Last weekend, Facebook reminded me that the first time he cooked dinner for us was a year ago. I wore a velvet dress, he had on a satin tie. I poured the wine, he cooked the steak. Between the stove light casting a spotlight on him, and the sound of candles flickering in the background, I found myself exposed when he asked me why I was looking at him the way I was.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with eye contact. It always seems to give way to the parts of myself I figure are best kept in the dark. It’s why I became a writer—I like to think I have a sense of control over the trials and tribulations in my life. I’m an open book, only under the condition that each word is carefully rehearsed until perfected. I’m a hopeless romantic who ironically never thought would find love until it looked me right in the eyes. The smell of thyme and rosemary filled the space in my apartment when I realized I was in the arms of someone who wholeheartedly wanted to be there.
He was the feeling of home in unknown territory. He was warm, familiar, and a stranger all at once. It’s the recipe he used that night, the one that I still have folded in my closet-sized bedroom.
There is no perfect love out there. I’ve seen the imperfections that were in my parents’ relationship. I’ve consumed them in movies, novels, and songs that I can recite in my sleep. They are found in the heart-to-heart confessions shared over wine with my closest friends. Every time, the same conclusion always seems to find its way—just because love isn’t perfect does not mean it wasn’t there or that the love was right or wrong.
Our relationship ended because our arguments evolved into toxicity that neither of us deserved. Maybe words slipped out of our mouths before we could grasp them. Maybe there is such a thing as being too comfortable with one another.
What I do know and what I will always hold to be true is that toxic moments don’t make toxic people. We are human and sometimes we just don’t know where to go. All we can do is try our best, even if our best looks a little different than we thought it would.
What I never could have anticipated is the question I have come to now: a year has passed and suddenly, I am not so sure that I am ready for anything, at all.
I remember back when he and I first met. We were 15-years-old. I had on purple eyeliner and braces while he sported floppy skater boy hair and a goofy smile. We dipped out of my high school varsity football game and found ourselves at a grocery store across the street. We laughed without caution as we ran recklessly through each aisle with tunnel vision. Everything was so light.
Before him, I could not imagine having The One. I couldn’t imagine waking up next to the same person, families colliding, and a future with an “our” before it. Before him, all I knew were my quirks, my darkest secrets, my hopes, and my wildest dreams. I knew all of these things and could not for the life of me imagine meeting someone who would want to enter this world that I have kept so tightly shut.
Since the breakup, I am pretty sure I have watched and read every “How To Get Over A Breakup” video and thinkpiece the Internet has to offer, five times over, until my sleepless mind could finally be put to rest with the lights turned off. Eventually, I realized that the advice I was so desperately seeking was there all along, staring right back at me, once I was ready to see it for myself.
Sometimes, love is not enough.
He was my First Love. In one line, he had me crying over laughter. In one weekend, he had me hiding tears behind my sunglasses as he drove away. He understood me in a way I never thought to understand myself.
It was bottles of red sipped under a New York City skyline. It was hand-holding under Christmas lights. It was my emotional baggage and his fingers running through my hair. It was slow dancing in the middle of the street as he hummed in my ears. It was the blurred lines in our relationship that couldn’t be ignored. For the good, the bad, the ugly, and the everything in-between, our love was clumsy, candid, and unabashedly us.
Perhaps it’s OK that we are no longer those kids running around a grocery store without a care in the world. Maybe love doesn’t have to be right in order to be felt. I can only hope that one day, we can share a steak like we used to and laugh until we cry, as we learn to befriend the parts of ourselves we don’t know how to resolve just yet.
No, it’s not going to be the same, but maybe that’s the point.