After my divorce in 2010, there wasn’t much left of me that could still be considered intact. My thoughts were obscured and darkened. My laughter gone. My eyes no longer moist. My tears were all spent trying to save the marriage. I had none left, it seemed, to mourn the loss of it.

The large organ in the middle of my chest that usually beat with excitement and keenness for life had shriveled down to nothing, barely able to pump the blood through my ever-constricting veins. With each moment that passed, life was sucked further from me. I began suffocating. I began retreating. I became obsessed with only one thing… survival.

I knew if I were to survive, and that if any of my other senses or thoughts were to return to normal, I would have to let my heart recover. I would have to let it feel safe for as long as it took. I would have to give it room to do its job, the ability to regenerate, and the safety it so blatantly and repeatedly told me it required.

So, I built a wall around my heart. Oh, who am I kidding? I built a ten-foot thick, fifty-foot tall fortress around it with no way in and no way out.  Around that I built a treacherous moat, ready to swallow any person that dared try to cross it. I was secure. There would be no love. There would be no loving. And I would be… safe.

For months I sat atop a tall tower within my fortress, keeping watch in all directions for potential divergence. I kept everybody, and I mean everybody at bay while I sat there. Nobody was getting in. Nobody was getting out. And I would continue to be… safe.

I would not ever go through what I had been through again. Ever. I often looked down at my guarded heart in those days and thought, well done, sir. Well done.

And then one day I saw Tweni.

I saw her out in the distance, walking by my fortress one day. She wasn’t interested in me. She wasn’t interested in breaking through my stronghold. And, she was beautiful. So beautiful that I watched her every chance I got. Our paths crossed several times.

This was a few months after I had officially sealed myself in. No way in. And no way out.

After several encounters with Tweni, I spoke across the wall and asked her on a date. She quickly accepted my invitation. I was excited.

That first date turned into two, which turned into three, which turned into a true friendship, which turned into a relationship.

And even then, my fortress was still in place. No way in. No way out.

But then, from within the fortress, I felt something. My heart skipped slightly. I was falling in love with her. No, I thought. No, no, no. It was too soon. It was all too fresh. The pain of what the others had done was still too real. And I wouldn’t go through what I’d been through again. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. So, I stayed hidden behind my impenetrable fortress wall, too scared to peek over the edge, fearful that to see the beautiful woman who stood on the other side would lead me to the same pain I had dealt with twice. So, I broke things off with Tweni.

But it was too late. She was already my best friend, and I wasn’t giving that up. It took only days for me to forget the panic I had felt when I first felt love for her, and again we found ourselves in a relationship. Before long, I found myself longing to be on the other side of my wall.

Her eyes said everything. She loved me. She loved me so deeply that the walls around my guarded heart began to shake at her very gaze. I can’t, I thought once again. I can’t let these walls come down. It was all too soon; it was all too fresh. I wouldn’t go through it again. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t survive. And so again we rewound to friendship. A safe place. A place where I would be… safe.

But see, Tweni loved me through it all. She loved me no matter how hard I tried to protect myself. She loved me more than any other woman ever had. She saw my flaws, she saw my walls, she saw the person within the person that I truly am, and she loved me with all her heart.

It didn’t take long to realize that this fortress I had built needed to come down. How could I let a woman that beautiful, that incredible, and that strong go? I became desperate to break down the walls that I had built up to protect myself. I grabbed every tool I could find and started hacking away at the ramparts of my fortress. Why did I not build myself a way out? I thought as I toiled.

I chiseled away for days and weeks and months, desperate to reach Tweni on the other side. She was patient, anxious for me to get there. She loved me through it all. She somehow saw me through the wall. She saw the man I was before the barricade and before the fortress, and she knew that such precautions were temporary.

And after I had clawed my way as far as I could, I slumped on my own side of the fortress and cried to Tweni on the other side. “I’m sorry. I can’t get out. I can’t take this wall down. I’ve tried everything, but the wall is too thick.”