The first time:
You broke up with me on a Sunday. It was sunny, warm enough for me to wear shorts. What does it mean, when the weather is beautiful, despite everything? What are you supposed to do with the sun?
I had been napping in your bed. Coming from my aunt’s house, I had driven to and parked on the part of the street in front of your house that I had just begun to think of as my own. Everything was the same, or similar. Despite the fact that the day before I had packed up most of my things and brought them to my house in Oakland, dumping them in a heap on the floor as my mom and I assembled my bed frame, I had thought ahead enough to bring a bag full of clothes back to your house. I guess it was some sort of offering, an acknowledgment that I was here, and that I belonged in this place, if only a little less so than before. I guess it also showed that I didn’t know that it was over.
I didn’t have my glasses on when you came into your room. I looked up at you, your face blurry. You asked me if we were going to talk. In retrospect, I wonder about if I had said no. Would I have just stayed in your bed, and would you have eventually joined me? Could I have prevented what you said next, or would it have happened anyway, just a little differently?
I think I knew for sure it was over when you told me you wouldn’t rush me to get all my things out of your house. I felt like I was going to throw up, but at the same time like you had said something completely ridiculous. I left a couple things strategically: my lotion, a bag of kit kats, the hat I bought when we went to Tahoe. A few things I left by accident and realized later: my running shoes, the broccoli in your freezer.
That first day, I was sure that I was going to crack. Not break per se, but instead discover, suddenly, that the surface of me had changed. I couldn’t imagine life without you — I’ve never felt a sadness that sudden and that sharp. I called my mom every two hours, tried to watch five different things and couldn’t do it without crying, ate four bites of macaroni and cheese in two days. I still loved you.
When you think about me, what do you miss? I miss lying tangled up with you on the couch. I miss the little faces we make at each other, the way you hugged me so hard you picked me up off the ground when you got back from Thailand, how you planned for the future in a way that felt like you were more confident in me than you were in the present. I miss sitting in a sunny park, drunk, a little high, with my head in your lap, and the heat of wearing all black in the sunshine making me feel a little fuzzy. I miss the way I looked up at you, and you told me you loved me, and I never believed in anything more. I miss being able to touch you. When you broke up with me, we hugged like it wasn’t over. You pressed your face up against mine, took in one last breath of me, kissed me on the cheek, walked away. We still loved each other.
One of the last times we had sex, or, maybe, the very last time we had sex before we broke up the first time, after, you looked me in the eyes, and said, see? Why would I ever break up with you after that? It didn’t register with me then, how much weight you let go when you breathed out that sentence. Everything and nothing seems possible after sex. My body still loves yours.
The second time:
We broke up again, this time on a Wednesday night. This time, we had just had sex, and the imprint from my naked body was still warm on your sheets. I asked you what was wrong, and you asked me if I was sure that I wanted to talk about it, right then. I wasn’t, but I made myself feel sure. The air was thick, you were having a hard time breathing through it, and I could tell.
When you told me that you didn’t think you wanted to be in a relationship anymore, I didn’t cry. I think that surprised both of us. I asked if you had found someone else, and you told me you hadn’t. You told me that you still loved me, still wanted to be with me, but wasn’t sure that being in a relationship right now was the best thing for you.
On the phone yesterday, my mom told me that she thinks it is important to take the things people say at face value. Everyone lies, but when someone tells you or shows you that they love you, you should believe them. The world feels really ugly and far away if you don’t. Having only met you once, she told me that at this point, I can take for granted the fact that you have loved me. No one, she said, will spend a year of their life with another person and come out of it unscathed.
The first time you broke up with me, I drove home numb, went to my room, and cried with wild abandon. Nowhere felt more appropriate than the floor behind my bed, my forehead pushed against the carpet. To be in a bed meant to be in a bed without you. I had been in California for less than a year, and you were my home. The second time, we came to a true agreement over text, you hugged me tightly as I left, I thought of you as a beautiful part of my life. The first time, losing you felt like half of me had been ripped from the frame of my body and I felt naked; I didn’t know how to rebuild myself without you. The second time, it feels like the pieces of myself that I gave to you are gone, but I don’t want them back because they belong to you now. I know that you’ll take care of them.
Missing your skin is what it feels like to grieve. It hurts, because I remember exactly what it feels like to touch you. I know, intimately, exactly what I am missing, every minute that I am missing it.
When we first met, neither of us was ready for a relationship. And yet that’s kind of the thing about falling in love, isn’t it? We declared intently, out loud and to each other, that we didn’t have the time or the room for an emotional connection. And yet you looked at me and I felt like you could see all the way through to the other side. I touched your arm and saw goosebumps materialize all the way up to your shoulder. We kissed each other sweetly, you told me intimate stories about yourself; I insisted that we weren’t dating.
In the beginning, I didn’t really understand exactly what you meant when you talked about being in a relationship; to me a relationship meant being monogamous, but it didn’t mean considering another person in decisions, it didn’t mean taking another person’s feelings into consideration as equal, in part, to my own. Before I fell in love with you, I didn’t know the feeling, not really, of being in love. I know how to define it now: to be in love means to give away pieces of yourself, slowly, in exchange for pieces of someone else, until, eventually, the self you were before that person is irretrievable.
Is it possible for love stories to be both fast-burning, like a fire, while simultaneously setting down strong roots, like a slowly rising tree? Because that’s how I feel about our love story; that it moved quickly when we decided to dive into each other, but along the way we saw challenges and we rose to them, we saw flaws in ourselves and worked with each other to address them. The two of us, together, were a team, and our relationship was something we put together; it isn’t something that can be easily dissolved, as if it was never there. With you, I’ve certainly felt anger, and hurt, but I’ve also felt the depth of my understanding for another person increase to a point it has never broached before, and that feeling has cancelled out the negative emotions every time. I’m not the same person as when I first met you. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
What makes me the happiest to think about is how good of a person I know that you are. It helps to remember little things, like when you sat in the backseat of your friend’s car with me, in case I wanted to talk, or when, without hesitating, you’ve reassured me of the love that you felt for me when I asked. I think of the fierce loyalty you reserve for people you care deeply about, I think about the time in your living room when your roommates made fun of me for reading a book, and you stood up for me for liking to read. I’ve never loved anyone more than I loved you for that moment.
Our relationship has never been perfect, but perfection wasn’t really what I was seeking when I opened my heart up to you. A core thing about my sense of self is that I love to learn, and to actively change myself; being with you was the most challenged, in a positive way, that I’ve ever felt in a relationship. I wrote you a letter for our one-year anniversary, and even though we are no longer together, I still mean every word of it. Relationships are meant, I think, to be experiences of growth. In the last year, you and I have grown beside each other, entwined with each other. But there’s only so much growing you can do with another person, if you weren’t fully yourself yet when you met them.
Sometimes I think I let myself be governed by fear of immediate hurt, and the first time you broke up with me pushed my feelings to a corner they had never seen before. I’ve been palpably afraid of hurting that way again, and for a while, I allowed that fear to govern my behavior in our relationship. I want to be clear — I’ve never been afraid of you, I’ve been afraid of my own reactions to emotional pain. I’ve never needed you in order to keep myself alive, but at a certain point in our relationship, I had convinced myself I needed you in order to keep myself away from a hurt that felt like the opposite of living.
I know everyone says that you need to make a clean break in order to truly move on from someone, but I’m learning that idealism isn’t how the world works. It isn’t how I work, either. And in fact, quickly and entirely giving you up is not what I want. I want to give you up slowly, as I’m ready. I want to take deep breaths, breathing myself in and you out. Slowly, not all at once. I want to learn how to live alone, with only myself. I want to get to know myself, gently, entirely, irrevocably. I want to know who you are when you are without me. I want to learn to love that person the way I have learned to love the you that is mine.
When I think of you living your everyday life with only glimpses of me in it, I feel a pang of hurt, but also a sense of relief, that a situation like that can exist. Because, ultimately, I don’t think either of us really wants to let go of each other, but we both know that letting go a bit is necessary right now. I don’t want you to be a part of my past, but I don’t want you to be my whole present. I want us to be able to put each other on the back burner, and put ourselves on the front for a while. I love everything that you’ve been with me, but I want you to learn what it means to be in a relationship without feeling like you have to give up too much of yourself. I want that for myself too. I want us to love each other and ourselves, equally. When we accomplish that, only then can we be truly happy together. And we aren’t ready for that yet.
I want to feel everything that I need to feel with you. I want to feel everything that I can feel with you. I want to know the hurt, and the growth, and the pain and the relief of living without you. Once I’ve felt all that, I think I will know how to love you without forgetting to love myself. And I will know how to love myself, without forgetting to love you.
The two of us, we had something really real and really true together. And I mean it when I say that I don’t think this is the end, forever and always, for us. No one knows what will happen in the future, but what we do know is that the two of us really do have the rest of our lives in front of us. I’ve never felt so confident in loving anyone as I’ve felt in loving you.