With every passing year, it feels like this heavy and inevitable fate that I can’t seem to outrun. Don’t get me wrong, I damn sure try. I don’t go looking for your happy face on my computer anymore. I minimize bringing your name up with our mutual friends, knowing the conversation will eventually land in a place that still aches.
I’m better now. I do what I’m supposed to. What I think I’m supposed to.
It’s still there, no matter how hard I smack my feet against the concrete. No matter how nice and sturdy my tennis shoes seem. I cannot escape the creeping feeling that you, one day, will be a husband.
But you will not be mine.
* * *
First loves are intensely passionate creatures. We all know this. The naivety of thinking this has to be it, it’s an intoxicating place to be. Before we’ve fallen and learned how bruises form, we’re not afraid to leap without looking. We don’t fall as hard the second time around because we know. We hit the ground. We felt the stinging slap of reality. It takes away some of the romance, doesn’t it?
But if that’s the case, we shouldn’t make as much sense as we did. Because you, you were not my first love. I said those words to a boy before. And he kissed my lips the way you later did, touched my naked body, promised me it had never felt that way before. For me, it hadn’t. I had entered a secret world of lust and love without knowing how to separate the two. I think I loved him.
But not nearly the way I loved you.
I loved you like I was running out of breath and I didn’t care how many minutes I had left. I loved you like everything I had been told was bad was actually good — not because I was under some adolescent spell, but because things were simply better with you. The hardships were somehow doable. The sadness was a little less sad. The tragedies in the world were still painful and heartwrenching, but I had your hand to hold when I needed an extra squeeze. I had you to walk through it with me.
We loved with the kind of intensity you normally see in those eager first-timers, boasting we would get married and have two kids. Maybe that’s what made us so sure about our future. We had been down other roads before. We’d tasted other possibility, but we still happily landed at one another’s door.
* * *
You have always been a relationship-centered man. It was something I found charming about you. It’s not like you needed to be with someone, but you enjoyed it. You craved intimacy and partnership. You always made me feel so wanted, so important.
It was never shocking to hear you were with someone. I almost excepted it. And during our strange moments of reconciliation, you’d ask if I was seeing someone. The answer was always no. You’d ask if I was ready to try again. I’d remind you, “I’m not the one in a relationship right now. You are.”
I stayed single for a long time after we split. And when I tried to have a fling here or there, I’d just see your face when I closed my eyes. People told me time would work some magic and I wouldn’t think of you so often. I think that’s the most foolish lie I’ve ever been told. That somehow, I could forget you.
I know you will marry someone. It will probably be long before I do, should I ever. It wouldn’t even surprise me if I learned you were engaged within the next year or two. I’ll see something I want to un-see online and I’ll know.
It’s happening. He’s really not mine. It’s really over.
The day I find out, I will not cry. You probably don’t believe me, huh? With how easily I cried at everything. Do you remember that afternoon I called you hysterical because I saw a dead cat on the side of the road? It wasn’t even my cat, but I was inconsolable. You said this made you love me even more — that I could care so deeply about people and things I barely knew.
But I will not cry. I will do many things one would think might produce tears, but they will not come.
I will pull out the box of letters you wrote me in New York and trace every single word, as if this could help me feel your fingertips again.
I’ll laugh at the Valentine’s Day card you decorated with drawings of zombies. I’ll remember playing Left 4 Dead in your dorm room while you attended class, freaking myself out a little too much and jumping when you walked back into the room.
I will read the song you wrote me for our anniversary, imagining the way I sat at the piano next to you, thoroughly amazed that I was lucky enough to be the woman you were singing to.
But I won’t cry. I might cry in the days to come, when photos begin popping up all over social media and it suddenly feels harder to breathe. But the day you get married, I will not grieve you.
Instead, I will remember you. And how incredible it was to ever be loved by you.