Word Count: 1,009
Category: Short Story
Latest Version: February 19, 2023
Originally Published: July 6, 2008
I wrote this story as I reflected on the end of my first long-term relationship; thinking about the lessons that love taught me.
As the dust settled after a long, drawn-out, two-year marital separation, I came to realize that the moral of this short still stands true. I had started to wonder – as the months became shorter between the end of my thirties and the birth of my forties – if there were limits to the notion of forever love, but there were growing reminders that showed me how deep love buries itself in our hearts and how allowing ourselves to love deeply, can be everlasting.
Just because a relationship ends, doesn’t mean the love has to die. With every love that is lost, new life lessons are gained. Remember the good, embrace what this romance taught you about life and yourself, and adore them forever for the gift they gave you. To be loved and trusted with the heart of another is something to cherish always. It’s a gift that shouldn’t be handed back upon separation. It’s a keepsake to place in the locket of your soul forever.
At one point, they were your everything. How can they ever become your nothing?
Splashing my freshly shaven face, I looked up into a faded mirror. Grasping the outer edges of the water basin, I stepped into my reflection. I removed one hand briefly to run my fingers through my sodden hair, and then I leaned in to take a closer look. Into my weary eyes, I searched desperately for the man that I once saw staring back at me. I clenched the basin tighter, lowered my head and I realized that I don’t like the image the mirror revealed anymore. My eyes had once been so full of dreams; full of passion. They expressed a lust for life and everything it had to offer. Now their vision, discolored; infatuations, and a lifetime of aspirations are all but forgotten.
For the better part of my twenties, Elaine’s soft blue eyes had been the last image I had seen before falling asleep. On many cold nights, her warm figure curled into me, as I lay awake searching endlessly for answers, and on many mornings I awoke to the same lost and lonely reflection of my tired eyes staring back at me.
I spent so much time searching my heart for the grounds of my unhappiness, that I hadn’t allowed myself to appreciate the little things that made her so special. My uncertainties really had nothing to do with her. I did love her, but for some reason, I was not content with what we had together.
I tried desperately to push her away because having her hate me seemed so much easier than letting her go. As I stood disappointed, staring into that mirror’s image, I could see how much trying to push her away was slowly breaking her. Yet, even with how hard I tried to distance myself from her, she still remained by my side. I suddenly appreciate that she couldn’t hate me; she didn’t have it in her heart.
As I rummaged through my thoughts, gaping into that murky basin drain, I realized I had to let her go.
One last dinner together, final thoughts passed as we drove about a winding countryside, and as the colors of autumn leaves changed, so did the seasons of our lives together. Somehow I had never found her more beautiful than I did at that moment.
As I rested my eyes in hers, I took her hand and looked into her soul, and told her one last time that I loved her. Even with how hard it was to say goodbye, we both know that it was the right thing to do.
Maybe we had been holding on to the memories of so many years ago, or quite possibly we were fearful of being alone. Maybe we worried about hurting one another? Perhaps we were really afraid of living because neither of us could honestly say that’s what we were doing those final months – at least not the lives we had both dreamed of.
In those final moments, I realized that no matter how much I loved Elaine, my dreams would always live somewhere in my heart. I knew that if I didn’t start to listen to the desperate cries deep within me, in being afraid to live, those dreams and the passions my soul lived to feel, were slowly dying.
I truly believe it’s our unhappiness with ourselves that question the fate of a relationship. The problem is we either don’t know it or simply don’t know what we are unhappy with.
Many years have gone by now, and since moving on, I have felt my heart thank me for finally giving the thoughts that circled hopelessly through my soul, the opportunity to live. I have felt the inner peace of not being afraid of life anymore.
As I look up, I see the reflection of a man once more full of life; full of passions; a man with not only dreams but visions that have been realized. I have felt the sometimes painful, yet magical infatuations of love again. I have allowed myself to be inspired by the wisdom life offers us when we not only yearn for more from it, but do something about getting more out of it.
Regrets, I don’t believe in them, but I certainly wish we didn’t have to hurt the ones we love searching for who we are and what it is we want from this journey.
Even when a relationship is not meant to be, it’s hard not to continue caring for someone in some way, for everything they were to you and for what they taught you about love, life, and especially about yourself. I hope Elaine knows I will never forget the way she looked into my eyes when she said she loved me. To be loved that way by anyone is the most extraordinary gift life will ever share.
In the end, with our painful expressions of separation, we didn’t do or say anything to make that moment one we would later regret. We both knew those final words would last in our hearts forever.
Breaking up is always a painful memory, yet by ending that part of our lives with a smile and by expressing how much those past years meant to us, the last feelings we shared weren’t full of anger or hatred; just the one thing that kept us together through it all – Love.
No matter whether a relationship ends through infidelity, a difference of opinion, or simply different dream paths, one of the many things my time with Elaine taught me, is that in the end, whether you want it to or not, love lives on somewhere in the heart, and always will.
Elaine was the first woman I ever loved, and for understanding me, always believing in me, and loving me through it all (even those cold lonely nights when I couldn’t find it in my own heart to love myself), a part of me will love her forever. I will never forget how wonderful it felt, to be loved the way she loved me
This story was also published on the beautiful Tara Cronica blog here.