt good about, he would have no expectations and we would both be grateful for what we had. We both agreed we hoped he would find a wonderful, monogamous woman to settle down with. In a perfect world, she’d be ok with him still sleeping with me occasionally on the side–but what world is perfect?

I didn’t see him again for about nine months. He came, with some of our other friends, to my city to help cook for my wedding with A. We made plans to spend some (intimate) time together the night before, which would have been our only chance before the wedding–me naively not realizing the tangle my emotions would be in, in the days before my wedding. I talked to him and said I couldn’t follow through, and I was sorry. He understood, or said he did.

Two months later I was in his city again, at another party. He met a woman there, whom he ended up seeing until a month before he died. I didn’t know that, though, and when we both left the party, on the street outside, I kissed him. I just wanted to, and I followed my heart.

The next day a mutual friend lit into me for using W and taking advantage of his emotions. I argued that it was enough that I had been honest with W from the beginning, and that he needed to take responsibility for his feelings. I also said that, had the roles been reversed, I would have preferred the little bit he’d had to nothing at all. My friend disagreed on all counts and, combined with a lengthy shaming on several other points, had me in tears for most of the night.

The next day I saw W, and I told him it was over, friends only from that point on. I was just too afraid of fucking with his head, and that was fucking with my head. I apologized for kissing him–he said he hoped I’d continue to do what felt right and good to me in the moment. He asked if we could still flirt, and I said okay. He said he was glad for everything that had happened, and he wasn’t hurt. I said good luck with the new girl.

That was the last time I saw him before watching his ashes go into the ground–a bit less than a year later.

I don’t regret anything I did when I was being true to myself. When I stayed open to him and gave him exactly as much as I could with integrity, I know what I was doing was right. What I regret is letting myself be shamed into cutting him off from a connection that was important to both of us. I can’t ever go back and change anything I did, and I can’t ever fix the mistakes I made. But I can at least remember that lesson.

I’m so glad I kissed him that last time.

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