Romantic relationships, once ended, have a habit of souring. I’m not an expert in this field, of course, but I’ve seen it and I’ve heard it and I’ve lived it, a little bit. I’ll not attempt to explain the intricacies of bitterness, or the line where attraction darkens to resentment. I just know that, good-byes said, possessions returned, relationship status changed, things sometimes get rough.
I’ve lived this, a little bit. No longer connected, no longer relationally attached, I didn’t choose to resent, to look back with a short laugh, with scorn. I just did. It could be a part of moving on, I suppose. Could be caused by culture: of course we come out bitter because so does every star in every media-celebrated celebrity romance. Could spring from sinful nature, my own. Could be anything, really.
It feels protected, of course. There’s not a lot of vulnerability in rolling your eyes. It feels like power and security and control, a little bit. But there’s a sour taste of anger, of disappointment, of sadness, too. Memories that you know held some good come back stained: only the bad stands out. I know that I had fun, smiled, laughed. But the end came and the bad swallowed the good, and slowly, that’s all that I remember.
June 2012, the end of the month. We were in the middle of summer, and the middle of a relationship, too. It would be over before the calendar hit August, but we didn’t know that, yet. I flew to a wedding from Michigan. Left a missions trip halfway through, two car rides and two plane rides later, landed in the breathtaking beauty of Lancaster, PA. Friday night, Saturday wedding. All day Sunday I rode in the middle seat with four other Moody students for the 10-hour car ride back to Chicago.
He was in Chicago, working. It’d been some days since I’d seen him, and maybe that evening, as I rolled into the city after eight days of travel would be a good time to say hi. He had work, soon. Needed to leave at 6pm. We drove through Pennsylvania, Ohio, into Indiana, then Chicago. I texted him, somewhere in Ohio. He asked where we were, our estimated arrival time. I told him, best I could. I asked if I’d see him, between arrival and work. He must have said yes, I suppose.
Skyscrapers and steel hold heat, and the city was hot and stuffy when we arrived. I was tired from an early wake up, worn in the funny way that sitting in a car wears you out. Suitcase and backpack next to me, I laid on the concrete next to the car. Arms spread to my sides, my car ride companions laughed, shook their heads at my rather dramatic demonstration. Grinning, I got up, left suitcase, shuffled across the Plaza to the bathroom.
He was waiting for me when I returned, his bike already unlocked, ready to go to work. We talked, briefly. Plaid shorts, a black t-shirt. How many times did I see the same shirt that summer? He must have asked questions, I must have answered them. Part conversation, part pre-determined set, the same words we exchanged throughout the summer. I had cut my finger at the wedding, a long, narrow slice from a cake cutter. I held up the bandaged finger, he inspected, approved of my battle wound.
Then it was over. I collected suitcase, headed home. He got on the bike, went to work. Almost exactly a month later, it was over for real, and he walked home and I rode the train home and in the days after, that’s when the good memories began to fade and the bad grew stronger, bolder. But recently, I remembered that June evening after a week of travel. Those five minutes standing in the Plaza. Nothing bad taints, no resentment stains, that memory. Just him and me and a suitcase and a bike and a cut on my finger.