When relationships end, even the great love affairs of our lives, they are reduced to memories and the things we leave behind.
Beyond our broken hearts and guilt, there are tangible things we forget to grab on our way out the door, or maybe we didn’t know it was the last time we would cross that doorstep. The old t-shirts, change and breath mints in the bowl beside the bed, our favorite coffee mug; their absence in our lives can haunt us, their presence can haunt the one left behind.
I’ve spent a couple of months mourning a relationship that wasn’t quite dead but was unquestionably on life support.
We officially summoned our strength and ended it yesterday. It was sad and sweet and gut-wrenching.
I’d already spent many days and nights in an alcohol-induced haze of numbness and just as many facing the searing pain without the alcohol numbing haze and I wasn’t fond of either one.
I loved him, simple as that.
Pure and clean and complicated and messy. I gave him my whole heart, the thing I guard most zealously because I’ve felt this devastating heartbreak before. Twice. And neither time did I think I would be able to make it back from the edge where being broken had unceremoniously dropped me.
But I did make it back and then there was this man, with kisses so sweet they would make a grown woman cry, we created magic in the bedroom and he had a way of looking at me like I was the most beautiful woman in the world. And the only one for him.
I knew going in that he and his wife were only separated but she was such a nonentity for him that she became that for me, too.
She just didn’t figure into the life we were slowly building. But then she became ill and he stayed with her while she had surgery and received the treatment she needed. But we were still us, even a 20-minute phone call from the surgical waiting room, while she was in recovery, was filled with love and promises.
I still feel it, I still feel him. Everywhere I go, everything I do somehow reminds me of him and his unrelenting, persistent love that followed me everywhere, then and now.
And yesterday, it ended. All that promise, all those promises. Gone. It was over in an instant, but I know the reverberations will last indefinitely.
Last night, after several fortifying shots of tequila, I felt energized enough to look around for his things so that I could give them back to him. Or burn them. Or maybe have some friends over, circle the girlfriends and the wagons. Do some sort of ritual that I’ve read about in magazines.
I walked slowly from room to room, looking carefully for anything that might be his. His towel hung on the rung where he’d left it but that wasn’t exactly his, it was mine, he had just used it. I looked through a suitcase I had used on a trip we had taken recently, sure there was something in there of his that had somehow made it into my bag by mistake.
Other than the hotel shampoo and conditioner, everything was mine. I did find a bottle of his vodka in the freezer but there’s no sense in wasting good liquor and because, well, fire.
There was food left in the refrigerator that I had made for us, but that wasn’t exactly his either. By midnight, I’d had 3 more shots of tequila, my house was in shambles and all I had found of his were a pair of thick black socks.
I pulled them on, they conformed to my feet perfectly, not too tight but just enough to be comforting. I slid to the floor against a wall and pondered the mess and the implications. We had a tryst 2 weeks ago that ended in disaster when I asked for the key to my house back.
I had had an idea in my head of how he would respond to my request but I was completely wrong. It was ugly and heart-wrenching, filled with crying and anger, from both of us. He threw the key into the nearby bay rather than let me have it back.
Now I wanted that kind of concrete ending with his things, I wanted a cleansing, of my house, and my heart. But all I had were these socks that kept my perpetually cold feet warm, as he used to. It was the perfect metaphor but I felt cheated.
How could the only things I have left from one of the great loves of my life be a phone full of pictures and love and promises that we didn’t keep and these socks?
The days of giving someone their mixed tape back and having the satisfaction of seeing the disappointment in their eyes, knowing how much time they spent making it was long gone.
But where were the odd pair of earrings or shoes or skin products or shower necessities, the tangle of things that make up a shared life?
Evidence of him was everywhere, his pillow smelled like him and no longer conformed to my head, his towel smelled like his soap, his favorite coaster still sat next to his spot on the couch.
My bathing suit and cover-up from our trip hung from my closet doorknob. Our dog alternated between being my comfort and holding vigil at the window.
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But in the end, all we had left of each other’s was a key and a pair of socks. I lamented this as a sign of something that I should have recognized before now, we didn’t share enough, we kept too much separate. He kept one foot in his other life, his backup plan and I let him.
It was almost dawn when I woke on the cold floor, head pounding, our dog curled around me.
I pulled myself to a sitting position and in the wavering yellowish purple light, I studied my feet for a few minutes, still encased in his socks then reread all our texts, almost a year’s worth, and pored over all our pictures, remembering each shot, the ones of him that I took, the ones I was in.
I felt it all again, every moment, the joy, the loneliness when he was gone, the selfies of us kissing made me feel like I was drowning, I couldn’t breathe.
After a couple of hours and countless tears, I realized you don’t have to leave skin products and breath mints to prove your love was real.
When you leave the wreckage of your heart, shred into pieces, that is enough.
What more evidence do we need to be able to say, we loved each other with a depth and passion that few will ever know, and it is enough.
Esby “Rain” Duncan is a writer, speaker, and actor. Her memoir, Addicted to Chaos, will be on shelves next year. You can find her on Instagram @esbyrain, Esby Rain Duncan on Facebook. To learn more about Rain, check out her website, esbyrainduncan.com