Originally published on P.S. I Love You, January 1, 2018
After I left, I would stand in my kitchen, the bottoms of my feet drinking up the coolness of the tile floor as I played out the possibilities in my head, staring into the fridge at its flickering light wondering if I’d made a mistake. No one likes to feel like they may have thrown years of their life away, whether it be a handful or a decade.
Once I left, I moved on as best I could. I did what newly single girls were supposed to do — I tried out a new hairstyle, splurged on the monthly membership at a designer spin class (because the cheap magazines at the train station teach women brainless crap like, “The best revenge is becoming hot”), learned a new language —but he remained in my brain and by my side. Any attempt to completely eradicate him was like severing off an arm and then a leg before settling for wandering through life with ghost limbs. Any lover you take is written into your story with pen and because they leave their legacy behind, they never really leave you, not when they’re to thank or blame for the being you ultimately become.
I have watched the friends who have grown smaller in the arms of their lovers, seen their light dim before my eyes. I have seen the ones whose men were the Great Catalyst, the ones who left them whole and gave them a Coming of Age Story that belongs in the pages of sweeping, epic novels. From experience and observation, I know all too well the depth and all-defining magnitude of the mark lovers leave behind.
Even with others, I would sometimes pretend they were him and think on the story we shared. “You’re throwing everything we’d invested all this years on away,” he’d said, “And for what?” His words were straight-forward, defensive, and accusatory. I am not the one in the wrong here, was the underlying message that lay beneath their surface, You are the one who is wrong.
The ties that we’d tied could not be unraveled or undone or severed by blade. His mark remained on me, on my heart and in my brain and on my flesh. If only I could peel off my skin, unzip it and step out of it and leave it on the floor like a wetsuit so that I might move through the next season of my life anew and bereft of him, bereft of the passages he’d etched into my story.
When Christmas came, I waited for it in Virginia, curled up in the midst of my mother’s antiques and Sotheby’s catalogues. “I wonder if he’s home this year,” I wondered aloud as I looked out the window into the backyard, the frozen tomato vines climbing their curling one-green branches over the picket-fenced enclosure, the pair of orange trees standing naked and all-wood.
The question sat right on the coffee table after I said it and with it, all of the real questions I held deep inside. I wonder if there’s still the possibility of ‘Us’, I wonder if I made a mistake, I wonder if I should give it another go.
I remembered the passion, the I Love You’s that were said freely, the possibilities that were entwined around him and around the future, summer after summer sitting with our legs dangling in the chlorine-turquoise waters of the neighborhood pool as we shared a bottle of strawberry Jarritos soda we snuck onto the deck under his sweatshirt. How lucky it is to be so young and know, people would say, to know who your Someone is and yet be so young.
But I remember why I left. I remember the other women and their hands that wouldn’t stay to themselves and the admonition to “chill” when I brought it up. I remember the waiting up until 2 am for him to come home, the smell of cheep college beer and expensive liquor on his breath — Blue Ribbon and Grey Goose and Hendrick’s Gin. I remember the fact that he lied, that he lied to me about the women he’d been with and where he’d come from, maybe just once, maybe twice,but once or twice too many. I remember the photos that showed up and showed up and wouldn’t stop showing up, the evidence that illustrated it all.
I remember the love and the passion and the easy familiarity that blossomed from it all. I remembered things that had been worth fighting for.
But most of all, I remember why I left.