I don’t need to see you. I don’t even need to hear your voice. I just need to know you’re alive. You call once a year, maybe twice a year, maybe every other year and I am relieved. I have changed so much since our brief time together long ago, but you haven’t. Once I promised to be the one person in the world who would always love you and never try to transform you. Are you testing my promise when you call?

I don’t flinch at your quirky name or the song you played for me that night anymore. Once I was in a restaurant with someone else and the song came on. I froze in a stupor of terror and memories. I couldn’t speak or explain. Now when it comes on from my shuffled list out of thousands of songs I smile and I pray.

You stopped calling in the middle of the night when I told you I would never answer the phone while I was in bed with my husband. You wouldn’t remember the conversation anyway. One early evening you called and he answered and you had a conversation. I told him about you, but I still can’t label us in any way that makes sense to anyone—even after all of my cryptic poems. I can’t call it a mutual love affair, but it was not exactly a friendship either.

Twenty-five years ago, your life was the opposite of mine and that is why I followed you like a fatuous child, hallucinated you, abused my heart with you—my personal phantasm. You were the one true obsession—the gorgeous pernicious observer of a young woman’s life devolving into anarchy. I thought you cared, but I’m still not sure about that. It was saving me, not you. We were not together to edify each other in any way. I was an opportunity to indulge in. You were my only path of escape.

There were infrequent capricious meetings followed by long disappearances. I would call your brother and ask if you were okay. To ask if you were still alive seemed cruel. He never knew where you’d gone either. Probably living with a woman somewhere gifting her with your sexual prowess.

When you left for good I had no photographs of you—just a memory of your brilliant face, your large brown Paul McCartney eyes, your youthful taut body. A long time passed and I heard your voice again. I had a visceral response; a mix of fear and exhilaration. I asked you to send me a picture and you sent a mug shot—your hair tousled, your face bruised, lip bleeding, your eyes were almost shut and you were smiling. Your stories of broken glass, fists through walls, enraged altercations, rehabs and jails were foreign to me. I didn’t know that person at all. I knew the one who read poems to me, made me feel alive when I was half-dead, the one who tried.

I don’t know why it was so easy for me to forgive you after your blatant betrayal. You were feeling guilty and so you told the person it would crush the most those ugly lies. You regretted those hurtful embellished statements later, but I didn’t care either way. The damage you put on me was equal to your saving graces. I never stopped believing that God sent you to save me from myself. His ways can be brutal when it is the only way a person will open their eyes; that was true for me. Why it took your unnerving presence to enlighten me is something I will never know.

After a dozen years or more you appeared in the area and we met. I gave myself the gift of you that summer day and it was healing and revelatory and I did not feel guilty. The next day I called and said I was not through with you yet. There were more questions you needed to answer for me and you complied. It all meant so much more to me than it did to you, and I had always known that, yet, you were kind and generous with my needs for the proverbial sense of closure. We recalled our hideaways—the parks, a secluded restaurant, a dinky, smelly bar. The time we stood on a small cliff and you said we could be Romeo and Juliet and jump together—how I wanted to jump that day. How thrilled I was to hear you refer to something as, “We.” Bars were unfamiliar to me but you were drawn to them like a wave to the shore. I didn’t drink then and that was something else I tried with you. I handled it poorly and I’m sure you thought me childish. I’m much better at it now.

The travesty is that you are so smart. You had a smile like George Clooney with the tilted questioning eyebrows that make you both so charming. You probably could have done anything in life with your singular charisma and your talents. The first time I skulked to your apartment in a stupor of fear you read things you had written on scratch paper and napkins. They were beyond my imaginings even though you were much younger than me.

After you the world awakened to me. I understood things about myself that I never could not know. I was changed forever even though we were never what you would call together. I understood the way I had sheltered my brain and my spirit from reality. I became more of a human being and you were the catalyst. I believed that it was simply a pure unadulterated obsession at the time, but why do I still care after all these years?

Your life was and always will be the antithesis of mine. I surrounded myself with innocence—teaching other people’s children and raising my own. I found someone to love me. I had a family, a career, a real life. You spent yours on ineffective rehabs and disability payments, hospitalizations and betrayals. One time I told you to just live with it. You’re an alcoholic and you always will be. Just try to be happy. Don’t try any new drugs or therapies—they never work. What is the use of spending your entire life trying to be something you can never be? Maybe that was mean-spirited, wrong-headed. You’ve already had cancer. That’s another reason why I always wonder if you are still alive. Would anyone tell me if you weren’t?

Alcoholism stifles growth. Time stands still during all the hours, days, years you are drunk. You are exactly the same person I knew 25 years ago. You never even acquired an email address. If you call now I understand that you are lonely, that you have momentarily driven everyone else away, and you know that I love you unconditionally and forever. Our conversations are awkward now that there is no sexual tension. When you call there is not much to say since the desire to flirt and reminisce are gone. You never cared about my life, but I still need to know you’re somewhere—alive.

Diane Vogel Ferri taught special needs children for many years and now tutors GED students. Her essays have been published by Cleveland State University, Scene Magazine, and Cleveland Christmas Memories among others. Her poetry can be found in numerous journals. Her poetry chapbook was published by Pudding House Press.