I hadn’t seen the picture in a long time. When I saw it, there was a long moment when it felt like a picture of people I didn’t know.
But that was me. That was her. How long ago? Nine years? Maybe 11? I don’t remember. It might have been something from another life. Or something in a vision. Maybe a dream.
We were in Chicago — visiting her family — but my memory of it was blurry. Who exactly was she? Who had I been? I was left digging through my memories and trying to make sense of it.
I see a picture of two smiling and happy people, but what became of them? I haven’t talked with her for many years. She’s happily married to someone else now, but I know nothing of her life. How do two people go from smiling and happy in a picture to strangers who don’t even know each other?
I don’t know.
She was smart. She was funny. She was talented. And the picture reminds me just how beautiful she is.
I remember specific facts about her and about our relationship, but the emotional truth is more blurry. We were an unlikely pair to end up together, but somehow we did.
It was mostly because we wanted the same things in life. We both wanted a family. I was completely different from the men she had dated before. At first, she wasn’t sure she wanted someone like me, but she soon decided to take a big chance by moving here to pursue a future with me.
But how did I feel about her?
Even now, I can’t answer that question. There are some women who I’ve immediately and deeply loved. It was never that way with her. But I was soon comfortable enough with her that I missed her when we weren’t together. That’s the way I remember it, anyway.
Did I ever love her? That’s a tough question to answer. I cared about her. I could see a future with her. I think we looked right together. But my heart never needed her the way I’ve needed the few other women I’ve loved. At least, that’s the way it seems now. I just don’t know whether to trust my faded watercolor memories about that.
The last time I saw her, we had met for lunch. There was nothing unusual about the day. But I did something to make her angry. I don’t remember what it was. Honestly, I think she had just had enough of me refusing to make up my mind about what to do about her.
She suddenly stood up — calmly, not in anger — and said she was leaving. She said she needed some time alone.
We never spoke again. I didn’t take that well. I suspect we have very different interpretations of what happened. I’ll probably never know. And I don’t guess it matters.
But as I look at the photo of us together in Chicago at dinner with her family, I wonder how we got from this picture of smiling happiness to the ugly ending which left us strangers.
Since she hasn’t been in my life for so long, it would be easy for me to write a history in which she was a terrible person. (Don’t most people do that?) But I can’t tell you she was terrible. I can tell you things I think she mishandled badly. And I can tell you things I mishandled badly.
But no matter what I think or feel about that past, she was a good person with good intentions. I’m glad she’s happy today.
We all write our own narrative about the past. She would have her narrative. I have mine. But mostly, she seems like a character from a movie — a beautiful actress who was once sent to play the role of my fiancé.
The script got blurry after that. It wasn’t a happy ending. The picture faded in my memory. The feelings got blurry and confused. And then forgotten.
Just like the two main characters in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” we’re always dealing with things which dim our memories and blur what we’ve felt. It’s a miracle that we’re able to hold onto anything from the past with confidence.
And on that note, I’m left thinking about something entirely unrelated to this faded watercolor memory. It occurs to me that when two people do remain powerfully attached — in spite of all reason and normal life circumstances — it’s something they ought to pay attention to. Because a relationship in which genuine love and attachment lasts is rare.
Beauty fades. Memories get blurry. But real love survives. Real love is hard to leave behind.