The End. Two words that should never begin the story, and yet when all is said and done, all that we have left is The End. It’s as if those last moments define the whole. Sometimes I find that unbearably sad.
Because the truth is that our lives contain many stories inside them, and these stories are more than just their endings. Our lives are populated with people who have lived and breathed and loved, and yet we reduce them to one-dimensional characters who can be summed up in a handful of words, tossed carelessly into the night over drinks. We explain why it ended as if the end was ever simple. We shrug it off as if we didn’t drag ourselves from room to room for days on end, tears falling, hands shaking, trying to remember what we were looking for when we walked in. We act like it doesn’t matter because it’s over, as if pretending everything is fine could erase it all and make it clean again.
I’m the kind of person who never lets go easily. Oh, I’ve tried. I’ve diligently worked at letting go, but each time, I have to pry my fingers loose. Loss hunts me, and it haunts me. I’ve been stalked by loss from childhood, when my family pulled up roots time and again. It followed me into adulthood when friends left me behind, and I could never quite accept it. It’s followed me from lover to lover, and yet I cannot escape the eyes, the hands, the voices of the past. They whisper to me when I close my eyes, and I have no peace.
Not because they are gone. No, I am quite capable of moving on. My change game is strong. It’s that so oftentimes the end seems to negate the rest of the story. That is what I find so ominous. Instead of being left with all the moments and memories we built along the way, I’m left holding shattered belief, betrayal, longing, and sadness. I’m left with how it ended and not all of those beautiful, tremulous moments that once felt like gifts handed to me and tied up in a pretty bow. I look for those gifts, trying to hold on to them while everything else slips away.
No, the end doesn’t define who we once were to each other, but it certainly matters. A difficult end can never be made less so, but that doesn’t mean it cancels out the lovely memories we shared with our lovers along the way. There’s a war being waged in me: what can I afford to keep at the bitter end? What’s mine, and what do I have to let go of in order to move on?
The love we felt? That is ours to keep. We can still have love for those who are gone, but it’s our love. It’s not depleted for being given away, not even if we feel drained from the effort of ending. But it is ours, and it renews itself.
The memories? Those are ours, too. No one can take them away. I can keep the sight of the man walking across the road to handpick my favorite flowers, the smile as he handed them to me. That’s mine. We get to keep all of the memories, and we can choose to accept our relationships for how they really were without glorifying or romanticizing them- but also without demonizing them. We can cull out the good to carry with us and accept the rest as we move on.
We can keep the love and the memories, but we can begin to loosen our grip on the future we thought we would have with that person. We can start to see it fall away. We can release our expectations of who they were and who we wanted them to be. We can practice forgiveness- of them, of ourselves, of not knowing any better, of falling in love and being hurt, of the ending. We can be gentle with ourselves as those waves of emotions hit, one right after the other even though we haven’t quite stood up from the last hit.
In time, maybe those memories won’t leave us feeling haunted. There may come a day when we can look back and take comfort that we shared those moments. One day, we won’t wake in the night in a cold sweat because all that we wanted somehow got away from us. We won’t wake up reaching for someone who isn’t there and trying to retrace the past to see where we went so horribly wrong. One day, perhaps, all we’ll have left is the love that we felt and the memories that make us smile. But we can’t force ourselves to get to that point. We can’t push it to happen any sooner than it will, and it does no good to be angry with the Universe for giving us the experiences that shape us. We can miss the love that’s gone, but we can’t force it to come back or banish it from our minds by the force of our will or even change the ending.
But we can find a way to take a hard look at the whole. We can see beyond “The End” and rewind it all the way to the beginning. To the first meeting. The first conversation. The first date. The first kiss. I rewind in my mind to a date that was never supposed to be a date, a status I soon re-evaluated. Then I let it roll forward to a long walk at night, a kiss under the stars, my head spinning. The feelings I never thought I would feel again and finally feeling like I was loved enough. No, The End cannot ever be the whole story, even if it changes everything and sends us careening into a future we could never have expected.
The End is just the transition. It’s how one thing stopped and another began. It doesn’t define who we were together. It doesn’t weigh more than the whole. And one day soon, when I can wrap my head around how we got from that first conversation to the last, I will find a way to carry that love with me. To pack it and all the cherished memories up and carry them with the rest. I feel their weight already. But I think I’m strong enough to carry it.