You’re left with mixes of music that meant something to you once and maybe will forever. Right now I have three mixes on my iTunes that were made for me by three different boys. I can’t listen to the first one without feeling like I’ve reopened a wound, the second one makes me wince, and the third one makes me feel nothing. I feel nothing. When I’m older though, I can look at these and remind myself that I’ve been loved by a good deal of men in my life. I have to tell myself that though every time I think about deleting them. You should never get rid of acts of love, no matter how small they are.
You’re left with walls that you’ve built up for yourself. When lovers break up with you, they leave behind parting gifts we like to call emotional baggage, which are then inherited by any person you might love in the future. Whenever you do something crazy, your new lover can say, “Gee, what jerk ex do I need to thank for that intimacy issue?!” You become a cumulation of everyone you’ve ever dated. You are a sum of someone else’s private parts. Some people will stick to you forever; they’ll bleed into every relationship you have thereafter. Others don’t fare as well. There’ll be a moment or two when you’ll recognize that they’ve made an impact on your behavior but that’s it. Not every person you date needs to mean everything. Some are there just to prove that they can mean nothing.
You’re left with strong associations. Exes have the ability to ruin people, places, and things for you because of the memories attached. I’ll never be able to go to Jack In The Box on Sunset and Cahuenga or to State Street in Santa Barbara or the stoop on 13th between 5th Avenue and University Place without feeling something. The experiences I’ve had there are so closely linked to a specific period of my life, a period that has ended and is never coming back. Sometimes I wish these places would evaporate as soon as the relationship ends. The Jack in The Box will get nuked, the stoop will be torn down, and State Street in Santa Barbara will get swallowed up in the Pacific Ocean. That way I won’t be reminded of the cruelty of time. I won’t be reminded of the moments I’ll never be able to have again.
You’re left with a digital record. You’re left with Facebook photo albums, tweets, text messages, statuses. Oftentimes people try to delete the digital record after a break up in order to heal faster but I’m not sure if it makes that much of a difference. No matter what, the relationship happened and looking at the Facebook pictures of you two on vacation isn’t going to be the thing cuts you off at the knees. It’s going to be finding an old shirt of theirs in your drawer or running into them when you’re hungover and eating a burrito. The Internet hurts, the Internet can cause you to grieve, but it’s real life that’s going to end up knocking the wind out of you.
In the end, you’re always left with experiences. Those mean more than the mementos. Remembering a day in which you felt safe and in love will permanently lodge itself into your memory. It’s not going to budge. You’re left with the satisfaction of knowing that you were loved and can be loved again. That’s all you need to know, that it will be okay, and you’ll live a life that’s filled to the brim with stuff lovers have left you. You can’t wrap your arms around a memory but you can certainly try.