Yesterday evening I was out writing and drinking a pint when I spotted a new friend who told me he was playing a few songs before a poetry reading at the library in a half hour. I finished up my paragraph, downed the dregs of my beer, and made my way to the library. The little event was downstairs in a clean white room set up with tables for a few local artists and writers; it was golden hour and half the ceiling was a skylight. I admired the wares and introduced myself to a few people, actually recognizing a handful which brought me a modicum of comfort, though I’ve never much minded not knowing or being known.
The friend who invited me started his set, his rich voice filling the room with a mix of covers and his own songs, but he took a minute to preface one song in particular, a sad kind of long-distance love story between the sun and the moon. He said something, very simply and thoughtfully, just before he began to play that stuck with me; he said maybe we’re all just waiting for someone to come back.
I never before would’ve considered this to be the case in my own life because I’ve always been the one to do the leaving. But as I ruminated on the thought last night and more this morning, I realized that in the same way I have a right to grieve a relationship I chose to end—that just because I was the one who did the breaking doesn’t mean I’m not suffering the loss too—I can also be the one waiting for a person’s return when I was the one who walked away in the first place.
Though I’ve loved many people and have had pockets of in love here and there, there’s only been one who has stuck. We were together two-and-a-half years, lived together for most of that time, and we had a happy little life together until suddenly it wasn’t anymore. It’s been over two years since I left him, for reasons I still think valid and do not regret, but until my move up here I thought about him every single day, missing him often. In Springfield it was harder because there was always the chance I’d run into him, keeping alive that hope for his return to my life. But I wasn’t just waiting for his physical return; I think I was waiting, maybe still am, for the aspects I loved most about him to return to me through someone new.
I suspect nearly everyone has been with someone they felt they weren’t good enough for. When I met this person—I’ve taken to calling him Neil in essays, though I couldn’t tell you why—I was an impressionable nineteen and hungry for scraps of his curious mind and active imagination. Five years older than I was, he seemed filled to the brim with knowledge of independent and cult films, craft beer, obscure bands, and art history; biking, camping, and cooking. What he didn’t know, he wanted to know, and he inspired me to ask and seek. I think he knew I wasn’t good enough for him and was content with it. But what’s hardest for me to let go of now is that I think I could really make him happy, could teach and challenge him the way he did for me. I finally feel like I’m good enough and have something to offer him that I couldn’t possibly have offered before, but the irony, the catch-22, the sweet and rotten truth of it is, if I hadn’t left him those years ago, I wouldn’t have these things to offer now.
So, life moves forward. He’s in a different, long-term relationship and seems truly happy. I’m living in a new and beautiful place that inspires me daily, meeting new and beautiful people who do the same, and understanding I’ve been waiting for “Neil,” in one form or another, to come back to me feels something akin to that anticlimactic moment when you return to a mammoth childhood slide and realize you’ve grown to its height. But after all is said and done, I can’t help but wonder if all any of us are looking for is someone who fits comfortably in the memory-foam shape left by a person who came before.