I can still see, so flawlessly, the way he tilted his head to the side and smiled so big – his tongue would always lick his bottom lip just ever so lightly, almost as if he never knew he did it – as his bright blue eyes sparkled even in the faintest light. There are a few instances of this exact expression that I can pinpoint with perfect precision. Once, when he asked me to kiss him for the first time and I said yes, and the last time – perhaps forever – when he said, “Oh, little butt, I will love you forever”, crying through a smile with tear-stained, flushed cheeks. This, when he said it, the absolute moment of realization that the fear to lose me forever was coming true. His last attempt to burn into my soul the bittersweet truth of deep love he could not shake, even after he saw me walk timidly down the steps, out of his life forever.
That smile, for whatever reason, has stuck with me all these years, and when I think about him, this is what I see. I choose, most of the time, to simply let the memories wash through me, thank them for all the experience of him has taught me, and then let them pass – much as I do with any thought from all my yesterdays. There are still, however, some days when, if he comes to mind, I think about it more than I admit, and I wonder why. Why, when I cannot remember other things that I dream to simply recall – the way my mother’s voice sounds, or the feeling of having my parents married and happy under the same roof – consider that I have a hard time with these treasured memories and then realize, instead, that I can draw within the context of my mind the image of a man I knew two years… I concede sometimes this ability is both a curse and a maddening gift.
Whatever the reason it needn’t matter now if only because I choose, now, to remember.
I choose because I can say with assurance, perhaps the likes of which I never knew post-Timothy until now, that I am moving on. Finally.
I remember his face, so concentrated that night on the couch. He fidgeted with his fingers, pulling metal chips from his calloused hands, and avoided eye contact with me as he asked, quietly, “Can I… can I kiss you?” As if this young man, more handsome than he knew, would have trouble from any eager young woman at the mention of a kiss? He could have pushed me against a wall and planted a kiss without mention beforehand and I would have buckled just the same. I remember pulling away, just slightly, enough to see his face – that moment, right there… That was the first time I saw that cocked-head smile. That sparkle in his eyes. That look that sealed our relationship from that moment, onward, turning two separate beings into one; a whirlwind dance of young passion, intellect, argumentative conversation, and some cosmic connection unknown to both hearts before that moment.
He occupied every thought I had, day and night. I was drunk on his every move. Concentrating heavily on anything I could consume that would draw me closer to him: Books, music, science, religion… We duked it out over Darwin’s theories and philosophy over coffee in a diner. I challenged him towards the nature of God late at night while we stared at each other, wide-eyed and sleepless, as we laid in bed. We bled deeply into the flesh of each other, unsure where I began and he. . . He allowed me my first experience of love, and each day we spent together the magic began anew.
Until it didn’t. Until that night. Until I was twirling my fingers in his chest hair at 2am like I always did, only this time, he was breathing heavier than normal. Only, this time, I could tell something had been bothering him all day, casting a shadow over my otherwise cheerful, chatty mate.
I had adored that smile he reserved only for me. He strummed his guitar and we sang Danny’s Song or You are my Sunshine and Croquet Alley… He tilted that head and gave me that smile, mid-verse, and I knew without any doubt that I was his girl. His little butt… Silly Sap. His Christina.
Until I wasn’t.
The night I watched him cry through his hands, begging for another chance. For forgiveness. For a second longer so he could say he was sorry. . . Again. That night I saw him smile through the torment and the confusion, if only to show me he had fight left in him, more to give. He smiled as tears fell and he told me he would love me – no matter what.
Of all the things that happened from the first day to the last, and of all the things I could have remembered, it had to be that smile. The one that made me fall in love with my sparky, and the smile that reminded me of all I was losing that night I walked away.
I feel safe now. Sometimes. Going back there. To all of it.
I spent a great deal of time and energy in the previous few months writing about this time of my life. Pouring over details. Painting a broad-strokes portrait of a love I once had. Illustrating moments I tasted love and held it in my hands then saw it all come crashing to pieces.
If I had to give a reason why I write about it, it would be the same reason I allow myself the freedom to be there again, in my mind, now and then. I feel as though it is a story worth telling, but more than that, I feel it was a love worth honoring – even when it hurts – because I learned a great deal. Each time I write, and each time I remember, I give it rest a bit more.
Some people choose to take the past and box it up. Store it in a toaster box in on a shelf in a garage. Some people wash away their memories with alcohol and excuses. Some people work very hard and believe they overcome their past so that it ceases to matter in the present time. . .
Whatever works because to each their own. For me what feels the truest is to write it down. To chase these words with a few minutes of reflection, cherishing the smile a man once gave to me, and thanking him with my spirit… I let him go a little more, and I heal a little deeper, each time I do this.
I cannot see myself ever saying I let it go completely. Or that I never think about Tim anymore. That just never feels right to me even to forecast it. It just does not fit who I am. But I do envision a day to come when it no longer feels bittersweet when I remember falling in love with him that night, and it no longer hurts so badly when I see his face on the porch the rainy evening he told me he will always love me as I left him. I do believe that I will be able to purely, wholly honor him, and who we were together, without it being a “thing” for me anymore.
I believe there will come a day I remember that smile and feel nothing but happiness for him, wherever he is, and send him love and well-wishes for the life he lives so many years after he loved a woman named Christina. That day is not today, because there are still feelings unresolved here – but I write to help with that. I remember him to help with that. It works for me, and I am thankful I have this ability.
I think, now, I am choosing to let him go because I finally have the right love for me. The right forever love that compromises and forgives. That cherishes and protects. That supports and encourages. That holds true and is steadfast in complicated times. I have the right love for me, and do I even have to illustrate how I know this or why I am sure?
Because of that smile. Because of love once so pure that I felt it in my bones. The kind that you know, even as you live within it, one day it will be the love that taught you right from wrong. The kind that sinks to the soul and stays there forever, reminding you time and again each time another love does not touch it in its depth that you must keep on searching… Because love unlike the first is not love worth keeping. Love that does not surpass that is not what will satisfy a heart that went this far…
I know because he loves me better. Because John smiles at me and I remember Tim, sometimes, and thank him. He taught me how to recognize something worth keeping. He taught me, when he asked me if he could kiss me that first time, that love should feel this amazing – even when it is brand new. He taught me, that night he let me go, that real love is worth the fight.
I did not know it, all those years ago, that Tim was worth the fight. Mostly because I was scared, confused, and broken. It has since been years too late because he is another woman’s husband, and I have since been another man’s wife… But I vowed to myself when I learned of his marriage that I would not settle again until I knew a love that was better than ours. Because that would be how I honor him – by learning from each day I was his…
I learned to know right from wrong – real life connection from pure imagination. Compatibility versus convenience. Lust from meaningful chemistry.
I am letting him go. Finally. One memory at a time.
Because great love waits for me now. He patiently holds my hand, sometimes unknowingly while I recall the smile from the first, and he accepts me as I heal. He listens. He helps me cope when I find myself still burdened by these fading years.
If, when the time comes that I have done all the healing that is right for me, and I can choose to reserve one memory of Tim and our days together, it would be this smile that I treasure still. It would be the moments he chose to share his life with me, teaching me all I would ever need to know about love, as I stood at the start of who I was meant to be.
I remember it now, right now, and I smile back. Once his, now merely a memory in his mind…
I hope, if he ever remembers me, he sees me smiling back, the way I did then. The way I still do now. If he musters a smile back at the mere memory of me, if he allows that, then I consider us both blessed for having loved at all. I hope he learned from me the same that I learned, too, but that he knows more than I can say that he was worth every moment of happiness and pain. He was worth it, and he still is… I am growing now, ever growing, and ever loving. . . This time, my gaze is set on a new horizon, but I am so grateful for every dusk of yesterday. To love again, purely, as I once did. Only, this time, wiser. Deeper. Forever.