I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
I rolled on my side and wrapped my arm around her. I nuzzled my nose into the back of her head and breathed in deep. I wanted to remember that smell. The combination of hair product and bed head was uniquely hers. She breathed in heavy, in a way that told me that she was deep in sleep. I kissed her shoulder blade and said, “I’m sorry.” I did it again. And again. Over and over until tears formed in my eyes. I gently rubbed the tops of my feet on the bottoms of hers and I pushed my body as far into hers as I could. Because if I held that moment tight enough, maybe I wouldn’t forget how good it felt. And it felt good because she was good.
I was sorry that I couldn’t be what she deserved. She told me often that I was what she has always wanted. And I could just never shake that self-deprecation no matter how hard I worked on myself. I simply knew I couldn’t be the man that she had earned. And that is the kind of thing that wears at a man’s soul – knowing that she either believes the lie, or doesn’t want more for herself. And for years, I said those were her choices to make. But late at night, while I whispered “I’m sorry” through blurry eyes, I knew I had to make the choice that would free me of the guilt.
So I left her.
Calmly and deliberately, I told her my reasons why I was walking away. It wasn’t easy to sit and watch someone you respect more than yourself fall apart. To drop to their knees and beg. Knowing you are responsible for that pain. That gut-wrenching anguish. I said the words in the best way I knew how, but it didn’t matter – they all hit with the same force whether you add an “I’m so sorry” at the end or not. But I did what I had to do. What I knew was inevitable. And better to break her heart now, then to wait another few years and waste her time. Our time.
I was more concerned with how she was doing over the following months. I wouldn’t call or text because I know that does nothing for someone trying to heal from a wound. I left her alone like we had agreed and she went about her life and I went about mine.
But something strange happened – like a slow burn, falling asleep became more difficult. I found myself looking at her social media profiles and reading what she had been up to. I felt myself missing her expressions, her excitement, her enthusiasm. It took months for me to realize just how deeply invested I had become. And isn’t that always the case?
I had heard from friends that she knew all about my new life. Where I was living, who I was dating, trips that I was taking. She wasn’t healed, but she was an amazing enough woman to be happy for me. She was happy that I was happy, even if she was still not doing well herself. But what she didn’t know, what so many never realize was that the image that I projected reflected nothing of what kept me awake at night. The haunting memory of loss. The smell of her sheets and the way she talked in her sleep. I missed making her dinner and hugging her when she got back from work. I wanted to tell her that I secretly loved being social with her and doing things with her family and planning corny dates, no matter how much I would scowl. But I guess more than anything, I didn’t feel any happiness knowing that she thought I moved on without missing a beat. And while she was gracious and beyond respectful, I wanted to reach out and tell her that I wasn’t just okay. I had moved on and built a new life, but it wasn’t at the expense of her happiness. I wanted to tell her that I would be forever grateful for who she helped me become. That she was one of the greatest people I had ever known. That her positivity and compassion influenced me more than any teacher or coach I ever had and that the way I walked through this world was directly influenced by the kindness and light in her heart.
But I wouldn’t. I couldn’t ever do that to her. It was too late. I should have told her those things on a Tuesday night while watching evening sitcoms. I should have told her those things just because. But isn’t that how it always works out. It’s not that we don’t feel those things when we’re in the middle of a stable relationship – we just lack the desperation to say the words. We just don’t have the reason because there’s always tomorrow. We can always say it tomorrow. And by that time, those words no longer hold the weight they should.
This isn’t about about lost time and telling someone how much they matter right when you feel it. You are intelligent enough people to know that on your own. This is about a guy telling you that no matter how much it seems – we don’t move on without you. If you are a good person, you infect us with your joy and sunlight. That while we may date other people, you truly never leave us. That we will be forever connected. Like family. And we will forever wonder what life would have been like had we stayed. And sometimes we will regret it. And sometimes we will imagine a new life with you. And sometimes we simply miss you and the smell of your hairspray and bed head.
Because we will always love you. No matter where you are.