The photos of my ex-husband are not on my walls. Nor are they in albums on my shelves or in files on my computer. The pictures I have of him and the life we shared are contained safely within a sealed box that resides in my mother's attic halfway across the country. I do not want to gaze upon them or interact with them in any way but nor do I want to dispose of them completely.
My ex's place in my mind is similar to that of his pictures. He is there, but he is tucked securely away. He is not at the forefront of my thoughts. I do not want to gaze upon him or interact with him in any way but nor do I want to attempt to erase him completely.
It does not seem right somehow to permanently discard those pictures; they represent sixteen years of my life. To destroy them would be to excise my entire twenties, my first love, my dogs and my former home. Those pictures and their associated memories are a part of me. Just a part I keep at a distance.
Likewise, it does not seem right to attempt to erase all memories of my ex and of our life together. Pretending it never happened does not mean it never did. He populates many of my memories because he was the one who was there. He comes to mind when I think of how much my life has changed (for the better, I might add) in the past few years because he was the one who initiated those changes.
In order to "be over him," do I need to forget the teenage courtship, the early years as we struck out on our own and the countless shared experiences? Do I need to wipe the slate clean, as though I blinked out of existence at the age of sixteen only to reappear once he disappeared sixteen years later? Should I feign that I never loved him? Do I need to forget the pain and anger that I felt upon the discovery of his betrayals?
I am not going to pretend that he never existed nor will I deny that the marriage and its demise had an impact on me. To do so would be a sham, a lie for the comfort of others. Yes, I was married. Yes, I loved. Yes, I was betrayed. Yes, I was hurt.
I've never been one to believe in love at first sight. But I now believe in out of love at first sight. I lost all traces of love for my ex-husband in the instant I read the text that announced the end of the marriage. I immediately realized that I did not know this man who I had shared half my life with. I could not love a stranger, especially one who had betrayed our marriage. Even though I did not love him anymore, I was not yet over him.
I was not over him for those first eight months when I searched the internet for news about him.
I was not over him when accidentally encountering a picture of him on my computer could bring me to tears.
I was not over him when I could not tell the story without that familiar sinking in my stomach.
I was not over him when I would drive out of my way to avoid our old neighborhood.
I was not over him when I would spend hours punching the heavy bag, picturing his face on its surface.
But those days are long past. Now, I have gone many years without looking for him. His image does not faze me and the story has become dull. I can drive by our old home, only noting the changes to the neighborhood out of curiosity. The anger, which was so prevalent, has been replaced with a sense of compassion and regret that the end unfolded so tragically.
Getting over someone is a process of repeated exposure to the triggers and the desensitization of their influence. As time passed and I faced each trigger again and again, they lost their power and their hold. The emotions have faded. But the memories remain.
I do not love him but I remember loving him. I do not hate him but I remember hating him. I do not know him but I remember knowing him. I do not miss him but I remember when I felt as though I could not live without him. I do not feel the piercing pain of the abandonment but I remember its binds.
I let go of the feelings but not the memories. I have let go of him but not of his impact. We are all who we are today because of the people and experiences that have influenced us along the way. None of us enter any relationship untainted by their history, whether childhood or romantic. It is unreasonable for anyone to have the expectation that their partner is a tabula rasa with no remembrance of relationships past. We all have baggage. It's how you carry it that matters. I choose to hold onto memories of affection rather than carry anger and bitterness.
My memory of my past does not lessen my ability to love in my present. Much like a mother remembers the birth of her firstborn during her second labor, I remember my first marriage as I embark upon my second. Just like a mother, the memories of the first do not mean that I love the second any less. As time continues on and my new relationship covers more years, fresh memories are layered over the old like sweaters on a chilly day. The new experiences dull the earlier ones and the current feelings supplant the remembrance of the tattered emotions from before. My ex is there but he is distant, a memory behind the curtains, fading further into the backdrop with each passing year.
I do not peruse any pictures or mementos of my former life. I do not focus on the past yet I do not hide from it either. I do not pine for lost love or fixate on its demise. I live in the present with all of its amazing gifts.
But I do look back.
I look back to remember how far I've come. I look back to remember why I want to keep moving forward. And, I look back to remember to be thankful for where I am.
Which is exactly where I want to be.