When I pull up to the restaurant, the tug of memory is unexpected. I am here for a gathering with friends I haven’t seen in months. But since I am early, and no one else has arrived, I sit in the car, savoring the first few unhurried moments of my day.
I gaze across the street and through the front window of the small, cozy BYOB where we will dine. And slowly, another image emerges: a cold, rainy night, the press of his side against mine under the broken umbrella that is barely shelter for one. When we step through the front door, it is not crowded and we are escorted to a window table, where I would ordinarily re-arrange the place settings.
“Where would you like me to sit?” he asks.
I meet his eyes, wordless, a brief and plangent stupor stealing over me. That he has to ask, that I do not simply slide into my chair and feel his warmth following me as I reach for the silverware and napkins across the table and set them beside mine, locks us in a moment of unflinching honesty. I want to reach for his hand, pull him close and tease him for voicing such silliness. But my silence lingers too long, and he is shrugging off his jacket and lowering himself into the seat across from me.
As I sink into my own chair, I am aware of a fraying joy, the alacrity with which we’d packed ourselves into the car on a wet, chilly night, gravitating toward some elusive kindling, already dissipating, crowded out by the words we don’t speak.
We savor our dinner, banter and laugh, while he pushes pieces of C
A few weeks later, we will leave each other, with reluctance and resignation, with a love we always believed large enough to save us from whatever the world threw our way. But we are not fighting the world. Ours has been a more insidious saboteur. After years of crossing and collapsing the chasms of his depression, I can no longer live with the shadows that haunt, waiting in the dark for him to find me after he slips away.
So I say goodbye.
Tonight, almost two years later, and for the first time in a long time, as I sit in the car waiting for my friends, the sweep of that loss settles in. Perhaps this is how it will be for as long as I am single, December bringing with it the ache of absence, the memory of a Christmas Eve when love walked out the door. Or perhaps this is a fleeting ghost stirred by a sense of place, as we discovered this restaurant together and I have not been back since our first, and last, supper there. Maybe in this season of light, I simply miss him and us, and all the ways we shone.
But what I also hold in this spooling sadness is gratitude and the fullness of all he gifted me. For no matter the moments that call him near, the occasional glimpse of who we were that filters through this now-familiar life, I do not yearn for what is lost.
In the months after we let go of our relationship, I often pondered, quietly and aloud, where such love goes — when the release is done without acrimony and accusation, when there isn’t the sting of blame or anger to keep the heart from a brimming tenderness. Where, when you love someone with all that is marrow and bone but still know your place of belonging to be elsewhere, does that largess of feeling go?
Now I know. Because it carried me to Tanzania. With the hand of every child I held, with every one who slipped into my arms, as I pocketed their smiles and laughter in recesses that still sing of them, that love unfurled, finding a canyon space for its wondrous, ever-expanding weight.
It took crossing an ocean and seizing a dream on another continent for me to come home to myself, to realize that what he gave to me was what had long been my birthright.
Yes, our love, even with our struggles, was a sweet and giddy joy, better, I would often muse, than any fairy tale I could have dreamed. Yes, he was sent to be a haven through some of the most painful and challenging periods of my life. And, yes, I once believed I’d finally found forever.
But more than any of these gifts, he loved me so completely and with such profound generosity that I learned to see myself through his eyes — as someone worthy of such love, yes, but also as someone already in possession of it. He gave me back to myself in ways I never expected, or even knew I needed.
Letting go was the path to such self-discovery, the path that would lead me to beautiful beginning after beginning — and to give, and give, of that love, tended so devotedly that I’d know at last its brilliance, boundless and inseparable.