All I want and all I need
Is someone who believes in me.
— Reese Roper, “Suckerpunch”
I’ve never felt as loved and understood as I felt when I read her email that night.
It was years ago, and I hadn’t thought about what she wrote for a very long time. I thought the memory was safely packed away in my unconscious — in a box marked, “Dangerous: Do not open.”
The box opened all by itself late Friday night and memories came tumbling out. I have no idea why. I can’t explain it. But for the last 24 hours or so, I’ve been filled with memories of feelings which are awful and terrible and painful — but also sweet and loving and healing.
I honestly can’t say whether this is good or bad. I just know the memories hurt my heart, but they also remind me so much of what I long to feel again.
It’s a reminder of a brilliant and beautiful woman who loved me and understood me. Should it matter that she also had issues that scared me, issues that scared her about herself as well?
I don’t know how to explain the email that I suddenly remembered Friday night. It was unlike anything I’ve ever received or even heard of. Without context or explanation, she wrote about what she imagined it would have been to watch me work, back when I was a newspaper editor.
She wrote it in the third person, as though she was a dispassionate observer describing what she saw in her imagination. She never knew me in those days, but I had taken her to one of the newspapers where I had worked. I had shown her my old desk and newsroom and composing room and pressroom. I had walked her through the way everything worked — and she was mesmerized by it all.
She didn’t write about it until several years later. We hadn’t talked about it for a long time. But when she wrote about it that night, it was beautifully written and very accurate. Mostly, though, it showed a loving understanding of who I was — of what my work had meant to me and how good I was at it. What she wrote was glowing with understanding and admiration and love.
More than anything else, the underlying subtext of it said, “I believe in you even more than you believe in yourself.”
Late Saturday night, I decided to find that old email. I couldn’t remember exactly when it was, so I started searching among the old emails from her. The things I found astonished me.
I didn’t realize quite how much I had forgotten about her. It wasn’t so much the facts about her that I had put behind me. The facts about her were still in my memory, but it was her powerful presence that I’d forgotten.
It was her voice. I don’t even mean a recording of her physical voice. I mean the powerful personality — the force of will — that came through in everything she wrote. She was larger than life, whether we were discussing philosophy or theology or economics or linguistics or psychology. (I saw examples of all of those things in our emails.) When I read some of her old emails tonight, they weren’t dry words on my screen. They were a digital embodiment of a powerful living force that still lived in the words.
I remembered she was smart, of course, but I’d forgotten just how brilliant and original and powerful she was. There was a strength of will which is hard to explain. She was like a force of nature which had never been controlled — one which could create life and beauty but which could also destroy and leave chaos in its wake. I loved and admired that strength.
Our relationship ended poorly, for complicated reasons. Some of the blame was hers. Some was mine. It’s been so long that none of that matters now.
But I found something tonight which I’d forgotten about. It was one of the very last things she ever wrote to me. It was long after we had parted ways, but both of us were still trying to come to terms with our past together. She wrote to me about something she had done — which mirrored something I had done a few years before — which involved trying to relive our relationship, but imagining it from my point of view. It was apparently a painful experience for her.
“And I began to loathe the self of mine that emerged as I walked through the narrative,” she wrote. “That woman who hurt you! … I loathe her. … You did not deserve to have your heart treated so carelessly as I treated it, and I am forever sorry.”
I had hurt her. She had hurt me. Each of us had painful regrets about things we had done. Each of us wished we could change how things had turned out. But it was too late by then. Even so, it was powerful and important that she was able to take responsibility for the part she had played.
I never did find the email I was looking for tonight, the one in which she imagined what it would have been like to watch me work. And maybe that’s better. I don’t know how well I would have handled the intensity of those emotions right now.
Even without the words in front of me, I remember how much it meant to me. She loved me. She admired me. She understood what my work meant to me — and my work was important to her, too. She believed I could do great work.
She believed I could change the world, because she believed in me.
I’ve talked often about my deep need to be loved and understood, but there’s another piece that goes along with that. I need someone who believes in me. Not just anyone, though. I need that from a woman who I admire and value with all my heart as well.
I want the love and understanding and admiration of a woman who is brilliant and powerful and competent and brave and amazing — someone who is a force of nature who recognizes something similar in me. Someone who lives without regard for what others think or believe about her.
I found that once, but I lost it because her issues scared me. If I ever find it again, I’m going to hold on, even if I’m holding onto an emotional tornado who needs healing just as much as I do.
I need a woman who believes in me, but she has to be so amazing that I believe in her, too. And unicorns of that sort don’t come along very often.