I’d like to get through the holiday season in peace. I find myself walking around with my heart in my throat, choking me. I keep tripping on memories I’d misplaced along the way, each time getting back up and dusting myself back off again. Moving on from a breakup can be like trudging through snow, slipping on ice along the way. We know we need to keep moving, but sometimes we just want to lay there and die.
Yes, it’s dramatic, but it feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? We know that we can’t just give up, but it’s tempting to say I’m done with this and try to move to a sunnier climate. Of course, it’s not as easy as packing up and heading for Florida. We often carry the baggage from our heartache with us a little longer than we’d like, as we keep brushing up against feelings, thoughts, and memories we’d rather have left behind like so much unclaimed baggage on our trip to somewhere better.
But, unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. So we’re left living in the world with our exes and having to figure out a new landscape that often looks vastly different than the old. We have to figure out a way to breathe without inhaling that past and exhaling those memories. We even have to take their names off of our tongues when the names have lived there so long that they’ve become a part of our essential vocabulary.
It’s strange how an absence can seem to take up so much more room than a presence. How the absence of a name stretches out inside us and seems to fill the room with so much blank space. We want to reach for that name and hold it close, but we also know that it’s not ours to hold. We try to let it go, all the while resisting the surrender of that name from the language of our souls. And it’s not just the names; it’s the other absences. The empty side of the bed. The couch meant for two where only one sits forlornly. The hand that no longer holds our own. Can an absence be a presence that walks with us?
Then there’s the way our normal world gets turned upside down. There are the songs that remind us of them, and the landmarks of the relationship that we just can’t avoid no matter how hard we try. Sometimes the landmark is the passenger seat of our car where we bite back the remarks we want to deliver to the now-empty seat, no side airbag needed. Sometimes the landmark is a phrase used innocently by someone who can’t possibly know they’ve just conjured an ex with a simple incantation. How could they know that certain words are an incantation at all?
We now walk through the world as if it’s covered in landmines, wondering when the next one will go off under our feet. We try to sidestep the past, as if it isn’t in the carry-on case we’re lugging beside us on the journey. We live our lives hoping to rebuild a future that isn’t predicated on our loss, but we’re still trudging through that loss while trying to move on. And moving on, sometimes, feels impossible!
The world is filled with exes. It seems like it would be so much easier to close up shop on our hearts and just go out of business, to fold this hand in resignation. Pick your metaphor, but we often just want to quit. It doesn’t seem like love could possibly be worth all this pain. Yet, we can’t just quit. Love is what makes our lives meaningful. It’s what infuses us with joy and hope. Sure, it can be the thing that feels like it destroys us, but only because it’s so powerful and important. And as much as we’d like to opt out of it all when we’re trying to dig our way out of the heartache, we know that we’ll still go on. We’ll crack open our hearts and love again. We’ll even live in the world, breathing the same air as our exes and surviving it.
That’s just how it goes. We love with all of our hearts, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out. All the good intentions in the world can’t make something work out that wasn’t meant to be. A lover transforms into an ex and then a stranger. The presence we once counted on becomes an empty space. The world we knew becomes at once familiar and strange, and we have to learn to navigate this new life as well as we once did the old. Or even better. We go forward. And I hope we unpack that baggage as we go on, leaving it behind and traveling a little lighter. But I hope we keep the love.