It always comes down to the photographs.
This isn’t working out, we need to talk, I can’t do this anymore and it’s not you, it’s me. You learn that loving someone does not make them love you and they certainly won’t love you in the ways in which you’re looking for it.
You learn that someone can tell you that you deserve better, but they won’t want to be the one to give it to you. That isn’t the hard part.
Having to tell all your friends sooner than you’re ready so they can help you move all your belongings down the two flights of stairs from your apartment is a bummer, but it also isn’t the hard part. It will take four days and five friends to move all your stuff, leaving the 1,200 square foot apartment barren with only his television, clothing, and the armchair you bought for him. All that wasted space will bother you more than it will him, and that still isn’t the hard part.
The hard part is knowing what to do with those photographs. It always comes down to the photographs.
You’re not supposed to cry because it’s over, but smile because it happened, right? Though, you cannot litter your new life with the smiling faces of your old one.
But these moments in time represent some of the greatest heights of yourself that you have experienced – even if someone else happened to experience them with you. Can you just pack them into dusty boxes and forget them, or throw them out, burn them – these lovely, little, two-dimensional proofs of your sunniest days? To just hide them away is a retrograde amnesia, a psychogenic fugal state, to act as if it never happened and you never were. It would be a time-altered blackout, a however-many-years long blurry bender of twilights and celebrations you just can’t quite put your finger on.
Even if you don’t hide them, you still cannot display them. Could you make love to new possibilities in your own bed under a 20 x 40 framed reminder of your old shortcomings? A lover may not appreciate the brilliant nuances and natural lighting of you and your ex at the top of that lighthouse.
In the moment the photographs were taken, they were frozen particles of posterity and unspoken promises, building blocks and emotional mortar of a future, a framework skeleton on which to hang your accomplishments. They were the central nervous system of a life well spent. Now, they’re cold copies of a mental purgatory and irrelevant limbo that led to nowhere, a grand nothingness, a void of time and space and beautiful places. Now, they are obituaries left behind, announcing what once had been to those that still are. Without the relationship, the symbolic bond that the photographs represent, they are just hundreds of snapshots of two dead bodies. Everywhere, are these people who no longer exist – at the gorge, on the parkway, on the mountain, near the canyon, on the river, at the beach, on the swinging bridge, over the bed, on the dresser, down the hallway, up the stairs, by the windows, on top of the piano, upon the shelves and doors and desktops and walls and wallpaper and in wallets.
You learn that no matter how much you love someone, they cannot be inseparably connected to all your experiences, all your accomplishments, to everything that has made you who you have become. Who are you, and you alone, with their smiling face in all your best moments? The hard part isn’t wondering if it’s not working out, if you can do this anymore, if it’s really you, and not me, or if you deserve better or when you will learn to smile because it happened.
The hard part is knowing no matter how much you love someone, no matter how many great heights, unspoken promises, picturesque moments you share, or however many pictures you take – you should always take the last one alone.