Time often passes by us in what feels like bursts of wind. It sweeps up everything around us in a kind of blind rush, moving and eroding patterns before we can catch our bearings. By the time it has passed — a month, a year, a relationship — it’s hard to even tell what has actually happened. And it isn’t until things have settled back down, into a place where they can be recognized and counted, that we start to feel the full weight of what has changed. Time with you was a burst of wind, and when I think of it, from memory alone I want to pull my sweater tighter around me.
I can’t say exactly what makes certain people more difficult than others, but there are undeniably those we love who refuse to fit into any shape we could possibly cut out for them. Their whole being seems frustrating, elusive, incompatible. And with you, there was always a palpable difficulty. I was a child again, playing with my wooden block toys, attempting to insert a triangle block into a square-shaped cut-out. It never fit, and yet I didn’t possess the perspective or the self-confidence to understand that the shapes simply didn’t coincide. For so long, I wondered what I was doing wrong, trying over and over again to make the impossible happen.
You taught me many things about myself, about what it means to love and care even in the face of cold indifference. There were glimpses of compassion and understanding, sure, but I have no doubts as to the dynamics of our interactions. I was always chasing, and you barely had to move to stay out of my reach. Those moments of affection, without which the whole ordeal would have seemed worthless, became like tiny flecks of gold found in near-endless piles of soot and rubble. If I could only keep digging, I thought, I would eventually uncover something beautiful — something I needed to believe existed between us.
I never did, of course. There was never a deeper level to our story than what you allowed on the surface. In that way, I admit that you were decent. You were up-front, and never explicitly promised more than you would ultimately be prepared to give. It was almost entirely me, weaving elaborate tapestries of double-speak and hidden meanings that spelled out only the things I wanted to hear. There was nothing I couldn’t misinterpret for my own desire, my own need to be needed by someone in whom I invested so deeply.
But the wind blew past us, the summer over more quickly than I’d ever seen one go before. There was a moment we were sitting on a porch, listening to cicadas and talking about keeping in touch, and then it was gone. Our hands were touching, and then they weren’t. If I had known that moment would be over so soon, I would have probably said goodbye then. I would have liked to go out with a little dignity, a little closure — not drawn out over months of barely speaking, of me attaining perpetually higher limits of humiliation in my refusal to accept the truth. To have confronted your unavailability head-on would have been a ripping off of the emotional band-aid, one I only thought I wanted to spend the cool autumn months gently tugging at.
We didn’t speak; we didn’t keep in touch. For a long time, I remained convinced that this period of distance was a strange emotional coma from which you would suddenly awake. You would tell me that you were sorry to have been so weird, that you had always loved me, that I had always been right. I suppose I have watched enough movies in my life to believe that no story, if unsatisfying, is ever at its very end. The tiny flame of hope that this may all have been a petulant phase in your otherwise limitless capacity for love and understanding was perhaps more painful than the harsh finality of your disinterest. To keep grasping at ever-slimmer chances of a happy ending was frustrating, and then ridiculous, and then profoundly sad. I would have liked to just go straight to sad.
After our time flew past me, the passing of months and years became more soft, more understandable. Time once again resembled the lazy river that it had always been, not catching me in its refusal to slow down and let me breathe. The months turned into years, and every last bit of dust from our strange little hurricane had settled. My thoughts of us had become — have become — tiny vignettes that pass in front of my eyes only when faced with a direct reference to you. And they no longer carry a sting, or a turn of the stomach, or even a remote desire to reach out. Life is better (as I had always imagined it might be) when I am surrounded by people of whose love I am completely sure.
I will not forget you, though. I don’t think that you particularly deserve my memory, nor do I flatter myself into believing that you return my sense of vague wistfulness. There is no part of me that wants to return to the limbo I existed in for so long, or even the often-imagined parallel universe in which you reciprocated my feelings to the letter. I do, however, want to remember what it feels like to be hurt, to want, to need something so desperately only to find out that your life is perfectly fine without it. As much as the little scar on my knee will always remind me to watch out when I am running, yours on my heart will teach me to be kind. Because I know what it feels like to be cast aside with indifference, and I know that it’s a pain from which the body itself takes a long time to recover. You will live in my mind as a cautionary tale, a fable of how much damage words can do — especially when they are insincere. And though I am not nostalgic for what we did have, I am hopeful about life being filled with everything we didn’t.