Sunday, February 23, 2014

A History of Daniel

It was strange to see Daniel last weekend. For months and months our lives were one. They were totally one. And then, suddenly, they weren't anymore.

Daniel and I spent countless hours training for an Ironman together. We lived together. We backpacked across eastern Europe together. And then we moved to the quiet Pacific together.

We lived, alone, in an apartment on top of a tall hill overlooking a tiny island nation. It was there that we both grew up considerably. It was there that we both learned lessons in sacrifice, compromise, charity, patience, disappointment, hope, trust, and a number of other crucial things that I can't seem to wrap my vocabulary around just now.


Sometimes we laughed so hard together that I thought one of us would end up in the hospital. Sometimes we got so frustrated with one another that I thought one of us would end up in the hospital. But for a while, no matter what was going on in our lives, we were a team. We depended on one another, we supported one another, and we grew into the people we are now in large part because of one another.

For a long time Daniel was my best friend. The best friend anyone could ever imagine having.

Then it changed. Sort of. And sort of a lot.

We left Palau. Our lives took us in opposite directions.

I've written around those events, but never very directly. Daniel encouraged me to mention it now, saying that he believes this is a story that could help some people, since everyone goes through this same thing at one time or another. And after some thought, I've decided that I want to tell you about this because it's a big part of my story. And I want you to know this part of my story.

Daniel and I did not leave Palau on the best terms. That's a huge understatement. Daniel left Palau a few weeks before I did. And when he did, we were both angry with one another. Really angry with one another.

I won't go into all of the whys and hows. Frankly, I don't think either of us even know all of the whys and hows. But in our final weeks in Palau we had grown apart considerably. We never really talked about it. But we both knew that serious frustration had built up, and we got to a point where both of us resented the decisions and actions of the other, from the benign to the significant.

Palau creates sort of an odd bubble of social experimentation. Living in such a small and isolated place forces a person to rely on those around them to such a greater degree than the person might be used to. And the effects of actions, words, and deeds on other people are all magnified greatly in this petri dish of human emotion.

In that state, I had made some decisions that really really upset Daniel. I didn't know that they upset him at the time and I didn't believe he had any reason to be upset anyway. Many months later, when we finally spoke candidly, I learned how life looked from his perspective and I could see how some of my actions could have been so insensitive and hurtful to him at that time. And I felt absolutely terrible about this. Daniel reports that he experienced something similar on his end after he considered some of his own actions and reactions.

Don't get me wrong. We never hated each other, or even stopped caring about one another's well-being. We had just lost a lot of what we had, and all of this because we were acting in ways that were extremely hurtful to the other without ever discussing it.

I'll never forget the day I took Daniel to the airport when he left Palau. It was the middle of the night, and we drove through the dark jungle, mostly in silence.

I asked him if he wanted me to go into the airport with him. He said "no" and climbed out of the Stormtrooper with his bags.

Driving away felt like such an inappropriate conclusion to such a significant friendship. And so I parked anyway and said, "I'm going in with you. Of course I'm going in with you."

"Whatever you want," he responded.

I waited in the front area of the tiny airport, sweaty and tired, while Daniel retrieved his ticket from the airline. The airport looked like a large barn. And, like usual, there were only a few people there, sitting and waiting, probably for nothing in particular.

Daniel came out of the ticket area, sweaty and tired, and passed me to head up the stairs to the tiny security area.

With his ticket clenched in his hand, he slowed briefly while passing and said, as though we had just met, "well, this is it. I hope your last few weeks are nice. Maybe I'll see you around." His voice had the pleasant tone his voice always has when he's really frustrated and sad but obviously trying to turn off all of his emotions because relief feels better than grief.

He turned and walked toward the stairs.

I stood there, feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me. And I hated that this was going to be our last memory together in Palau. Palau, where we had shared so much. He was the one person who could really understand everything I had just gone through for what was probably the most difficult year of my life. And he didn't even seem to care about me or, apparently, intend to ever see me again.

I hated that this was the way he had chosen to make me feel. I hated that I had done whatever I had done to him to make him wander off so callously and carelessly. I hated that I didn't really know what that thing was that I had done. I hated that I hated when this moment should have induced feelings of nostalgia and love and profound significance.

I think Daniel hated that, too. All of it. Because he got to the stairs and stopped. I was watching him as he stood, facing away from me for a moment, in silent contemplation. He was holding his bags and standing in flip-flops that had been worn almost all the way through. His clothes looked stretched and tattered from a year of hard living in the muggy equatorial tropics. So did the rest of him.

Flashes of driving in the Stormtrooper through the jungle went through my mind. I saw us talking on the beach, late into the night. I saw us visiting impoverished friends and noticing, together, how this was changing our outlook on life. I saw all of these experiences at once, and felt simultaneously connected and disconnected with the one person who truly knew these experiences that I would be processing for years to come.

He turned around right where he stood and looked at me. There was a profound sadness in his eyes. Frustration. Disappointment. Fatigue. He stared at me from across the tiny airport for just a moment or two. And then he muttered, his voicing sounding like all of the things he looked, "Hey. I love you, ok?"

He muttered words that aren't spoken often enough between friends.

And I noticed then that he said this as a question, and not a statement. Not like he was informing me that he cared about me as a person, but like he wanted me to acknowledge that, whatever might happen in the weeks and months and years to come, I was aware that behind the thin facade of pleasantness, some sincere emotion existed.

"I know." I responded. "I love you, too. Of course."

And then he walked up the stairs, the slapping of his size 17 flip flops echoing through the quiet airport until he turned the corner and disappeared.

I drove home through the dark jungle, crying.

I was alone for the last several weeks, tying up the loose strings of our shared Palauan life, all by myself. And it was strange. It was empty. The solitude wasn't nearly as disconcerting as the ubiquitous reminders of a happier time that littered every corner of my dying Palauan life.

When I returned to the United States I felt like everything was going to be so different for me. And I suddenly found myself wandering into a new and sort of confusing phase of life, totally without the support and counsel of this person I was so used to being my very best friend.

The months that followed were painful, but important. And I learned a lot as I looked over the mistakes I had made and the lessons I needed to learn along the way.

Before too long, through a series of unexpected circumstances, Daniel and I started to reconnect. And it was nice. But it wasn't what it had been. There was still a hesitation. A wall.

With time that wall began to crumble. It crumbled because we wanted it to, and because we were both willing to sacrifice our own anger enough to dissipate the other's sadness. And because of that, I found myself able to talk to him on the phone and laugh, kind of like we used to.

Seeing Daniel in Mexico last week was sort of the first time we had seen each other since we left Palau. At least, for more than a few unpleasant minutes. And it was wonderful.

I don't know all of the details and intricacies of the point of life, but I suspect that whatever it is, it all has a lot to do with human connection. With relationships. With how much we can learn about the kind of peace with which we are rewarded for paying the price of selflessness to get along. And I bet the majority of people who sense that the end of their life is near spend a great deal of time reflecting, regretting, and rejoicing in their decisions about how they navigated through the complexity of life's relationships.

What makes life strange, probably more than anything else, is that it is totally, unpredictably, affected by the decisions of strangers around us. The ones who wander into our lives unexpectedly and completely alter the course, turning it into something never really imagined before, for better or worse.

And it's beautiful and wonderful that those strangers can bring so much fulfillment. That it takes connection with another person to actually get to know yourself. That wounds can be healed. That pain can stop hurting, although, fortunately, never be forgotten. It's beautiful and wonderful that we experience and turn into something in the process.

Life is good, Strangers.


~It Just Gets Stranger

57 comments:

  1. My bf and I are currently in a fight. A series of things had led up to this, and we're not in the best of ways. That's probably an understatement. And for me, it's just like being close friends. I don't have a lot of friends, and other than him, there's only the ones online. And it's been that way my entire life. And I think I really needed this post. Because things don't have to end, even if they're hard.

    So... thank you, Daniel. A lot.

    P.S. I like what you've both done with your hair ;)

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  2. I love this post! I could tell that, as all your Strangers demanded to know what Daniel was up to, for some reason you seemed hesitant to mention him. Now I understand. I have been there myself, so actually I completely understand! I've had the same best friend for about 12 years - we've lived together, traveled around the world together, and spent countless hours on the phone even when we weren't together. But at one point, about 4 years ago, we had a falling out. She was upset; I had no idea why she was mad at me, and I didn't think I had done anything wrong, so I was defensive and mad back at her. We spent several months barely talking. And I missed her, so much. Finally I had to get it in my head that, although I didn't think I had done anything wrong, she was hurt and upset. I had to get over my ego and apologize to her. And she had to let the hurt go and accept that I truly still cared about her.

    I'm happy to report that we are still best friends. And I'm so happy that you and Daniel are reconciling too. When you find someone that can put up with you and even love you for your quirks, you can't let that slip away!

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  3. "And it's beautiful and wonderful . . . That it takes connection with another person to actually get to know yourself." So true. I'm glad you and Daniel didn't let your friendship fall away.

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  4. I am crying now because I so miss my best friend. We are so far away from each other and our lives have gone in different directions. No fighting between us but such hard times. Its lonely here in Singapore and I just don't know that I will ever like it without my friend. Its so hard - all I talk to is my silly cat and she just meows at me to give her more treats. She thinks I am too silly for words. Its time for me to take a deep breath and keep moving on. I will keep hoping for the future when we can be closer in distance if not in thoughts.

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  5. This is absolutly beautiful.

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  6. Eli, I was going to send you an email but I want others to see this comment. I am a literature professor and have been for many years. Your writing is about as good as any I have ever seen. It is remarkable that this is just a blog. The way you capture emotion, use words so poetically, wander back and forth from humor to pure insight so flawlessly, etc. I hope you know what a gift you have. One of the reasons I so enjoy following your blog is because I'm so interested to see where you go. I have no doubt that you are on your way to big things in the not so distant future. And those of us who are reading now are going to love that we got to see you before the rest of the world.

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    1. What Davis said.

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    2. Exactly perfectly said, Davis N.! And, Eli, I cried while reading this.

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  7. These last three paragraphs are about the best thing I've ever read. I'm speechless. Thank you.

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    1. I found great perspective in the third to last paragraph. As always very nicely stated,whether your writing
      humor or life altering facts.

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  8. After following you two on all of your adventures in Palau, I was almost in tears reading this. By far my favorite post of yours, Eli.

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    1. I agree with KayJay, and yes I cried reading your post at work. I went to college with my best friend and that ruined our friendship. However we talk still across states and are able to laugh at how wrong we both were. Friends (and Strangers) are the best.

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  9. What a beautiful post! I have found the relationships that mean the most to me are the ones that sometimes require the most work. I am glad you two were able to navigate past this.

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  10. It's been a while since I've had a best friend because he got married, but miss so bad connecting on a level with another human as deeply as that. We we were mission companions and then roommates for part of college. The most serious girlfriend that I've ever had, who I loved so much, never quite connected with me at that level and I miss it. It made me a little sad reading this because I can relate in both the positive and negative aspects of it. Friendships are great but sad that they almost can't always stay that way forever.

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  11. This is not how typical (read "straight) guys act or feel. To help the strangers better understand you, please be totally honest with us and don't hold anything back. You like dudes, just say it. Good post.

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    1. Perhaps that is simply because most straight guys don't explore the bounds of friendship as deeply as Eli has. It happens more often in Mormonville--guys get a taste of what a meaningful male friendship can look like when we're paired off with other guys on our missions. Then we get to college and we're not allowed to room with girls, and especially girlfriends, so we have male roommates who we grow close to. And when a guy doesn't get married super early, like many Mormons (more power to you, Eli), those bonds of friendship sometimes strengthen even more. What sets Eli apart is not that he has a best friend like Daniel, but rather that he is open enough and man enough to write about it and share it with Strangers.

      Beautiful post, and so eloquently put, Eli.

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    2. The greatest part about human relationships is that they can't be individually defined or shoved into a box of specific traits. Each connection is intricately unique because we as humans are also unique. Relationships aren't an equation of 1+1=2.
      Even so, regardless of whether Eli is homo/heterosexual, it is no business of yours to tell him how or when to "come out". You seem like a well meaning individual, I would hate for you to be attacked for your callousness. Eli is extremely generous in opening up to his devoted following of "Strangers" but that does not require him to wear his heart on his sleeve or remove him of his right to his own secrets.

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    3. Gay or straight, I'm pretty sure 1+1=Furrever.

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    4. I find it strange that you focus on Eli's orientation more than the wonderful words said in this post. I think he's straight and is comfortable sharing things more than most guys or girls, gay or straight.
      But to be honest, I dont really care if he is gay or straight. I just enjoy his writing for what it is.

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    5. Also, it's none of our damn business.

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    6. Has this link ever been shared here? I can't remember if I found it here or elsewhere. The article is illuminating the the photographs are, well, interesting:

      http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/07/29/bosom-buddies-a-photo-history-of-male-affection/

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    7. How can you say that? If you were serious in writing that comment then it must be that you have never had any meaningful friends in your life. I'm a guy and I just can't view my close friends as being disposable in the way you describe. I love them and I would really be upset if they were no longer a part of my life.

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  12. Immediately Preceding Anonymous: While I disagree with your interpretation of Eli's sexuality, I have a much deeper "beef" with your comment. I wholly disagree that straight guys do not act or feel that way. Real men--tough guys--NEED other people. Just like everyone else. People to rely on, people to laugh or even shed a tear with. Oh sure, "real" men can survive without those things, just like they can survive without red meat (less likely perhaps...). But the point is, a full life, thriving, instead of mere surviving, requires other people. So, while the world and society are rightly demanding an end to stereotypes and discrimination, can I put a plug in for the good ol' fashioned fella? Can the world stop telling all of us (but especially the rising generation) that to be a man means you have to strip yourself of all sentiment, and that deep relationships are reserved for your beer and your truck? Can we stop insisting that the marks of "manhood" be sexual fixation combined with stunning imbecility and sloth? It is not uncommon to hear the bright, strong, and focused women of today ask where all the good men have gone. Well...maybe we told them to go away. No sane person would accept the costs above, and so maybe they decided against being a "manly" man. Unfortunately, as we have seen as a society, it is the true man who takes on responsibility, who prioritizes honor and virtue, and who strives not only in the workplace, but in the home, to provide the best life he can for those he cherishes most. So please, while we're eradicating bigotry, let's not forget that "men" are people too.

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    1. Also, please realize that if this was written by a woman about her friendship with another woman, no one would have blinked an eye or cast anything negative (not that sexual orientation is a negative thing either way). I am married to a man who "takes on responsibility...prioritizes honor and virtue and who strives not only in the workplace, but in the home" and does so with love and respect for both us, his family, but those friendships he holds very dear. He's my Man, in all sense of the word. Thank you Eli. Your writing touches my heart.

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    2. I am a 41 year old woman, divorced twice, and now in a serious 4 year relationship. This is the only blog that I ever have and probably ever will read. I do that for one reason. Eli writes in an such an honest way, that he helps me to understand my boyfriend. I feel like I've found love for the first time in my life because my significant other shares the same emotions with me that Eli does with us all. My other half works in agriculture, comes from a devoutly religious family, has muscles the size of the tires on his truck, likes to drink his share of beer, and watches NASCAR (did I mention that he is incredibly hot?). His most significant quality? His openness with his feelings/his ability to show his love and appreciation for our life together. There aren't many men like that anymore. Yay for you Eli for being one of them.

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  13. Anonymous (Feb 24, 6:13am), I'm not sure where you get off telling someone who they should be attracted to just because they have a deep connection to another person. Straight guys can and do have deep and complex relationships with other men that don't involve sex. By assuming that there MUST be a sexual connection when two people care deeply about each other, you make the connection between human beings a purely physical one and lessen it to an extent. If Daniel and Eli were attracted to each other, why would it be any of our business? Can we not appreciate the sadness of estrangement between close friends without making it all about sex? Does it make their ability to work through their problems any less wonderful?
    Think about boundaries next time before you try to force someone out who hasn't indicated he's in the closet to begin with.

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  14. thank you, eli, for sharing your vulnerability.

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  15. Eli, you always write beautifully, but this was especially good. It's really impressive, the way you untangle all the threads that lead to a fraying of friendship, and all the attempts to rebuild it. I do wish people didn't reduce what you write to a "Is he or isn't he?" question about your sexuality. It insults you, and it insults all men by implying that the only way to have a complicated, deep relationship with someone of the same sex is if you're sexually involved with them. Also, Anonymous, there is no such thing as "typical." Roll with it, dude.

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  16. I think we're losing sight of what's really important here, and that is: Eli, your hair looks great and I want to have your babies. Have you been working out?

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    1. Hahaha way to bring the brevity girl! Rock on!

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  17. My husband just walked in the room while I was reading this, and said, "What's wrong? Are you ok?" And I said, "Yes, I'm fine...just reading a very touching blog post." And then he laughed at me, because that's what we do around here. ;)

    I'm glad you wrote this, Eli. Amazing read. And really though-provoking, like the other commenters have said.

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  18. Eli, this is heartbreakingly beautiful. In my life, I have gone through many groups of friends. Some of them I am still in touch with, others, I have left behind completely (and for good reasons.) Your post describes exactly what I feel every time I go through one of those transitions. What I have found is that, no matter how much you get one their nerves, the best ones always come back. I don't believe in one soul mate per person. I believe that we have many soul mates with whom we connect over the years. The friends that stick by you through thick and thin, the ones that truly love you, they are some of your soul mates. It sounds like you've got one in Daniel. I'm so glad that you two mended the relationship and are are better terms now. I wish nothing but the best for both of you in years to come, and I'm enjoying being along for the ride. Your blog is wonderful. You make people laugh, cry, and shake their heads, thinking, "WHAT is wrong with that boy?" LOL, sometimes, all in the same post. You're a great writer. Please keep it up.

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  19. If you would have done your own laundry, Daniel would never have been so angry!!

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    1. I feel so validated right now! Thank you!

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    2. So much for Eli trying to be discreet. Now everyone knows the reason behind our demise was the damn laundry...and Leotrix, but mostly just the laundry.

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    3. Eli...you are awesome
      Daniel I feel you I also have to do everyones laundry.

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  20. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJVt8kUAm9Q

    Bromance. More beautifully written of course.

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  21. I applaud you for working it out with Daniel. I know for me, sometimes when I disconnect with friends it is easier to never reconnect and just move on. I have regretted that a few times. It is sad that I have friends that we planned on being each others maid of honor and now I have watched those friends get married and we end up exchanging awkward congratulations at their reception as I watch their new best friend fill the role I could have. It makes me sad to think of what we were and to understand that we are not a part of each others life anymore.

    But I heard this poem that helped me through that process. It says that sometimes people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Those who come for a reason are there to teach you a valuable lesson or get your life back on track, or to play a vital role in who you become. Others come into your life for a season, staying with you to help you through a hard time in your life, one that you couldn't have gotten through without them. And then some will stay with you for a lifetime. I am glad that you and Daniel worked it out, but it would have been okay even if you hadn't. Because sometimes people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime, and you love them for as long as they are with you.

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  22. Too deep for a Monday! What you said is so true though, and we've all been through it at one point or another. Well said. I'm going to curl up in a ball and cry now. Hopefully my co-workers won't mind.

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    1. Also, I hope any comments about how "strait guys should feel" doesn't deter you from being so open with Stranger. People need to hear your words of wisdom and experience. Don't ever stop doing what you do.

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  23. This just goes to show that when true friends really are true, you can go through anything and everything and still come back to your best friend. Because you realize how much they really mean to you and how much you need them in your life :)

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  24. This is a perfect post. That is all.

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  25. This post is a perfect example of why Stranger's story is SO interesting. I LOVED this.

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  26. Eli, reading this made me think back to the Christmas gift, and in fact, go back and re-read that post. Now I understand the emotion behind that painting and why it meant so much to you. Kudos for friends who know just how to speak when words can't do the emotion justice. Thank you for your beautiful writing and thank you to Daniel for encouraging you to write about this experience. You are both keepers.

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  27. Well said Eli. . . :)

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  28. Terrible post. I dislike everything about it. I don't like that you were both were hurt and angry, I don't like that you made me cry at work, I don't like that you even have to try and make up in the first place. I don't like that the airport goodbye nearly broke my heart. I don't like that I have to tell you both how sorry I am and that I know what it feels like. I don't like that I can't promise it won't happen again. But what I can say is that offering forgiveness and letting go of anger, even if you don't always know why, is always worth it. It makes you stronger and kinder and braver. That you both went through this and are truly trying to work it out makes me like you both all the more. It shows true character and love for your brother. Thank you both for sharing with us, even if I didn't like it so much.

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  29. My favorite post of all time.

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  30. It's posts like these so perfectly sprinkled throughout all of the funny ones that just make me love you even more Eli. My husband and I are in that hard spot that you and Daniel found yourself in, in Palau. I don't know what to do about it. A big part of me wants to just walk away, but there's that little ever present voice that tells me things can get better and the wall inside me can come back down. Thank you for sharing the hard parts Eli.

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  31. I currently live on a tiny island not far at all from Palau...unfortunately, this blog was one of the main reasons I gave in and moved here from the states. I say unfortunately, because I don't think I would've moved here at all if I truly understood just how challenging this "human petri dish" really is! Not to mention the sweat...ALWAYS sweaty. So, thanks a lot for laughing off life in hell and making it sound like the tropical paradise it isn't ;)

    That said, this was a fantastically real post--even your best yet. We each have a perspective that is uniquely ours, thank you for sharing yours with all of us.

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  32. Beautifully written post. Very thoughtful and personal. Eli grew up with a houseful of sisters. He developed a sensitive side. It is very attractive to females. More guys should develop this trait. Eli is also a loyal friend. No surprise to me that things have/are working out.

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  33. Beautifully written, you made me cry too. When I had a falling out with my very best friend in high school, I remember thinking that it was worse than a romantic relationship, because I didn't understand it. Reading this brought it all back, and reading the comments made me feel like I wasn't alone. I am so glad you and Daniel are okay now. Relationships, of any kind, are hard.

    Meg

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  34. i feel as though you were a fly on the wall observing and writing about the creation and subsequent destruction of my relationship with my former roommate and best friend. (unfortunately, still 'former') it brings tears to my eyes to read your words and know that i'm not the only one that feels so brokenhearted. you give me hope that maybe, someday, it might be a little different and we might be able to patch up the brokenness. only the faintest hope, however, as it's been over 5 years....amazing how friendships better than you knew were possible can end in such hurt and pain. but i guess the more connected you are, the more you feel the absence when someone pushes you away.

    Thank you for sharing this part of your story.

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  35. This post and 'I'm Still Here' touched my heart. Your words are eloquent and hold the power of truth, which is obvious by these comments. Please remain brave enough to share the hard stuff and clever enough to share the funny. I believe your gift and purpose is words. Thank you once again for sharing them. And thank Daniel for us, he was right.
    I'm not sure which was more endearing your post or your picture.

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