A cool breeze wafts across the porch. It carries with it the scent of the purple flowered bush next to the steps, sweet and tangy. It has flowered every spring, but only for about six weeks, when the flowers die and do not reappear until the following year. I wish I knew the name of it. I wish the flowers bloomed longer.
I wish for a lot of things.
It is bright today. Hot. But under the shade of my neighbor’s towering birch, it is cool enough on the porch. Cool enough to write, anyway. And think. Though only one thing dominates my mind these days. It follows me everywhere I go, lingers like a foul odor, does not allow much room for anything else. It is all I can do to go to work, and try, at least, for a little while, to forget that my life has changed forever.
I glance over at the window where my cat has curled up on one of the many boxes that now fill my house. They line the walls and lay scattered across the living room floor. Books and kitchen things. Old files and memorabilia and photographs. Tools and Christmas decorations and things from my childhood. All packed away. The furniture is still there, but the shelves are empty.
The house is empty.
I am empty.
She left three months ago, and I still do not understand. I wonder if I’ll ever understand.
Last year was hard. I have wrestled with depression my entire life, but last year it struck in a way I had never experienced. I lost my job. I broke into hives. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Some days it was all I could to get out of bed.
It was hard on her, too. It is painful to live with someone with mental health issues, and last year must have been a nightmare for her. It is one thing for me to talk about the emptiness and loneliness inherent with depression, but altogether something else for our loved ones who are powerless to help. I had hoped that she would stay, counted on this year being better, but it was all too much, I think.
She deserves to be happy.
I would have fought for this relationship, done whatever it took to make it right, but sometimes we reach the end of our rope and must protect ourselves. We’re no good to the rest of the world if we’re miserable, and everyone deserves the right to be happy, no matter how much it hurts. No matter how much I hurt.
Love is not about me.
I take a deep breath and stare out across the street. Watch the leaves on the trees shift and sway in the wind. Love is not about me. I have said that a thousand times these past three months. I believe it, but it only helps a little. It certainly sounds right. Something you say to convince people around you that you’re being wise and kind and patient, when inside your emotions are a boiling cauldron of frustration and sadness and anger. When your emotions are desperately trying to escape so they can scream and yell and lash out, and all you have is this thin barrier, largely constructed of mantras and clichés and whispered hope, to reign them in.
Sometimes they escape. Sometimes I do not think kind things. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed I can hardly move.
She deserves to be happy.
I have always believed this. That hasn’t changed.
Pain of this magnitude is a great teacher, if we allow it. It gives us a mirror into our lives that we rarely see. And for a while, we can see ourselves from the perspective of someone else. I have stared into this mirror for three months, and it has taught me a great deal. It has also given me more wishes.
I wish I’d known she was so unhappy. I wish I’d been a better husband. I wish I’d been enough.
I sigh and put down my laptop. It is time to pack again.
Back inside, I pack two more boxes. The wedding photos are the hardest, but I see her everywhere. I remember everything, every story behind every book and nicnac and kitchen appliance. And every time I put them in a box, part of me disappears with them.
Tears slide down my cheeks. It feels like I have been crying for a long time. I know that one day the tears will stop, and that spring will come again and I will live without pain. I believe that, I just can’t feel it. Not yet. Perhaps not for a while.
Some days I think about our life together. Think about what I could have done differently. At night, I sometimes dream that we’re together, that I’ve made better choices and she is happy. Those mornings are difficult.
I do not believe everything is my fault, of course. I am not that arrogant. But I cannot control anything but who I am and the choices I made, and to focus on anything else is fool’s gold. The intent of pain’s mirror is not to cast blame or throw stones, but to check my thoughts and heart and actions.
Where did I go wrong? What could I have done better? What kind of person do I want to be going forward? Again, these are the kind of questions that sound like I have things all together, but don’t be fooled. No one “has it all together” when they lose the love of their life.
As a Christian, I believe in God. I also believe in a broken world, which is as much a reflection of my faith as it is my understanding of humanity. We are not perfect. We make choices that hurt people. And we do it every day.
I do it every day.
And somewhere along the way, I made too many of these choices. Perhaps she made too many of these choices. And so we broke.
That doesn’t make me a bad person. And it doesn’t make her a bad person. It makes us both human.
I put down the third box and head back onto the porch. I scrub the tears from my face. I am greeted by the fresh scent of my little shrub. I wish she were here. I wish I could tell her how much I loved her and hoped for her happiness. I wish that my heart did not feel so empty.
I wish for a lot of things.