I’m going to time travel and remember…..
I was a true-blue Vancouver stoner from a broken family, whose generational sin helped alter all our lives. I put no substance into relationships but instead chained myself to pot, both to escape the reality as it was and to embrace the culture around me. I was indulging in teenage sex but had no self-worth in me to secure anything deeper than painfully meaningless embraces. 19 years old with no high school diploma in a lousy job with nothing on the horizon but monotonous emptiness. I was lost, but I only vaguely felt that back then; ha! Looking back at Christina, a young adult with so little insight into where her life would go – no real motivation to steer it – I am dumbfounded that I didn’t notice how unfortunate things had become…
Right now, sitting at these keys overlooking a little fishing bay, on an island stretching the southern-most tip of Texas, I am 32 years old, and I thank GOD I can remember where adulthood began and see very little materially-similar evidence that I am still like her at all. Today, it is my wish to talk through one of the most significant and impactful periods of my life that had everything to do with me leaving Vancouver and led me to where I am today. A time which shaped me and has since become one of the more difficult challenges I face: Letting myself be loved and loving someone else. I guess to start I’ll go back to where everything changed for me. From a wandering lost young woman to…
“Welcome back!” she smiled, ushering in an elderly couple with two laminated menus pointing the way to their usual table. As they took their seats, she took a khaki windbreaker to hang from his hand, “Frank, let me get your coffee. Ruth, do you want ice tea or coffee tonight?” Katherine walked three steps to the counter behind their table, set down his jacket, and fetched a hot carafe of decaf, turning back around to pour it in Frank’s mug just as Ruth decided she wanted tea. “All right, I’ll be right back.”
The restaurant was slow for a Saturday night though the constant rain had made the entire week lag during every 6-hour shift. She busied herself organizing glassware, refilling syrup containers, and chatting up the other idle waitresses. She took orders, made side salads, and stacked receipts to collect payment from sporadic satisfied patrons.
The entryway door jingled startling Katherine from mindlessly wiping the soda machine, she looked up.
This is one of life’s movie moments – as I call them (really, I just now made this up). Like when you hold your child for the first time, or walk down the aisle to your future – so in love, or when your daughter rides her bike without training wheels after you tried to teach her for days, or when you watch the baby take her first steps. Moments. Sometimes we do not know we are in them until they are too far gone to grasp, and only after looking back, if one’s heart is open, may you really appreciate the beautiful gift it was.
In that moment, a plan was realized in two perfectly imperfect strangers. In that moment, seeing him for the first time, a grand part of my personal story began to take shape.
I began writing this yesterday (Wednesday) and stopped there because I wanted to go deep about what I remember, and make certain I am honest here. For a lot of people who know me personally, there is increasing uncomfortable feelings looming in them whenever I write about this part of my life (I have been told, from a few different sources, that I should not delve into this anymore – I should be “over it” by now… so imagine the strength it takes to directly oppose that by going still deeper into it!)
The truth is, I do not believe this corridor of my history deserves anything less than this. It does not deserve to be forgotten, swept under the rug – there are countless reasons why I feel my work here is not yet done, and perhaps why it may never be done – I write things like this to explain why…
When I met him, my life had little direction. As I mentioned in the forward to the story I had been living at less-than my potential for quite some time. Though I was yet a young woman, and it seemed the world could have been broadened and my experiences more positive, I lacked the one very necessary ingredient that I could have used to change my circumstances alone: Self-belief. I did not believe I was going to do much, because I didn’t feel like much. Things had not gone right for me for many years, and the crushing blow of recent life events (or lack thereof) only furthered my self-doubt.
I sought love, but in the circle of friends I surrounded myself with – the parties, the alcohol, the pot, and the frivolous handing out of my most sacred self in the absence of love – it left me drained with little substance to hold. Love, though I sought it from others, was not found in my heart, not for me, and certainly not for anyone else.
Knowing this, back then? You could have asked my 19-year-old self and my answers then to these same notions would have been vastly different. The stirring of loneliness, the continual self-criticism, the escapism by way of drugs or drinking – – I could not have guessed that things were about to be so different, and I was about to find myself on a path towards all I had silently hoped for but could not have believed I would find.
That is who I was, and what I believed about myself. That these young men I spent so much time chasing, with their empty promises and, “I can’t date you because of your brothers…” After they used me for all it seemed I had to give, it left me thinking I must not be good for much else. If only one of them would get to know who I was before my world was broken. Before I stopped believing in myself. If only someone would dig deep, and see who I really was, I thought, then maybe, just maybe, things could be different… I had more to give, I just stopped believing that it even mattered.
That’s when I met him.
Katherine wiped the table just two rows over from theirs, glanced up towards the handsome man facing her from his booth, and saw him smile. He held his coffee cup to his mouth and drank it quickly, still smiling at her when he was done. She blushed intensely, marveled at the butterflies swirling in her chest, and tried to pretend like she didn’t care.
The truth was, she did care. Something about him was familiar from the moment their mutual friend introduced them. Justin made small talk with his dinner mate, Katherine waited tables, and Dylan planned his move – scribbling his name and telephone number on the outside of a used sugar packet. Out of character for a shy machinist, he never did things like that, but he had to know her.
The following two weeks found us together most of the time. I remember it so well, so much so that I often laugh at my memory when it comes to this. I remember wanting to do it differently and wait for things to go from friendly to intimate – something I didn’t normally even consider let alone put into practice. I wanted to get to know him, in a way I had not wanted to know anyone else.
I’ve often questioned the next two years of time spent with him, and believe now, some 13 years later since I met Tim, that I may never know what the purpose was. Because it was the first-time I was truly loved, and the first time I truly loved anyone else, but more than that – though not to minimize it – it was in that span of time I learned to trust another person, and myself, and I felt how good it was to be able to plan our future. I knew my future. I knew our life together, and what that would look like. I knew our children’s names and how he’d be the sort of old man who would wear overalls with a bandana sticking out of his back pocket as he mowed the lawn, and I’d be the sort of old woman who would bring him tea and use that bandana to wipe his sweat away before I kissed him just like I had done for 45 years. I knew that he would drive me nuts and I would make him crazy because we believed differently about the world, the afterlife, and we would be the sort to bicker in diners over hot coffee but then go home and love each other because none of that compared to how deeply love went.
We were to live a simple life in the material sense, but greater than most have felt would have been our love. If he were here now, sitting here, remembering all of this with me as I dictate our thoughts, I know for certain he would agree that the one thing that made us so special, the reason it has been so hard, is that we loved each other in a rare fashion and that was the thing that promised to keep us together for the rest of our lives.
Only, it wasn’t meant to do that, and here is where my mood shifts from that of reverence for the great love I got to know, to blistering bitterness over the very thing that tore us apart.
It may seem easy for me to write this. Trust that it is not. For reasons that go beyond the very nature of exploring emotional history in my writing, but more than this because a key player in how we ended is no longer here to speak for herself, and perhaps I do her legacy – her memory – a great disservice by telling her side of the story, but only as I remember it? I am torn, and always have been, because it is my story, after all – it is the love I lost, not just his, but hers – but it is also a personal tragedy on her account. A deeply sad and hurtful part of who she became, and to those who knew her apart from the end years of her life, it might seem I wish to paint her the villain, focus all my love on him and all my anger on her, and thus validate this great love story – and the blame doesn’t fall on either of us, it falls on her.
To be clear, I do not wish to do this, and if I have ever made it seem like I do not blame him for his part in this, I was wrong to excuse him.
However, again it is my story, and how I do remember it is extremely personal – and I can assure anyone with any accusation against this, how I tell it, that it would be better to take my word for it and let me claim my history than it would be to try and tell me I am wrong. After all, there were three people involved. One, a tragic loss, the other is silent and has been a stranger to me for years, and the third – well, I think you know how she is doing…
Tim and I cannot know for certain that if things had not happened the way they did we would still be together. We cannot know that, just like with any part of our history – things happened the way they did and that becomes what you know and all else become dreams or mere speculation… None the less, I have always believed that he and I would have made our way in this life together. I would venture a guess that he feels that way as well.
I base this speculation on what happened after everything changed. He would not have told me about it had he not realized that keeping it a secret would damage us, and I would never know what went wrong. It would have eaten him alive, and the way that he loved me – we didn’t keep secrets from each other, and he knew more about me than anyone else in the world – there was no way he could keep that inside. Telling me was the obvious thing and unfortunately for me, the most painful thing – but having gone through a lot of life since that time, and having experienced keeping my own secrets from people I loved, I have great respect that he did, in fact, tell me. First chance he got.
I had spent two years building a life with this man. During that time the house we lived in was bought – we planted flowers and watched the roots of our labor and love turn it into our quant little fixer-upper home. During that time, his mother and he encouraged me to finish high school, so I did that and then went on to take credits at Clark, I got my first real job working at a mortgage company, and I learned what it meant to be loved. Truly… loved. We bickered about religion and politics and sometimes in my longing for us to be as connected in these issues as we were in everything else, I would cry and beg him to change (a classic young-love mistake) but then all I had to do was look at him and none of that mattered as much compared to how I loved him anyway. He taught me how to trust myself, and that I could trust him with my heart, and I fell into it entirely sure. So was he the night he asked me to marry him.
I became a version of myself that I could love. Loving him, trusting him, it made me stronger. It gave me a purpose I could appreciate. It challenged me and pushed me to want more for my life, because I would do whatever it took to stay beside him. He loved me for who I was, even when I was broken, and nobody in my life at that time was giving me anything even close to that. He let me see the parts of him that were difficult, and flawed, and we both held onto each other so tightly in our mutual openness and adoration for one another.
It was to be, then, obvious to anyone paying any attention at all, that what transpired to break us apart would devastate me. Indeed, it was worse than that.
Our life together, his and mine, was not by any means perfect. We were known for the beer in our fridge and the late-night music in the garage which often was played by a man, his guitar, and six or seven cold ones. I admit I loved his cigarette smoke lips and the lingering scent of beer on his breathe. It was a part of the man I fell in love with. He could pull out Dylan lyrics from memory in one breathe and ponder the meaning of life in another, while smoking as he strummed an acoustic on the porch. We were not pure, nor faultless, nor perfect by any means – and it was precisely this avenue of our life together that aided him to make this most dire mistake.
… I paused for quite a while, sort of just lingering there – remembering. I don’t intentionally remember him, or that time, too often. When I do it always hurts. I realize as I write this that I bump dangerously against seeming to long for him presently while maintaining that it is only history of which I speak; one might confuse the two. Just something I thought worth mentioning as I continue.
My world, in an instant, was broken. Soon to follow the obvious trauma of thinking I lost the man I loved came the actual loss of my mother, and so it came to pass that every single thing I loved, needed, and wanted was… gone.
When she died, he was the one I wanted to run to. I needed my best friend. I needed to cry, and scream, and completely shatter on the ground in his arms, but I couldn’t. I was told not to go to him. I was told I could not heal there, because there was where the pain began.
After our life completely fell apart, and I was no longer living with him in our little house on our little street, but instead a few miles away, I remember every single day was a fight not to run back there. This was made especially difficult by his repeated attempts to get to me by whatever means necessary. He showed up but I didn’t know how to go back – not when everyone I knew told me, in no uncertain terms, that you don’t go back after this happens. That it means – it proves – we were not meant to be. So instead of listen to my heart, which craved him entirely even though that would mean it would hurt and we would need to heal, I listened to the world. I listened to everyone whom had supposedly suddenly had my best interest at heart. The same people whom were not there before I met him when I was lost, and completely drowning in the empty shell of the person I’d become. The same people who never saw how much we loved each other, but only latched on to the various times I’d vent about him during a spat and use that version of our story to make me believe we weren’t supposed to be together anyway.
The only person who knew me deeply. The only one who made a huge mistake and then immediately saw it for what it was and risked everything to tell me. The only one who, at the very grand expense of losing me forever, broke himself apart just to be honest the very moment after he made that mistake… The only one who then spent nearly two years trying to make me see that I made the biggest mistake of all by walking away – by listening to everyone else – was Tim. I abandoned him because everyone told me that’s what you do. That I couldn’t have moved past it. I couldn’t have forgiven him no matter how badly I may have wanted to. People were well-meaning, I like to believe that, but sometimes I realize the mistake was that I shared with anyone what had happened… Alas, that’s one of those senseless things I needn’t even explore further.
I moved away because I couldn’t take it anymore. The devastating moment I learned that my mother had died – that very night – I wanted one person. The one person I could not have… Not when it didn’t matter for anyone else anymore what she put me through before she died – all that mattered then was that, she was gone. That trumped all my personal pain, a pain not even one of them can even understand let alone the fact that they didn’t have to endure it. I felt like I lost the ability to go back because the fact that I still loved him just wasn’t enough for them – how could it be enough after what happened? – and so I made it not enough for me. Somehow, I thought that if I went back, it would hurt them, and I valued their opinion more so than I valued my own healing.
When people hear this part of my history – even paid professional counselors (and believe me, I’ve seen many) I am always left feeling as though nobody really understands it. How can I talk about loving him so much, so deeply, and then talk about what happened, and then even mention that I still loved him after that? As if they expect the very act of betrayal itself should erase all the love we shared. I almost, at times, feel as though I may just be a fool, and maybe they are right…
But then I remember that I was the one. I was there the night I met this handsome man with piercing blue eyes and a brilliant smile. I was there when I felt my walls crumbling down and my heart opening to his tender touch against my cheek. I was there when someone, for the first time in my life outside of my family, accepted and loved me for who I was. I was there when he walked into the house after working each night and saw him rush to me, renewed by my embrace. I was there when we dug our fingers in the soil and planted seeds that bloomed as we lay side-by-side under the summer sun. I was there on the cold, rainy winter nights when we moved the mattress to the living room in front of the stove to watch the fire burn as we rested in each other’s arms. I was there to listen as he serenaded me with classic rock tunes on the guitar, and as he danced like Joe Cocker in the garage just to make me laugh. I was there when I bared my soul to him, and his to me, and we dreamed and laughed and talked about our future together…
I was there, laying my head against his chest, when his breathe was shallow and I could tell something was very wrong. I was there when he revealed that something had gone terribly wrong and he wasn’t sure how it happened but told me every detail a thousand times just to try and help me understand it. I was there to wipe his tears away the day I packed my car up and was ready to leave, while he sat on our porch crying, begging me not to go. I was there when he told me he was so sorry, and he would love me forever… even as I walked away.
I am not sure anyone could understand it. Not unless you walked in our shoes. Not unless you felt what we felt… Not unless you lost… what we lost. I know it’s the same for all loss – I can’t expect to understand how my brothers and sister, or my dad, deal with or dealt with the loss of our mom, and I’d never be in their ear telling them, “it’s better this way” … But that’s what I heard when it came to me and him.
I’ve got another side to this entire part of my life that is entirely devoted to my mother, but I purposefully left that out of this because now is not the time. I’ve still got 5 days on this island completely alone, and I am certain in that time, I will write about her. I will cry about her. I must go back, stand beside her, and deal with everything that comes up. For now, it is about him.
Tim is a stranger to me now. Some time before Layla was born was when he last spoke freely to me. He had just met the person who is now his wife and she was soon to be pregnant with their son. From what I understand he’s lived in her country of Slovenia and moved back to Vancouver, though I am not aware of where he is now.
One of the greatest struggles I have faced since leaving Washington is knowing that I left him alone and did not return, and so the fault of this – our fate – rests solely upon me. I am okay with that because my choice to do so ultimately gave me three daughters and an amazing husband – a life I am grateful for.
Yet the healing that still needs to take place – it is apparent to me that even having a great life, a thousand miles apart from my home town – does not change the fact that I still hurt about Tim. It still hurts me that this happened to us, and I think I would be inauthentic if I pretended otherwise, though I am sure a great many people would rather I pretend because my honesty makes them uncomfortable.
I am not sure I’ll ever get used to the fact that I don’t know him anymore. That’s the hard part about knowing someone so well, and loving them so deeply – now, he is just supposed to be this person that I once knew, once loved. Yet, I know he is one of the most important parts of my history. He…
He gave me love, for the first time in my life. He opened his heart, mind, and soul to me, and let me see him intimately. He learned all the details of my face, and smiled at me with a sparkle in his eyes that made me feel safe and wanted – flaws and all. We taught each other that true love is worth fighting for, though I only learned that after it was too late.
I will never be 19 again. I will never know that version of myself, broken and wayward, God-less and love-less. I will never feel what it feels like to watch that person fall away as I learned myself through the eyes of another person. I cannot go back there – to any of it. I know that. I just wish, sometimes, that I could find some box to put him in that would contain all of this, so that I don’t have to see it unless I want to. I guess I haven’t mastered the art of forgetting like some would hope by now I would. Truth is, I may never fully understand this, and maybe that’s where I just let it go. Leave it at that. A classic, “it is what it is” situation?
I am so grateful that in my life now I have someone beside me whom accepts that I am still mending these broken pieces, and he lets me love him imperfectly. He doesn’t begrudge me that fact, but instead, holds me through it. He shows me I have the strength left to tackle this, and tells me that even if I never break through entirely, and I feel pain about this for the rest of my life, I am still worth loving. It is amazing that he is the first person – indeed the only one – whom has given me such a gift in all the years since Tim. In that way, I know it is real love, because long ago, I learned what that looked like.
I got to know great love. I got to lose great love. I guess, because of that, I should count myself among the lucky ones… I’ve had it twice.
Tim will probably never know these words exist, and I sometimes wonder how or if he still deals with those two years, and the end of us, like I do. I’ve tried to reach out to him but have never gotten anywhere with it, a fact of which is both understandable and disheartening. Sometimes, I question whether I am imagining things as they were not, but instead have built this beautiful world of sunshine and flowers and us walking together through a perfectly green pasture under a clear blue sky. Then, I laugh that off and remember…
“Hey, Christina, this is Tim”, Justin said, looking over at his dinner buddy. That moment. His face. That’s when my life began.