When I look back, I see a long string of wrecked relationships. Yes, I have been lucky to have had splendid and happy relationships, but what seem to stand out are the many that ended, either with a bang or with a whimper.
Yet you would be wrong to think of me as exceptionally hard-hearted, for I cannot recall an instance when I ended a relationship. Either someone else did, or the relationship died on the vine. The question of who ended a relationship is usually a red herring. Often one backs out of it in the uneasy realization that it has lost its joie de vivre, even if the other hasn’t yet woken up to the reality.
The sad reality is that most relationships, just like most friendships, run of out of steam in a while. It is just a question of time. It is a cruel thing to say. Many will protest, recalling the time a friend or a lover abandoned them, and they angrily attributed it to an ignominious reason. Often the anger, coupled with humiliation, prevents them seeing that the link had, much earlier, begun to lose its shine.
Others will recall relationships that have lasted a lifetime. Alas, length and apparent durability often mean very little. We well know that people outside of a relationship can really know nothing of its quality. Relationships that we see at close distance, like our parents and close relations and friends, might give the illusion that we are sure of their quality or even of their sincerity. Such impressions are particularly misleading, for we have an emotional stake in believing those relationships were ideal, if not perfect.
It is a sad but safe guess that only a small number of relations are fully satisfying and continue to be so. Their continuity proves little. People continue in a relation for a vast variety of reasons, some exalted, some less so. Some continue from a sense of loyalty. A woman may not leave her lover because he is suddenly disabled; a husband decides not to abandon his grievously ill wife. Some continue in a dismal, even abusive, relationship because of religious or family reasons. Others stay on for their young children. A vast number continue in relationships that mean little to them simply because the alternative is inconvenient, impractical, fearsome or simply economically impossible. After persisting in a liaison for twenty years where does a middle-aged woman, without an attractive career or independent resources, go, especially if she has children? An aging man would rather adhere to his cozy habits than set out on a quest for a more meaningful relationship.
These are not reasons for frivolously ending a relationship, but to take note that relations do sunder, often, for good reason. When they do, it causes immeasurable pain. I know it well. It is an agony that nothing extinguishes, and few things extenuate. Even if I were to walk away from a relationship, I would sense a void for months and nurture a nostalgia for years. It is an ache that endures, a scar that forever welts the heart’s hinterland.
The truth is if anyone has entered my world, it was for a reason. Long after she has left, her footprint remains, cast as in concrete. No storm, no rain, not even the brightest spring to come can erase that print. Like Omar Khayyam’s moving finger, my life moves on, but the timeworn texts remain, however yellow they become, however faint the print.
I sometimes wonder what those old pages of my scroll mean. Are there embers of the old flame that could reignite in a flash? A thousand stories, a million lyrics have sprung on the theme, but I really don’t know the answer. The heart that pulsed then, pulses still, and will perhaps beat faster again to hear your voice, sensing the music that once convulsed my life. Maybe the glow of the past sunset will still redden our firmament.
But, who knows, maybe we will look at each other, as strangers on an unfamiliar planet, take uneasy measure of each other, find a familiar resonance in a glance or a gesture, then feel overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of the newness, the strangeness, the dismaying, disheartening changes, and, with a polite word or smile, go our separate ways, reconciled to the absoluteness of our loss and the comforting melody of our souvenirs.