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My knees hurt. I’d only been kneeling on the floor for a few minutes, so I didn’t understand why my knees hurt. I looked at the clock, blinking my eyes hard; they stung, salt crusting the corners. I was shocked to see that what I thought were minutes was actually more than an hour. The terrible and irrevocable irony registered: He’d taken everything I thought I knew. About us. About me. About him. And now he’d taken my ability to judge time, and made our time together irrelevant.
The man I had been seeing for upward of a year, with whom I had imagined a future, came to tell me in person – like anyone who knows they are about to break someone’s heart should – that he cannot be with me. And then he uttered the most fatal four words that can cripple any person, romantic or otherwise: “You’re not the one.”
The heart wants what the heart wants. It’s a cliché we often use to justify our vices, cling to the familiar and bury our logic. But at its core thrives something to which we can all lay claim: desire. We all want things. It often wants impossible things: bravery in the face of adversity; to be able to go back in time and unbreak your ankle when you pitched into a pothole; to have the self control to not finish the tub of chocolate-chip cookie-dough ice cream, even though you can almost just see the cardboard bottom. Even though you’re a little bit lactose intolerant.
But clearest of all is this: The heart wants reciprocation. It wants to be loved. This is most often apparent not when we are loved, but when we are, quite suddenly, left.
For one long weekend I lived like I was lost: constantly asking my family what time it was, where we were going, what we were doing; needing to have questions repeated; falling asleep in odd places during the day, combined with insomnia at night. My confusion, my despair and, worst of all, my guilt – for how could I have not possibly seen this coming? – made me feverish with shame, burning me alive like a virus.
My father, a man who is not openly affectionate, hugged me every morning and asked me how I slept, knowing that I hadn’t. An accomplished surgeon, he diagnosed my grief before anyone else, saying only once the exact words I needed to hear. Ironically, my boyfriend had said them, too, just before he said those other words. But I hadn’t believed them until I heard my father, the most practical, hopeless romantic I know, say them aloud: “This isn’t your fault.”
My mother, a pragmatist in the art of feelings, forced upon me exactly what I didn’t want: to trash all evidence of him. She dragged me back into my apartment to do it – a feat that I now thank her for profusely. Because when I came home after the weekend, dreading the pictures, the mementos, the knick-knacks and the nostalgia, I realized they had been tossed. I sighed a good long sigh. Equal parts relief, pain and guilt.
For two weeks after that, I lived like I had fled the fever, only to battle the cold: getting out of bed, eating, drinking, sleeping felt foreign but necessary; I plunged into my work, staying late night after night trying to ignore what felt like a weighted shadow living beneath my breastbone. I talked to girlfriends over glasses of wine, nodded politely, genuinely appreciated the sympathy, but knew that it would not help me forget: “You’re not the one.”
The even more terrifying question lurking ominously beneath the surface of my grief was: What if I will never be somebody’s “one?”
Needless to say, I also drank a lot. And then, about 2½ weeks later, something happened.
Having lunch with a friend, he brought up the topic of closure. He wanted to know if I wanted – needed – closure in order to move on; to live life without regrets, as he put it. He implied that I would never find peace until I found answers to questions such as, “Why did you leave me?” and “What did I do wrong?”
I perked up, suddenly incensed, angry without knowing why. My answer shot out so fast it surprised us both: “No, I don’t need closure! I’m not the one. That’s all there is.”
I am a hopeless romantic. I have always believed in love. And now I know that I always will. I had been terrified about the possibility of being unloved, or even worse, being unlovable. But I know now that hearing “You’re not the one,” simply means “You’re not the one for me.”
My old boyfriend had tried to tell me that – he just sucker-punched my heart too hard for me to hear. Love isn’t always to be found everywhere, but hope is. And hope was what I regained in dismissing the need for closure. I was reminded of it again and again over the next few weeks. In praise from my colleagues; in my new forays into cooking; even in a slightly awkward but honestly adorable first-date proposal that came via e-mail. Hope is what I never lost, and what ultimately gave me back to myself.
Like a shadow that shrinks from the sunlight, my apprehension faded day by day, and, finally, disappeared altogether. I will always be someone, even if I don’t ever happen to be somebody’s.
Later, that first-date became a proposal of marriage; underneath a sweeping willow tree, on the bank of the Credit River, with the October sun making diamonds all around us. And there were no shadows of any kind.
Elena Saplys Krakowski lives in Mississauga.