I really thought he couldn’t hurt my heart anymore, not with Lover filling up all the empty spaces between my wishes and dreams.
It has been over two decades since the most tragic back story ever.
OK, almost that tragic.
We were together for three years, during college. We met at a party; he was the drummer of a band, playing at a frat house. I was a sorority girl, happily breaking hearts and making no promises. And then–cue montage of long weekend drives to Seattle, countless hours on couches and in cars, laughing and telling jokes and quiet conversations that never needed to be said out loud. He wrote me letters, during our long weekdays apart; I still have them, even now.
Somewhere after we wrecked a car in Canada on our way back from seeing Pink Floyd, it all fell apart. (As epic as that sounds, it really wasn’t our fault.) Everything became an uphill fight to understand one another, as if we had collided with reality, not just some idiot who fell asleep at the wheel doing ninety miles an hour.
We drifted; it should have been okay, a natural progression of growing up, but somehow we could never let go, significant other as life preserver, grappling and fighting to hang on but still drowning, no room for two anymore.
Then one day I decided I was done. No, really done. I packed up my things, slammed the doors shut. I was a coward; he wasn’t home while I dragged what was left of a life ripped in two out the door, across the yard, shoved it into my pickup truck.
Just as I started the engine, checking my mirrors, I saw him pull up behind me. I was angry, turned up the music already blaring thirty decibels above ordinary politeness. I saw him waving his arms, mouthing words I didn’t want to hear, and so I put the truck in gear and I left.
I left the town, the state of Washington, and really for the next fifteen years all I did was leave everywhere, trying to outrace these memories.
Ten years ago, we reconnected. Mellower now, with the battle scars of making it on our own–crappy bosses and paying taxes and unfaithful spouses and all of that. Tentatively we tried out friendship, and surprisingly it was a good fit. Of course, we knew all the things to avoid, the way I hate the smell of leftover Chinese food and how he’ll never quit smoking. These were acceptable now, with time and distance, no longer concerns we had to fix.
One day he told me, “Do you know where I went, that day?”
He didn’t have to say which day. We both knew, out of the seven thousand days since then, which one That Day was.
Silence. He knew I didn’t know. It was a trivial detail I had never considered. He could have been out for milk or band practice or buying cigarettes or just taking a drive.
The silence stretched into a sigh.
“I was at Martin’s…” My mind raced, Who was Martin? What did he have to do with That Day? “…over by the bank on Main Street.”
My breath caught as the nightmare completed itself, as he whispered, “I wanted to ask you to marry me.”
I hung up the phone. It was unfair, this kind of emotional baggage that I am unequipped to carry. I can’t go back in time and scream at my twenty-something self that every relationship has problems but that true love is a gift you may only get once.
I have spent half my life running away from That Day, constantly dislodging the giant boulder of regret from blocking today’s happiness, but somehow it rolls uphill and parks at my door anyhow.
The thing no one ever tells you is that life has to go on after love, even though food no longer tastes good, even though breathing feels like a chore. I created routines, to help me pretend to be a person, and after a long while it worked, and I figured out how to live half alive like it was real.
And now…now this.
Lover and I have been together more or less a year, a milestone for me. I have been wrestling with I love you, a thing yet unsaid between us. I don’t know if it needs to be said, if I want to say it anyway, if I am afraid to speak these words into a void that does not repeat them back to me.
I don’t think my Lover loves me. We are happy together, and we are getting to know each other well, with deep silences and a mutual reaching for the other when we sleep together. And it is all very lovely, but I do not know if it is love.
Maybe I only know how to recognize the kind of love that hurts.