Cade sat immobile at the computer. On the floor next to him was Junebug, his temperamental cocker spaniel, lazily looking up at him. For a couple of minutes, he stared at the picture he found of her, the woman he once loved. He wasn’t sure if it was serendipity or cursed look to see her face looking back at him. He’d inadvertently scrolled across the internet, looking for an inspiration for a story. He held his breath for quite a while, looking until he realized he wasn’t inhaling and that his stomach had tightened into a ball. A story indeed unfolded in his head, but it was one culled from his own hidden biography. The pages of that book of memory were salt-filled from desiccated tears.
Her hair was different, unkempt, and carefree. He hadn’t seen her for three years, seven months, and ten days, not that he was counting the intervening eternity since they posed for a picture. Before he left her that day, she asked for a picture. Cade excitedly agreed. They stood in front of the house, leaning against the swing, as Cade fumbled with the phone. Both of them were smiling broadly in that photo, their faces flushed with emotion and happiness. If someone had said, “Hold her tight, this is the last time you’ll ever see her again,” he would have either laughed or burst into tears. He might have also never left her, no matter what the cost.
Soon after, for reasons that were both explained and inscrutable, she jettisoned him from her life. The hole was a living void, one which he carried with him into unexpected places. It felt like an unseen and irritating tag on his jeans; he often thought little of it despite feeling the void just below his attention. Her absence brought such pain that he had to will himself to turn his mind elsewhere. So many things in her brought out the best of him, even as it devolved him into slivers of an individual. Knowing her taught him how addicts could chase the first high. To Cade, he compared it to eating a handful of the most delicious walnuts ever grown, only to find each one thereafter to be bitter and nutless. He would still chew a bathtub full of them, in hopes of finding that nugget of timelessness again.
Even after, as much as he realized how brazenly he’d acted, he wished her well. It’s hard to hate someone who opened a new portal inside of you, whether the portal was love or of an infatuation that defied parameters. The agony of knowing that someone chose another path or person instead of you is one of the most inconsolable bittersweet emotions in life. Because love is intensely personal, it’s impossible to express to another that you are truly at their mercy and capable of redefining whatever definition of love holds true. They’ve rejected the most authentic love they could have ever known; because of rejection, they’d never know. They’d careen off, in search of a more suitable you.
Cade powered off his computer and sat in darkness for a minute. His heart slowed and her presence slowly evaporated from him. He got up to make a cup of coffee. Life would go on. The sparkler of her remembered presence would continue, too. It was a part of him now and forever, wherever she might be. He thought of “The Prince of Tides,” and smiled. He didn’t cross a bridge as he whispered it; his feet carried him across the house to a cup of coffee. He imagined he could hear the river somewhere nearby, though, and the marshy smell of the water. He imagined the luxury of living two disparate lives. Junebug nuzzled his leg as he walked.
Out there in the world, she lived her life. And Cade was happy for her.