Oh Usher… how that song has so much more meaning to me after last night. After I watched memory after memory of my past relationships curl up in flames.
I spent all day going through my childhood bedroom. I couldn’t avoid it any longer – my parents are selling the house and my room is the only one that hasn’t changed in over a decade. Walking into it is like walking into an episode of Clarissa Explains it All. I spent ten hours over there and didn’t even get through everything. The problem with being a sentimental person is that apparently everything has a sentiment. Literally – everything. So growing up I kept it all – pictures, notes, movie ticket stubs, honor roll ribbons, trophies, report cards, school projects, college bar wristbands, concert tickets, dried out rose petals from Valentines Days past… you name it, I found it. Going through it all was like reliving my life in fast forward, pausing occasionally for the really good parts… and the nostalgic ones. My heart hurt a little revisiting friendships that were once so close and now just distant memories. It’s crazy how people can play such important roles during those impressionable years of your life, then only exist as posts in your Facebook feed.
I sat cross-legged on my bedroom floor – a 34-year-old version of the girl who used to sit there playing with her barbies – and laughed until I cried reading my old diary. The dramatic days of 12-year-old boy crazy me solely focused on who asked who out, and what boy I liked that day. It was literally like a tween soap opera. The drama of breaking up with a boy just hours before a dance so I was free to talk to a different boy I liked. The excitement when my mother gave me permission to hold hands during the movies. The secret three-way phone calls to find out if a boy liked me… and the devastation when he said “no.” I mean, I thought I had boy problems now. This was some intense shit.
And then there were the shoeboxes. The shoeboxes that sat quiet and forgotten for years and years in the back corner of the top closet shelf… the real boyfriend shoeboxes. Three overstuffed boxes for three over relationships. I’d like to say that after all this time I have fully moved on from each of those relationships… plus another one that doesn’t have a shoebox at my parent’s house… but that would be a lie. Do I think about them regularly? No. Do I wish I was still with any of those men? No.
But clearly, I haven’t completely moved on – each relationship is reflected on in my book. Each relationship emphasizes bigger issues I’ve been struggling to overcome for as long as I’ve been in relationships. Each relationship still lives in an effing shoebox in my parent’s house for crying out loud. I created those boxes and then didn’t get rid of them… that can’t be “moved on.”
There’s an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie asks, “When a relationship ends, where does the love go?” Last night, that question played on repeat in my mind as I sifted through the evidence of the loves I’ve had in my life so far. Those loves were real. I know they were real. Love notes and poems aside, if anything, the pain they eventually caused is proof the love was real. And I think that might actually be the key to fully moving on – acknowledging the pain. Because maybe the love and the pain go hand-in-hand in a way.
Think about it… all the different life philosophies – yin and yang, darkness and light – talk about opposites, paradoxes. Opposites go together… almost need each other… to be whole. You wouldn’t know or appreciate light without darkness, heat without cold, up without down, etc. etc. Just like you wouldn’t know love if you didn’t know pain. Maybe they also make each other whole. Therefore, you can’t ever let go of one if you refuse to deal with the other. They come and go together.
Acknowledging the love has never been an issue for me. Oh, man do I just dive right into the love. For as guarded as I can be, if I fall in love with you – watch out. Hopeless romantic coming through. But pain – now that I avoid. I will brush it away, drink it away, shove it down, flat out ignore it… anything to evade really dealing with it. I always thought I was being strong. But now I think I was just holding myself back from fully moving on.
Last night I evaded nothing. I went through each box – relived memories good and bad, looked at photos of loving smiles and passionate embraces, and read cards and notes of forevers that didn’t happen. I reconnected with these younger versions of me; versions that feel so unfamiliar; versions I try to forget existed – 16-year-old-me consumed with my first love, 25-year-old me helplessly navigating my first adult love, and 28-year-old-me just being a fool in love. I sat in the love, and I sat in the pain. I didn’t dwell in either, just sat for a minute… acknowledging the real-ness. Acknowledging those versions of me weren’t characters in a Lifetime movie I saw once and never wanted to watch again – they were me. Acknowledging the emotions… the sentiments… that went along with each rollercoaster relationship were real; they weren’t stories from a Nicholas Sparks book – they were my life.
And then I burned it all… because nothing is more cleansing than fire.
The past has a way of fading into distant memories in our mind – memories we likely warp throughout the years. But how do we get it to leave our heart? Maybe you can’t wash it away with tears. Maybe you have to let it burn – breaking down the structure to its very core elements… then let it go.
It was hard at first. My inner sentimental packrat wanted to save some of the memories, arguing that they were a part of my life and there wasn’t any harm in keeping a couple pictures. But I ignored her and into the flames it all went. Every last sentimental item. And as I sat there watching the photos bubble up, curl, and deteriorate to ash, I let out a huge sigh of relief… hoping I could finally fully move on, leaving those relationships and all their sentiments in the dust.
So where does the love go? Well, I’m not entirely sure. But I do know this – those three overstuffed boxes that were forgotten about, hidden, and taking up a lot of space, are now just ashes released into the wind.