The year was 1993. I was stage managing a new play that was going to be very technologically complex, and so (unusually) I was part of the actors’ rehearsal process from the beginning. The director/playwright started rehearsals with a game day; everyone plays theatre games to loosen up and bond. We were doing a nonsensical word exercise, I forget the point of it; the actors paired off and made direct eye contact while they said silly words at each other, and then there he was. He was only a couple of minutes late. He was lean and cool and his chestnut hair brushed his shoulders. His vibe was a look I had never admired before but he pulled off with aplomb. I had no partner for the exercise, so he became mine. He stood before me, and I was instantly smitten. I can remember the feeling to this day.
His eyes were soft and brown and his grin was easy and wide. He was, as he might say, a cool cat. It was like being struck by lightning. I had never seen a human so beautiful. Of course I had seen many beautiful humans, both technically and literally — music and movie stars abound in all decades and handsome young people were all around me in my early 20s. But this creature glowed from within. The first words I said to him, with as much gravity and import as I could muster, were “Bunny bunny bunny bunny, bah bay be bo boo bo bee bay bah.” He smiled, slightly imperfect but white teeth and eyes crinkling already at the corners at 25 years of age. I was done for.
Rehearsals continued. As I mentioned, it was a technically complex play. Having 2D projections on a screen react to the physical movements of a 3D person on stage is just a night of Wii playing now, but in 1993, it was witchcraft and had to be very carefully executed in terms of costume coloring, lights, blocking, everything. The crew became very close. My crush was epic — I swooned just to be within three feet of him. My backstage team mocked me, silently and lovingly, when he passed me and my eyes fluttered. We developed a salute for the crew which passed for mimicking the “We Can Do It” lady from WWII posters, but the other hand was pushing down on the forearm instead of the bicep — symbolizing me suppressing my insane lady boner for him. I never felt so accepted by a crew than with that joke. So we looked like we were cheering our impressive technical achievements ( I think the 60 minute show had 75 light cues alone?) but instead we were mocking my inability to not die every time he was near.
An actor had to drop out for a weekend, I forget why, and I filled in for his character. I was nervous as I wasn’t confident with the lines or performing with the tech, and I would be acting onstage with this glowing human of my dreams. It went OK. He saw I was nervous — he is a sensitive and kind person, however willfully blind to my crush he might have been, and when my sub run was done he drove me in his VW van to whatever after-show thing was happening. The crew oooooooohed when they saw me get in his van, but I knew he was just being nice. The van smelled of his essence, and I was dizzy but trying to keep my cool. We got to the place, and he said to me something that let me know he knew. Somehow he kissed me — why can I not remember these things? We still had a couple of weeks left of the play’s run, and we dated secretly. After the show we let the cast know it had been happening. The crew cheered me. I felt more love from more directions than I can fathom. Our director surely knew from the start, and she hugged me, no small experience itself.
He was lovely and sweet and smelled of all the unicorn dreams I had ever had. He was an artist (of course) and a bohemian (naturally) and we had a nice comfortable time together. He gave me a tank top he had painted weird little creatures on, and he gave me the hank of his thick, beautiful hair when he had to cut it off for another role. I have a green beaded bracelet he also gave me. With his new short conservative haircut he was beautiful in a wholly different way, and I was his biggest groupie in his new show. I was besotted and he could do no wrong. Not that he was the type to really do any wrong. I know I sound like I am idealizing him, but he was and appears to still be, objectively, a solid dude.
However, he said he wasn’t ready to be in a relationship. I know now that he could see me falling a great, great distance, and while he didn’t want to be my boyfriend, he didn’t want to cause me pain either. After two months with the man I called “The One That Got Away,” he wrote me a letter in his wild and mythical handwriting breaking up with me. It was of course devastating, but it was also the kindest and most loving letter I had ever received from a man. I have it to this day, saved in a folder of other letters written to me over the years that remind me I have worth and am loved. It was heartbreaking and kind and he wanted to be my friend but I couldn’t. I loved him. Was it infatuate puppy love lust limerence? I don’t know. It felt like my chest was full all the time. He was a good person. He was kind to me when he saw my trembling nervous adoration about to break me open and he laid down the softest possible cushion for me while still doing the right thing. Leaving someone whom you cannot love is a loving gesture, however painful. It was an important lesson I carry to this day.
Soon after our time together he met the woman he ended up marrying and is still married to today. He was ready to be with her, but not me, and I sobbed when I heard. A year later, I passed him and his friends shooting a film on the street and pulled over to say hello — seeing him still made me ache, especially knowing he was in love with another. He proposed friendship again and I still couldn’t. It’s irrational, I know. Two years ago, he contacted me for step 9 of his recovery, needing to make amends, and I failed to explain to him how he didn’t need to apologize for anything. He really wanted to and I kept insisting he had done nothing wrong. His last unreplied-to email is still in my inbox. I had broken my own heart that beautiful summer, and he had done everything reasonable to protect it. Sometimes I watch him telling stories in that creamy voice, his eyes crinkling charmingly, on his YouTube channel and I still am grateful I got to love him, just for a moment.