When I think of him, I’ll always be reminded of one of my favorite poems, Love and Age, by Thomas Love Peacock. If you ever get a chance to read it, please do, and if you relate to it in any way, please know that I fully understand how you feel.
Many years ago, I’d been seriously in love with Ed who made me feel exuberant, like life was finally wide open for me. We had so much in common. I made him laugh. He said stupid things that I found incredibly endearing. Our relationship was rapturous.
But like many loves that happen to us when we’re young, Ed and mine inevitably reached an end. He totally and thoroughly broke my heart by falling in love with one of my closest friends at the time, and, to this day, I still have the sneaking suspicion that the feeling was mutual on her end. With his pivot to someone new, he subsequently and unequivocally fell out of love with me.
I curled into myself like a flower losing the sunlight, like I was trying to preserve the last remnants of warmth to help me weather the storm of a hard breakup. He won all of our mutual friends which forced me into a cocoon of isolation for a long time before I eventually found new friends. I wasn’t eating; I nearly lost my job; I cried all the time and when I woke up each day, I repeated the same hopeless cycle.
Like I said, I was seriously in love.
Trust issues subsequently took root within my psyche that were hard to overcome in the years following the end of me and Ed. So when I met him, though I was immediately drawn to his presence, the walls I had built around my heart were nearly impenetrable. He had also dealt with a bad breakup in the recent past, and, in a similar fashion to me, he hadn’t seen the end coming.
And so, we were cautious around each other, acknowledging our mutual attraction while simultaneously fearing to reveal those inner, romantic impulses. We never vocalized our feelings for one other; we simply tiptoed around them as carefully as a tightrope walker trying not to fall into the abyss.
We evaded the truth from the time we met until the time we parted, despite the many subliminal attempts our friends made to bring us together. I was madly in love but unwilling to take the leap. I’m not sure if he felt as strongly as I had felt at the time, but he definitely made it known that I was on the forefront of his mind, that he wanted to be with me, even though he was equally unwilling to take the first step. (Heartbreak can really be a bitch sometimes.)
And so the years passed. I graduated from college and readied myself to take on and explore the wider world. I was leaving him and everything familiar behind.
All those years, with so much left unsaid.
Though he and I are now happily married, there is still that small part of me that wonders what would have been. What would the future look like for me if I had said the words I kept hidden so deeply? I suppose there are many out there who wonder the same thing in their own secret chambers filled with life’s regrets.
What I should have said was, “I’ll miss you because I love you.”
Instead, I just wrote it down on a random page in one of his college textbooks he was sure to be selling that summer.
There was a time, about three months into my first teaching job abroad, where he sent me this beautiful message, describing the white porch swing he was sitting on while thinking about me, asking me how life was in my own part of the world. It was our porch swing, one of a few places where we got the closest to letting our feelings spill out, where we almost willingly jumped off the edge into the abyss. Because I knew him, I knew what that meant. He missed me. He wished I was there with him in that moment. And so did I.
Many years have passed now. And we are both happy. We are still friends, though now more distant. But I know that if we ever see each other again, we’d pick up our old friendship like an old guitar and play it and reminisce of days past when we felt love so fervently but were too young to know what to do with it.
I still love him, but just in a different way. I see him with his family and smile because all is right for the both of us. Still I wish I had been brave enough to say those words all those years ago. Because knowing now what I didn’t know then — that taking chances on love, life and hope are all worth the risk — I may have jumped sooner, without thinking too much about the consequences. Chances like those are much too precious to waste, even when, deep down, you are certain that the results of taking risks won’t always last forever.