Originally published in August 2014.
I try not to look at the pictures.
I try not to, but they’re there. I have four of them.
I don’t look at them, but I get upset when they fall down – which is often, because I have a cat. I go over and gingerly pick them up, focusing my vision on something in my periphery, so that I don’t really see the image.
I put it back and I walk away, still without looking at it, and I feel like everything is in its place again.
It’s important to me that they’re there. They’re not meant to be seen; they’re meant as a kind of knowledge – a knowledge that by doing this, I am respecting the past.
Most ex-girlfriends don’t do this. Most ex-girlfriends burn everything.
I am not most ex-girlfriends. I keep everything, either hidden in plain sight like the photographs, or tucked away in a box or drawer or a file on my computer.
I don’t really know why I do this. The logical thing would be to try as hard as possible to forget, to make room for something new. But that doesn’t seem to work for me. I guess I don’t want to feel like nearly ten years of my life were for nothing.
Even though, essentially, that’s what I’m left with, when you take away all the pictures and cards and text messages and pretty necklaces and pretty words.
The truth is that even though weeks or months or years have passed, there’s still a piece of me missing. And the more time that passes, the more I forget what that piece looks like. Trying to fill the hole only makes me sad. Nothing fits inside of its imperfect shape.
So I let it exist. I try to build things around it, rather than in it, both to keep it safe and to keep it from escaping and ruining everything. I want to protect it because even though I don’t really remember what it was like, I remember that it was good and that I was happy. I know that when I try to think of it now, it feels like I’m looking at another girl’s life, someone far prettier and luckier than I am.
If it ever comes back, or if I find it again, I’d like there to be a nice place for it. It sounds like a nice thing to have. I’d like to be a girl who at least remembers, as well as she can.
I know, logically, that even if all of those memory aids were gone, I would still remember something. I could never forget. That’s the rule. You never forget your first love. Apparently.
Tonight I’ll fall asleep thinking of all the things I want to say, wishing harder than I have all day that I actually could. I’ll mentally dump all of that into the hole, and what doesn’t fit, I’ll put into writing somewhere.
But I think that this approach might be working for me. Slowly. So slowly that it’s probably impossible for anyone, including me, to tell, unless I actively compare how my life feels now to 4 months ago, 8 months ago, a year ago.
I keep either putting way too much pressure on myself (“Well, this is it, I’m never going to think about it again”) or too little (“Well, who cares, I’m going to die alone anyway”). But all I can ask of myself is to try. Focus more on the building of new things than the maintenance of this hole.
And it might take years to be okay, and maybe it will never happen, but there are worse things than being the kind of person who holds on.
I’m learning that you can hold on while still trying to let go.