Monday, February 17, 2014

My Wilby

His name was Roger.

We met in junior high home room, on the first day of 8th grade. I was the new kid, and probably the weird kid, my first year in public school after seven years in parochial. I was nervous and alone and knew I didn't fit in and I was terrified no one was going to like me. He sat next to me and was kind and open and funny. We became friends. He was my first junior high friend, the first to extend a hand and make me feel welcome and a little more safe.

In the 9th grade, I went to his birthday party. It was one of those make-out, 7-Minutes-in-the-Closet things and I had a big crush on another boy whose name I no longer remember.Olivia Newton-John's song "Magic" was playing when I arrived at the party and I remember Roger watching me walk into the room, smiling ear-to-ear. And not long after the party, he told me that a boy had a crush on me but he wouldn't reveal who it was. I hoped and hoped it was the now long-forgotten boy... only for Roger finally to admit that it was actually him. That HE had a crush on me.

It was sweet and painful because he was clearly in the friend zone and I didn't feel the same. But we stayed friends anyway. And then we went to different high schools and grew apart.

My sophomore year in college I remember sitting in my Micro-Economics class and watching this gorgeous guy walk into the auditorium. I very clearly remember thinking "sit by me, sit by me!" and being so happy when he looked me directly in the eyes as he approached me with a big smile and open arms, shouting "ANNIE!" It was Roger. And my, how he had changed. He wasn't the chubby boy from junior high anymore. And he was so happy to see me. I couldn't believe my luck.

I was living in the sorority house at the time and I remember getting ready for our first date. ABC's "Be Near Me" was playing and I was singing along "All my dreams came true last night, all my hopes and fears..." and thinking that maybe this was it. That maybe he was going to be the love of my life.

I had no idea how absolutely right and completely wrong I was.

We went out on a couple of dates and then things just fizzled. I can remember us driving around in my little red RX7, listening over and over to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" and singing at the top of our lungs. We were so young, so full of life and possibility.

By the time I turned 20, we had both dropped out of school. I was living in my first apartment and had just had a huge falling out with a group of girlfriends. I was pretty much alone again in the world for the first time since 8th grade and so desperately lonely...and one night after going to see the musical "Cats" with my family, I called him out of the blue. I had wept through "Memory" at the show and for some reason it made me think of him and so I just called, not knowing what his response would be.

"ANNIE!" he yelled into the telephone, so happy to hear from me, so happy to reconnect. We started seeing each other again and one thing led to another and then we were dating. I was friendless and alone one moment... and in the next moment there he was and my life was full and happy again. He picked me up, dusted me off and made me feel loved and worthy again, always with that brilliant smile, those beautiful blue eyes, that amazing brain, that quick wit.

One of our favorite movies was "Mr. Mom" and in the film we both loved Kenny's relationship with his blanket. In hindsight I think it was named "Wooby," but at the time we thought it was "Wilby" and that's what we started calling each other: Wilby. And that's what we were to each other: Safety and security in a world that was suddenly so large and so frightening. Wilby was also a play on words. It meant "you will be mine, always." We clung to each other and though I thought we were happy, years later a look through my "Roger Box" (a shoebox full of momentoes from our relationship) revealed a very tumultuous relationship...and by then I knew why.

Roger was gay. When he shared that with me, I was devastated. He didn't want to be gay. He didn't want a life on the outside (this was 1987). He wanted a wife and a family and the white picket fence and the PTA and ALL of those things. And he wanted it with me...but he couldn't live a lie anymore. Our breakup was terrible and we stopped speaking for many years. And as much as it hurt (and as much as I didn't understand it at the time), I still always missed him. Because he was mine. Always.

I got married and divorced. And then married again. And in 2007 just before moving to Colorado, I met Roger for sushi. We had such a nice evening, catching up on each other's lives, reveling in our successes, comforting each other over our losses. It was so great to see him again. He was just that man that I felt instantly comfortable with... he was still my Wilby and yes, I was still his. We became Facebook friends and followed each other's lives from an admitted distance, but we were still bonded.

I moved and divorced again. Fell in love with a wonderful man and moved in with him and watched Roger do many of the same things via Facebook. Last Fall after the break-up of a long-term relationship, Roger and I chatted online a great deal. He was hurting and floundering and planning on coming to visit me, to get away from it all, to come to my mountain hideout and do some soul-searching. I was so excited for him to meet The Boy, I really thought they'd like each other as they shared so many qualities, not the least of which was their ability to make me feel safe and loved. But then Roger met someone new and the trip never happened.

He privately messaged me on New Year's Eve, telling me he had proposed to his new love in London and he was over the moon that he said yes. I congratulated him and he wished me a Happy New Year. The last thing I said to him was "I love you."

And then last night he died.

My sweet Wilby, the one my heart kept returning to over the course of 34 years, one of the very few men in the world who ever made me feel safe, special and loved... he's gone. There won't be another reunion. I won't see that smile again. I'll never hear his enthusiastic "ANNIE!" again. It always felt like we'd have another chance, that there would never be an end, that we'd keep finding each other over and over and over and finding joy in one another each time.

But my Wilby is gone. And I'm alone in this grey city... so far from The Boy. So far from anything that feels remotely safe or anything like my home. I don't have my photos of Roger, I don't have my Roger Box. All I have are memories...and a heart suddenly so very empty in a world that no longer seems as safe.

Godspeed, Wilby. If I can't find you again in this life, I promise I will in the next.

Rest in Peace, my beautiful Wilby. June 1, 1966 - February 16, 2014

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