I sleep and I don’t remember my dreams, but I wake up thinking about him and I know something must’ve happened in the quiet hours of the night, my body still but my mind restless with pieces of memories I’ve tried and failed to forget. I could never write about him when we were actually together. In fact, when we were together and I was happy – I mean, I know this sounds stupid, but I really was so happy – I was still writing about past heartbreaks, and disappointment, and failures. I once wrote about having a crush on someone but being too afraid to act on it in-person, dependent on dating apps and social media to begin my romantic encounters. (Ironically, the boy I was dating, we met on an app.) The story ends without making the advance I wish I had. After reading it, he asked if it was about him, not really understanding that the story was more sad than happy, not about something that came to be, but something which never did. So, no, I told him. It isn’t about you.
Something happened in those small, dark hours. I wake up and open my phone and scroll through my Instagram. I hate myself for this and I tell myself not to, but I do it anyway. I feel a need, a pull, to show myself that it really happened and that I am not crazy. I look at old posts I made, pictures of us. There are only three or four. We weren’t together for that long, and at the time I was shy about talking about him too much, or putting him on my Instagram too much, or really admitting how much he meant to me, although I tried to tell him and show him. There are those three or four posts that I look at, almost once a day – a silly, trivial memento. Everything we were, reduced to pictures on a social media account that won’t exist in ten years. Everything we were, reduced to memories that get hazier, yet somehow harder to shake, with each passing day.
There were physical pictures of us, too. I had a 35mm film camera and I took photos of him, a lot of photos. I gave them all back after it ended. Left them on his doorstep. I couldn’t look at them. I gave them all back after it ended.
It’s been six months since we separated for the final time, and we had only been together for six months. A friend once told me that it takes as long as an ended relationship had lasted for you to get over that relationship. I don’t think that’s true, because a relationship that lasted almost two years I got over in about three months, and a relationship that lasted half a year still haunts me.
A professor once taught me something which I agree with abstractly but find hard to put into practice: We need more compassionate inner voices. Treat yourself like you would a friend. The problem is I’ve told friends in similar situations to get over it, rolling my eyes behind their backs and joking about how it obviously wasn’t going to work out, obviously it was unhealthy, obviously they just needed to let each other go. Obviously, it’s harder to see it when you’re in it. How can I expect more compassion from myself when I am unable to leverage that compassion for others?
There are times when anger and bitterness creep in without me even knowing it, like a leak in the ceiling that at first produces a small sampling of water on the floor, then a puddle, then a flood. You’re left wondering how it happened and what to do about it. I tell myself I have the rest of my life to look forward to, and things will change, and one day I will look back on this and think the whole thing was silly. Maybe one day I’ll look back on this story and consider it with a cringe and dismissive condescension. Maybe, but now isn’t one day, and now it feels so present.
Heartbreak. That word doesn’t carry meaning until you experience it. English is a limited language in how it can describe feelings, emotions – things like love and hate. We have one word which could apply to dozens of distinct, particular feelings. There are dozens, possibly hundreds of specific ways that shame, disappointment, grief, apathy, confusion, regret, resentment, and longing interact and interplay in whatever we are experiencing that we condense to that one, almost useless word.
And I think, often, it is too easy to say that someone else can break your heart. They might have done certain things that led to your heart breaking, but it was you that broke your own heart, because you had desires and goals and expectations – unmet, unanswered, unrealized – that led to your heart breaking. So, yes, I still say that he broke my heart. He broke my heart when he told me he wanted to see other people, but didn’t want to lose me, and needed an open relationship. He broke my heart when I told him that this made me upset, insecure, and confused, and he had nothing to say. He broke my heart when he told me that he knew I would make sacrifices for him, and that he was not willing to make the same sacrifices for me. He broke my heart when he said those words for the final time, having said them a few times before, doing something he had tried to do but couldn’t really muster the courage to make good on: The romantic aspect of our relationship just isn’t working.
Frustration, yes. But also dismissiveness.
Just isn’t working. As if with a shrug.
That hollowed me out in more ways than I can describe.
I felt and wanted, wanted so badly, things that couldn’t last and things I couldn’t have. And I lied to myself, convinced myself that it was possible when I knew it wasn’t. I knew all along. I say that now not just with the benefit of hindsight; I say that admitting to myself what I really did know from the start. I knew it would not last, and that knowledge, in spite of the strong, real, boundless love I felt, was too much of a contradiction. I guess I am not intelligent enough to hold two competing ideas in the mind at the same time. I had to shut one out in order to live. I had to shut out the doubt.
And now, I have to shut out the memory, those twisted fragments that sometimes appear without request, when sitting alone in a bustling café, when looking out over the restless water on the beach, when the gathering dusk settles over town and that quiet, empty feeling sets in, like something is missing but you aren’t sure what. I have to shut it out.
The thing about closing doors is that what exists on the other side still exists after it’s shut, just unseen.