Teetering on the precarious edge where reflection meets regret, my heart aches with the missed possibilities that led me to a more flourishing life. Even as I type these words, I struggle to find the right things to say or do to save a relationship, knowing one day, I’ll look back to see things so much clearer, and discover that missed opportunity. I’m remembering how I used to read Choose Your Own Adventure books, with every choice I would bookmark it with my fingers, wanting to eventually go back and explore every option. Life isn’t like this. We have one chance to learn through experience and make better decisions in the future. There is no fucking manual. No cheat codes. No replays. No extra lives.

My recent choices have led to me dating a kind, good-natured, intelligent, strong, beautiful woman who has practically zero free time to foster a relationship and lives for her job. She takes most dissenting opinions and the slightest negative observations as an attack and has dismissed much of my experience as valuable, all of which makes sense, as I feel she hasn’t really attempted to explore me as a person, mainly because of that whole no free time thing. I fear we are just too different, in our culture, our goals, our expectations, our priorities, and our ways of communication.

Being alone has been difficult these last, oh so many years, but feeling alone, feeling ‘not seen’ while being in a relationship…it’s tearing at my soul. Yet, I’m not ready to give up. We just need time, if we can just make it past the end of this bizarre world of the pandemic, she might see me differently, and I, her. We will have shared experiences beyond the lockdown, beyond our homes. Meet friends, travel, be less stressed, do that whole ‘bonding’ thing. I’m trying here. It’s not something I’m exactly experienced at. And I feel like I’m failing. Me. Her. Us.

Last summer, I feel was a pinnacle of many of my Facebook friends losing their collective minds. Once open, understanding friends were venomous and vindictive. Better angels of our nature be damned. I cannot blame them, social media has trained them for years to be this way. Even I was feeling disenchanted in the future of humanity. Still, I was feeling the loss of a community, then I lost a dear friend to cancer. A few weeks later, my mom. Her loss left a hole in my soul. I removed myself from everything and just existed for a while. No one noticed because, pandemic. Then I went on a single date and met a girl, which led me here.

To say it’s been difficult these last few years is beyond an understatement. I know everyone dies. I’ll die one day. I accept this. My stoicism runs deep in this acceptance of death. For me, death is the end for the individual, yet its pain is felt by the living whom their lives have touched. My mom’s loss was expected. And while I mourn the loss of future days with her, it also feels like it was the death of the child Dean. She was my only real touchstone to a carefree, optimistic, extroverted, awkward kid who wanted to be friends with everyone, yet had so few. She was my lifeline in many ways. I guess, no matter how old we get, we never really outgrow the need for a loving parent. Their loss is always too soon.

I guess then, it’s understandable that last year I found myself sinking into the quicksand of apathy.

Joy. My mother had it in spades and with her loss, my joy has dimmed. So, I’m on a quest to get it back. And silliness! And goofballery! And hope. These were all so very strong in me. Once. Eroded away by this villainous adulthood, life and death. But fear not, I know myself, I’ll bounce back from this past year better than ever. Right now, I guess I’m just looking for someone to help me, break off a branch and help get me unstuck. Or at the very least, cheer as I pull myself free.