P told me I had the same smile I did when we were kids.
All evening we had spontaneously run around the streets of Logan Square and Bucktown, filling in the gaps between the last time we saw each other over four years ago and now. We sat across from each other playing Mrs. Pacman at Emporium. We had been drinking, which made us more comfortable with one another. We had asked each other the questions you ask when you’re trying to reacquaint yourself with someone: What’s new? How’s your mom? Are you still writing? But we also asked the questions that you ask when you’re trying to get to know someone new because even though we had known each other, it felt like that was in a past life too far from our grasp.
It was easy to succumb to seeing him after so many years. I’ve always had a weak spot for him and it’s easier, to me, to be intimate with someone I’ve known before, even if it had proven to be toxic in the past. What I didn’t think of, however, was that the date would lead to me feeling like I was having an out of body experience — physically in my adult body but having reverted to my 17 year old mindset, drooling over P again.
I do have the same smile and possess many of the same characteristics I had as a teenager, but so much of me has changed since then, too. I have shed so many versions of myself and have become hardened from a lot of my experiences just as much as I have become strong from others. I start to think of how I have never let myself actually notice my growth but instead, kind of skipped from point a to point b, closed my eyes for a second and opened them to see a new woman with the same smile staring back at me in the mirror.
This partly has to do with the fact that I never learned how to grieve growing up. I never let myself sit with the pain of losing a lover, a friend, a routine. More importantly, I never let myself sit with the pain of no longer knowing myself after things changed. Regardless of how long relationships were, there was always pain, a feeling of loss, specifically a loss of self I never let myself process. I, instead, would just search for the nearest distraction.
This date, for example, was supposed to serve as a distraction from the loneliness I’ve felt since my most recent breakup. It did for a while, but more than anything it reopened wounds I never let myself process when I was 17. I never admitted to anyone the disappointment and defeat that came with having “dated” P and then losing him unexpectedly. And though I keep telling myself it was just a hookup, I’m left processing what all those emotions meant to me then and what they mean to me now. Because when dwelling on my short past with him, it’s less about going backwards and yearning for something I have never been able to have than it is about how I haven’t let myself move further ahead.
I still feel the heartache that came with every breakup, every unfinished relationship, friendship. I still feel the emptiness that came with my parent’s breakup, too. And I still feel the loss of my dead pets that I always felt it’d be too dumb to cry over. I spend every day wrestling with the colors of my past, present and future all because I didn’t and still don’t fully know how to let myself process anything. But after hooking up with P again, I think I’m ready to learn.
There may not be an easy way to let myself grieve the pain I’ve suffered the last seven years of my life. There are going to be days where I’m going to be confronted by past selves who I’ve hidden deeply in the crevices of my mind. And there are going to be days where any progress I’ve made feels lost or like it hasn’t happened. Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure if time heals all wounds. I’m not even entirely sure what healing looks like for a lot of things. But I do know that time tests us. It tries to see if we’ve learned from our past selves and if we haven’t, it reminds us that there’s still time to improve.
That’s exactly how I’m viewing my run in with P — if I ever want to move forward with myself or with any relationship, I need to let that go. I may have given into him at first, but I know that I won’t continue with it and that, for me, shows some growth.