I am holding the memory of love.
Though it stings just a little.
And the silent unfurling catches me off guard.
Though the ribbons slipping off one layer after another are delicate with age — and deliberate neglect.
But there it is nonetheless, shimmering with a familiarity so foreign, I clasp it gingerly. Allow myself to slide back with a quiet marvel, tracing a path I haven’t traveled in 10 years.
This morning, I found a letter from an old love. Though to fold any part of who he once was to me into even a husk of that word has long been sacrilege.
I have convinced myself it was never what we shared. That ours was too twisted and perilous a pairing to have been forged from anything but woundedness and my own naiveté.
Besides, all I found after him was what I had always been seeking — a partner who taught me the way of something lucid and pure.
That I’d spent three years alone before that, three years in deconstruction and self-discovery, put even more distance between the newly emerging me and the chaos I’d left behind. And even though that glorious elixir of a healing relationship would also come to an end, it taught me more about genuine commitment than any illusion I’d clung to with the man I refer to only as an antiquity of a disaster.
Yet here I sit, with him, with us — with our ancient history fanning open to a chapter I could never visit in the aftermath of our demise. Because in it, there was beauty. And there was good. In it, I could hold a tenuous hope. Not for reconciliation. But for a future in which he claimed his strength, stepped into his spiritual power and made his peace with a past whose pain he’d been running from for most of his life.
This is the man who comes to me in the letter I find, so determined to seize a new beginning for himself, to pick up the courage to walk into his solitude, knowing the hard work of repair and recovery is never a journey of two. In that letter, he was telling me goodbye…one of the many goodbyes we never meant. But he wrote with such self-awareness and gratitude for all we’d shared and all I’d been to him that to read it now there is no denying the depth of our bond in another time and place.
I am momentarily stunned by this truth. Shocked even more as the page before me begins to swim when he calls me the “toughest little giant around,” capable of besting the very best, and gently admonishes me to part ways with any naysayers who wouldn’t believe in my dreams.
The truth is I lived on mostly scraps in that relationship, rolling myself out to be anything and everything to him in the futile fight for his locked-up heart. But I also lived for the moments that lifted us out of our fear and triggered patterns. When all the facades and posturing were dropped and we met each other in a place of vulnerability and gave ourselves to the reverie of what could be. In those moments, he was my fiercest champion and best friend, and I knew myself to be his. And even if he couldn’t express it, I never doubted that he loved me as deeply as I did him.
Until we finally, fatally imploded in such spectacularly devastating fashion that I could barely grasp the faintest glimmer of that love. I knew its time, if it were ever real at all, had come to an end. And I began building a life far removed from him and who I’d been when I was with him.
I went about excising that love, stamping it out in fury and regret, but I could never deny the gift in our coming together to fall irreparably apart.
Loving and losing him was a catalyst for immense healing and profound awakening in my life. Our collapse ultimately set me in new and exciting directions on a tide of ever-expanding blessings. He was my teacher and absolutely my soul mate, the one sent to rattle me irrevocably, to turn me to face myself and the fullness of every flaw and limitation demanding my attention, desperate for change. The one who beheld a radiance I didn’t know I possessed, saw the me I would grow into before I knew she was even possible.
But even with my gratitude for the lessons learned, our moments of hallowed connection have remained irretrievable to me. In the few times I’ve run into him in the last decade, I’ve been haughty and dismissive. I know he is not the only one at fault for the havoc and hurt that consumed us.
Yet I admit at my least charitable I have thought of him as a horrible person who does horrible things. A reluctant compassion paints him as a bitterly scarred man, living out his pain. Still that doesn’t excuse the frequent unconscionable choices he made in our reckless togetherness, nor does it justify how regularly I enabled them.
I’d like to think I’ve forgiven him, especially after all this time.
A few summers ago, while attending a large event he produced and hoping I wouldn’t run into him, I was surprised by a brief happiness. It skated, unbidden, past my usual distrust, past the aloofness I strived for when I actually did see him — to flutter at the corners of my mouth. This was his event, a dream he’d always talked about, and he had made it come true. And for just a flicker of a moment, I felt joy for his success. I held something apart from all the wreckage strewn behind us, and honored that slight give.
So it is today, when I find and read his letter. When the words spill a forgotten light. When a sheen of tears draws me back to a bygone tenderness.
I think, this is how forgiveness works. It is not a bold declaration of freedom, isn’t always an opening we arrive at, grace- and mercy-filled, after slogging through the guts of treachery, the barrens of distress. It may not find us in determined speech, soften our stony lines in a rush of cleansing release.
Maybe it is just a small flare in a fallow place. Maybe forgiveness steals in, slow and hushed, on a quiver of old song and whitewashed memories, in the midst of an ordinary day. Or perhaps it is a tremulous shift, a bashful breach in an unsuspecting heart, leaving us loosely attuned to the ripple of peace that it stirs.