I was writing the date on a bottle of expressed milk this morning and out of the depths of my consciousness some awareness that this date might be significant came surfacing. The first thing I thought of was my mother’s birthday, which is next week, but finally it came to me: November 17, November 17, of course. It’s Franz’s birthday.

Franz is the person in my life I was in a relationship with for the longest (although, since I don’t plan to get divorced anytime soon — despite my frequent threats — I expect that will soon change), mostly in days of college and grad school, mostly in New York. He was a Germanist, I was a French major, and if you imagine him stomping down the street with Wagnerian gravitas and me flitting about making postmodern remarks about the transparency of reality, you’re not far off. He loved music and literature with almost desperate passion and admired artistry in all its forms, an admiration that was colored heavily by self-derision; he had low expectations of humanity that were usually fulfilled and constantly iterated a general negativity and malaise that was, to me at the time, both unintelligible and distressing. When I met Franz he was still married to a Taiwanese succubus who had apparently sucked him dry of any faith in human nature, although he clearly hadn’t quite cut those ties (despite a year of separation); he had, like many Scorpios, a strong predilection toward expressing his creativity and emotion only through sex and occasionally reminded me of Claudine‘s comment, “he has no authority except when he is making love,” except that it was not only his only authority, but his only spontaneity and grace. He was fitness-obsessed to the point of giving himself multiple stress fractures in both legs by running around the 6-mile loop in Central Park as many as three times a day, every day; he called it “trying to outrun my demons” (and, obviously, failing). My friends called him “Problem Boy” and frequently reminded me of the Robyn Hitchcock lyrics, “If he treats you horribly, he’s probably a Scorpio,” not without justification. Yet we stayed together, on and off but mostly on, for five years.

Endearing things about Franz: he used to stuff the little holes on the outside of his headphones with paper or glue so that he could more effectively blow out his ears on those long runs through the snowy New York landscape. He got teary listening to Gorecki by moonlight; in general, the closest he ever came to losing his thick screen of This Is How Much the World Sucks involved music, which makes it poetic justice that he was named for Schubert. He sent me a copy of Nicholson Baker’s novel Vox, about phone sex, with the inscription “for My Baby, because my dick isn’t long enough.” (An inscription that both makes me smile and ache a little for his inability to ever stop with the self-deprecation.) He eventually relaxed from his ferocious vigilance into something that could almost be called sweetness. He used to pronounce his name with thickly Bavarian rolled r’s, despite the fact that he was from not Bavaria, but Wisconsin. He loved his friend Bryan (who was eminently lovable) with a devotion only occasionally tarnished by his cynical worldview, and which revealed a little something about the person he wanted to allow himself to be.

Those five years were no picnic, and since they ended I’ve been at a loss to articulate why that particular relationship with that particular person, fraught as it was, held such an important place in my life for so long. But the other day, my mom brought it up. “I used to ask you why you stayed with him,” she said, “and you know what you said?”

I had no idea what I said.

“You said, ‘it’s never boring.”

And I realized that I meant that sincerely, that the thing about Franz that compelled me to him, and I hope something not dissimilar compelled him to me, was that, unlike most of the other people I’d dated, Franz wasn’t boring, that despite his overwhelming negativity and the torturous relationship he had with things like sex and work and fidelity, which for me had been, up to that point, rather simple and straightforward pleasures, something about the dynamic between him and me allowed for some recognition of the complexity of the person beneath and, occasionally, some appreciation, and even care-taking, thereof. It wasn’t boring, and it wasn’t boring because Franz penetrated my defenses and my insouciance and my reluctance (well-hidden, judging from the number of relationships that failed to even notice it) to really get involved and became, like the Velveteen Rabbit, real, although perhaps it was his reality that brought about the caring instead of the other way around. It wasn’t boring because I cared, and it was fraught at least in part because, at the time, caring was something I was ill-equipped to do.

But it was never boring. It was real.

So happy birthday, Franz Peter. Thank you for that.