Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Recovery, Trauma, Uncategorized

The One Left Behind…

**Linda** (Name changed to protect privacy) said to me on Monday night, “You are always reading everything you can get your hands on. You want to understand what you did and why you did it and take responsibility for what you did, and that’s one of the things I like about you the best. But I think you might be reading too much information. I think you need to take a break and read something light. I think it’s great that you’re looking at your past trauma and abuse and searching for answers. It’s great that you want to know how you can do better. I love that about you – you always want to do better. But I’m going to send you a list of books that might be good for you to read – to take your mind off of the trauma – you are being so hard on yourself.”

I got the list of books in the email from **Linda** but when I was at Barnes and Noble last night with my 20% off coupon and my $50 gift card I received as a birthday gift, I didn’t buy one of the books.

I bought one of the other kind of books – the kind that helps me to understand – because I want to do better.

Even though it’s too late and there’s nothing I can do to change the past.

And even worse (I don’t know why I feel the need to confess this, but I do) – I sat down with a pile of letters he’d written me (two by hand, one typed from long ago), and all the cards I had (now all bound together with a rubber band) that I’d kept in various places in the house.

I started reading them. When I read the handwritten letters, I cried, no, I bawled – because of what it implied that I had done, or more specifically, what I’d said. I want so much to remember everything I said.

I can’t shake this guilt over the things I said that I did not mean, that I should never have said, when I was angry, or scared, or more accurately, in the throws of trauma – real or imagined – memory or current.

And then, there was one – one he left behind. One he did not keep:

I found the last wedding anniversary card from 2017.

I remember, now,  it was the one sitting on the table that he did not put away. And I picked it up, and I don’t remember what happened next.

But somehow, it has ended up in the stack of cards that he gave me, and I think, I must have found it, and thought, “I should save this.”

I’m glad I did.

It is the only one.

The one left behind.

The only one left – at all.

I am glad I have it, but now, I don’t know what to do, except I am glad – glad that I did not throw away mine. Glad that they are all still here. Glad that in one of the moments of deep pain – I did not suddenly throw them away.

Because when they are gone – thrown in a trash bag, and taken away, there is no turning back. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next year. Or in ten years.

If one day the sudden shift happens when we do not want to pretend we don’t remember. When we suddenly want to look back – if they don’t exist anymore, then we can’t.

I don’t want to forget the good things I did, and I don’t want to forget the bad, either.

I don’t know what it is about me, but I seem to feel compelled to understand my part in everything. I feel the need to make amends for anything and everything I have said or done, intentional or unintentional.

I realized, recently, that I had been so traumatized in my past, at so many different points, to different degrees, that somewhere along the way, I developed a fear of letting someone love me – meaning, afraid of letting him love me.

I had no idea.

And now, it’s too late to fix it.

I am having a hard time living with that. Every day feels like I am riding this wave of consequences – the pain is so heavy, it’s like I’m being pushed under the wave and can’t swim up to the top. The current is so strong. (This actually happened to me in real life when I was a young girl living in Los Angeles. I used to body surf and ride the waves and a gigantic wave pushed me under the water. I tried to swim to the top but I couldn’t. I remembered, thankfully, to stop fighting the current and let the wave pass above me and to stay still, letting it take me with it, until it was safe to paddle to the top).

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I was lucky, because people drown under waves like this one, but I held my breath, the wave crushed me, it shook me, it took control of my body, I was at its mercy.

But when it passed, and it was over, I was safe again.

I wanted so much to show him how much I loved him – because I loved him so much – he never realized how much, I’m sure. And now the cards that told him are gone.

I didn’t know how to show him, not in the way he needed me to – I thought I was, but it was not in the right way.

I told him recently that I was never able to move for anyone else.  It is true. My college boyfriend and I broke up after five years because he was moving to Phoenix, Arizona, and I did not want to leave San Diego.  Three years later, my long-distance boyfriend at the time broke up with me because I did not want to move to Las Vegas (we had never lived in the same city, we were set up by a mutual friend). He and I have always remained friends, and I’m grateful that we could eventually be friends – it does not always happen.

But, then, this was different.

In 2006, I made it back to San Diego after living in Santa Barbara for a year – it was not expected, and it was a wonderful experience, but I always knew I wanted to go back home. I’d spent that year healing from the worst breakup, the most traumatic of my life up to that point – but San Diego was home, and I had no intention of letting the heartbreak stop me from going back. I made it back, finally, on September 1, 2006.  My dad brought Toby back home to me that day, too. My dog and I had been living apart for that whole year – it was awful being separated.

I was home, and I promised myself I’d never leave again.

And then, on January 25, 2009, I met him.

One month and 3 days later, suddenly, everything changed – again.

I had a feeling, a strange feeling, almost a premonition, when I read the email he sent me on February 7, 2009, that I was going to marry this man.

I did.

And I did, because, I could not bear to live without him.

I knew I would have to leave San Diego again, even though I had promised myself in 2006 that I never would.

I really thought nothing could ever change that.

But one day, in late summer 2009, I said to him that, “San Diego is just an address. You are my home. I can’t imagine the rest of my life without you.”

I really said that.

And – I meant it.

To this day, even after losing him forever, I still feel that way.

But it was not what happened.  Or to be more accurate, sometimes, it was not what happened.

Sometimes I said I wanted to leave. Sometimes I said I wanted to go home.  Sometimes I even asked him, “When can we move?”

I thought I was ready. I wanted to be ready. I wanted to be with him. I wanted it to work. I wanted. I wanted. I wanted.

But I couldn’t just do it.

I was so homesick. I felt so alone. So disoriented at times.

So locked into the head space of some long ago trauma, that I was listening, but I did not hear him. I thought I did. But then, I read the letters, and I realized, I was not hearing him.

The saddest irony in all that, is that one day, something clicked, and it changed. It shifted.

But, it was just too late.

Now I look around me and I can’t imagine going back to San Diego, or I don’t want to go back, and I think – I’ve changed too much. Being here has changed me. Living in Athens has changed who I am – for the better, oh, only for the better.

I am a creature of two places, two lives, one past, one present, and now I can’t just leap back 10 years and suddenly be the person I was as if I never knew him. As if I never loved him.

As if I could forget him.

I could never forget, and I don’t want to – it made me who I am, a better person who learned from him, from our marriage, from my mistakes – I learned more from my mistakes, than from what I feel that I did right.

I don’t know what to do with this card left behind.  I know it’s mine to keep, if I want to – but it is a reminder of the ones that are gone, the unwanted ones.

Most of all, it is a reminder of the ways I tried to say how I felt, to show how I felt, and somehow, I fell short. I must have.

I always loved him. Every minute. Of every day. Of every year. Even when I was far away, and he thought I did not want to be with him. I did.

Maybe, it’s best that I have this card, the last one, the one left behind, the last anniversary card, accidentally misplaced.

Thank goodness I found it.

I do not want to stop learning. I do not want to stop reading. Understanding. Studying.

Because although I may be the only one who knows how deeply and unconditionally I truly loved him, I know that I did. And always will.

I want him to be happy. Always.

I wish I could find that same self-compassion and forgive myself for not being perfect. For trying, and failing, to always show him and tell him exactly how much he meant to me, that I never wanted to go back, ever, no matter what.

That when I said, “San Diego is just an address. You are my home. I can’t imagine my life without you,” I meant every word. And always did.

I hope that someday, the wave stops crashing above me, that I can drift to shore, and land on my feet, stick my toes in the sand, dig in, and look out at that ocean behind me, without shame, without guilt, without regret. These waves that crash down on me – all three of them – are holding me back.

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I know this is where I am at right now, and if it is where I need to be, then I’m reading the right books, the ones I need to.

The more I read, the more I understand.  I know it seemed, sometimes, like I never knew him, but I did.

Even when I didn’t say the right things, or do the right things at the right time.

I carried him with me, everywhere – he became a part of me, and always will be.

This post is the prelude to one I am not sure how to write. I know I want to tell the story, but how to do it right, I’m not sure yet.

For now, I hope that someday, it won’t always hurt this much. I know it will always hurt.

My friend said to me on Monday, “The more the pain, the more real the love.”

This love – on that scale – was the epitome of the real thing. The most real love I’ve ever known, or ever will.

I can’t imagine ever throwing away these cards…

…I think I’ll keep the one that was left behind.

I always want to learn from this, to honor what I learned, to honor what he taught me, and to honor who I became –

For the better.

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