the things that made us
They lay conjured on the ground- blue and yellow envelopes, restaurant receipts with ink lightening into paper, and dusty polaroids. They lie patiently, like they were made for a vision, a ballad. My bedroom floor became a museum for the decade we made, and the things that made us.
When you google "how to heal a heartbreak", it tells you to detach from all reminders of the person once loved: clothes, photographs, letters, everything. Erase and delete, and no matter what, do not dwell. I put everything in a box, but I did dwell. The psychological intent was the exact opposite of detachment. All of the things- his wrist bands and jerseys- insisted that something had been. Had been, as a verb tense, is past-perfect-progressive, meaning what has once been can’t just disappear.
But one night in August, I needed no more conviction that our decade long relationship could not work any longer. I wrote a clean, rational email to say goodbye. Our break up was backed by the consensus of our collective friends and families. Three months later, I decided to uncover all the things that stood for his presence.
It has stayed an empty photo frame for the longest time now. The velvet at the back has caught a decade’s worth of dust, minus the times I dusted it away, when I paid attention. Paying attention- not my strongest suit, not my generation’s; but indeed the most valuable gift one can give. It says ‘Best Friends Forever’ for he was, indeed, my best friend.
I spent the next few weeks changing a whole lot of passwords and wallpapers. I started deleting emails and identifying heaps of emotional issues that needed to be gotten to the bottom of. I convinced myself the box theory made complete logical sense- it meant surrender and intransigence at once. I learnt important things, that upon learning, I would’ve shared with him like I did literature notes in 11th grade or lessons learnt about a project fuck-up in hindsight. But do not dwell- so I dwelled in silence.
Then there were less meaningful things- fancy earphones and Lush cosmetics, a blue scarf … gifts devoid of sentimentality, but commanded by occasion of having met. The ring is from a certain night last year, when we ran out of all our money, and they told us the metal would not be covered by the warranty, they said we wouldn't last too long with impulsive decisions like these. Still, I wore it every single day, until I didn’t.
Most relationships around me that started in high school do not exist anymore. Unfettered love almost always finds fetters in age, priorities or person-hood. I had the privilege of living an exception, until it did not seem like a privilege anymore. Getting engaged to the boy I sat next to in high school felt like an ode to the beauty in continuity. I let our relationship accumulate the years without factoring in the parts of us that were changing. This meant that the love showed up in all evolving stages, but it didn’t show up all the time. We stayed long enough to hold our past without acknowledging the loopholes in how we justified the staying.
A half written poem from his 14 year old self- half written only because completing a poem needs the same courage it takes to reveal it. Yellow sticky notes of To-Do lists signifying things that didn’t get done that day; mixed herbs and oregano to top off the basa in white wine sauce made (for two) on a particularly rainy day; poignant notes next to stanzas in poetry. There is glory in cogency, but no madness.
A whole bunch of photographs lie like pockets of potential in the corner of my wardrobe- the potential of a hypothetical alternative where we would have worked out, where we chose to stay and endure. Photographs are powerful engines of remanence that way. They demand happiness, and then render themselves proof of it. A particular polaroid is titled ‘Prom night, 20/09/2017’- I believed in captions rendering context. He insisted they stripped them of it.
There is an obscure potency in breaking up. Suddenly, you are no longer going through your day as usual, because your heart is breaking. Your disassociation with your routine is like lovers dancing through city streets. Every errand, every alarm clock, every To-do is like a medicine stuffed into a heartbreak. It felt like the love I let go nestled and settled all around me.
A video of me running towards him at the Seattle Airport. Picture this- a boy bred in boxer shorts and ripped denims for over two decades- suited up and accompanied by a local singer playing a very specific song. I contemplate the video’s existence, and how never deleting it will mean that even years from now, I will still be running towards him. The background music will never stop playing.
After some time, these things are no longer relics from the past, they are souvenirs of a future never had, and yet, not abandoned. You can use words to switch the narrative of a memory or a situation. But things? What do you do with things? They just sit there. Like his half used Kenko Americano coffee. What does it stand for? Differentiated tastes in coffee, sure. It means he liked his coffee black and familiar, and right after waking. Which means there were mornings, normal and familiar, when I would wake up in the same house as him. The empty coffee tin sits there like a eulogy waiting to be spoken.
Indeed, every time I conjure a memory from our time together, I weave words all over it. I end up reconstructing the past, justifying it. But these things, they don’t just add method to my artifact-ion, they grant it integrity. I can distort a memory; but my microwave oven and toaster will always sit there like exhibits of functional things for presents.
"See you for lunch? Text me 10 minutes before you reach my office. On the map, its 1918- 8th Avenue." A short text about a planned lunch- something you never expect to immortalise and yet, there it was. A single text mattered enough to make me save the restaurant bill until its ink has almost dissipated off of the paper- that dissipation was museum in itself. More restaurant bills from date nights, one of which had me convinced I wanted him for the rest of my life, and I wanted the rest of my life to begin now.
The artefacts in the box have a will of their own. They serve no adequate purpose, except to resound a recurring heartbreak. Blunt pencils for rough notes on things I don’t understand. It was the triteness of the notes that moved me. They were incomprehensible, and would remain so as long as they were around me.
These attachments may very well make me an emotional hoarder, for I cannot throw away symbolism. I believe that you have to grieve the death of the relationship, you have to grieve what it did not become. We put so much effort into starting a relationship, and so little effort into taking care of how we break it.
And I have always believed that relationships break. No matter how much you want to be betrayed by the eventuality, it finds you. But I also believe that a broken relationship is worth more than its breaking. The persistence of the permutations of our togetherness won't just disappear because we couldn’t make room for our love. The relationship that ends, the person that leaves and the remnants that are left behind are all a part of you. We were a sum of our love and our fights and our promises.
Break ups are a ceremony in themselves, just like the relationship. They may not merit the same celebration but they are just as present. We walk down a road hand in hand, and then we unclasp our hands and walk away. I don’t want to brush away the ending. Endings justify the stories.
For ten years of my life, between my first breakup and my last one, I have been committed to a belief in sadness as a source of refuge. Sadness by virtue of heartbreak has turned me into a distilled, purer version of myself. I could almost thank him for it.
My self acclaimed solitude only feels lonely when I think of the spectrum of possibilities we could have experienced. The “will you spend the rest of your life with me's” without knowing a thing about what the rest of our life looked like. I know that in writing this, I seem like a woman committed to obtuse nostalgia. I delete no photographs, or screenshots from seemingly inconsequential conversations. I keep the clothes left behind in a frantic episode of packing, and I keep spices for a dish that will never be made again. Before I let go of love, I may very well immortalise it.
A customized Manchester United hoodie bearing his name and my food stains. A tattoo on my finger matching inscriptions on his arm, halted into permanence despite the initial fading. Lying on the floor, these things are exhibitions of a big broken love. I know that speaking too much about a past love is considered maniacal, but that is because we are taught to want a permanent love rather than a sustainable one. We grant the happy times its cherishes, but do not grant the bad times its limitations. And I know that ending things means packing your bags one fine day, and leaving with or without saying goodbye. But I believe in the aftermath, I believe in summoning a lost love, and the therapy in wearing a t-shirt that smells of a love affair.
I do not know if we were strained by distance or distanced by the strain of our differing fundamentals. I do not know if I miss the relationship anymore than I miss the people we were in it. I do not know why listening to sad songs while reading all his letters feels pure and austere.
All I know is, that there is a room in a continent oceans away,
and in it, there is a boy hunched over a laptop screen with feet plodded firmly on the floor,
and living a separate life with him- is a box of my things,
the other half of the things
that made us.