I thought we could work things out, that we could be friends. I thought that after five years of wanting you, two and a half years of having you, and two years of letting you go, that I would be absolved of the part of my heart that has always belonged to you.
That’s not the case. Instead, that stoic and resolute chamber has become a library of lessons. As time goes on, I’ll dust them off and pull them out, leaf through their handwritten pages, on days when I feel like it was all for nothing, and during times when I need reminding of how good those years with you were — good for my growth, as a human and as a soul.
I run my finger along the spines of these well-read books. There are all the pivotal titles: “Communication is Key;” “You Get the Love You Think You Deserve;” “To Give of Yourself, You Must First be Full and Overflow.”
All the classics.
But looking back, there are some other things that I learned from loving you. Things that, in their nuance, have become the dog-eared chapters I cherish most.
1. I’ve learned that the promises we make don’t matter; it’s how we make those promises. A midnight drive to my house to meet and solve an argument –— that’s more of a promise than three apologetic paragraphs in my inbox. A whispered pledge, a ring, a social announcement: what do these mean compared to the way your voice lifts when you greet me good morning, and the softness at the corners of your eyes when we say goodnight? Your hand on my back as we cross a street; your attentive, invested silence as I hash out the workings of my troubled mind; your presence at occasions where I need support. These are the promises you make that matter.
2. I’ve learned that we can collect people in scents and in sounds. You’d better believe there are artists, albums, playlists, that I can no longer listen to. Songs we earmarked for the first dance at our wedding, others that were playing in coffee shops or nightclubs where we shared nervous touches and first intimacies. And there are some songs I will play purposely, digging into that space in my mind where the memory throbs, still raw. Sometimes when I’m out shopping, I’ll reach for that frosted bottle with the silver text and turn the perfume aisle into our high school hallway. Suddenly, I’m leaning against my locker, chewing my hair; and there you are, in your ironic, adolescent grace. It makes me weak in the knees. I feel a lump in my throat. And then I smile. I can, finally, replace the bottle cap, skip to the next song.
3. I’ve learned that affection is a language, and to become fluent you need to practice. There is an art in reading expressions, noticing tones of voice, reacting to the length of a sentence… and responding with the question of a perfectly placed hand, the phrase of a grateful kiss, the soothing ellipsis of a much-needed neck massage. This language of our bodies and gestures is the undercurrent beneath the surface of verbal communication; it is the radiowave carrying our words from heart to heart. I learned that when you tune in to that signal, you can become fluent in each other.
4. Above all, I’ve learned that I have learned. You have been my teacher. Sometimes you were bossy, sometimes passive-aggressive. Sometimes I had to drag the solutions out of questions you never asked; sometimes the lessons were the questions themselves. Navigating through the volumes of our relationship wasn’t always easy, but now I know I have taken what I can from every experience we shared — and from the aftermath of our separation — and am wiser for it. Just like the music really hits you in the silence after the last notes, or the story shakes you to your bones after the endpapers fall across your fingers, the impact of what you taught me resonates with me now that I am full, alone, and whole.