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I love you.

“My love of [you] is in me, moving in my heart, changing chambers, like something poured from hand to hand, to be weighed and then reweighed.” –Sharon Olds, “High School Senior”

I build the version of you that I love inside of me, even though you’re right in front of me. I think everyone does, often without knowing it, and they get upset when that inner version disagrees with the truer, fleshier version, which has the advantage of being incarnate but is, quite frankly, unknowable, unstable, and unpredictable. I get upset, too, like anyone, when I am stung by disappointment or surprised by some mismatch between the working model of you that I carry within me and who you are being, to me, right now.

But even in the worst and most devastating of partings, the consolation prize is incomparably valuable: a new imaginary friend, made out of the best parts of you, that can walk with me for the rest of my days, saying exactly what you would say and doing exactly what you would do, were you ever and always your very best self.

The beauty of you, the things you do well, your areas of mastery: they are mine now. I have not stolen them from you, but I have copied them over months and years, and I will faithfully keep them on file.

I know the joke you would make, here, and it makes me laugh. I know the advice you would give, here, and it calms me. I stand up for what’s right and you agree with me, and even if no one else can see or hear you, it makes me stronger; it lends me power. Long after you are gone, your companionship remains one of my most treasured possessions. You let me see myself; you keep me company; you remain my true friend.

Regardless of where the real you has gone next, regardless of the harm you will do or the mistakes you will make, you are safe with me. I protect you in defiance of the things that are wrong with all of us, the things that we cannot help, and it is an honor to be your steward.

You are the smirk on my face as I walk alone, on the sidewalk. You are the rueful shake of my head when I make that habitual mistake, the one you hated, you know the one, and then I have to laugh, because oh my hell, it drove you nuts. You are the smile around my toothbrush in the morning, punctuating some passing thought that touches down to rest with me for a moment, a welcome visitor, before flitting away again. You are my party anecdote, a man made legend, and deservedly so. I share you, and in that sharing, your past efforts–those valiant efforts that nonetheless could not fix what needed to be fixed–can now at last be made victorious, as a toast, as a punchline, as a celebration.

Loving you has made me more than myself. It has made me us.

And despite my hopeless humanity, I will try, upon our meeting years in the future, to have lived up to those good parts that you kept, so that you can recognize me, the way I promise to recognize you.

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