She said you don’t know me, and you don’t wear my chains...
She said I think I’ll go to Boston,
I think I’ll start a new life.
I think I’ll start it over, where no one knows my name.
I moved to Boston on August 8th, 2006. This was my anthem.
Two months had gone by since Spencer and I had ended things, and the summer had been almost entirely redeemed. I met a boy at work and we dated the whole summer. He and I had a bunch of laughs, went on fun dates and camping trips, but when it was time for me to leave, we ended it with grace and kindness. I really liked him. It was bittersweet.
My parents and sister flew to Massachusetts with me and dropped me off at school. I was leaving for a 12-day backpacking trip that my college required the next day, and my dad called me from the car to tell me that they were all crying as they drove off to the airport. I teared up, but I was ready to be separated from everything and everyone from Colorado. New friends and new paths awaited me.
I rarely thought of Spencer. Halfway through my backpacking trip, I realized that I hadn’t thought of him in days. I was telling my new friend Janelle about home and high school, and realized when I was finished with my story that I had completely forgotten to mention Spencer. It startled me that I had the power to put him and our love story out of my mind entirely. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, no matter how far away I wanted to be from home.
Backpacking in the Adirondacks / Salsa dancing in Boston
But the adventures continued, and the memories of him continued to fade. Classes started, and my friends and I drove down to the beach, rode the train into Boston to learn how to salsa dance, and explored the seacoast towns. After a month at school, I started spending a lot of time with a boy in my dorm. We were just friends, but I wondered if it would become anything more than that. A lot of my friends liked him, too, and I tried my best to stay away from the drama. But he and I went dancing every weekend, and I secretly treasured my advantage of being a good dancing partner to practice with.
I felt alive in a completely new way. Boston was my town, and no one from home could touch that.
One day, I went to the student center to check my mail with Janelle. I was halfway through telling her a story about my weekend of salsa dancing until 4am and sleeping in until 2pm, when I opened my mailbox and out fell a letter postmarked from Colorado. Spencer’s scratchy handwriting was all over the front, and a small drawing of two trees and a tent was on the back with a note “You, camping in the woods.”
“Anne, what’s wrong?” Janelle asked. I had stopped mid-sentence.
“Oh, it’s just a letter from Spencer. I can’t believe he wrote me.” I wanted to tear open the envelope and throw it in the trash, all at the same time. I showed her casually, and stuck it in my purse.
Later, I pulled it out and put it on my desk. I stared at it, wondering why he had suddenly made contact. I had only talked to him once in the time since I had ended our friendship. Sometime in July, about a month after I had told him I was over him for good, his friends had found his phone and prank called me while I was on a date with the boy from work. Still holding onto my anger, I apologized to my date and said I had to go and face them. The boy was a good, strong person. He came with me. I walked proudly into that familiar backyard, like it was my turf. I stared them all in the face, got nervous, made a few vague comments to Spencer, and left. It wasn’t the shining, tell them who’s boss kind of moment I was hoping for. It still stung my heart to think about the humiliation, and now he had written me a damn letter.
Greetings, he started.
Gonna put this in the mail as soon as I can, keep you entertained out there (I’m sure you really don’t need it though). But if you do have some downtime, you can read this, relax, hear some good news from a familiar friend, in a familiar place, that is oh so far away. It’s really hard to believe that you are all the way across the country. The gravity of it sets in when I think about how long the car drive out there would be. Do you think if I put this letter in the mail and left my house as the postman picked it up I would beat it to you in my car?
His language was so nonchalant, as if we hadn’t just spent the last three years wrestling feelings, trust, and love. He told me about how he was helping his dad redo the roof on his house, and about how fall felt in Colorado. He asked me if I was coming home for Christmas. And that was it. Letter over. Done.
I shoved it in my desk, and tried to brush it off. It was one letter. There were no phone calls, texts, or emails. Just one measly letter, and it didn’t even say that much. I shrugged it off.
Spencer's view of a "Colorado fall"
Three days later, another letter arrived. This one was typed. He started asking more personal questions, and said he wanted to know the dirt, and my thoughts and feelings on college. As I read it, I thought of the boys I had met so far at school. I wondered if he would want me to tell him all about them. Half way through the letter, he simply wrote “I think I’ve made some mistakes” and then went on about how fall in Colorado felt once more. I winced at the pain that sentence sent through my chest. It was easier to be angry at him then to try and forgive him.
Out of curiosity, I checked the mailbox the next day. Another letter. The outside of the envelope said, “Have your friends started making fun of me yet?” I hadn’t even shown my friends all the letters. Not many of them could relate, and Spencer was such a sore spot in my history. I didn’t feel like sharing the new details with them, nor did I feel like giving him the privilege of being spoken about.
Inside the third letter were three carefully written lines.
Anna, you are so blessed, enjoy these things, seize them.
But please, don’t give up on me Anne Taylor.
I’m determined to make this right...
I started to fume. For two whole years following our breakup when he went to college, I hadn’t given up once. I had made effort after effort, written letter after letter to him at school, and each attempt was met with no replies. When he went to school, he had been given so many freedoms. He cut me off completely until he wanted nostalgia and gave in to his feelings for me without fear of what that might mean for his college life. Two years of this left me tired and exhausted. I had done the right thing that summer before college. I ended it, and it felt right. Now, here I was, trying to enjoy the same college freedoms that he had so dutifully protected for himself, and I was being bombarded with letters and requests for me to “not give up on him.”
I was really angry.
A few days passed with no letters, but when the next one finally arrived, I was ready. Looking at it now, the envelope is still torn on the side instead of the top, a sign that I ripped into it, demanding to know its contents. It wasn’t much, except a few random stories and two or three sly nods to how much he cared for me. It had taken four letters in eight days, but it was finally enough.
I dug for my phone in my purse, and dialed his number. He answered after three rings.
“Hello?” he asked. I could sense surprise in his voice.
“Hey, it’s Anne. I need to ask you a question.” I didn’t want to carry this on for very long.
“Okay...” he agreed, cautiously.
“What is with all the letters? Four in one week?” I started out with a bit of annoyance in my tone, but softened it out with a fake laugh. I was used to being agreeable. No amount of righteous anger could make me change my ways.
Spencer laughed nervously. “Well, I just wanted to connect. Say hi. See how things were going.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but he wanted more than a simple hello. That summer, which had been great for me, had been awful for him. He had been through a rough breakup, a horrible job that he was forced to quit, and a pretty deep depression. Though our conversation at the beginning of the summer left him with a sense of freedom, it was also the first time that he felt it might really be over between us. After all the pain the rest of the summer brought with it, the fall was a sign of renewal, a nostalgic opportunity to connect with the past and move on to a new present. But the knowledge that I was gone, no longer a half hour drive away, started to worry him. For three years, I had been a genuine and authentic friend when others had failed him. He deeply understood my loyalty, and knew that I was a loving companion. Without me around, his heart had started to ache.
“Well, is something wrong? We haven’t talked in awhile, and suddenly all these attempts to make contact?” I wanted him to spit it out, just tell the truth.
There was a quick pause. “I had a rough summer, and wanted to connect with a familiar friend who knows me well,” he admitted.
I thought carefully about what he said, and what was at stake. Spencer wasn’t one to speak about his sadness or worries so candidly. He always powered through it, finding poetry and creative inspiration in the dark times. He’d turn up the music even louder, and always made it out alive. This time, his voice sounded different. It was softer and vulnerable. I felt an old loyal feeling rise up out of the depths of my heart, and ask to be let in. I worried about him, and wanted to be there to help.
Quickly, I considered the conditions. We were 2,000 miles apart, for one. I had a new town that he couldn’t touch or spoil, and new friendships to enjoy. And there were even a few romantic interests. Who knew, I could have a new boyfriend in a few weeks, and any conversation I had with Spencer wouldn’t matter at all. I convinced myself there was not much consequence to letters or a casual conversation to catch up.
“Alright,” I said. “Let me call you later and we can chat.”
Spencer and I talked that evening, and I told him all about my backpacking trip and what college was like. He caught me up on life at his house, his latest exam and the most recent party. We made small talk, spoke briefly of new music, but with every word my heart hardened again. I was still angry, and this new sense of vulnerability in him left me with a big target to aim at.
I started asking him about his ex-girlfriend, and about all of the mistakes he made when it came to us. It was like torture, an interrogation. His need for connection with me left him without armor to protect himself with. I asked a question, and he answered it, no matter how painful. He tried his best to tell me the stories, the explanations, with grace. And I kept taking cheap shot after cheap shot.
These interrogation-calls continued for weeks. My anger and fear of being hurt blinded me to what I was really doing. My friends knew who Spencer was, and I began to tell them about what was going on. They asked if I still was interested in the boy in my dorm. I said yes, but in all truth, I was confused. Even though I felt like I was finally getting the revenge I had wanted all these years, I still wanted to talk to Spencer. Every time he called, I’d answer. It was like I was getting sucked back blindly into relationship with him.
My birthday 2006, with Emily / Spencer at his house, fall 2006
The vengeful attacks came to a hilt when I flew home for fall break. It was a few days before my 19th birthday, and Spencer offered to take me out to dinner. He paid for the meal, offered to buy me coffee, and suggested we walk around downtown Boulder. I drove, and we listened to Dashboard Confessional. He told me about how much he loved their latest album while I plotted my next move. I was going to kiss him. It was a spontaneous and somewhat dangerous move, but it was decided.
Since Spencer and I had ended our relationship, he had never once kissed me. There were nights where he’d be home from college, and we’d cuddle on the couch. We’d hold hands and hug, but he never kissed me. It was an unspoken boundary, a sign of his respect for me. All those years when my heart had been tossed around, he never let it fall to the ground. He never crushed it beneath his heel.
I knew all this, and still I made the move. I didn’t seem to care. While we walked beneath the moonlit streets, I leaned in, and told him that I wanted to kiss him. He stared back at me, shocked. The blue depth of his eyes revealed a deeper trust and vulnerability that I had never seen before. He silently told me that he was ready to commit. He wanted me back.
I saw all of this in his eyes, and it terrified me. I pulled back and closed my eyes, trying to recall my anger and shake off what I had just come to know. But while I attempted all of this, my lips were met by his. He kissed me, and with that, sealed his silent promise to me. He was ready to be honest and open and mine. He loved me. I opened my eyes, and stared back at him. And what I felt scared me more than any kiss or forgotten memory. I didn’t love him as he loved me. I felt nothing.
Seeing I was visibly shaken, he stepped away and offered to take me home. I asked him what was going to happen now, and he told me that he didn’t know. I was due to fly home to Boston the next morning, and it would be without a resolution.
Don’t you see, don’t you see, that the charade is over?
And all the “Best Deceptions” and “Clever Cover Story” awards go to you.
So kiss me hard ‘cause this will be the last time that I let you.
You will be back someday, and this awkward kiss that screams of other people’s lips
will be of service to keeping you away.
-Dashboard Confessional, “The Best Deceptions”
A few days after I got back to school, I received a birthday card from him. The envelope was dated October 24th, 2006. Exactly three years to the day since we had first met.
The card said all the right things. Make sure to celebrate, enjoy another year of adventures. But folded carefully inside the card was a typed note. It was as if he wanted to keep the two separate. One for the public eye, the other for only mine. Inside, he listed out his thoughts on what had happened while I was home. He mentioned that the memory of it all resonated in him like an aching jaw after being punched. My fingers tingled as I gripped the page.
With carefully chosen words, he explained that the consequences of these actions wouldn’t be easy for him to sort through, and that he didn’t think I looked at him that night the same way he looked at me. I remember sitting in the lounge of my dorm, taking it all in. I looked up and around at my floor mates, chatting at the table across the room. None of them knew my history. I could pretend it never happened if I wanted to.
But then the boy from my dorm, the one I had been spending all that time with, walked in. He didn’t notice me, and it gave me a chance to consider that path. If I turned my back to Spencer and allowed new relationships to form, what would happen?
All of this thinking led me to a clear visualization of what I had just spent the last few months doing to myself and to Spencer. His honesty and authenticity with me had finally lifted the angry veil that I kept pulled over my eyes out of fear. I wasn’t mad anymore. I was ashamed at how I had treated him, and how I had led us into this mess. He had treated me kindly and with grace, knowing that he needed to in order to break down the walls around my heart, and I had done nothing but punch him in the jaw, over and over.
I decided that I wouldn’t do the same thing to any boy from college, especially not the boy from my dorm. If anything was going to happen with us, I needed to figure out what was going on with Spencer. I wanted to wipe the slate clean, and finally move on. No anger, no shame, no fear. Just honesty and love.
I called Spencer that night, and apologized. I asked for his forgiveness, and told him that I just wanted to be friends again. He accepted my offer, and we chatted a few more minutes before going to bed.
Weekly conversations to catch up slowly turned to daily conversations to ponder friendships and school and life. With our clean slate came a new opportunity at friendship. We had changed a lot, and were enjoying getting to know each other again.
I hadn’t realized the importance of this time, but Spencer had. He had decided back in October that he was done searching for companionship in another girl. He knew I was the most loyal, authentic, God-fearing, and genuine girl he had ever met. And so for him, even if it took years, he was set on building our friendship up into love and trust once more.
When it came time to travel home for Thanksgiving, I began to wonder if we’d kiss again. We were talking everyday, and I sensed Spencer liked me. But in his purposeful way, he explained that even though he cared for me, he felt our distance was too far for a relationship to survive. I agreed, following his lead carefully. We were both cautious, and afraid of starting anything up again. Even so, this time when I flew back to Boston, I secretly left my heart with him.
A few more weeks went by, and final exams arrived. The flight that I had poorly planned back in August to fly home for Christmas left me stranded on campus until Thursday, two whole days after my last final. While studying with a floor mate on Monday, I quickly made the choice to switch my flight to the next evening. I put in a call to Spencer to see if he could pick me up, and he willingly accepted.
My flight into Denver was the last to hit the runway before the big blizzard of 2006 hit. Spencer met me in the terminal, and helped me carry my bags to the car. As we drove home, the landscaped glowed an imminent orange, the streetlights bouncing off the low and heavy clouds. The ground was bare, but the conversation in our car was not. We talked the whole way home of the Christmas traditions we wanted to take part in over break. Once we got to my house, plans were set for him to come over the next evening to watch Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation.
I woke up to four feet of snow, and it was still coming down that night when Spencer was supposed to come over. Nervously, I called him to see if he still wanted to come up or if he thought it best to change our plans. To my delight, he told me that he would fight the blizzard and would be there in a few. The snow came up to his car windows, it was so deep. I put on my red and green L.L. Bean Wellies, and tried my best to dig a path for him. The flakes were so heavy and thick, though. They quickly foiled my attempts.
He came running up my makeshift path, and darted inside to where it was warm. We chatted excitedly, and put on the movie. We sipped cinnamon tea, and laughed together. It was nice and lovely and romantic. Once the movie ended, we sat by the fire as the night grew late. I knew my feelings for him were strong, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to fool myself again.
We openly shared our thoughts about our past relationship, and our hopes for a future one. We admitted our feelings for each other. He had braved a blizzard for me. I wanted to be his.
We hugged. Until tomorrow, we said.
The morning came quickly, and brought with it sunshine and a sweeping bluebird sky. Spencer came over to pick me up, and gave me flowers when he arrived. We drove down to his house, the roads still quiet and bare of traffic. People were cozied up in their homes, and we felt all alone in this new adventure.
The makings of gingerbread houses were waiting for us when we got there, and his sisters were ready and armed with heavy doses of Christmas music and candy. We all laughed and joked for hours, and I remember thinking that this is what I always wanted our relationship to look like. All those years that I spent drowning in insecurities, I had finally received the peace and love I wanted with him. It took fighting, anger, and betrayal - but we’d finally arrived.
That night, snuggled up under a cozy blanket by a warm fire, we agreed to date again. He kissed me, and this time we both felt love and acceptance. A journey of three long years had finally brought us back to the same familiar house, the same familiar holiday traditions, and the same familiar arms. Though we had traveled long roads and had changed along the way, we were still as eager for love and authenticity as we were the day we met.