“Oh… sweetie… I’m so sorry! Are you all right?”
We skipped straight to a dish session – our patented way of diffusing dark, heavy conversations about to explode into a fight. The usual, who’s married, who’s dating, who’s getting divorced…. who’s married, and dating, and about to get divorced… But I didn’t really have any juicy gossip, and apparently neither did she, so our conversation was risking to dangerously slip back to the previous pattern.
Then I remembered – guess who got married? Apparently I was supposed to have some sort of breakdown because my high school boyfriend had got married. All of the sudden, my mother was the embodiment of empathy, digging deep for the most meaningful, reassuring clichés in order to “console” me… She meant well, in her own way. What I would have appreciated a lot more, I couldn’t help thinking, was her having the ability to accept that some things affect me differently than they affect her.
I should have known better. I tried to convince her that the piece of gossip was no more than that, just gossip I had heard several weeks earlier and promptly forgot about, but there was no going back. Her feelings towards all her exes, including her high school crushes that she never actually dated, vary between resentment, jealousy and anger for having moved on with their lives… even when she was the one to end said relationships, even when they meant nothing to her. I also know that her manner of coping with certain unhealthy tendencies is to convince herself that absolutely everybody feels and reacts the same, and if they claim otherwise, they’re just lying to protect their bruised ego.
Therefore I was promptly encouraged to forget my pride and tap into those painful emotions, let out all those tears of sadness and regret and who knows what else. After all, who else could better understand what I was going through? Well, I could think of several persons…
The call ended on a supportive note. But as I hung up, I had to admit she got into my head. I felt the need to go through my memories and my heart once more. My first reaction to the news was a sort of surprise – were they not already married? I had heard they were engaged a few years back, I knew they were living together for even longer a time, so I had assumed… anyway, in my mind, it was only a formality, they were as good as married. The friend who told me and I debated how nobody from the old days, none of our common acquaintances had been invited…. But then again, it appeared to have been a family event, so it made sense. And that was that.
When I think back of my adolescence, I think that I couldn’t have possibly had a boyfriend who treated me better than him. I also think it’s a good thing we parted ways when we did. For a few years, we made each other’s lives better, more meaningful, and we’ve shared so many “first times” in the best of ways. We had intimacy, tenderness, mutual support, crazy passion, but we also had drama and tears, just as any adolescent first love should have. He may not have always understood me, but he was always understanding… And whenever I wanted to leave him, he waited for me to change my mind and return to him. He allowed me anything and everything, and I truly appreciated the freedom he offered me, the freedom I needed to understand who I was and what I wanted.
He only asked for one thing in return – to be together, one way or another. Yet I eventually had to admit to myself I was no longer able to offer him that. My initial feelings had run their course, that somewhat unexplainable puppy love had transformed into something almost toxic. I didn’t want it to be true, and he wanted it even less, but I no longer loved him, we no longer had anything in common. What started off as sweet, endearing quirks evolved into annoying predominant traits of somebody who refused to grow up or to develop a complex character – he was happy to do what he was told and to assume my ideas as his own. While I wanted to throw myself into the unknown, all he wanted to know was me. I couldn’t blame him for the way he was, I knew his story and how damaged he was. Yet I couldn’t go on either. But… we could still be friends, I thought, considering everything we had been through and how we knew each other inside out… and he appeared to want the same.
It was a few months later, when I heard he was planning to also leave town and follow me wherever I’d move after graduation that I knew friendship was not going to be an option. I went to great lengths to stay out of his life and keep him out of mine. I was rude, downright cruel to him; I had friends try to convince him I was a terrible influence on his life and he would be better off without me. But his history made him not only able, but also willing to associate love with abuse, so it wasn’t easy. The couple of times he “accidentally” met me after I moved away, there was the same look in his eyes, letting me know he was still hoping and waiting, even if he was already seeing somebody else. There have been unanswered phone calls and texts. For several years, there have been unanswered emails on my birthday and on holidays. We had common acquaintances who let me know he was paying close attention whenever my name came up in conversation, even after he was already in a relationship with his current wife. Yes, I had been right to shatter all his hopes.
I gathered old photos and letters and put them back in their box. I like keeping this sort of things, even if people generally can’t understand they are not at all about an ex or a relationship. They are pieces of me, of who I was and what my life used to be at a moment in time. Sometimes the past feels unreal, so pulling out an old letter or a picture isn’t about pinning. It’s about having something tangible to remind me I have been there, somebody was there with me, and we have left a mark on each other’s lives, perhaps we may have even transformed our existences into slightly better ones, even if for an instance. I was told I had caused great trouble without even lifting a finger when the woman he was going to marry found his memory box. I laughed – she was jealous with a ghost. The two of us, in our present state, didn’t exist for each other.
I put away the box, annoyed with my mother for making me question what I knew to be true, for making me feel like I had to prove myself… to myself. I was neither happy, nor upset with that particular piece of gossip. I felt as indifferent to it as I had before. For a few years, the young girl I used to be loved the boy he was; the woman I am wouldn’t much like the man he’s become. The reason I can remember him fondly is because everything ended just in time –certain relationships are remembered as happy, amazing ones exactly because they ended before having the chance to morph into something else. It’s like baking. Leave something in the oven for too long and the delicious treat becomes untouchable; mix the same ingredients for too long and what you get is nothing like what you had in mind.