I never thought that I could actually love anyone, not until her.

I'm sure I loved my parents when I was a child. At the very least, I desperately craved their approval and attention, I depended on them, I needed them. Then again, I'm not entirely sure that dependence and desperation are what most people would consider love. But it was the closest thing I've ever felt to it. Not like my parents showed me much of it. If my father acknowledged my existence, it was to criticize me. My mother tried, I think, to show love in her own way. But she had lost so much by the time I was born, was so worn out by the life of a 19th century house-wife that all she could do was heap gifts upon me -- as though that would be a substitute for genuine affection...

I can't really blame her. I don't think she could let herself become genuinely attached to me, after she lost the four children she had before me. Children dying was still relatively common in the 1890s. You'd think she might have expected it, might've understood the risks, but I don't think she was ever...unbroken. I think, that even before marrying my father, even before losing her first child, there was something broken about her.

It was something I learned to see in others as well. A light that leaked through the cracks in the facade they showed to the world. I could always tell who was broken.

Not only from observing my mother, but because when I looked at myself in the mirror, I could see something very similar in myself -- but I wasn't broken like they were. Others were in pieces or cracked, but all the pieces were there. When I looked at myself, something was missing. I wasn't a complete person that they were.

By the time I was a young man, I came to the conclusion that the missing piece must have been my heart. I had girlfriends, I had friends, I could feel fondness... But I knew I didn't have the same kinds of feelings for people that others did. There was a distance between them and myself that nothing I could do would fill.

Amelia made me think she filled that empty space in my chest, made me think I loved her -- but by the time she Changed me, I knew that it was simply a projection of her own feelings of love and affection. Feelings that hadn't even been for me. She pulled me in like a spider does a fly, she toyed with me, she made me her protege of sorts. Amelia, however, was not the puppet-master. No, that was Camille. She plucked and pulled and cut and tied those strings with an expertise that would make Fate herself jealous.

And Camille had someone she wanted to hurt. A young woman named Gloria Kenner. I didn't understand why she wanted this girl hurt, but I knew she wanted it done and I knew that I couldn't resist her will -- she either had her claws buried that deeply into my psyche or she simply wielded threats with such deftness that I was too afraid to stand against her. In truth, it was both.

Gloria was not my missing piece. I don't know where my missing piece is. But Gloria awoke something in me I didn't think was possible.

My entire life, I was desperate for love. I lied and manipulated my way into making people dependent on me -- making women think I loved them, making them desperate to keep me in their lives. Making myself the center of their world. And it made me feel...

Better. Almost.

They needed me, they wanted me, I'm sure many of them loved me. But I wasn't capable of loving them in return. I couldn't let them in. How could I let them in? How could I let them know that I wasn't a real person? That I was simply something that pretended to be a man. Some incomplete, broken thing?

No, no. I couldn't do that. Even I didn't want to know that. Even I pretended that I was something complete. Of course I lied to myself -- who could live with themselves, knowing that they're not an actual person?

But Gloria made me feel something. I wanted her to want me for me. I didn't want to lie to her, I didn't want to show only this shallow fascimile of a man that I wear for the rest of the world. I wanted to make her genuinely happy. I loved her.

And Camille wanted me to destroy her. To break her into her component parts for some purpose I didn't know. Some purpose I still don't know. With Amelia and Camille pulling my strings, I was a puppet and I did what they wanted. I did it without question, I did it without hesitation.

When she died, something inside of me shattered. The mean streak that had surfaced as a teenager became something much, much worse. I wanted to hurt people in a way I hadn't ever wanted to before. I was angry, I was hurt. And I couldn't even acknowledge it. I couldn't see it -- I simply felt it.

And I met her again.

I met Eliza and Camille killed her after I broke her.

I met Maddie and after she was Changed, she threw herself to the dawn -- turning to ash and sparks and blowing away on the morning breeze.

Three times, I found her and I broke her and watched her die.

Again and again and again -- I broke myself as I broke her. I died as she died. After Maddie, I hoped to God she wouldn't come back. At least, at first I did. After fifteen years, I couldn't deny how much I missed her. After twenty, I hated her for being gone and I hated her for making me love her. After twenty two, I saw her again.

I know that the crowd did not truly part like the Red Sea so that I might see her, the flashing lights of the club bouncing off her mane of scarlet curls as she danced -- her body covered in a thin sheen of sweat, her eyes closed as the music moved through her and she became one with the moment. But in my memory, the crowd parts. The crowd parts and there she is. Her hair is dyed -- the natural red fades into vibrant pink and from pink into a deep plum. And there is something about that which stirs a feeling of nostalgia in my chest. The faintest memory of a dream that fills my entire body and if I could, I think I would've cried. The joy on her face, the pure hedonistic abandon with which she moved, the way I knew she would tear me apart like a maenad would a bacchanalia sacrifice... And I would be the one holding her hand as she did it. That I would break her and she would break me in return, and she would never even know she was doing it.

I never thought I would be capable of love until I met her. And I wish I wasn't.