The other day I was driving alone. The windows were down, a warm 70-degrees wind blew through my hair hinting at Spring coming soon to Texas, and I was singing my heart out as I leisurely drove the winding back streets. “Strangest Thing” by The War on Drugs came through, and I must’ve replayed it 4 times; the moment the first notes hit something magical happened, and it is the reason I am writing this now.
Your smile flashed into my mind, and I saw you with such clarity. The second this memory came into view, my cheeks rose up in an instinctual smile from deep inside, and I followed the trail back down to my heart where I keep you. My chest began to ache, burn – the familiar sting of longing I’ve carried all these years – but even when it felt uncomfortable, I could not help but to grin widely. Hundreds of scenes began to play like a reel was switched on and I saw every memory with fresh eyes: The way you danced on the porch, your fingers picking the strings of an acoustic guitar in front of the wood stove, the certain way your eyes always found my soul even from across a room. Dirt and flowers, rain and rollerblades, music and deep conversation, smoldering cigarettes and stale beer late into the summer night.
As I drove, I just let the emotion come and with it came these words; I’ve just been mulling them over, trying to imagine what I will say in some distant day when once more I sit beside you. When life has come, and is nearly gone… Right now, it is 14 years between you and me, but I predict another twenty at least before fate intervenes and sets us on the same course and reunites us, for a time. It was set in motion when we were those young lovers in that tiny house in the town we both grew up in. A thousand seasons, a million days, a lifetime spent apart becoming the people we were meant to be, but always remembering where we started; full-circle has always been a pattern I’ve witnessed in my life – and I have to believe when it comes to you and me, we will see the loop close, eventually, when we move back into alignment – a day we cannot predict but waiting nonetheless in the ether of the unknown future. These are the things I will say to you when that moment comes.
There was never a day that I didn’t feel the remnants of your significance in my life. I used to think that there had to be some cosmic reason for this, that it clearly suggested what I lost is what I am meant to find again, because no matter what I tried, you never left me. I put heavy emphasis on missing you – cherishing these memories we made more than anything else – even if I never said it out loud to anyone else, I felt in my heart that it meant something, everything, that I could never quite seem to let you go. Now, after all this time, I realize love means so many different things; what you gave me was one of the sweetest lessons of love I’ve known in my life, and that alone is worth the pain of having lived my life apart from you. I had to feel you with me all of these years, I had to hurt, I had to miss you – until I realized that all of these things are themselves worthy of gratitude: I got to love so deeply that it remains with me even now, and it is the testament to the best of us if we can both say that today.
Our story had to end the way that it did. I believe it, I understand it now, because I know nothing else could have separated us. The pain stayed with me for so long, and it almost wrecked my life more than once because even when faced with good “new love”, I couldn’t escape the knowledge of what I knew back then. You taught me what kind of love is possible, and it took years to find someone to match or exceed that in any way, and even when I did, I would often feel guilty because I knew my heart remained with you. It has been complex and difficult to navigate at times, and I’ve had to hold myself to the fire more than I can count to really feel the end, because it was the only way to remember why I couldn’t be with you anymore. It felt so natural to love you, like finding you I finally took the first real deep breathe of my life; everything after you felt like drowning, constantly, and it took so many years to accept this new reality. The life “after you”.
Through the years, I’ve wondered how you fared. If you were like me, in how you thought about us. I’ve wondered what you see when you remember me. Do you see my brown eyes staring up at you from my spot in the music room, where I always used to sit and watch you play the guitar? Do you remember the curve of my back, the way I glanced at you over my shoulder “that one time” as I walked out of the machine shop? Do you have special memories, the way you saw me, that you keep safe in your heart – just like I have done? Have you healed the pain, have you done all right and loved again? Has this journey been hard-fought and weary, or are you stronger now and only marching forward? I’ve realized now these questions are extraneous because life moved forward regardless of how we felt about it – I am just more than curious to know about the man you’ve become, and if you learned the same lessons from our story as I have: What love means, and how deeply it can hurt you, but even when it does, hold onto the beauty and let the sorrow fall away. The best of us will always be the beautiful days we shared and I’ve forgiven the way it broke us – the way I see you now and only can smile, that is the love in the meaning of it all. We were love, together, and that is all that matters now.
“You can write your story, turn it into love again”… I remember the first time I heard this song and I imagined you listening to it, understanding the lyrics as well as I did. It hurt me to imagine you still hurting, and as I soaked into the melody of it I let myself cry in empathy for your heart having to heal from my absence. I know what that is like, and why a song like this would captivate you if you allowed it to sink in. The boy I knew paid attention to songs – the boy I loved had many songs that were just for me – so I imagined as I listened that this might be one of those. You let me find it, you hoped I would. The way it sounds to my ears is the space between us, what it sounds like to have all these years come and go, living in the after. I love how music has always been the thing to bring you right front and center into my eyes…
Your hair has greyed now, your eyes filled with wisdom, but your hands are the same: Calloused from years of building with wood and machining at the shop down the street. I’ve imagined you with chickens in a coup you built from scratch, I’ve closed my eyes and seen you facing a mountain in the distance, perched in a slowly-rocking chair on the same porch you’ve sat for morning coffee for twenty years. I’ve worked to cultivate happiness for you at the knowledge of you building your family, married to a woman from the other side of the world where you now call home. I’ve purposefully tried to put myself in your shoes to feel what you feel as your life moves forward, but all of these years, all I really wanted to know is if you found your heart again. Did it take you years to realize you never lost it? I will remind you we both thought we did, when we parted, but the truth is that in loving, in letting go, it shaped our hearts to become something brand new. All the life after us, all the choices we’ve made that kept us apart, the story we’ve written separately, it all was made possible because we loved, not in spite of it.
The end never defined us, the love did, and I know that now, I choose to believe it wholeheartedly, which is why I can sit beside you and still only smile. I was miserable focusing on the end, all those years, miserable trying to define its meaning, trying to make sense of it. But I see now that it was not the role of the end to seal who I was beside you, it only turned me down another road and that is fine – I made peace with that. What I carry with me now, what I cherish most of all, is that it was love that made us who we are. Pure, poetic love. I learned instead of mourn the end forever I can be grateful for the fact that I ever got to know you at all – this is truly a case of that old cliché – you know the one.
We taught each other how to love. The way it bonded us, so that even all the music we find still points back to it somehow, that was the meaning in us – the kind of story that makes its way into song lyrics that you and I understand perfectly. The way it remains is what teaches us to be grateful for what we have, because we know how badly it can end, and how every day you spend with those you care about should be cherished and appreciated. It took me years to learn this lesson, but eventually I just had to accept what is, and I stopped comparing my present reality to our past. I had to force myself to stop looking back in longing, but instead shift my focus to gratitude, and I started to understand that I could still love you even if I never saw you again – that set me free. I realized that love is so many different things like I said before – sometimes it does not look like two people together, sharing their lives. Sometimes it means I fall in love with someone else, and turn my head another direction, and I raise my family in Texas, and I only go back home once a year, maybe, and when I think of this boy I used to love, I smile instead of cry. Sometimes it means love just… Is. It was birthed and nurtured and cherished when we formed that bond, and though circumstances forced our physical beings apart, the fire of love never dimmed, it just shifted to something else.
Memories. The lyrics of Into the Mystic and your smile because you knew I would love this song I had never heard before you played it. Cold autumn nights curled up by a fire in our own private world where nobody understood us but we didn’t care. Summertime river trips and long walks on the windy Oregon coast. 2am conversations with work the next day, “one-hour” lunch breaks turned me getting in trouble because I just had to go see you and it took two. Walks to your mom’s house, the Brute cologne in your bathroom mirror that mixed perfectly with your sweat. Tilling rocky soil and planting grass seeds in a white tank top and overalls. Barefoot Tooth Fairies and porkchops with brown gravy, Honey Bear the mean barn kitty from La Center, and Princess having kittens after I moved out. The day my Grandpa died when I cried in our bed, and the long car ride to California with all my siblings packed into that minivan. Young-love fights and jealousy which always made you wish I didn’t write such long letters to explain my emotions. A heart-shaped piece of paper and the words, “I love you more than I love music” and how you actually meant it.
Life goes, it just… Keeps going, and our tragic little death is as insignificant to this world as a grain of sand. Our love, however, made the world better. It made us better; refined by fire is one of the best ways to learn what truly matters. Love is the meaning of our story, love is what mattered. It always and only ever was that. I just had to accept it would not look the way I wanted it to for so long. It looks like us living separate lives on opposite sides of the planet, it looks like moving on, and it should now – because we’ve learned that love like ours just is. It is not tangible, and it does not need to make sense to anyone else, and it does not need to keep us from living our best lives apart. We created something beautiful, and a thousand lifetimes have passed between then and now, but what I hope we can both say is how lucky we were to know this kind of experience. One of acceptance of the true nature of love, that it does not fit into a box or exist in a marriage contract. It is not defined by its losses but by its ability to endure in the face of them. It is ever-moving, ever-powerful, and ever-present, and it cannot end. It changes and grows and evolves and if you allow it, it will change, grow, and evolve you with it while holding its integrity even in uncertainty. I had to learn to accept it would never look the way I had hoped, and in those lessons, some I had to learn repeatedly, I began to truly see the beauty in our story and stop wishing for it to be something it is not.
This morning, I was driving alone, and I thought of you. I sent you love and hoped someday a little birdy will whisper my name on the wind, you’ll hear the call deep in your soul, and curiosity will send you back to me. I would never expect you to stay, but for a time, spend together laughing about the way we were. I imagine your scruffy cheeks and the dimples you wear so well. I imagine your hands in your pockets as you settle into the reality that I am standing right beside you. I imagine the silence before you know what to say, and the smile you will have – nervous but natural – like you were born to shine that special way just for me.
It may never come, this day. I know that, I am not a fool. I know. . .
If it does, the love will still exist in space and time anew, brought forth from our hearts – healed and repurposed for lives spent separately – reunited to light us aglow once more. To honor what it taught us, what love did to make us who we are, and remembering together where we both began: Two young lovers in that tiny house in the town where we grew up. I want nothing more than to say thank you, for loving the person I was back then, for showing me myself, and for letting me find the depths of you as I learned how best to love you. I want to say I am grateful that my life started the night I met you, and I am thankful for the thousands of deaths I’ve died since the end, because each dark season without you taught me what I am supposed to live for: Love. Life is all about love, and it lives in balance with the darkness; together, we saw the great heights and the terrifying depths of both, and that was beautiful. We… were Beautiful.
I’ve now learned to see through the dark to the light – cherishing that our light was Love. Without the end, without that pain, we would have created a completely different experience together, but that was not our story. It was not meant to be that. I accept it now, finally.
To great Love, to great Darkness, to realizing it continues and moves and changes, but it never leaves.
“Am I just living in the space between, the beauty and the pain…” I am grateful for having loved at all, for how it has stayed with me. I used to think it was a curse, now I know it is just the strangest thing.