It was raining.
I held onto the handle of my umbrella, attempting not to be picked up by the next gust of wind.
I’m in pioneer square, Portland’s living room. An empty plaza in the middle of downtown lined with brick steps. A crater where people come to sit and talk and eat and take photos or attend concerts and other events. Now it simply acts as a giant drain for the water crushing down above my head.
I find relief in the mall just a block down, with warmth and coffee and giant glass ceiling to watch it from a safe distance.
I walk through the giant glass doors and shake myself off, quietly lusting over the dry hoodies and pants of the teens sitting on the bench in front of me. But they’re not just dry. They’re radiating. Like they’re lit up, on fire, some source of warmth. They’re sitting on the bench facing each other, legs off either end. They can’t be more than fifteen.
And they’re just looking at each other.
I suddenly realize that they’re in love. Hiding out here like me, but seemingly unaware of what is going on outside. Or around them. Or that I’ve been staring for much longer than is appropriate.
I’ve written about this before but I’ve hung onto it because I feel like it’s an important memory. Some building block in my own relationship experience. For the first time I looked back at my teenage years and saw the innocence. The inevitable heartbreak of growing up. And I wanted to push through the bubble they’d created and warn them. To tell them that they wouldn’t have each other forever. That they wouldn’t want that forever. That even if they did, they couldn’t have it. That whatever they felt right then in that moment might be the most powerful thing they ever felt because it was so new.
But I couldn’t.
And I looked back at my own relationships, thinking each of them to last forever. Wanting more than anything to hold onto what I felt for them. And not knowing, each time I began, that they would end. That the nights I held up close to their body wasn’t actually what my world revolved around, only a tiny piece of my life. A part to the puzzle. Them giving something of themselves to me and then sneaking out the back door.
I’ve wondered a lot lately about the stories that aren’t lived out. The series of lovers that never get the final bow in your life before the curtains close. The ones who have no grand exit, just a quick burst of a story. The what ifs.
And it’s not in a dwelling-over-the-past kind of a way but more of a meer fascination for the paths I missed. Or the bullets I dodged.
And I wonder how differently my life would be if I’d stayed with just one of them. If things had been just slightly different in one way or another and we’d never broken up. If I’d be the one with the kid, or the one who grew depressed, or the one that moved far away, or the one stuck exactly where I was in High School. I wonder about the enormity of the decisions I made along the way that led me here. Tons of small decisions, comments, movements, touches, sounds, all leading up to one giant life decision. You’re falling in love, and so is he. And then I was gone.
And without the experience from all of those teenage romances, young hands drooping to the side of my waist wet with tears, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea when to say go. I wouldn’t have the slightest idea when to say this is what I want. Because I would have nothing to base it off of. I’d have nothing to compare it to. Reaching blindly into the closet, grabbing what clothes I thought fit, not really sure how they’d match up to what really needed.
I guess what I’m saying is that each love that ends feels like a failure because it puts a giant roadblock in some path you were taking. And you’re drowning a bit at first because it’s like you’ve reached a dead end. You don’t know what to do. It’s terrifying. The scariest thing in the world. And regardless of what happens after that there are two things that are certain. You’ll learn from it, and you’ll find a way around it.