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Honestly Trusting Dishonesty (A Love Story)

Goddamn, I’m tired of lying

I wish I loved you like I used to.”

Manchester Orchestra

Once upon a time times three I fell in love. The first two girls I fell in, and subsequently out of, love with were my ex-girlfriends. The third girl was a different story. Though the love I had for her was unlike (in a sense, stronger than) the love I had for my ex-girlfriends she and I never officially dated. It’s now been 22 months since I last heard from her, and I think that maybe I have honesty to thank for that.

It seems to be a paradox, the relationship of honesty to relationships. Some people will tell you that honesty is the best policy, and while I have some reason to believe that to be true, I also know that it is simply not able to be true in every single case and situation. However, no lasting relationship can be built on anything other than trust, and this is a by-product of honesty. To be honest, or to lie? Do we end up in the same boat regardless?

Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I think I do, so let me take you on a little trip to my life as it was 20 years ago. As you may or may not have known, I for quite some time have had a particular liking of the name Elena, and this all originates here.

When I was in the 3rd grade I met a girl named Elena. She was a very pretty girl, and, as any 3rd grade boy will tell you, she also had cooties. Still, I couldn’t help but find myself being attracted to her in whatever way 10 year-olds are attracted to each other. We got along very well and we always had fun together. We would hang out with each other whenever we could.

I remember one portion of that school year, maybe a week or so, where all of the classes divided up and students were sent to different classrooms for an hour or so each day. I think it had to do with us reading and discussing a particular book during that time, with each class reading a different book. Elena and I were some of the few students from our class sent to this particular classroom, and the entire time we were in there she and I would stick together. We got stuck with a really old, mean teacher, and there was one particular time when the teacher got onto Elena for something trivial, as this teacher was known to do. I remember feeling so angered that she was picking on Elena for something so small and trite, and I desperately wanted to speak up and defend this girl I liked, but I was a shy kid back then, so I said nothing.

For some reason I was also afraid of my parents finding out that I liked this girl. Not that they would have disapproved, nor would they have made me stop talking to her. I really don’t know why I cared so much about them finding out. I know that my mom always thought it was silly when little kids started “dating”, as if these kids knew anything about the subject, so maybe I thought she would view me in the same way.

Either way, Elena and I grew to become very good friends. Eventually the kids in our class, as well as most of the kids in our grade, started to wonder and question if she and I liked each other. Of course I liked Elena, but I would never admit this to anyone.

I distinctly remember one recess in particular where I had to spend the whole time sitting on a bench, finishing up homework I had for some reason never finished. All of the other kids were playing on the playground equipment. One boy from my class came up to me and said that “everyone”, referring to the other kids on the jungle gym he had just come from, wanted to know if I liked Elena. I’ve never been much of a liar, as I usually didn’t see the purpose or benefit in it, but there was no way I was telling him the honest truth.

“I like her as a friend,” I said, the classic cop-out to this question. I had heard kids use it before, and I knew it wasn’t going to fly here.

“No,” he said, “Do you really like her?” As in, you know, a girlfriend. Nothing would have made me happier at that particular time than having her as a girlfriend, but instead I told the boy, “No”, and he went off to share the news with the other kids.

A few minutes later Elena came up to me and said, “Hi”, and while I really wish I could remember the conversation I had with her as clearly as I can the conversation I had with that boy, I do clearly remember the indescribable feeling I had while talking to her. It was like shame, guilt, and regret all rolled up into one big emotion. I knew that she had just heard from that same boy what I had just said about only liking her as a friend, and I desperately wanted to tell her right then and there that I actually liked her more than that, but my own cowardice kept me from doing so.

This was the first such occasion of me verbalizing the lie of me not liking her, a lie I would go on to tell myself, and others, several more times. She and I still remained great friends throughout the rest of the school year, but I never allowed it to go any farther than that. The next year we were in different classes, but we rode the same bus home. Looking back at it now it surprises me how close we lived to each other, yet we never once hung out outside of school. Again, it was that fear of my parents that kept me from doing anything about it. If I wanted to go anywhere, to see anyone, my parents would have to know, and if I were to hang out with a girl I assumed that my parents would assume I liked her, and then they would think of me as being silly, and would disapprove.

I told that lie so often that eventually my actual, true feelings for her were suppressed so deeply that I rarely heard them over the lie. The only time we saw each other in 4th grade was at recess, or on the bus ride home. I would talk to her on the bus, but it was nothing like what our friendship had been the year before. And I didn’t really care because I had already convinced myself that I didn’t like her. I really didn’t even think about it any more.

Ironically, there was also a recess during 4th grade that I remember as clearly as the recess from the year before. I know the exact spot where I was standing, and I remember the exact shirt I was wearing. A girl named Shayla (she wasn’t in my class, but we knew each other, and she knew Elena) came up to me.

“Hey, Shaun,” she said, “Do you like Elena?” By this time the response was programmed inside of me.

I told her, “No.”

At the time I was just being a stupid kid, just saying the first things that came to mind. All of my life I had been a relatively good kid, making good grades, was fairly shy, never got in trouble. But in 4th grade, and only in 4th grade, all of that changed. That was the only year I missed recess due to bad behavior. I was rude, and I would use 4th grade-level profanity without caring or thinking about it. I was an all-around brat. But only for that year, for whatever reason.

Shayla asked me, “Why not?” It wasn’t until several years later that I deeply regretted the response I gave to this question.

Without thinking I replied, “Why would I?”, in the arrogant, cocky way you would imagine coming from the mouth of a 11 year-old brat.

Shayla turned and walked away, presumably to tell Elena what I had said. That was the last year Elena went to school there, and with it being 1994 at the time it was impossible to know where she had moved to during summer break. It could have been anywhere, and I had no way of finding out. I remember briefly looking for her at school the next year, but I didn’t put much thought into it because I was still of the false conviction that I didn’t care about her. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that I would think about her again.

I was on a missions trip to an Indian reservation in Colorado when for some unexplainable reason Elena popped into my head. I remembered the whole story, the whole situation of me and her, and I finally fully realized how much I had lied to myself through the years. Maybe it was due to me being 17 at the time and old enough to know what it really felt like and meant to like someone, but I clearly remembered and knew how much I had liked Elena. Still, I had no real way of finding out anything about her, as my use of the internet wasn’t as prolific as it is now. I wondered if she still thought of me, and I wondered if she was even still alive. The thought of the possibility of her now being dead kept me awake at night.

At various times over the next 8 years I would do internet searches for her, but with little luck. There was one man with the same last name living in Arizona who was about the age her father would have been. This was before I had a cell phone, so I waited until I was at work and I gave the guy a call. My heart pounded with each ring of the phone. When he finally answered I thought my chest was going to explode.

“Is Elena there?” I asked.

“Who’s this?”

“I went to school with her in Missouri.”

“Really? Where at in Missouri?”

Branson. We were in 3rd grade together.”

“Oh yeah, I used to live in Branson for a while.”

I knew I had the right guy, but he started asking me more questions, and he never told me whether or not Elena was there. He kept beating around the bush with the whole issue, and I eventually had to hang up because I didn’t want my job seeing a lengthy long-distance call on their phone records.

In 2008 I finally found some solid information and I called her. A man (her husband) answered, and even though I explained the whole reason of me calling he seemed extremely skeptical. Of course, he had every right to the skepticism. Some random guy was calling his wife after 14 years? Pretty weird, I’ll admit.

He eventually put her on the phone and I got to hear her voice for the first time in 14 years. Of course, she didn’t remember me, or us, as I should have expected. She said she vaguely remembered her time at school with me, but clearly I didn’t mean to her what she had meant to me. We talked for a little bit, but the conversation was pretty awkward. She was married with two kids by then, living in Arizona. We were friends on Myspace for a while after that, but eventually I deleted her from there and pushed her to my past forever.

That name has always stuck with me, and it seems to have a certain mystique to it. In many of the stories I write the perfect female soul mate character is named Elena. I often I have to go back and change the name to something else, just so it doesn’t end up being that same name every single time.

More importantly, the greatest lesson I gleaned from my own life story is that lying benefits no one. Perhaps my life would have taken a drastically different (which isn’t to say drastically better) path had I just manned up back in 3rd grade and told the world that I liked Elena. Maybe we would have stayed in contact after she moved. Maybe she wouldn’t have moved. Maybe we would have ended up together, or maybe not. No matter which what-if scenario you want to go with, any of the above scenarios would have led me to a life different than the one I have today, and for that reason I can’t wholly regret the lie.

I know now exactly how a lie told to your own self can quickly grow to replace the truth in your heart. It seems that if lying could so monumentally screw up one of my relationships then surely telling the honest truth would have the opposite effect.

Maybe, but probably not.

That third girl I loved was a girl named Shea. We met while working together in the summer of 2006. I was currently still with my second girlfriend, and I was still (somehow) happy with her, so I thought little of Shea. She was pretty, yes, but she was a handful of years younger than I was, so she filled nothing more than a younger sister role to me. Over the summer and autumn of 2006 we became better friends, until we were what you could call close friends.

In March of 2007 I broke up with my girlfriend because I needed some time to myself. I had just been through roughly 30 consecutive months of relationships, and I was ready for the lack of commitment. Stupidly, I assumed that my girlfriend and I would one day get back together, so instead of just severing all ties with her (as is what eventually happened anyway) I kept stringing her along for the next year or so.

Through the spring of 2007 Shea and I grew very close. We worked together the night of March 24th , and later that night, after work, we went to her car and sat there and talked until we saw the sun coming up. While this was the only time we stayed up all night talking, it wasn’t the only time we spent countless hours in a car conversing about anything and everything that came to mind.

I knew at the time, though I wouldn’t admit it to myself, that she was starting to really like me. I liked her as well, but I liked even more my new found freedom. The last thing I wanted, or needed, was more commitment. She never pushed a relationship or anything; she kept her distance, and because of this we were able to become best friends.

By that summer she had stopped working with me, and with her living over 40 miles away we rarely saw each other. We kept in touch via our phones, but that was mostly it. In July I had a birthday party at my house, and she showed up and got very drunk. She ended up admitting to my sister that she was in love with me. Drunken words are sober thoughts, they say, so me hearing this news was quite the wake-up call I knew had to be coming. I finally realized how much I had led her on when I wasn’t wanting a relationship in return. It wasn’t fair to her, and I felt bad for it. So I did what seemed like the best thing to do at the time. I started distancing myself from her. Not that I cut off ties with her; I just made sure to not lead her on with anything.

I drove up to visit her a few times in the following months, but by the spring of 2008 we weren’t keeping in contact like we once had. I saw her a few times in May of that year, right before I was to spend a month hitchhiking to Boston. Once I got to Boston I spent a week there before taking a bus back to Missouri. During that week I thought mostly of Shea, despite our lack of contact the few months before I left. I guess it just took those few minutes spent together in May to cause her to haunt my thoughts.

By the time I left Boston I was most desperate to see Shea of all people, other than my immediate family, of course. The bus I took stopped in Springfield, and she said I could spend the night at her place. It was rather late when she picked me up from the bus station, but that didn’t stop us from staying up for a couple hours talking. I was determined to pick up wherever it was that we had left off; it was going to be my focus to hang out with her that summer. I mentioned us seeing a movie the following week, and she agreed to it.

By the next week she had stopped contacting me as much, ignoring text messages and such. It wasn’t until a month later that I found out that she had started seeing a friend of her brother in April, and by the summer they had become somewhat serious. It was perplexing to me then, and even still now, why she couldn’t bring herself to tell me this in person when she picked me up from the bus station. Why lead me on like that?

Seeing how I had done nothing less than that to her the previous year I guess I had it coming. Karma, I suppose, is quite the bitch.

I’m typically not the kind of person to get screwed over and then willingly give the same person another chance to screw me over again. But Shea wasn’t the typical girl friend. It’s not a lie to say that she was, and still is, one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. And to this day she’s the only girl to ever hold such a commanding spell over me. I would tell myself that I didn’t care about her, that I was moving on from her, and then as soon as she contacted me again, hell, as soon as she even crossed my mind again, I was completely re-smitten. As much as I wanted to admit that I had the control, it simply was never true.

I had done a decent job of ignoring her, and the thoughts of her, until August of 2009, more or less a year absent from her. During that time she had broken up with her brother’s friend and had dated another guy, one she had gotten quite serious with. By August they had broken up, and for some reason I felt compelled to contact her one more time. By August I knew that I would be moving to Los Angeles in a little over 3 months, with no idea of when, or if, I would be moving back to Missouri. I apologized to Shea for the way I had led her on back in 2007, because I now clearly saw it for what it was.

She wouldn’t accept the apology because she said I couldn’t help the way she felt about me back then. She apologized for the way she had ditched me the following year, and from there we began conversing almost every day. We eventually started hanging out, a couple of times each month up until the time I moved in December.

On one particular November night we were sitting in a restaurant talking, and I finally felt that feeling I had never really felt before with her. I had liked her before, and I knew she liked me, and this had gone on and off for the past 3 years. But sitting there at that table, her talking in length and detail about the Twilight books (which she admitted were cheesy, but she still loved them. Her guilty pleasure, I guess), is when I felt that overwhelming feeling rise up and through my chest that I can only describe as me falling in love.

It’s quite easy to relay hatred, depression, and angst via the written word, but love is almost impossible to describe without it sounding cliché and familiar. Since my words cannot do the moment justice I trust that your imagination can, and I will leave it at that.

I knew then that I was in love with Shea, and it took every bit of me to not tell her. It wasn’t until the day before I left for California that I finally told her how I felt. We had hung out nearly the entire day, and by midnight we had made it back to her apartment. We were sitting on the couch watching TV, when I decided that it was then or never.

I turned to her and said, “I think it’s a good thing I’m moving to California because if I stayed around here, and if I kept hanging out with you, I would fall in love with you.”

She didn’t at first respond, but later on my drive home she sent me a text telling me that she did love me, but she was unsure of what to do about the feeling since I was leaving the next day. The next morning, after I had packed all of my things and said my farewells to my parents, I stopped by her apartment on my way through town. I knew that I would be coming back in June to visit family and friends, and most definitely to see her again.

I told her, “Six months is too long to go with just some texts and memories of you.” And then I asked her if I could kiss her, which she of course didn’t object to.

Now, I had kissed my fair share of women before that moment, and I’ve kissed my fair share since, but never have I felt a kiss as powerful, as meaningful, as memorable, as the one I shared with her. 3 ½ years of liking and disliking and loving and hating and wanting and not having, every emotion associated with every feeling we had ever had for each other, every foundational minute of every conversation we had had together, absolutely everything I felt about her I put into that kiss, and I felt the same in return. It was the last time we would kiss, and we both kissed like we knew this would be the case.

I left her there after that, which I’ll admit couldn’t have been easy on her, and it wasn’t easy for me to do. I had far more reason to just spend the entire day with her, but I had a 14 hour drive, and an entire new chapter of my life, in front of me, so I left behind that particular chapter that had been dedicated to her.

We kept in close contact over the next few months, and she even told me over the phone that she loved me, which was the first time I had heard her actually say the word aloud. She wasn’t stupid about it, though; she wasn’t a girl to get all caught up in emotions. She knew as well as I did that I wasn’t returning to her in the foreseeable future, so she didn’t let these things go to her head.

I returned in June to be in a friend’s wedding, and I brought Shea with me to the wedding. I was hoping we could pick up where we had left off, but I was also prepared for the fact that she could have moved on to a new guy by then. I was fine with this, as I didn’t have any room to argue about it, seeing how I was the one who had put the 1,600+ miles between me and her. We shared a hotel room in the town where the wedding was being held, and the night before the wedding we went to a bar to talk for a little bit. It was there that she told me she had started seeing a guy, but they weren’t anything serious. In fact, she wasn’t sure exactly what they were. They were just kind of feeling things out.

I didn’t really care as much as you might expect me to. I kind of thought in the back of my head that no matter what happened through life Shea and I would always end up together. So far we had always found our ways back to each other, no matter how much separation we created for each other.

I played it safe those two days together. I didn’t tell her that I loved her, I didn’t try to kiss her, I didn’t flirt with her, I didn’t make any moves on her. The only thing I did was tell her on the day of the wedding that she was “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen”. It was one of those moments where she looked exceptionally gorgeous, and I really couldn’t help myself.

I dropped her off at her apartment that Saturday after the wedding had ended, and we said our good-byes. We had made plans to hang out the upcoming week, either on Monday or Wednesday, and then I was flying back to Los Angeles on Thursday. I jokingly said to her then in her apartment, “Well, good-bye, since I probably won’t see you again.”

She replied, “No, you’ll see me again. Even if I have to drive down to Branson.”

Those words would be the last thing she would say to me, ever. I sent her a text on Wednesday asking if we were still on to hang out that day, and I got no response. I boarded my flight on Thursday with not a single text, call, or message from her. I had dropped off of the face of the Earth, apparently. My sister told me as she took me to the airport that she had seen on Facebook where Shea was now listed as “in a relationship” with this new guy she was with. Evidently she was more sure of what she and him were than she had led me to believe because a few days later I saw a picture online of her at some type of formal banquet, sitting in this guy’s lap, her hand around his head, their faces drawn close together, being quite intimate.

I still had no explanation as to why I suddenly didn’t exist. I figured that even if she did want to get personal with this guy at the very least she and I could remain friends. I knew how to keep my distance, and I thought I had done a decent job of showing that while at the wedding. I called her shortly after getting back to Los Angeles. She of course didn’t answer, so I left her a voicemail telling her that if she never wanted to talk to me again that was fine, but could she please explain to me what it was that I had done wrong? If she called me back I wouldn’t even answer, just letting it go straight to voicemail. Simply hearing her voice in a recording would have been enough for me.

She never called me, as I somewhat expected, but that didn’t stop me from incessantly checking my phone and computer for any text, call, or message from her. I had been in this boat before and I knew from experience that it would soon set sail for the deepest, darkest, loneliest part of the ocean of sorrow. I had lost sleep over this kind of thing before; I had spent nights wondering where my love was, and how to get it back. I knew what it was like to check my phone every few minutes in the blind hope of a call. I knew what it was like to sit down at my computer and pray and wish for that one message that would turn things back to the way they used to be. The only difference was that when I had gone through this before I was at least still residing in the same state as my current love. This time I had half of the country between us.

I couldn’t afford to go through the stress again, not this time. I couldn’t lose sleep over Shea. I was faced with the reality of absolutely no closure whatsoever, and it was going to eat me from the inside out. I finally did the only thing I felt I could do, which was find a way to viciously insult Shea. I released all of my anger and hurt on her via a song I made about her, forever burning that bridge between us. She eventually heard the song and that sealed the deal.

As soon as I made that song, as soon as I had gotten everything off of my chest, I immediately felt completely fine with the whole situation. I didn’t care why she had done what she did, I didn’t lose sleep over it. I was over it.

That’s not to say that I don’t still think about her from time to time, because I do. I don’t necessarily miss her, but I do miss what we had together. I miss the feeling I had for her. I miss having that rush of emotion in your chest that you can’t control, and that you can only explain through the insufficient phrase of “I love you”. That stuff I miss, but her I don’t care about.

I recently saw online that she is now engaged to be married. Up until this point I was sure that whatever she did would no longer bother me, but that didn’t stop that feeling of crushing finality from hitting me straight in the heart. Despite the fact that Shea and I no longer had any chance of a future together it was still defeating to be reminded of this fact in such a way as this.

I’ve tried my hand at lying through relationships, and I’ve tried my hand at honesty, and it seems that the final result always ends up the same. I understand that Life is little more than a series of games we must play, and relationships are the most rewarding, time-consuming, and defeating games we’re stuck playing.

Shea isn’t the only girl I’ve given bare honesty to. Recently there was a girl who was a very good friend to me, and I really wanted nothing more than that as it seemed unlikely that our personalities would allow us to mesh into anything more than that. I eventually told her, after less than a year of friendship, that her friendship meant a lot to me, and I didn’t want us to ever grow apart. Apparently even a meaningful friendship was too much commitment for her to handle, because after that this girl sent me an e-mail saying that she thought we should keep a little more distance (a little more than the 4 hour drive that was already between us) from each other. She told me in the e-mail that I was on the top of her list of people to see when she came back into town, which was to be in a few weeks.

As you probably could have guessed by now, she came into town as she had said, and she failed to contact me in any way. That e-mail was the last contact we’ve had with each other, and I don’t hold much hope for that changing any time in the future.

What exactly is the point of this lengthy love story? I’m not sure. I guess I’m perplexed at how I know that trust is the most important element to any relationship, and yet this same trust has gotten me nowhere in any of mine. People who lie to each other will never have a long relationship, or if they do it will be quite a miserable existence.

I know that some of you may read this and you may be in a relationship that has been based on nothing but honesty and trust, and for this you are totally happy together. Hooray for you. I know that that’s how things are supposed to work, but this is a story of how it’s never worked for me.

I guess I’m supposed to lie my way into the girl’s heart, tell her what she wants to hear, and then once I’m there start breaking out the honesty. Honesty may indeed be the best policy, when it comes to casual or family relationships. But in the game of pursuit known as a relationship it seems that honesty is your own suicidal death wish.