After all of these years, it’s hard for me to remember a time when there wasn’t some image of Sean in my life. I know those years exist, but for some reason, he even feels present for them. We met on a school bus when I was five.
I don’t remember much from our time on the bus, but I remember him. He was two grades ahead of me and much quieter than I, so we never interacted with each other, but I always paid attention when we pulled up to his stop. I’d watch as his grandpa sent him off daily. He was painfully quiet, and I was not, and because of that, we took notice of the other — though never interacted.
Sean’s memories of me of that time were of me running up and down the aisle of the bus, and as we got older, he remembers me yelling out the bus windows my delight that “Kasey Campbell is my boyfriend!!” (as well as the tears that ensued when that was no longer the case). Our worlds were very separate; we never saw each other off of the school bus, and in those eight years up until high school, I don’t think we even ever spoke.
We didn’t become friends until my Sophomore year of high school when we worked at Jimmy’s Pizza; he was a dishwasher/prep boy and I was a waitress. By that time, I was already well into my Crohn’s journey. Other than those few memories on the school bus, Sean doesn’t remember me ever being healthy. Although Sophomore year brought me a brief respite from my normal symptoms, I soon developed new extraintestinal manifestations when my first Pyroderma Gangrenosum appeared on my shin. The week that I was in the hospital with that, Sean visited me every day. We’d curl up in my hospital bed and he’d make me laugh and we’d watch movies and he’d fill me in on what I was missing at Jimmy’s.
He was easy to be around; up until that point, I had never met someone that I wanted to be around all the time. Even to this day, I need to recharge my batteries when I’ve been socializing too much — I’m an ambivert; I can be extroverted, but then I need quiet time — but with Sean, I could feel that quiet peace together with him, no matter what we were doing. Hemingway described that feeling best in A Farewell to Arms:
“…[there was a] feeling that we had come home, feeling no longer alone, waking in the night to find the other one there, and not gone away; all other things were unreal. We slept when we were tired and if we woke the other one woke too so one was not alone. Often a man wishes to be alone and a girl wishes to be alone too and if they love each other they are jealous of that in each other, but I can truly say we never felt that. We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others … But we were never lonely and never afraid when we were together.”
Back then, I hadn’t yet found Hemingway’s words to describe this feeling — but I did find Sean, and for the first time, I found in him a person that felt like home. Whenever we watched movies together, even as only friends, we wrapped up into each other’s arms and held on for dear life. It was like our souls took a deep breath and said, “Ah. There you are.”
Camera phones have really come a long way in the last 14 years.
After each movie, we’d lay on the floor for hours and talk, and sometimes he’d fall asleep and I’d lay there beside him, holding my breath because I knew that if he woke up, he’d have to go home because it was so late, and I didn’t want him to leave.
That first year of our friendship was confusing and passionate and messy and wonderful. As the months passed, our feelings grew and soon, we couldn’t take our hands off of each other every time we were together (I’ll spare the passionate teenagers-falling-in-love details).
We tortured each other throughout that year; he was intent on remaining friends and I’d pull away because I knew I couldn’t just be his friend. We took breaks from seeing each other in hopes that when we did see each other again, we could somehow hit the ‘reset’ button and not have feelings for the other. We dated other people and tried to avoid each other, thinking we might be able to date-the-feelings-away, but it never worked out like that. One way or another, we always ended up hanging out again, all over each other, but would then become intent that we could make this ‘friends with benefits’ thing work out for us. (Word to the wise: it doesn’t work, and no, you’re not a special case that can make it work. Sorry, but it’s true.)
As the year of our friendship progressed, we grew closer and closer, until eventually, we spent every free moment of every possible day together. He was the only person on the planet (outside of my immediate family) that knew all of my shit — and all the gory details. I shared everything with him so that he knew what he was getting into, but nothing scared him. He had never known someone with a disease like mine — he was familiar with type 2 diabetes that ran in his family, but he had never experienced firsthand all that goes with a disease as unpredictable and debilitating as mine. I wasn’t afraid when I needed to use my cane in front of him, whereas in public, I’d push myself to suffer without it for fear of that stigma. As the years since then passed, slowly, he helped me accept that it was okay to use in public when I needed it. He accepted me with my disease — not despite it — and at the same time never treated me like a person that wasn’t capable. Throughout the years that followed, he held me through PTSD flashes and loved me when I didn’t love myself and believed I’d someday thrive even on days when I thought chronic pain would be a life sentence.
On Valentine’s Day, just over a year after we had become friends, Sean showed up to my house and I can still remember him walking up the sidewalk as I stood on the front stoop, with this smile I’d never quite seen him smile. When he reached me, he wrapped his arms around me and between our embrace and the crisp February air and the pitch black sky that painted the country skyline, I felt a rush of memories that we hadn’t even lived yet but I finally knew we would.
Just last week, we were looking through my old journals from that time, and Sean said to me, “We didn’t know a lot about life, but we knew we’d be together for the rest of ours.”