There’s an odd sort of calm that comes over you when you know exactly what you want. It can be a blessing or a curse, because there may be no assurance you can obtain it, but still there is some kind of peace in the knowing. That’s how I felt when I realized I still wanted to be with the The One That Got Away. It was as if someone had finally turned on the lights in the darkness of my mind and now everything was clear. He was the only person I had ever truly loved and been loved by in return. And I still felt it.
I was hesitant to say anything at first. The idea that I could tell him and have him reject me scared me to death. But at the same time the thought of never telling him was a million times worse. So one night I sat down and wrote him an email. I know, you would think it would at least warrant a phone call, but I was a coward and so I typed out my heart and soul and waited.
When The One That Got Away replies he tells me he’s no longer in love with me, but that my words meant a lot to him and he still cares for me very much. He asks if we can be friends again, like we were before any of this. I rack my mind trying to remember a time I didn’t want to be with him, when I was truly just his friend, and can’t place a single second. But if I survived being just friends once, couldn’t I do it again? And maybe then, just maybe in the time spent together he would remember what it was like in the beginning, what it was like to fall in love with me.
We begin to hang out as friends and after the initial awkwardness we settle into sharing details of our lives, what we’ve done in the time spent apart, and what we hope for in the present. Other people try to gain my interest, but my heart is set on the small shred of hope that The One That Got Away will love me again. I jokingly tell him one night to slap me if I even contemplate dating anyone. I expect him to be interested in who or what would cause such a comment, but he just says ok. It stings a bit, but then he adds, “you need to be in a better place for you think about being with anyone else;” I wonder if he secretly means I need to be in a better place before I can be with him.
The more time we spend together, the more everything we do feels like a date. We sit in my apartment, where we once laughed and loved, and I can feel myself breaking one small piece at a time. We go to spots we once loved and I can swear I see him looking at me like he did when I was the only person he dreamt of touching, but the moments always pass. He picks me up and drives me home. We linger in the car and hug goodnight. It kills me each time I walk away without his kiss. It’s too difficult to be his friend, to be so close and not be allowed to love him.
In a mix of desperation and idiocy, I suggest we can be physical, because the thought of spending another night without him makes me want to die. He agrees, and instead of having the effect I had hoped for, I break a little more. I asked for this, and yet him saying yes makes me feel like I mean even less to him. I tell him I was wrong to suggest it. I can’t do it. I can’t have him and not his love.
I ask him once again to tell me he doesn’t love me. I need to be sure. I need him to say it so I can let go of this once and for all. He hesitates as we go back and forth on the phone. I beg him in tears to tell me he doesn’t love me, that he doesn’t think he could be in love with me ever again. I tell him I need to hear it. I need to hear the words. And then he says it and the final cracks in my resolve shatter and I’m in a million pieces of what could have been.
I tell him I can’t see or speak to him for awhile. He asks me how long awhile is and I say until I don’t love you anymore, maybe forever. He tries to convince me otherwise, but I tell him if he really does care for me, if he ever loved me at all he’ll leave me alone. He will let my heart heal.
Time passes, and and a friend who once had feelings for me convinces me to go out on a date with him. He’ll later be known as The Friend I Shouldn’t Have Dated, so we’ll just call him Shouldn’t Have. Shouldn’t Have is nice and kind and all sorts of good things, but as I sit at the bar with him waiting for our table I can’t help but think about The One That Got Away. What he would be saying about the wait, jokes he would make about the bartender, how his blue-green eyes would study my face before breaking into a smile. And then my phone rings.
I look at the id on the phone and it’s The One That Got Away. I panic and say I need to take this and run into the bathroom, of all places, to answer. I can immediately tell he’s drunk as he slurs “how are you?” I try to remain calm as I ask him why he’s calling me and remind him that he promised to give me space. He tells me he’s on his way home from a baseball game with his father and wanted to call me. I tell him that’s not fair, and he shouldn’t be calling as I begin to tremble with anxiety. He tells me it’s loud where I am and asks what I’m doing. I tell him I’m at a restaurant and on a date and can’t talk to him right now. He says he’s going to slap me because I said so and then begins to ramble about how I shouldn’t be dating anyone right now. I tell him he has no say in what I do. He gave up that right. He tells me I’m making bad choices and I ask him why he cares if he doesn’t love me. He says he doesn’t know and I tell him never to call me again.
I hang up the phone and realize all the women in the ladies’ room are staring at me. I close myself into one of the stalls and take deep breaths. I wipe away my tears and then fix my makeup in the bathroom. By the time I join Shouldn’t Have back at the bar our table is ready and I pretend not to be heartbroken all over again.
The One That Got Away keeps his promise this time… at least for a lot longer. I don’t contact him again even when I eventually do stop loving him. There’s no longer any point. And yet, there were many nights I spent lying awake at night wondering why he called. What would have happened if I didn’t hang up on him? Did he tell me he didn’t love me because he truly no longer felt it or because he was afraid to let me in again after I had changed my mind so many times before? Just when I finally stopped asking myself these questions, when I felt the answers no longer mattered to me, The One That Got Away came back into my life, bringing it all back to the surface.
On a random day many years later, an email pops up from The One That Got Away. I hesitate, afraid to open it. What could there possibly be to say after all this time? The curiosity overwhelms me and I open the email to find an in depth apology for how he acted during our final phone call and for every shortcoming during our relationship. He tells me he hopes I’m happy and I have everything I hoped for, bringing up everything from serious dreams to silly things like the type of pet I wanted and what I always said I would call it. Maybe this email is honestly meant as some kind of reparation, but instead it feels like something to make himself feel better.
I debate whether or not to answer for awhile before responding. They say time heals all wounds, but in reality I think it just numbs and scars us. What really heals is resolution. So when I reply, I ask the questions that kept me up so many nights. Did you really not love me anymore or were you just scared? Why did you call that night? What did you expect to happen? Why did you email me?
The One That Got Away replies and says he can’t answer those questions. I type back and tell him this was a lousy, self serving thing to do. He got his resolution by sending the email and now I want mine from the answers. I hit send and I wait my chest pounding. When his return email arrives hours later, I’m almost afraid to read it. But I do.
The email goes something like this… I did still love you, but you changed your mind so many times I was afraid to commit. I wanted to make sure it was for real. I called you because I missed you. I still loved you. I didn’t expect you to be on a date and when you were I got angry. I called because I wanted to be with you. I’m sorry for how things happened. And that’s why I emailed.
I cry as I read it and experience a catharsis like I’ve only felt once before. I finally feel like the last shattered piece of me has finally fallen into place. It doesn’t change a thing, and yet somehow it does.
I can look back now and say with confidence that The One That Got Away and I may have been meant to be at one point, what we had was most certainly real, but somewhere along the way we turned left instead of right and all that changed. Maybe if that last call had gone differently we would have gotten back on course or maybe not. I think we turned right. Too much had happened, too much was broken. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you can make it work.
There will always be a small hole in my heart where everything I gave to The One That Got Away used to be. And that’s ok. He was an important part of my life, and a hole in my heart where he used to be is much better than a place there that still longs for him.