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  • He told me he'd decided when I was twelve that he would marry me.

    I remember the day I met him; I even remember our conversation. I was twelve, he was 14. We joked in a nerdy way about being tall, so tall we could see over buildings, step over mountains, walk across the Mariana Trench. I remember thinking the topic was funny, and that he was cute.

    He introduced me to his sister and we became sort-of friends. We didn't date, I was too young. I went to their house once or twice to play with his sister, but I didn't really see him much until he got older, when he'd come with his grandmother to my church. Whenever he visited, I would make a beeline for him as soon as the service was over. I felt strange and warm inside when I talked to him. One time he looked in my eyes and told me they were dilated, and that's when I learned about how the eyes betray attraction. I considered him to be a pretty big nerd, and he would go on and on and on about things that I wasn't particularly interested in, but there was something about his skin, his mouth, his scent, that made me melt.

    When I was seventeen, he pulled my dad aside and declared his intentions to ask me out when I turned eighteen. My dad didn't particularly like him, so my dad tried to suggest that he keep looking around because "there are a lot of fish in the sea." He took that to mean that he might lose me to someone else, so he asked me out before I turned eighteen.

    Our dates were spent mostly sitting on the porch swing outside my house, talking about scientific things and silly puns, like how far away the moon was from the earth and how it looked like a pizza. He considered himself German, even though he was born to a very American family in the middle of the American Midwest, and would declare his love to me in German. Sometimes he would use the words that sounded like "I love you" in German, and I would respond "I love you too," and then he would laugh and tell me he had just told me he loved my feet or my hands, and I would laugh about how he had tricked me. The first time he tried to kiss me, I laughed in his face. I apologized right away, but it had been so funny to see his face and his lips suddenly get so big and close to me. We tried again, and it was nice. That was my first kiss.

    He was always a gentleman and never tried to do anything beyond kissing. But boy, could he kiss. Soft and feathery, dry and warm. We started spending most of our dates kissing after that.

    There was always something about him that felt "off," though. I always chalked it up to the fact that he was nerdy and kind of funny-looking and obsessive and not popular. He had hinted that his father was abusive, but I never thought it really affected him. I loved him with all my heart when we were sitting on the porch swing, but I was always annoyed at how cold and arrogant he was to my friends in public. None of my friends liked him. After about six months of dating, I went to Texas for a month, where I met a very handsome guy who had lots of friends, and I fell instantly into a deep crush. The handsome guy and I never dated, but I figured if I was that drawn to someone else so quickly, that my relationship with by boyfriend back home must not be right. I sent a "dear John" letter that same week. It crushed him.

    But even our breakup felt somehow warm and special. I came back from Texas and he and I stayed friends for two years. I tried dating a few other guys, but I never felt any real passion for any of them. After awhile he and I started talking more, and pretty soon we were dating again.

    It was different this time. I loved him deeply, but I simultaneously felt a growing repulsion. He took it for granted that we were going to get married. I drew pictures of myself, split in two, half wanting to hold him and half wanting to run away. He told me his deepest secrets. I didn't want to go anywhere with him in public. He started ordering me around. I started feeling used. He informed me that when we got married we would move to Germany. I felt the walls collapsing around me. He asked me what pattern of china I wanted him to bring home from Germany. I couldn't breathe. He came over to my house to propose. I met him at the door and kissed him goodbye.

    I didn't speak to him again for seven years. He carried a torch for me for a long time and didn't understand why I had broken up with him. I didn't understand either, I just knew I had to do it. I met someone new a month after I left him, and we got married a year later. But our marriage was rough from the beginning. My new husband left me alone a lot. I felt very lonely, and I started spending quite a bit of time laying in bed, thinking about the past. I missed the good times, and I could never figure out why I ran.

    I was divorced by the time I saw him again. He had married and had a daughter. He still lived in the United States, but I knew he still identified as German because he was wearing a German style suit and spoke to his daughter in German. He asked me again why I had broken up with him. I told him that I didn't really know, but that if I hadn't done it he never would have met his wife. He seemed to accept what I said, and I think he finally found closure.

    Over a decade later, his grandmother died and my dad went to her funeral. My dad came home and told me stories about how he was treating his wife, how he was controlling and domineering and demanded her submission.

    And hearing that, I finally knew why I had run away.
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