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Darling Li,

This is the second letter of my 30-day letter writing challenge. The assignment is to write a letter to my crush. You were my crush when I was 19 years old, at least 26 and almost 27 years ago. You were the first. You were the one I knew would come along sooner or later. I knew I would know you when I saw you and I knew who you were the moment I laid eyes on you.

You came through the door at Moore with a swagger in your step and my own reflection in your mirrored Aviators. Back then the mullet was cool (and yes, I think we’re both glad that phase is over!). When you reached out to take the dormitory assignment from me, your biceps rippled in your black muscle tee and I would never forget the way your hands looked…so characteristic of hard work even then. You were edge incarnate and that bad boi image drew me in immediately. You smoked, you drank, you loved your women, and I fell head over heels.

I knew.

While our relationship was fraught with complications (my fiancé, for instance—with whom you are still best friends), we remained drawn to each other throughout the years. We worked out our relationship angst with others. Many others. In the passing of my last relationship (the one I thought was my forever) I wrote something significant and I’m going to repeat the whole thing ad nauseum and at the risk of putting not a few readers to sleep:

I’ve been watching Nights in Rodanthe. To be honest, I was so moved by a particular love scene between Diane Lane and Richard Gere that I had to pause the movie and come into my office to write. They may still be dressed at this point, I’m not sure. What spoke to me about this scene, and about the movie in general, is the infinite wisdom that we have to hope age brings us. That wisdom is imparted to us by many, many years of mistakes. Often repeating them time and again. What I hope, what I dream, is that I finally have the wisdom to stop repeating the same mistakes and  to be able to love and be loved  like never before.

I am going to be 45 years old in December. And I am not looking for a May/December romance. What I am looking for is someone who has weathered the hurricanes and come out the next morning, into the sunshine, picking their way through the debris left behind, and finding something new and alive and full of hope and promise. I feel that life now. I feel that hope. In my 20s and early 30s I had many lovers. I was thin, I didn’t have gray hair to cover, and there were no slight laugh lines or that tiny furrow that has etched itself between my brows. I thought then that I had it all. In retrospect, I was miserably unhappy. I endured a string of relationships based on obligation. Based on need. Based on a complete lack of self-respect and a warped and unrealistic idea that I was somehow damaged so badly that I deserved nothing more. I settled.

I am not saying that there weren’t wonderful qualities in (some) of these partners. One was a great, young love that started a groundswell of passion that will now serve me well. One made me laugh until I cried. One gave me hope for a family and a future that wasn’t meant to be.

I will be 45 in December. I am heavier than I would like but I feel sexier than I ever have in my life. My hair is loaded with gray and I keep it jet black and severely short and I pierced my nose on my 39th birthday and got my first tattoo at 40. Although I am told that I look younger than my years, I know that every line and every scar tells the history of my life. When those lines deepen, I want them to be crinkles in the corners of my eyes rather than a deeper furrow between my brows. I want my laugh lines to show that I have lived well and happy.

I want now to experience the kind of love that I know I am worthy of. I want to feel the intense passion shared by two women who have weathered their own storms and are ready to rebuild again. Something sweet and tender and  fast and furious and delicate and solid and cool, smooth, hot as the hellfire that I feel I’ve emerged from. I want a life, damn it. I want to know what it is like to look your lover in the eye and see that love reflected back at you with such a fire that it takes your breath away and stops your heart for a fleeting instant before she puts her hand over it and sets it to beating again.

I’d like to think that I am wise now. Or at least wiser. That I am done making mistakes. Done settling. Done defending my choices of relationships when everyone around me condemned them as wrong for me and I couldn’t see it. Wouldn’t see it. I am worthy of more. And someone out there, perhaps someone I already know, is worthy of me.

This, my sweet, sweet Li, was written about you. I didn’t know it at the time. We hadn’t reconnected in many years. I had no idea that you were single as well—that you had just barely weathered a hurricane of your own. When we finally did decide to see what might come of reuniting, we flew through that honeymoon phase. Nine hundred miles separated us and we were frantic to see each other at least once a week every month until I managed to move home. To you. Now, even though we maintain separate households, I feel as though we’ve been together a lifetime and, in retrospect, I suppose we have.

You are no longer my crush. You are my anam cara, my soul friend, my forever. It seems fitting that I am writing this letter to you on the day that we’ve set a date to formally cement our relationship in front of all of our friends and family. One year from this day, we will stand before God and declare ourselves united for life. A formality, indeed. You already have me. You’ve had me for 26 years.

Here’s to at least 26 more…and then some.

I love you, Li, always and in all ways,