Note: This has been hard to write. And I am not proud of the things I have done or the person I was. Also, the story isn’t over yet.
Boy Loses Girl
‘[Our love] had burned itself out, like a forgotten candle in an empty room, leaving behind a ravenous discontent.’
-Paolo Giordano, Solitude of Prime Numbers
Beautiful and I broke up on a cold, dark night in March, just a few weeks after Valentine’s. We did not go gently into that good night. We burned and raved, and if there was any rage, we would not in the time after turn it to the dying light, but instead inwards at ourselves. And it is here, after meeting Beautiful, after believing she was my soulmate, after falling in love with her almost immediately, after finding her exactly my type, after the courtship, the gestures, the acts, the language, the signs we were going to be together forever, that I must admit and own up to the greatest and worst and most tragic mistake of my time.
I began to develop feelings for someone else.
It didn’t matter that she was Filipino, like me, or that she was an English major, like me, or that she was planning on transitioning to Education, like me. It is not relevant to the story that she was into comic books and anime and manga and read all the same books and had seen and loved all the same movies and played all the same video games. It really wasn’t even a matter of her being this younger, cute, spunky tomboyish girl with a soft voice. It ultimately, definitely, really didn’t matter when after all the dust had settled in the uproar of our breakup because the only reason why this other girl had even been around was because she was actually attracted to my other friend.
What matters is that I cared.
To be honest it was nothing more than a silly, fleeting, schoolboy crush. She was just another face on the playground that I happened to like, but in the context of it all it shook my beliefs to its very foundation.
It wasn’t supposed to happen. I wasn’t supposed to feel like this. She shouldn’t have mattered to me in the least. I had done all my research. I had searched and fought and worked for this. I sat through countless hours of the same romantic comedy plots. Watched every ‘every man’ and every ‘every girl’ fall madly, hopelessly, blissfully, and (this was the important part) completely in love. I had read every article and pored over every word. I listened to their songs and I invested in their images. I bought what all of these sources were selling me. There was supposed to be a better result than this. I had put in the time and money and effort. There was supposed to be a contract between me and love. I listened to love’s sweet song because it promised me at the end I would have my chance at it as well and I thought Beautiful was my reward.
It was never about who this other girl was. As difficult as it may seem to understand and convince others of this, it is the ultimate truth. She was nice enough, sweet enough, pretty enough, for a good-sized crush to entertain the whimsy for a little while, but ultimately deep down, there was nothing that could have sustained a relationship. In retrospect, she was a fun distraction, with some great conversation, but I would have been kidding myself to think it meant anything, or could have meant anything, especially in comparison.
For as spectacular and intricate and show-worthy as our romance was, our relationship deserved more than this two-dollar drugstore cliché ending. You know the story. By the end of our junior year in college we had become both familiar with each other and preoccupied with the increasing pressures of school and work. It was time to start looking for a school that would host our senior year student teaching experiences and taking certification tests. Meanwhile I had been promoted at my job and she was taking more hours and more weekends at hers in order to earn more money. Naturally the time we spent together began to wane, and the time we did have was spent more like doing work in each other’s presence. The other girl, being two years our junior, was still just enjoying the leisure of freshman classes and no work responsibilities. When Beautiful had to take night shifts or night classes, I would stay on campus waiting for her to get out and spend most of that time with the other person. We talked about our similar interests or our similar experiences, drawing on the cornucopia of things that now suddenly were so important to me and clearly relevant and pertinent to my partner. I was spending the time waiting for someone who mattered to me with someone who was becoming more important and I was talking about things I normally never really divulged or went into with someone who could listen and relate.
I knew what was happening. I could see it in the signs and I wanted nothing to do with it. Up until the very very last moment I knew in my heart there was no one I could ever love as much as I did Beautiful. She was the one for me, the one every song alluded to and every movie was about. We had done everything possible to fit into the mold, to offer our love to the romance gods and be blessed by them. So why suddenly did I feel sick and cursed. In the same way lovers can look at each other through rose-colored glasses, perhaps there should be a term for the tainted vision of looking at someone you are falling out of love with. What color should those be, I wonder. In my heart I was holding onto Beautiful, working to keep our love alive, believing in still what great wonders our love could accomplish. But my mind was slowly turning against me. In the same way I used to look at her as nothing but beauty and perfection, my mind was searching for the cracks and focusing on them. I think many can relate to this feeling. There is no helping that, during those twilight moments in a relationship, your perception is suddenly twisted and tainted and, I am ashamed to say, cruel. I saw the split and dry ends of her luxurious hair. I saw the cracks and lines in her porcelain skin. I heard shrill cacophony in the symphony of her laughter.
I demanded better. Not of her or me, but of love. Where was my bliss. Where was my happy ending. Why should the heart have to work against the mind when it comes to love. I saw nothing of the same brilliance or brightness in this other girl, just the shortcomings of the one I had loved for so long. Blindly, stupidly, naively, I saw nothing wrong with continuing to drink from the same well that had satiated me of my thirst for all things romance and love. I thought everything was supposed to easy. I thought the flame of true love was an eternal one. I felt alone and abandoned in every hour I was not with her because of her other obligations. I saw her spend hard-wrestled time and hard-earned money with friends but wondered why she couldn’t seemingly find a weekend night to spend doing nothing with me. If I could be this unhappy at this moment, and if I could even allow or entertain the notion of another, even in this paltry imitation I had met at the same club that gave me Beautiful, maybe this was all wrong after all. Maybe Beautiful wasn’t the one. Maybe I’m too young to have found her. Maybe I’m supposed to keep looking. Maybe this, this happiness and care and warmth and understanding and passion and romance and love, is supposed to end.
Why can’t humans live in eternal happiness? Why is bliss so foreign and pain so familiar? I was giving up the treasure for the hunt because I found the map too easy to read. All of the voices that had ever spoken to me of love and bliss and happiness, they were voices of pursuit. I never saw a movie after its ending. I only ever knew the chase. But I must have known that this was wrong, all wrong, because when I went to her dorm late at night after yelling and screaming at the roof of the parking garage, even before saying anything she could see the resignation in my eyes, and I could see the devastation in hers. It wasn’t her pulling away or devoting less time for us. It wasn’t her who was slowly killing our love. It was me.
During all the time I had spent waiting for her after classes and after work, focusing on this time of absence, I never realized that between the two of us, she was the only one who completely and absolutely devoted every free second to be together. While I was internally contemplating our relationship and secretly forcing it and her to show me its worth and prove its strength, I was the one shutting down the communication lines and pulling away, withholding the care and affection that we had grown together. I was starving the one person who meant the most to me because I was too concerned with making sure I had the best and biggest and fullest plate. I never thought to reflect that while I was judging her to be my soulmate or not, she was still absolutely and completely convinced of this as truth. She was exhausting herself to the very limits of her being to devote everything to work, school, and me while I measured each offering. She had to sit back and watch, helpless, as my eyes began to gray and darken and my hand became cold and distant because I didn’t want hers to be. Through doubt and selfishness, my mind worked to try and transform her into something I couldn’t love. But with just her eyes and her ears and her heart, she watched me change all on my own.
There were no sweet words for what I was doing. The language of love that danced off the tip of my tongue was found dumb and lame when it came to how to hurt someone. It was all just clumsy, cliché, and crass. There are no eloquent ways to carve your lover’s heart out. The cuts are jagged, crooked, and mercilessly deep. It felt like an out of body experience. This man standing in front of the love of my life, trying to convince himself he is falling out of love with her, cannot possibly be me. These words that sting and feel heavy and bitter cannot be my words; my words are light and carry to her heart sweet and lovely things. These hands so nervously wringing themselves and struggling awkwardly to find their place cannot be my hands; my hands’ home is on the small of her back. These tears that fall like bombs onto the floor, burning a trail down her cheek, cannot really be hers; I promised her back when I loved her that I would be there to kiss her tears away and that they would never be able to reach the ground again. These tears that cloud my vision and taste salty on the corner of my mouth cannot be mine; I am supposed to have believed I wanted this.
Our breakup was abrupt, sloppy, and painful. We each dealt with it as best we could. For those in the relationship, I believe it is seldom ever true that a parting could ever really be ‘completely unexpected’. Depending on the circumstances and the extent and depth of that relationship, most often partners can sense the horizon looming ever closer, despite hoping and praying to be wrong. There’s no way to prepare for the flood or to handle the results. There is no dignity in pain, no beauty in sorrow. There is no romance to heartbreak. It is the ugly, raw, and exposed wound whose scar we come to appreciate only over time. But in that moment we were just two very young, very confused, very hurt people. She cried. I cried. I made excuses to try and make things better, but there was no way to improve what was happening. She was stronger than I was, the last one of us to hold onto our love. She refused to suffer the indignity of having the man who had broken her heart bring her back to her dorm. I had to leave her there alone that night, hoping her roommate would come to pick her up, wiping away her tears by herself, while I drove home in the world I had created for myself.
It wasn’t a nice world. And it was never my own. In my mind I was still living in another cheesy romance plot, and I was waiting for my second act. I still believed in all the stories, wanted to be a part of this machine. Beautiful was everything to me. All my hopes, all my dreams, all my love. But all I ever knew until her was to love the chase, to live through the seeking and the courting and the falling. There were no stories of the after, no counseling for those who had found everything and had to live with the unbearable pressure of happiness. I had sabotaged the greatest thing in my life for the familiar and comfortable pain of longing. I was desperate, stubborn, to get back to what I knew and to prove after the fact that I had done the right thing. Very soon, too soon, after I began seeing someone I had known back in high school. She was the complete opposite of the free-spirited light of my life. She was entirely too self-conscious, full of bitterness and vitriol, and had neither the expressiveness nor the range of my Beautiful. But she was pretty, smarter, we could talk about books and movies and interesting papers, and I could step through familiar movements all over again. The courting, the falling, it was rushed and frantic. Love as commodity, mass-produced, one every season. It was much too forced, too manufactured, to last. Beautiful was pure inspiration. This was rote memorization. I thought love had let me down, let my wandering eyes fall too hard and too long on the same person. I didn’t know if I was living in the movie where the protagonist is tempted by another, only to realize and deepen his feelings for his true love, or if I was the one who realized he was chasing the wrong person all along. Still I had nothing but the tropes of love to fall back on.
Still, Beautiful’s love endured. She was the last hurt, bleeding, pained bastion of the greatest love of our lives. I couldn’t find the decency in me to completely cut her off. Somehow I felt that to be kind and gentle and optimistic to her was to show more mercy. Even as I was pursuing this absolutely doomed romance with her antithesis, she loved me, and willingly suffered to show it. She tried to move on, like I seemingly had. She went on a few dates. She wanted to tell me. My ears couldn’t handle what she was saying, so I did the only thing I knew how to do. I kissed her. For a brief time we were nothing but an insult to the love we shared and deserved. Late night rendezvous after work sneaking into each other’s homes. Quick, furtive, messy trysts in parking lots. We were just young and confused and trying to process the hurt. I was mad, messed up and misreading all the signs, and when she reached her hand out to me in forgiveness and absolution of all my wrongdoings, when she offered her love again, I felt indignant and ashamed. I had lived my life supposedly devoted to love and all of its promises. I was supposed to love her like no one could, and I was supposed to love her the most. Yet I was being overshadowed. I had done everything shameful and wrong that a man could do. I broke her heart, lied to her, misled her, and used her. Why, how, could she love someone so unworthy. I don’t know who she saw anymore or why it still looked anything like me. I rejected her salvation to continue my punishment. The other girl, she never knew of the time I spent with Beautiful, but I found out about the nights she spent with someone else, someone she would leave me for, someone who was in her words, ‘richer, had a better body, and was Chinese’. It didn’t even last seven months.
Eventually I realized what I had had in Beautiful. She was the greatest story I could ever tell. I didn’t want our chapter to end. She was still the only person I could ever talk to when it came to love. I could never find someone who would understand the depth of what I felt aside from the person I felt it with. We started this conversation together as partners. In the end she was the only one maintaining that communication. It was time for me to speak up once more. Two years after our breakup and a year after the last time I saw her, leaving the hotel we secretly spent the weekend in together, where she asked me to come back to her and I was too stubborn to prove I wasn’t making a mistake, I was ready, and wanted, to resume our story. I wasn’t fooling myself. I knew it was a long shot. I knew very well that someone as incredible as Beautiful could never be alone for too long. Not if her heart would allow her to love once more. I wrote one last, heartfelt, emotional letter and folded it into one more perfect heart. I couldn’t call her ‘my dear sweet beautiful girl’ anymore but I wrote to her as if she was. I told her of how wrong I was to cast away our love. How undeserving I was and how strong she was by the end. I told her she was the last thing I could ever learn about what true love is. How I live in a smaller shell of a world because the ghosts of our happiness haunt too many places special to me. The park, the secret deck behind the mall, the spot underneath our tree, they were hers now. They survived in memories still too potent for me to be able to handle. I told her like many lesser lovers, I never knew how to appreciate what was mine. But most of all, I told her that despite the last half of what had happened between us, I had, did, and would always, love her. I told her that I was always taught that love made soulmates and that we all had the capacity for great love and simply needed the right vessel in which to capture it all. I told her that I had been so wrong all this time, and that it was the other way around. She made me who I was. She taught me to love. She was the lesson, the inspiration, and the audience. I loved her now more than I could have before, and that all I wanted was for her to be happy, and hopefully find that happiness in me once more.
I wrote this letter, sprayed it with my cologne, placed it in an envelope, and went back to her workplace. It took a few tries and more than a few days to finally find her there working. She looked completely different. Her hair, the long locks I had always fawned over and begged her never to cut, now fell just a little over her ears. The eyes that had once looked so delighted to see me were apprehensive; she was looking at me like I was a stranger. I gave her the letter, begged of her to read it, and left. It was January. I waited outside, like I always did, on a bench by the entrance. And I continued to wait. Three hours later after the mall had finally closed, employees began filing out into the dark parking lot. And I continued to wait. Full of fear, shame, and trepidation, I could not meet the gaze of any of those who passed by, just hoping and wishing and praying that she would come out and greet me, even just a word, to know that she had read and heard my plaintive cries. And I continued to wait. An hour passed. My hands were numb. My lips frozen. I had long since stopped feeling cold enough to shiver. And I continued to wait. Until the reality became unavoidable. She had walked right past me. This was my last play. I had nothing left but my one-sided love now. I had to let her be, let her live the life I had affected.
I have never been proud of the things I did during that time. I have never maintained any illusions of any romance, love, or noble saving grace in my actions. I was young and insecure. I did not yet know of the work of happiness. It was one thing to ruin my life in pursuit of some unachievable ideal, but it was an entirely different matter altogether that in order for me to learn the most important lessons of life, love, and happiness I had to drag the one person who had mattered the most to me through the mud and dirt as well. There was no second act for me now. I was offered it not once but twice. Somehow I had defied the odds and then, because I must have been a glutton for punishment, I doubled down. And the house won. I must have seemed to the rest of the world a daft fool, but to the person whose heart mattered the most to me, I feared how she must have seen me. The ultimate betrayal of every promise I had made to her with only the noblest of intentions, ruined by the most base of emotions. Fear. There would be no love left for me in her story. I could only hope that the damage I had caused would be deep enough that she would never think of me again. I couldn’t bear the idea that the man she once loved and cared for was naught but a negative memory. A villain in time. A disappointment. Me, I would continue to be haunted by the ghosts of our relationship. My heart would still sink every time I looked at the moon, wondering if she could see what I still see. I would steer my life clear and away and far from the places we once were. Once I started my student teaching I almost never went back to campus. I left our club. Barred off our mall. Closed every door she opened. She would no longer be on the other side waiting.
Word count so far: 42162