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This week, First Person looks at the ups and downs of love.
Miles Davis has this one song called Blue in Green. My dad used to play it for me when I was a little girl. The song starts with soft piano, luring you into a lullaby. Within seconds, the trumpet enters, piercing the soft with the strong. That part always made me think about the way water crashes into nature. The way vast green islands sit still atop deceivingly calm blue seas. Then the tides change, the shore erupts and life goes on – all part of a chaotic balance that somehow keeps everything in place.
When I moved to Newfoundland, I couldn’t stop thinking about that song. It was still on my mind when I left a few months later, but by then, it sounded completely different.
When I got in the airport taxi, I gazed out the back window. Andre stood at the end of his driveway motionless, like a tall exquisite statue, seemingly paralyzed by the same pain that had begun to wash over me. As the car drove on he grew smaller and smaller, his hands waving in the wind, and in a flash, he was gone. And my heart, for the first time in my life, was broken.
Blame it on my lifelong affinity for the blues, but I feel like I was born ready to be torn apart. Sometimes I think I fell in love just so I could experience the break up – the beautiful wretched pain of the end. I wanted to understand the solemn cries that soared from the trumpet. I wanted the blue in the green.
I met Andre when I was 19. I had just moved to Ottawa and we worked together at a local coffee shop. Somewhere between date loaves and double espressos, I learned he was also from a small town in southern Ontario. There were many nervous kids like us here: bred in suburbia and ventured into the "big city” capital of Canada.
It didn’t take long before our awkward workplace flirtation morphed into more. I remember our first date better than I remember most mornings: Italian restaurant, red wine (which we both spilled on our shirts), fettuccine Alfredo – a treat for the penniless college student.
I fell so deeply in love with him that I sort of forgot where I was or what I wanted. Herein lies the curse of the first love. You’ve heard stories, warnings and wives’ tales about the all-consuming rapture of it, but despite all your discretion, you’re bound to get lost in a first love. I think you’re meant to. All you can do is leap boldly into the abyss with a gaping heart. No qualms, preconceptions or directions: a forager in the woods without a map.
When the fall came, Andre decided to leave Ottawa for another school. I clutched hard, refusing to give up, positive we could make long distance work. For three years, he moved in and out of my life, visiting once a month, basking in temporary bouts of pleasure but then returning to another world – one I wasn’t really part of.
I wonder now if it was this romantic touch-and-go that kept us alive for so long. Maybe this is the element that keeps all long-distance relationships afloat: the idea that you’re committed, but still free. Devoted just enough to prolong the passion you’re afraid to watch fade. And in an age of constant communication, the fire takes even longer to burn out. Late-night Skype calls and heart emojis became our kindling.
When Andre told me he wanted to move to St. John’s, N.L., for another degree, I tried to imagine a world where I didn’t follow him; a world where I stayed to pursue my own dreams, thrash through the haze and find myself again. But, by then, I couldn’t see a thing.
“I’m coming with you,” I said.
Two months in, I had an affair.
Say what you will about infidelity, but ultimately I think it’s just a tool we use to cut through the tattered fabric. When tugging at it won’t work, sometimes you just need to use a knife.
The time I lived in Newfoundland now feels like a self-imposed prison sentence. I watched the waves and stewed in self-deprecation, waiting for a way to get out.
The wind blew hard the day I finally left. We stood in silence under an overcast sky, listening to the waves crash against the stones. I kissed his pale cheeks, swept the dark salty hair from his eyes and told him I would always love him. “I will love you until I’m old and grey,” he said back.
I never saw him again.
Once in a while, you’ll hear the rare tale where first love became the last, and I tip my hat to these lucky warriors. But I’ve come to believe that the very nature of first loves is that they have to die: the shell you must shed to become the real you.
I’ve made attempts to reconnect with my ex. See how he is now, who he is now. But to no avail. Maybe that’s a good thing, though. That would be like venturing into a cave, exploring every crevice and then just standing outside, watching as other people go in. All you get now is a snapshot – an empty conversation about weather or whereabouts. And nobody wants that. Nothing makes you feel more alone than having vapid small talk with the person you used to spill your heart to.
I find myself listening to Miles Davis now more than ever. I recently looked up the meaning of Blue in Green. One theory said it’s that moment when you’re suddenly struck by melancholy and nostalgia in a time when you should feel happy – like you’re already mourning your glee before it’s gone.
And that’s just what we were: a long field of green, pierced by the inevitable blue.
Holly Clark lives in Ottawa.