For us, everything happened all at once. That night of our first kiss was also the night we were each reborn. The moment we touched each other’s skin, we knew life as it had been was over. It was a kiss that said I’m in love with you, I’ve been waiting for you my entire life, and when those actual words followed quickly after, we knew our lives were about to change forever.
As certain as we were about our love, we were still two attached women. But within a month, our lives looked completely different than they had before that night.
The month that followed was full of undoing and becoming undone in ways neither of us had ever experienced.
I broke off my engagement two days before I defended my doctoral research, and a few weeks later told him of my big change of heart. I explained as best I could that I was gone before meeting Her, but I was just too scared to tell him. That She didn’t break us, we were already broken. He believed me a little, but then, my actions made him wonder the depth of that truth. They say that actions speak louder than words, but I think fear can speak loudest of all — and I was frozen in my fear of leaving my kind, stable boy for years before I ever knew She existed.
For me, for he and I, it was the ending of a very long chapter and then a sudden stop in the start of a new one. We both moved out of the apartment we’d been living in together for over 4 years with our 10+ years of collective belongings. We had given our notice, as we were less than a month from closing on our first home.
But those dreams were never realized, we — I — stopped them in their tracks. I gave back the engagement ring and he insisted I keep the gift he had gotten me for earning my doctorate — even after I told him I thought it was best he didn’t come see me defend it, after all the years he stood by my side supporting me. That month was a little like a guillotine to our relationship, and by the end of it we didn’t see each other and didn’t even have a need to communicate in any way. All at once we were untangled, and just like that we were no longer each other’s person.
There is something so cruel about knowing your choice of authentic happiness is directly hurting another person, destroying them even. You have to believe that he will find his authentic happiness too, and that as much as he thinks it was you, you pray for the day he knows it isn’t. And you’ll witness a level of desperation you’ve never seen before, a child-like frantic search for a way to stop what is happening, knowing yourself that it’s simply not possible.
I knew without any hesitation that our relationship had run it’s course, that we were never meant to be forever, and we might have even been well past our expiration date.
What I think might, to this day, be one of the hardest pieces of choosing a big, bold, beautiful love over the quiet, calm, and stable one I had always known, is that my grief had a different timeline than his — and it was all my own. For years before I left, I grieved. I had wanted so badly for us to work, for our love to be the love I had always dreamed of. To be that story — the high school sweethearts who make it through everything, and sit back together at 90-years-old, dying in each other’s arms, like in The Notebook.
But we were never going to be that love story. Together, we weren’t those people, making it through “against the odds.” We had no odds; we weren’t connected enough to make it through a lifetime together. And when I started to realize little by little how the life I had been imagining wasn’t ever going to come to fruition, I grieved.
But he never saw me grieve, he never knew that my heart was broken by us too, he didn’t know because my grief showed up much, much earlier than his. I grieved the loss of a life I wasn’t even quite sure existed, but that I wanted to believe did. And because I didn’t know if it existed, I stayed in the life I had. It would have been ridiculous to leave for a dream…wouldn’t it?
But then, when my dream came true, all at once, it didn’t feel ridiculous to me at all. It felt like the most obvious answer to every question I had been asking since I was a little girl. It washed over me like that first rip tide you’re not expecting, the undertow pulling you down to the point where you almost can’t breathe — but when you come up for air you feel more alive than you ever have before.
Grieving at this point feels wasteful, like you’re finally given this sacred chance of rebirth, you can’t spend it being worried about what the ocean bottom might have looked like if that current had never come along. It did, it swirled and mixed-up everything that was calmly in it’s place, and now everything is different, everything has changed. All at once.
People ask why May 26, 2012 means so much to us, how it became our date. It’s simple, really. That night was the tidal wave that crashed into our lives, strong and steady, and changing everything in it’s course. You wouldn’t ask the ocean to go back to the way it was before, so it would have been foolish for us to even try.