In thirty-plus years of existence I’ve traveled many roads, both physical and metaphorical, but Memory Lane is by far the hardest one to traverse. I speak often of reflection and its impact on my life, going into great detail about my ups and downs. These last few weeks I’ve been stuck in reflection, asked myself a million questions, and suffered through the longest emotional days of my life. I lost a relationship that meant more to me than I ever acknowledged or maybe believed it did and I’m no closer to healing today than I was when J* and I parted. The post I wrote a few weeks back hinted at how I’m feeling and pointed out that I sought therapy, but it failed to lay out my thoughts. Without reason or motive I’d like to lay them out now. I find that writing, especially when I’m hurting, helps me in some indescribable way. I realize I’ll be tethered to the words forever but this is a story I’d like to tell.
When Erin and I broke up in March of 2017 I moved back into my parents home for the short-term in order to sort my life out and build up a foundation for myself. Part of my rebuild was a barrier around my heart and emotions, designed to recalibrate my wants and needs and to allow me to focus on my work and my role as a father. I wanted to focus on the things that mattered most and failed relationships had plagued me for years so I wanted the distance from the thought of one. Over time I became more of a recluse. I’d wake up for work, work long hours and spend every minute at home that I wasn’t with my children or playing baseball. One night in the Fall of that year my brother Matt told me how his friend Justin and him had gone to this restaurant with a bar inside it located in Millerton and they’d just drank coffee. I had been longing for any semblance of a social life and I knew they always went on Thursdays, so I went. We ate dinner at the Chinese restaurant in town then headed over and drank coffee and watched Thursday Night Football. As small an event as it was, I felt good to be out in society and having a good time. The following Thursday I was up for going again but Justin had another commitment so he wasn’t going to attend. I asked Matt if he’d still like to go and offered to pay for his meal if he did. He agreed. When we got there most of the seats at the bar were taken so we elected to sit at a table instead and had dinner. As we ate my eyes kept peering over to a blond girl sitting on the far left side of the bar all alone. I pointed her out to Matt and wondered aloud if I should try to talk to her, but I was too shy. As she drank wine I kept basking in her beauty and when she got up to leave, our eyes met for a what seemed like a lifetime. I watched her put her black coat on, tell the bartender to have a good night, and walk out the door. As she disappeared into the cold night air I remember thinking to myself: “Damn, I’ll never see her again.” For years I told all of my friends that I’d “never meet my significant other in a bar.” I swore by that quote and it was fairly easy to uphold because I never went to bars. I just didn’t think the type of person I was looking for would be present in a bar. I was about to be wrong in the best way possible.
That night I went home and was laying in bed browsing Instagram, unable to fall asleep. I looked up the bar we had been at, 52 Main, and found their Instagram page. After scanning through their photos I wondered who else I knew that followed them so I clicked to view their “Followers” and I found J’s profile. I paused for about 20 minutes, wondering if I should message her or not. Her profile was private but judging by the profile image I was 95% certain it was her. After more contemplation I decided I had nothing to lose and I sent one message. It read: “Hello, were you the beautiful woman I saw sitting at the bar tonight at 52?” A few minutes later she replied that it was in fact her but that she was going to bed and so the conversation ended. The date was Thursday, October 12, 2017.
J and I began talking very slowly. We were very much the same person when it came to our beliefs and personalities. Both of us had come from long-term relationships that ended in hurt we didn’t want to experience again and we were both hesitant. We met and spoke for the first time weeks later in a little coffee shop and when we parted that morning she asked me if she could give me her phone number, as we had only been corresponding through Instagram messaging until that point. I don’t think my heart has ever pounded as heavily as it did on my drive to work that morning. I was smitten and left speechless with excitement. As the days rolled on we became closer and closer and soon began dating. I remember so vividly the night I looked J in the eyes later that fall and told her I loved her, my eyes welling up as I said the words. That love persists to this day.
As our relationship was blossoming in some of the best ways, J and I had grown tired of our living situations. We both lived with our parents and had both done so in order to get back on our feet. We felt it was time to branch out and we began looking for houses together. In February of 2018 we finally settled on one and began the process of escaping our individual situations and diving headfirst into a living environment we could share. The lease we signed began on March 1st but we had been given permission to move in a tad early as the house had been vacant. Jumping at that opportunity, J and I met at the house one night to clean the entire thing before moving any of our things into it. We were there extremely late that night, throwing away garbage that had been left behind, vacuuming all of the rooms, mopping all of the floors, and cleaning every fixture and appliance in the house. I left at 3:00 in the morning to go home to sleep for a few hours before heading to work. J stayed behind to clean some more. I drove home that night with such a sense of accomplishment.
As I sit here today, alone in our house counting down the days until I have to move out, I’ve never been so low. I spoke recently of being broken and that’s how I remain. I have good moments each day. I talk to my friends and we joke and laugh and have a good time. I attend baseball practice and I enjoy the company of my teammates. On the outset and for the most part, my life isn’t all that bad. No one I’m ever in the company of would ever be able to know what I struggle with internally each day and until now, only a few people knew any details at all. No one is ever around me when I struggle the most so how could they know? No one sees me sitting alone in my house staring blankly into space thinking about “what-ifs.” No one is with me when I’m driving in my car and listening to songs about loss, love, and those that got away. No one knows that when I shower I put a Rascal Flatts playlist on and let the songs overwhelm me with emotion as the words fill the room. The words I write are my best attempt at explaining how I feel and even then I don’t feel they do my emotions justice.
I remember the first time we visited our future home together. We were coming from different areas and I got to the house first. Realizing the road was a “dead zone” for cellular service and I couldn’t text or call J to ask if she was close, I decided to go in the house and explore while I waited. After looking around a little bit I walked back outside and stood in the driveway as a light snow started to fall. I remember J’s car approaching from my right and as I watched it pull into the driveway and I remember the butterflies of that moment. As my end in that same house approaches, I often spend time daydreaming about areas of the house and moments that took place in those areas. I picture J cooking in the kitchen every night for us. I can picture how she stood and where she organized things for her preparation. I look at the area of a bench in our living room where I sat after a long, stressful day and I can still see her walking over to me and hugging me, enveloping me in support. I look around my bedroom at all of the areas where her furniture used to sit. I look around the bathroom and notice the void where the shelf that held her belongings once sat and all of the shelves where she placed other items. The spare bedroom that once belonged to our children now belongings to only mine. I can still picture J tucking our children in every night and reading them a bedtime story without taking a night off and I’m reminded of how loving of a human being she is. I remember where we sat when we exchanged Christmas gifts. I notice the toaster sitting on my counter that J insisted on buying me because I kept burning my hand in the oven when I toasted bread in there. I’m reminded of good times when I notice the plate of sea shells that I picked up from a beach J had been dying to bring me to. I walk outside and look at a space on our patio where we sat one night after a period of unrest between us. We had nearly broken up and the relationship was fragile. J came home and after the children went to bed she asked if I wanted to sit outside and I agreed. We stared up at the moon and talked openly with her asking me: “If I wanted you to put your arms around me and just hold me, could you do that without any expectations?” to which I replied that I could not. In doing so anyway, we fixed our relationship that night, a memory that remains with me always.
While this house holds most of the physical memories of our relationship, it pales in comparison to the ones I hold dearly in my heart, my mind, and my soul. There are so many memories, big and small, that I cherish and relive often. The day I was at work and texted J how to prepare and start the wood stove and the accomplishment we both felt at achieving it. I relive our trip to New York City around Christmas time, the birthday she planned secretly for me at Troutbeck in Amenia, and our first night falling asleep together. I’ll remember always moving her car out of the driveway and into the road at 6:00 am in order to get mine out and put hers back. I’ll remember our shared annoyance at our new neighbor, our hundreds of laughs at silly things, and our shared judgmental views. I’ll remember the mirror she brought home from work one night that I secretly cleaned when she was at work the following day. I’m reminded of J on my way home every single day as I pass the bush in someone’s yard she accidentally crushed when her car slid off the road one winter day. I think often about one night sitting in the back of her car after we got back together and looking into her eyes with tears in mine and telling her I loved her, her responding with “Do you?” and telling her I did as she wiped my tears away with her hand. I’ve had a handful of long-term relationships in my life and I’ve never had this lingering feeling of overall defeat and longing after they ended before. This is the type of fall that there’s no parachute for. Being with J felt like I was on top of the world each and every day. Being without her feels like the weight of the world is pushing down on me.
For many years I’ve used the passing of my grandmother as my barometer for sadness but when I think about losing J I find a new standard. When my grandmother passed away, as much as I didn’t want to accept it, I knew she was gone and she wasn’t coming back. Being without J is a torture that recurs each and every day because she’s out there breathing the same air, driving the same roads, basking in the same sun, looking up at the same moon, and shopping at the same stores and she’s doing it without me. What a grand shame it is that missing someone doesn’t make them miss you, longing for someone doesn’t make them long for you, and being in love with someone doesn’t make them love you. No matter how many sad songs you listen to you know none of the words in those songs do a damn thing to bring the person back into your life. It doesn’t matter that every time I pick up my children they ask if we are going to spend time with J and her daughter and I’m sure her daughter asks about me periodically. As much as our children may long for the other, it does nothing to bring us any closer than we are today. My children using my iPad and finding photos of J and I together does nothing to actually bring us together. I spend much time sitting back and asking myself questions I’ll never be able to answer fully. How did we get here? The good times, the laughs, the moments that’ll live on forever feel as fresh as yesterday.
The downfall of our relationship rests mainly with me. After our first breakup, J moved out of our house. When we got back together she didn’t move back in and I had to adapt to a relationship where she wasn’t as accessible as I’d like. I had to rewire my mind to understand we had a different relationship. In the beginning it was easy to do but as time went on I began to embrace distance a little bit, from a physical standpoint, not an emotional one. I would couple this distance with being more closed-off. I would be dealing with life’s issues and instead of letting J in and telling her all about them, I tried to deal with them on my own. I’d have nights where I’d work late and instead of going over to J’s house after work I’d come home because I was too tired. These instances would occur about once a week and then once a week became three days a week and the distance mounted. After awhile the momentum of that distance and my failure to realize it set us down a path to an end. I think a flaw of mine is I’ve been a loner most of my life and when I’m given distance or space I embrace it and seek out a little more. In hindsight I realize that this could all have been avoided but how do I reconcile it now? J is gone and I’m left picking up pieces I don’t know how to put back together. In my head, “J” and “ex-girlfriend” will never be synonyms but in the real world they are just that. I have tons of photos, text messages, and emails from the woman I thought I’d be with forever, what am I to do with those? I have a photo of us and our children that we took around Thanksgiving of 2017 which means the world to me, do I bring myself to throw it in the garbage?
Life is easier when you’re happy and in love. Your cares, stresses, trials, and tribulations seem to melt away when you have someone in your corner each and every day. When J and I broke up I didn’t just lose my girlfriend, I lost my best and closest friend. J and I told each other everything we had going on in life and left nothing out. In October of 2018 I had my second scare with testicular cancer and as I was undergoing testing only J knew. I didn’t even tell my closest friends or family members. Before we met I swore I’d never plant my roots in any relationship or with anyone unless I was totally sure it was a “forever” thing and after doing so, I’m left hurting now that they’ve been ripped up. There is nothing worse than the person you love reaching a point where, to them, being with you is no longer fulfilling or worth it.
Each day we are alive we weave a quilt that eventually depicts our life. For the last year and a half, I weaved J all throughout that quilt, intertwining our relationship into every fiber and square inch of my lifes work. As I sit now looking at that quilt, I feel loss beyond words. How I wish I was still filling that quilt with new moments, new memories, new milestones. I go to bed every night on the side of the bed that used to be J’s and as the days roll on I miss her more, not less. Every week I do laundry or clean an area of my house I find blond hairs and I miss J more. Every day I leave my house for work and as I walk out the door and into the driveway I look at the space behind my car and expect J’s Toyota to be parked there and it isn’t and I miss her more. I wake up every morning and check my phone to see if she texted me, hoping her name pops up with the heart emoji that remains next to it and when it isn’t there, I miss her more. I go outside at night sometimes and I stand there in the dark, breathing in the cold air for a moment and I envision I’m waiting for J to come pick me up as she has so many times before. I see cars drive by at night and I look for the ones with two headlights and two fog lights like J’s had and I wish they’d pull into my driveway and pull me out of my emotional rut, but they drive right by and I miss J more. I picture us laying in bed together, her staring into my eyes as she runs her hand across my cheek and tells me that she loves me and I’m overcome with despair knowing I’ll only be able to experience that moment in a memory. I think about the engagement ring I had custom designed and purchased, a milestone I never thought I’d reach in life and one I certainly hadn’t gotten close to with anyone else, and instead of having the opportunity to be on one knee asking J to marry me, I’m brought to both knees with the emotion of missing someone I never thought I’d be without. Have you ever turned the hot water up just a bit too high in the shower and all of the steam makes it a little difficult to breathe? That’s how I feel when I think about my loss.
I remember, so vividly, the last time I saw J in person. I had spent the night at her house and I left in the morning for work. I would give anything to go back to that moment and kiss her just once more before leaving, hug her a little longer, squeeze just a little tighter. Knowing those moments are over for me is hard to deal with emotionally and I haven’t yet found a way to cope with that fact. For over a month I’ve been stricken with such a sadness that it penetrates my entire life and affects my every day habits. For weeks now I’ve lost my appetite because of my emotion. I wake up every morning and make a cup of coffee and head to work. I don’t eat breakfast, rarely eat lunch, and have a bowl of soup for dinner before going to bed and repeating the next day. I think about the hundreds and thousands of smiles J will have across her face for the rest of her life and it saddens me beyond words to know I won’t be responsible for any of them. If I had the chance I’d walk to the edge of the world barefoot if I could win J back and I feel helpless with the notion that I will not have such an opportunity.
Sometimes you don’t recognize the true effect of greatness until you’re staring at the void it leaves when it’s gone.
*I chose to withhold J’s full name to maintain the slightest bit of privacy and respect.