look at the person you are madly in love with. or look at a photo of them. or if you are not madly in love with someone, but are married (with or without children), or in a serious committed relationship, perhaps planning a wedding or talking about children's names (you argue: your partner thinks it should be duncan for the boy, while you prefer chaucer) or you live together, perhaps are pooling your funds together in a joint bank account or even that old cookie jar that is made up of mostly quarters. picture this person, your saturday night date, your bed hog, the person who buys you flowers on your birthday and feeds your cat cheez-whiz when you are not home, picture them not there.
hard to imagine?
picture them moving away, even disappearing. picture your love starting a separate life: picture them living alone, or with someone else. is this person sexier than you? what will their new apartment look like? will there be any photos of you kept? picture them dating, your old beau buying drinks for people at bars, doing things that were never done with you.
do you feel hurt? it's okay to feel hurt. jealous.
picture yourself moving on, though you could never imagine living without them. you'll cry for several months, bore your friends while your moan over their wonderful qualities, bitch about the problems--which is, of course, why you ended it. or maybe you didn't end it. maybe they disappeared.
everyone has problems. yours just led to the separation.
picture yourself fumbling along in life. you are glad you two broke up anyway; what did we really have going for us, you ask yourself, denying yourself memories of days spent in bed making love, sunday morning brunch, permanent friday night date, someone to laugh with, someone to come with you to a horrid wedding or a dreadful cocktail party. now you are alone, flossing your teeth before bed, staring at your pale face in the mirror, and you wonder about the point of it all.
meanwhile, you quit your job, or go back to graduate school, or have a baby, or get into credit card debt. you go to weddings and cry; at these weddings, you think of what could've happened.
your lives are totally different. you've completely moved on, perhaps are even living in a different country. you speak latin and icelandic now. you have two masters' degrees and a phd. you are well-respected, toil over articles about obscure issues, are happy even though you know you are underpaid and overworked. or you are a failure, still waiting tables with your unpublished poems and high dry cleaning bills. you stress over trinkets and furniture to fill your house, fill your heart.
it's ten years now, and you wonder what it was like to be in love. do people even really think like that? you wonder. you are buying cheese in a local store, and you see a couple--that could be you, and that could be them. they are handling different cheeses, walking too close, laughing softly. under the flourescent lights, you see yourself tilting up towards your old lover, letting them kiss you in the middle of the store. you are dreaming of babies, or of a lifetime of travel, or of goals--houses, loans paid off, seeing the taj mahal, a great job, multiple orgasms, seeing your partner get an advanced degree or a promotion or recognition of some sort.
suddenly the couple moves on, and you're left alone. alone, so very alone. you wonder what has happened; a decade of empty dates. you wonder if it was even right in the first place to have broken up; you remember endearing smiles and massages on greek islands; you can't remember why you stopped loving each other. or how. or if it was really love, or why, how, what.
you select your cheese. you want to leave immediately, but know you need food for supper. mechanically, bread, milk, chocolates, spinach, roma tomatoes. at the register, you are standing behind the couple, who are laughing as they place items on the conveyer belt. you think about how your life could have been. you move over to the next register, where there is no line. the cashier smiles at you and engages you in a conversation about the weather. you find yourself talking too much, and the cashier’s cheeks are pink, and the cashier tells you to come again soon. you think, yes, maybe you will.
in the parking lot, you watch the couple struggle with their bags, and you turn in the opposite direction. you know it’s the long way, but you don’t care. you have all the time in the world: to think, to live, to be.