Do you ever really expect never to see someone again? It seems like a terribly rare occurrence when you part from someone and viscerally know: I am never going to see that person again. Even a stranger you exchange five words with in a coffee shop while waiting for your lattes. The fleeting nature of your interaction typically doesn’t register at all. (Unless the person’s really hot and you get zapped with a crush and can’t stop thinking about him/her.) 🙂
Obviously, people are taken away unexpectedly: car crashes, heart attacks, and you don’t get advance notice. Grandparents, once they get to a certain age and level of infirmity, you start to expect it, and, especially in cases of lingering illness or long-term decline, when death occurs, it’s as much or more of a relief than anything. But even in these situations, it takes a while before that real gut punch of I am never going to see that person again sneaks up on you. And for some people – people who are not old, parents, siblings, friends – there is no sufficient preparation.
Death is simple, though. It’s final, and inarguable, no matter how it comes about. But what about when life just goes on, and your life has simply diverged from someone else’s and there is nothing either of you needs from the other anymore? Or, much more painfully, when lives diverge and there still is something you need, but the choice is not yours.
Even after a break up, for example, even after it stops hurting and you’re okay, even once you’ve started dating again or are in a new relationship, do you ever really think you will never see your ex? Hell, even after I left Sydney, it never occurred to me that I might never see James again. Until, oh… five years later? But it’s entirely possible, even if I do go back there one day. (As you may have noticed, my plan to be back in Australia within six months didn’t quite work out as planned. Whew.)
It seems strange that people who, at one time or another, can be the centre of your world, the most important things in your life, can basically cease to exist. Become footnotes and anecdotes. I thoroughly believe that the human memory is designed to fade specifically to keep us from going insane. The complex balance that is required for the medical and chemical definition of sanity is too delicate to survive a build-up of that much emotion and experience and memory intact.
And yet, letting go of a relationship, of any kind, is almost never as simple as cutting the string. Even if you know a relationship is never going anywhere. Even if you know someone isn’t good for you. Even if you’re bored or unhappy or dread spending time together. There’s always a tug of one kind or another at some point. Sex is good. Familiarity is comfortable. Someone who already knows all your quirks and moods and stories and shares your memories is valuable. We hate to be wrong. We hate to have put so much effort into something that fails. We hate uncertainty. We hate starting again.
On the other hand, though, it’s so strange when a someone you thought was “gone for good” returns. Sometimes in the same capacity, sometimes in a completely different one. I had that happen. It’s how I got my job. 🙂 It’s occasionally weird to mentally compare the previous 1 + 1 with yourself and that person with the current dynamic. It’s interesting to consider how your attitude towards, esteem of, or recollections about a person have changed. If the person is someone you were in a relationship with, and that person has found The One, it can be entertaining to see what makes up the new flame and consider objectively, “Wow… yeah, we never would have worked…”
I think it’s a good barometer of where you are in your life to consider people from time to time who are no longer in it. Or, hell, to consider the people who are still in it. Is there someone you still think about, wonder about? Is it a grandparent who was a major formative influence on you? Is it a childhood friend and you wonder how he or she turned out and how the person’s doing now? Is it The One That Got Away? Is it a cool person you had a two-minute conversation with in a coffee shop? Colourful memories are good, and everyone should leave with world with enough of them to exhale his/her last breath as a satisfied sigh. Unfinished business, however, is something else all together.
The title quote is courtesy of James Matthew Barrie.