when you love the one you left

I still miss you. 

I’ve been having dreams where we’re together and I can’t quite remember why we were ever apart. We’re happy again until I wake up and I’m left feeling like I’ve been visited by your ghost and that old maybe-I’ll-let-the-shit-slide feeling starts to haunt me; the old feeling I used to use when I crammed everything else down. I did it because I liked you and it felt like too much to tackle anyway.

And because your eyes crinkled when you laughed. 

The ghost starts unraveling my day with memories of our sweeter life. And then I miss you more.

I miss rubbing your back while we fell asleep. I miss sitting in bed eating trail mix and laughing. I miss hearing you sing in the shower. I miss your wedding ring, slow dancing, your arms around me. 

Sometimes you made me feel wanted. Needed. Special. Loved.

I think about that night near the end of it all when I sat on the side of the guest bed. I had started making you sleep in there. You didn’t understand at first and it was a stab in my heart every time I had to remind you and remind myself that I was leaving you. We shouldn’t be in the same bed anymore. Please go stay in the other bed. Over and over I told you. 

Then that night you were in that bed and I was just out of the shower, sitting on the edge in a little nightgown and crying. 

What a strange crossroads. How easily I could have just put it all away and invited you back to our room. How much I wanted to. I wanted you back where I remembered you, back where you wanted me and we could love each other. Instead, I was there crying, and you were telling me I was doing this. 

I guess in a way you were right. I was doing this. I was the one that was leaving. I was the one walking away. And I guess I didn’t have to.

I wish I didn’t have to. Too long, though, I had forgiven and forgotten and pushed and shifted and smashed things under the rug. It would have been easier to let it go again, and again, and again, and fall back into the pattern of life where it was good and I was holding my breath for the moment it wouldn’t be good anymore. 

Instead I’m waking from dreams of you to April mornings in this new life of mine, and I drift back to those springs that built our old life.

It was the last spring of high school when we started dating. It was a season of milkshakes after school, hikes in melting snow, runs in the park when the sun set late. It was kayaking and kissing, talking and star-gazing, Malibu in Coke and long rides in your truck. You were quiet back then. You were the strong, football-playing guy who secretly just wanted to hold my hand. You were sweet and you listened and your sturdiness made me feel soft. 

We got engaged on a late May night four years later. You were driving me home from college when we stopped in a park where you bent down with the ring I’d picked out a month before. The crickets chirped their congratulations and we got lost on the way back home. 

Our wedding was the spring after that. It was beautiful. Somehow, still one of the most satisfying, full, lovely days of my life. There was joy and flowers, all the people I loved in one place, and so much dancing I ruined my dress. It was heaven. Our whole hopeful lives were ahead of us, and when we smashed cake into each other’s faces I didn’t mind a bit. I loved the way we could make each other laugh. And then our honeymoon was the loveliest, laziest, stickiest week in the jungle I will never forget. It was you and me, alone on the planet, soaking each other in with the sun. There were rocking chairs and seafood, walks and sunburns and as much sex as we could manage. We belonged to each other.

We bought our first house last March. You made a joke about being stuck with me when we signed for the 30-year mortgage. Not so funny now, I suppose. We had plans for that house, though, ideas for the deck and the porch. You built a workshop in the garage and I was beside myself with the joy of a functional washer-dryer. 

Your family came to visit that spring and the week we spent with them might have been our last good time. You were easy to be around with your family there. It was safe for me. I felt at home with them. We swam and played cards and enjoyed the breezy California bloom. There was a lemon tree the kids loved and wine for the rest of us.

It’s hard to come to terms with these two versions of our marriage- the one where you were sweet and strong, and the one where you were angry and absent. The times where I was seen and the times I was invisible. 

I used to walk into the future holding on to these Springs of the Past- the easy, bright days full of hope- until that night on the guest bed, when I sat and cried over the place I’d finally put you in. I knew I needed to let the bad come out from where I’d hidden it and let it be as real as the good. I knew I needed to choose a future where I didn’t have to hide secrets or live hurt. That night I had to hold our marriage in my hands and cry, because I knew that when I chose to walk away from the darkness, I would leave behind a little light too. 

It’d be easier to pretend it never existed so I could just hate you. Instead, I’m here, in this first spring in this new life of mine, and I’m realizing I really only said goodbye to the man that I left. I need to say goodbye to the man that I loved.

So, goodbye to you. 

Goodbye to the boy who walked with me in the woods and carved our names in the tree.

Goodbye to the writer of my love letters, to my prom date, to my football-watching, dog-walking friend.

Goodbye to your arms and the songs you sang me. Goodbye to your lips. Goodbye to my rocking chairs and your cigars and country-music summer nights. Goodbye bonfires and dancing. Goodbye car rides and long talks and sharing families.

Goodbye to the part of my heart I gave you. Goodbye to my hopes for our future. Goodbye to our imaginary children playing in their imaginary yard and the way I thought you’d look when you held our babies. Goodbye to Christmas mornings and Sunday coffee and Game Night. 

Goodbye to your laugh. Goodbye to your smile. Goodbye to those moments where you made me feel safe.

Goodbye, friend. I love you.

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