All That You Can’t Get Back

autumn leaves loss

autumn leaves loss

I’ve lost a lot of people in my life. I’ve had borderline personality disorder as long as I can remember, and one of the symptoms of my illness is an inability to hold on to long term relationships of any kind.  My illness not only makes me moody, it also makes me prone to really snap decisions about people, that are as difficult to take back as they are impulsive. I can consider someone a close friend, and then one day, they’ll do something that bothers me just a hair too much, and they’re immediately and indelibly on the “other” side of my life.

My illness has also encouraged a lot of reckless, impulsive decisions that have led to people moving in and out of my life – moving houses, moving states, breaking up with people, quitting or taking on jobs with only a moment’s thought. I used to take my life apart quite deliberately and put it back together again on a regular basis.

I honestly can’t think of anyone who has always, always, been in my life – even my mother has moved in and out of my frame of reference, mostly due to deliberate efforts on my part. Everyone else has wandered in, stayed a while, then drifted or been pushed away again. Sometimes they come back, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I’m much better off without them around, and sometimes I miss them like an open wound for years at a time. Sometimes I forget I even knew them, and then the loss of them rears up out of nowhere and gives me a good jab before fading out of view again.

But I always kind of assume, somewhere in the back of my mind, that I could find all these people again if I really wanted to. If I REALLY tried, I could reach out and pull them back into my life again. The boy I loved in high school, then hooked up with years later with the beautiful Celtic wheel tattoo on his back? The girl I accidentally fell in love with, then didn’t have the courage to tell? The friend I used to spend days at a time with, who I think might have gone to Prauge, but I don’t really know? I like to tell myself I could find them all, if I really wanted to. It makes the loss of them seem less somehow. Like it’s only temporary, even though I know, rationally, it’s really not.

Last year I lost someone that I definitely cannot get back, for the first time. An ex of mine died very suddenly, and while I went to the funeral, and had a good cry, and thought I was over it, I am starting to suspect that I’m really not. I’ve been down for a couple of days over totally unrelated things (yay mood swings) and suddenly yesterday out of nowhere I remembered part of an email he’d sent me, the last time we’d really spoken with any kind of emotional honesty.

“I remember vividly, right now, the feel of your head under my chin and your hair against my neck, and the small trembling of your body.
Things like these I never forget and never regret, no matter what else happens.”

I haven’t thought about him in months, but all of a sudden this phrase lodged itself in my head, and I wanted to weep for the loss of him all over again.

This ex and I broke up on bad terms, and while we tried to be friends, it never quite worked out. We weren’t together for very long, but it was an enormously intense relationship emotionally. We were both deeply passionate people, and we fell delightedly into each others minds, exploring and enjoying with complete abandon. He was undeniably strange, but I found his strangeness comforting at times – there was something wonderful about meeting someone who’s brain was even more peculiar than mine, and his total acceptance of me and all my crazy got me through some very dark times.

But it got complicated, out of balance, twisted up until we ended up breaking up. After officially ending our relationship, we danced back and forth for a little while, and ended up enormously distant, if polite. He lived just down the road from me, so even though we didn’t have any friends in common anymore I would see him around every now and then. I’d said some very cruel things to him when we were breaking up, and he’d hurt me a lot too, so I never had the courage or motivation to really go back and mend things properly. After a year or two of avoiding each other entirely, I remember cornering him at a New Year’s Party and saying something that was as close to an apology as I could muster, and we’d said vague things about wanted to catch up more often, but neither of us ever actually did anything about it. I had gotten our relationship to “okay”, and then left it at that. I assumed, like everyone else I’ve lost from my life, I could reach out when I was ready and fix things properly. There was no hurry. He wasn’t going anywhere, and he didn’t hate me anymore, so one day, later, I would be able to fix it.

And then he died.

I spent a lot of time beating myself up for not fixing things between us, for not saying all the things I’d meant to say. Things like, “Gosh, I really am sorry I was so awful to you” and “I wish I’d never made you think our relationship meant nothing, because it really meant quite a bit to me.” Things like, “I’m sorry I didn’t listen when you said I’d regret letting our friendship fall apart, because you were right, and I really do.”

The things I’d never said weighed so heavily on me I couldn’t stop crying for a couple of days after the funeral. I’d be hit by a wave of regret, and cry, then feel guilty that I was just crying because I felt bad, not because he was gone, and cry some more. I wished I’d told him he had been right about how much I regretted letting him fade from my life. And that I’d known he was right for years before he even died, I just never wanted to admit it out loud.

I always thought there would be time. I’d do it another day. Some other time. Then I cried because I knew, objectively and rationally, I probably never would have told him any of the things I was regretting keeping to myself. I cried because I knew it was only his death, the fact the choice had been taken away from me, that had convinced me I would have done things differently.

Realistically, objectively, had he not died I would have just kept on exactly as I had been. I would have said hi when I saw him at the shops, or at a party, and then I would have hastily shoved any stirring feelings right back down into the box of regrets that I don’t like touching. But as soon as he died, I found myself wishing like crazy there had been more time, making up wild stories about what I would have done in my head, telling myself it wasn’t my fault because I would have said the things I should have said, I just ran out of time. I hated myself for pretending I would have done anything useful with more time.

In the midst of my grief, I started a painting intended as a portrait of sorts, of how this boy had looked to me. It was one of the rare paintings that came to my imagination fully formed, and I worked furiously on it for a couple of days. For a couple of days, working on it was the only thing that would stop me crying. But then I had to go back to work, and I had to go back to my life, and I put it away about the same time I put away my tears. I always meant to come back to it. I’d see it sitting in a corner, half completed, and hastily shove away any feelings that got stirred up. I would finish it later, I told myself, when I could focus on it properly. I’d get back to eventually, I told myself, I’d fix it later.

That was March last year, and the painting remains unfinished. I haven’t touched it, even once, since three days after his funeral.

I haven’t had time, I tell myself. I know I’ll finish it one day. It just has to be the right time. I have some leave coming up from work, and I’m hoping to be able to get some serious painting time in. I have a couple of projects I’m in the middle of, so I’m trying to plan out what I’ll need to finish them and how long it will take me to do so.

My eyes keep drifting over that unfinished portrait sitting behind my door, and then guiltily skittering away again. I see it and I remember how much it meant to me at the time, and then just how long it’s sat untouched – not because it hurts too much, or because I can’t bear to look at it – but because I just went on with my life.

I figure after sitting there for over a year it’s time to bite the bullet and toss it, or finish it. It’s time to give up all I can’t get back.

Have you ever lost someone? Do you wish you’d said more, done more? 

Image Credit

  • Tamsin Howse

    This really made me think.

  • Bek

    Great post Cassie! I love your writing, and the way you are so honest in your descriptions and stories. A good post to ponder over. :-)