On Sunday I went to see my brother in a local production of Les Miserables. He’s in the chorus as a member of the chain gang and the revolutionaries and really shines in the role of Pimp 1, as the playbill lists him. I first saw Les Mis in London (no big deal) in 2004, but I enjoyed my brother’s version so much more. It was intimate and authentic — I was so close I could see tears in the actors’ eyes as they sang their hearts out.
It’s an emotional story of redemption, selflessness, forgiveness, and bravery. I have to admit I teared up a few times, listening to powerful voices sing powerful songs. But what really got me was the moment I realized I am Eponine.
If you’ve seen Les Mis, you know Eponine. She’s in love with Marius, but, to him, she’s always just been one of the guys. He’s completely oblivious to her feelings for him even though they’re great friends. One day in town, Marius catches a glimpse of the beautiful Cosette and pleads with Eponine to help him find her again, which she does, because she wants him to be happy, even if it means it’s not with her. Then she sings an ugly-cry-inducing solo called On My Own, dies of a gunshot wound, and Marius and Cosette get married and live happily ever after. (Spoiler alert?)
I am Eponine.
Not quite two years ago, I started falling in love with one of my best friends. It was exciting and terrifying and hopeful and heartbreaking all at once. I began praying about it early on and decided I would wait for a year before telling him how I felt. I cherished his friendship and wanted our relationship to grow naturally. I didn’t want to risk jeopardizing anything prematurely. I just loved being around him and dreamed of building a love on our foundation of friendship. He was the best person I knew, and he had no idea.
I went out of my way for him as often as I could. I dropped everything when he needed a favor. I made him gifts and wrote him encouraging notes and brought him his favorite treats when I was out getting something for myself. I baked chocolate-free desserts for him for a year. I prayed for him every day. I celebrated with him and suffered with him and thought no one in the world could love him like I could. I also thought maybe he would take notice and eventually see me the way I saw him.
But that’s not what happened.
After a year had passed, I told him. Sitting on the floor in his room, I told him how I felt and why I waited. I told him I needed to know if I had a chance, and the answer was no. He didn’t see any of it coming. He hadn’t noticed me for a year, and I’m certain he didn’t notice my heart fall out of my body and break into a million pieces on his floor. It was one of the most uncomfortable conversations I’ve ever had in my life, and I knew things would never be the same, but I was determined to push through the embarrassment and awkwardness to maintain our friendship.
I tried. I really did. But I didn’t know there was a Cosette. He had already started seeing someone, and I was the last to know. She’s prettier, skinnier, and younger than me. The moment I saw her, the embarrassment I felt that night turned to shame and self-loathing. Lies echoed in my head. If I were more beautiful, he would have seen me differently. If I had a better body, things wouldn’t be this way. It all happened so fast that I couldn’t help but directly compare myself to her, and every time I did, I was left feeling empty and worthless.
I wish I could say that I’ve handled the situation gracefully since then, but I can’t. The last 8 months have been some of the most confusing and lonely ones of my life. Every day when I wake up, I think about that night and how things have changed. I initially fought my instinct to withdraw from anything and everything, but it became my only defense and a better option for caring for myself than pretending to be fine and powering through. It was too painful to be everywhere he was all the time. I stopped going to my church. I stopped going to his house. I stopped spending time with many of our mutual friends. The list of residual damages is long.
The friendship I once cherished is nonexistent now. It’s a relationship I reluctantly offered to God, for him to restore someday if He so chooses. But nothing about it is in my control anymore. It never was to begin with.
People have told me that I’m brave — that taking a chance on love, telling him how I felt, was brave. His mom even wrote me a letter saying so. There are some days when I agree with them and some days when I think it was more foolish than brave. Sometimes I try to convince myself that it was a mistake — that the tremor of that night only set off an earthquake that disrupted my entire life, and if I had just kept my mouth shut, I could have avoided a landslide of heartbreak and disappointment. There are plenty of things I regret about the situation, but I don’t regret telling him. I had to.
One of my best friends asks me when I will heal. The last time he asked, all I could say was “I wish I knew” through tears. I’ve fought with God over all of this for months, asking Him why it has to be this way. I’ve begged Him to restore my heart with the knowledge that I am fully and unconditionally loved — and that that love would be enough for me. I may deal with this for a long time, and I may deal with it forever. But I know I’m not dealing with it alone, isolated as I may feel. Some days are better than others, but when I catch glimpses of my old self, I know that even though I haven’t fully healed, I am in the process.
Eponine died before she ever got a chance to love someone who loved her back. I’d rewrite the whole thing if I could, Eponine, but maybe the best I can do is have faith that someday I’ll be able to tell a different story.