May 25, 2020
Pre-S. For context, Alexis is my wife! She's transgender and at the time she was my boyfriend. But gender isn’t relevant to this story so there’s no need to deadname her or use incorrect pronouns. This story is about our relationship, but it's also about how a funny card turned deeply meaningful.
One day in early February, during my first year of college, I was sobbing into Alexis’s shoulder on a couch in the student center. I don’t remember why I was panicking. A paper deadline? A depressive episode telling me I had definitely fucked something up in this new relationship? My quickly unraveling religious understanding of the world and my place in it? Probably some combination of all of those.
Lexi and I had been together since right before winter break, when she kissed me in the library as it was about to close. She visited my family that January, and we made out in the shadow of my childhood church.
Back at college, we were navigating...everything. We were starting to understand each other and our respective brain Stuff. I was not very good at managing my depression then, although I was better at it than I was in high school. I’m not sure if this was the first real panic sob Lexi held me through, but it was certainly one of the first. After talking to me and holding me for a while, she suddenly said “wait a minute! I have something for you. They were supposed to be for Valentine’s day but I think this is a better time.” She turned away, rustled in her bag, scribbled something down, and handed me two adorable indie cards she had ordered from the internet. One said “You are the styrofoam peanuts to the poorly-packed cardboard box of my soul”, and the other said “If you ever get mauled by bears, I hope they stay away from your face, because I think you’re cute.” Inside the one about bears was an inside joke about how we weren’t going to have sex (which is a story for another day). I laughed super hard, took a few shuddering breaths, and started crying again but this time with a smile.
Thirteen years later and I’ve pinned up those cards by every desk I’ve worked at. When the panic descends - when deadlines loom and words won’t come, when the thoughts of worthlessness rise and take over everything - I look at them. I remember. There is a person who hopes that if I get mauled by bears they would stay away from my face. There is a person whose first thought when I am feeling worthless is “how can I help her understand how I see her?” She loved me. She wanted to help in whatever way she could, and she loved me in a way that I could hold in my hand. I moved through whatever had triggered the episode, but I held onto those cards.
When I look at those cards, the people we were sneak into the room and sit with the person I am. Those two barely-adult people were doing the best they could while being newly in the world and newly in love. They had no idea what was to follow, and I feel overwhelming tenderness towards them. I am in awe that they managed to know each other despite barely knowing themselves. My perspective shifts, and I am not only comforted by my partner, but by the understanding that this panic will pass and that I have the power to create a life full of so much more love and curiosity than 19-year-old Erica even thought possible. I am here, I am whole, and I am proud of the life I’ve built. Through all of the hard things, the bears have stayed away from my face.
I highly recommend finding something tangible to represent your affection. It doesn't need to be fancy or expensive or even particularly meaningful in and of itself. We give objects their power. If you need ideas, I of course always turn to greeting cards, and like to switch between funny and earnest. But whatever it is, as long as you give it with care and compassion the memories will attach themselves.
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