The hardest part about losing a lover is figuring out the line between letting go and forgetting. Sometimes the two terms, the two actions, are used interchangeably. And to use those two terms as each other — to say letting go is the process of forgetting, once you’ve forgotten something you’ve let it go — reduces the feeling of loss into an unhelpful binary of good versus bad. Instead, I think, letting go is carefully storing memories in chambers of the mind where they do not hurt you;forgetting is creating a new reality in which the past does not exist.
I had a hard time reestablishing an equilibrium after the departure of my first great love. We met at a distance — he was a resident of one state, I another — and we separated in the same fashion. Perhaps that makes the situation all the more complicated. The only way in which I could allow our love to survive was through a long, arduous process of keeping memories so active they became a part of my reality. Because of our choice to enter a relationship, knowing well that there wouldn’t be a chance of us living in the same place and thus disallowing us from taking advantage of the reminder that is close physical proximity, my first love existed as a memory in motion, a feeling, an ephemeral being who I had to remind myself was real.
So when it ended, when he and I parted, I was not leaving a person, but the memory of a person. It was the death of a spirit that told me to keep moving. That if I moved quietly enough, with my heels always pressed to the ground and if my unwavering hope never concerned itself with faltering, I would someday catch the spirit of the love that he had created within me. And he would be something I could grasp at once and forever. If we remained steadfast enough, our states of being would join into one.
When it ended I had to sort through a handful of moments that outlined us as a couple. There was no day-to-day interaction between us. Our relationship was punctuated by bi-monthly visits, which were tremendous in the way those visits defined the entire dynamic of our relationship. I sorted through moments some people might easily forget. I clung to the days of brightness and fury and I didn’t have the option to forget, although I wanted to (although I tried).
I deleted him digitally; I placed cards he gave me, in a box he gave me and hid it; I stored his emails under a label and archived them — I made him less immediate. This would have worked if he were an immediate person to me. But he wasn’t, of course. His pneuma somehow etched itself into mine. My thoughts would wind to him not out of laziness or self torture, but because he had become just like any thought that precedes an action and my heart was still thoroughly entrenched in love.
It took months to realize he was still with me and that my futile attempts at forgetting were wearing on me much more heavily than I would have liked. I wrote him out of me. Writing him out like I am doing now. I circumscribe him with a pen when the sensation of loss becomes too great. I wrote him into stories and characters and poems and I even wrote him into people I knew. If I brought his memory into a tangible something, then I could break him apart and store him in a chamber of my mind. There are file cabinets situated in my grey matter occupied by only him.
Here is an example of letting go:
One summer he went to China and when he returned, I surprised him at the airport with his parents. We stayed at his parents house for a few days before going back to his apartment. It was early August, and the air was balmy, and the bottom floor of his parent’s house had a way of capturing light so even after the sun had descended their house was still full with lambent light.
He was different upon his return and perhaps I was too. We spent the first few hours of being back together, apart. He was preoccupied with playing the piano; I was trying to find words to explain the changes that had happened to us. He was known for playing the piano rather crassly — slamming on the keys, uneasy transitions, graceless — and, at times, he did not sing well. I didn’t often have the heart to tell him to slow down because he was exposing a part of himself through his music and my opinion of his art was irrelevant. But I remember sitting in the television room of his parents house, dazzled by the soft folds of daytime hours. And I heard this really tender sound. The song began as a fall, if that’s possible. I imagined walking down a spiraled stair: having my name called from above me and walking up; then having my name called from below me and moving down. The song undulated freely and for the first time, his musical voice became very clear and very painful. That song cycled through beauty effortlessly and I felt oppressed and before he could dance his fingers on the white and black keys again, I left the house sobbing.
If every person is an incarnation of God, if our intuition is really God speaking through us: God was telling me our love had already crowned.
He found me crying and I could see in his eyes he didn’t have the energy to console me or to extract my feelings from me. I said, “What was that song you were playing? It’s so beautiful.” He told me a story about his experiences in China, and he asked me not to cry, and he said the song needed lyrics. He asked me to write them. Despite numerous efforts, the words never came and the song, for better, exists without a voice to cloud its message.