Every day is different. Some days I forgive you, some days I forget you. Tonight, I spent an hour and a half reading through text messages between you and I on my computer, where I haven’t deleted them. I wanted to see if I would still feel sad, if I would still cry. I felt a little sad, but I did not cry. That’s a measure of progress in its own right.
I’d forgotten what it feels like to have someone regularly tell you they love you. I’d forgotten what it felt like to take something like that for granted. It isn’t as if you always texted me goodnight, or always communicated that you loved me, or always made me feel confident that you were as afraid of losing me as I was afraid of losing you. It isn’t the instability that I miss, the tumultuous peaks and valleys of emotion inherent to the very fibers of our relationship. It’s the moments of stability, the way I could rest my love on top of yours sometimes, the way the fibers of our feelings weaved in between each other, made us feel like we were part of some larger, interconnected being together. You felt like home to me for so long. Your arms, your skin, the way you smelled, all of these were burned into my memory, so that when we weren’t physically together I blinked and remembered them each time.
What is it about certain people that make them so important to you? More important than others, even others who sometimes deserve it more? For two years, you were the person I thought of first, sometimes to a fault. I’ve never felt so wholly immersed in someone, so ready to merge my life and all its possibilities with the limiting influence of dedicating one’s life to someone else. I loved you, and for that I was selfless. I fought for you, and for that I was brave. But in loving you, sometimes I was naive. In fighting for you, sometimes I was ignorant.
I went to Hawaii not because I wanted to forget you, but because I wanted to formulate a new chapter, to prove to myself that I was better off. Enough time had passed that I felt confident that your memory would not erode my ability to move forward, to forge new memories. I didn’t go to Hawaii to realize what I have been doing for the last four months, but that is what happened.
There are a few moments in one’s life, I think, that are shocking for their simplicity; what I mean is that sometimes we have realizations that are so obvious that when we finally understand them, the world seems clearer for a moment, pregnant with possibility and whistlingly free, beautifully empty. On the island of Maui, on my last night before leaving, I had one of those moments. I was sitting, seat leaned all the way back in the driver’s seat of my rental car. A boy I had spent the last several days getting to know and being surprised by his depth was leaned all the way back in the passenger’s seat. We had already talked about you, at this point in my period of moving forward I speak of you to everyone as a distant memory, as someone I’ve loved beyond the limit reached in all my other romantic relationships. He had already communicated that I should not spend a minute more being sad about you, we had already gone through a goodbye and a reunion neither of us had expected, though the island is minuscule.
He said, almost verbatim: “You know your ex is stupid, right? And you’re stupid for allowing yourself to still be sad about him.” I asked him why, wanting him to say that you were stupid for breaking up with me. He said that you were stupid for breaking up with me, stupid for dating someone stupid instead. After four days of for the first time being equally as physically attracted to someone as I was attracted to their intellect, and of having that feeling returned to me, this was profound. Sometimes people make the wrong decision, and in this case, the one who made the wrong decision was you.
I spent six months of my life feeling guilty, wondering what I could do to change into a person you would love again, one you would never leave like you had left me the first time. I spent six months trying to convince myself to heal, to convince myself that soon I wouldn’t need you anymore, that I would forget you in the same way you seemed to have forgotten me. It’s a particular kind of hurt that comes with being left behind, isn’t it? It’s why the story my mom tells of two year old me sitting for hours on the front porch steps with my Elmo backpack waiting for my dad to come stirs up a feeling of such tragedy. We all know what it feels like to be abandoned in one way or another, and we all live by the skin of our teeth trying to avoid feeling that way again. In my case, I tried to erase the feeling of care, of soulful connection I have been running from since the first time I experienced it as tied to sex.
I spent three months of my life having sex, with people who filtered in and out of my life seemingly without much desire for stability. And this is what I thought I wanted, so in this way I thought I was successful, thought I was happy. I thought I was obtaining my freedom at the same time that I was growing on my own the way you and I had wanted ourselves to. I thought I was taking what I deserved, what I had been deprived of for so long. In a way, all of these things were true. But there were other inherent truths I think I subconsciously ignored. I didn’t allow myself to miss you, because each time I did I felt guilty, felt stupid, felt alone. I wasn’t honest enough, didn’t give myself enough credit for the grief I felt in losing a person who had been my everything. And why would I have been? Every time I talked about you it hurt, and I closed in on myself, felt small. So I had sex to erase you, to purge myself of your body, your memory, the links between you and the carnality I enjoyed. Can we really objectively judge people for the ways in which they seek to feel individually powerful after they have been broken?
Feelings are powerful, and sometimes I feel like each one of mine ripples across my skin individually. They seem to create waves that bounce off different points of my being multiple times before they are ready to dissipate. When you told me you didn’t love me anymore, I still hoped. But it felt like the world around me had cracked and allowed something ugly to creep in immediately. When I would lie awake at night and cry for how much I wanted to be next to you, it felt like parts of me were melting. Staring at my phone waiting for responses from you that would never come was agony, it felt like being set on fire. You changed my life, I was foolish to think that I could erase you. But I was also foolish to think you had changed me beyond my capability of changing myself; you took my strength because I gave it to you, even when you clearly didn’t care to have it anymore.
Why do we so often think of people as possessions and relationships as methods of possessing them? In the timeline of our relationship, I distinctly separated the time before and after our breakup as a time in which you were mine, and a time in which you were not mine anymore. In the months after you left me, I never once doubted that I was still yours. I had moments of clarity: sometimes I believed my therapist and my mom when they told me I would have eventually outgrown you, that in ways I probably already had. You never owned me, though it still isn’t clear to me whether you wanted to. I always knew that I didn’t own you, though that isn’t what I wanted — I know that now. I simply wanted you to love me the way my mom does: without conditions, when I am not at my best. I can’t blame myself for not knowing you were never capable of that. Some things are reserved for understanding in hindsight.
I loved you, at a certain point, and at a certain point, you loved me. I do not love you anymore, and at a certain point, you ceased to love me. Maybe that is all we need to know.