When he asked me to marry him by taking me to the high school stairs where we first met, I felt physically sick. My gut knew this was wrong. I accepted the ring but did not say yes. I didn't say no either. I was just silent. I thought of all the people I would be letting down. I loved his family and they loved me. But there were too many years of not being treated well by him. I looked into the future and felt both trapped and depressed. If things were bad now they surely would not get any better. As much as he said he loved me and wanted to show that love, he wasn't capable. A ring wasn't going to change this.
Some time elapsed before I worked up the courage to break off the engagement. It was then I felt the terror of pulling away from everything I knew. I was in my early twenties and right out of graduate school. We broke up the week before I would begin my first job out of school. I felt groundless as though the whole world were sinking. I was the agent of this change so why was I in so much pain?
I remember going to our apartment after he had taken his stuff. The place was a mess. He had left in a hurry. I sat amongst empty boxes and pulled out drawers and cried. It was more like I howled. I was grieving. I grieved over what was and what might have been. I grieved over the memories, both the good and the bad. It was like some endless movie was playing in my head which wouldn't stop. Twenty some years later I am shedding tears now to relive that memory, it hurt that bad.
Just as my sister had consoled me about Red when I was a little girl, she helped me with this loss too. She had experienced the loss of love many times over and could share her experience with me. I asked her, "When will I stop crying?" She then told me that when her last relationship ended that she cried every night for months. My sister confided, "I should have been glad to get rid of him. He was so horrible to me. But even that didn't change the fact that I did love him and that it was so painful to let go." I understood exactly what she was saying.
As hard as that was to do, I sometimes imagine how difficult it would have been had we gotten married or had children. I am sure what I felt was only a fraction of the pain that people must go through when they get a divorce. "Goodbye" has to be the cruelest word in the English language.
I can tell you that as with most types of grief, that time does help so much. You learn to adapt and move on with your life. But I don't think you ever forget, especially if it was your first love. If you love, pain sometimes follows. This is true. But I still maintain that it is worth the risk. You live, you learn, you love, and sometimes you lose. But you never lose your ability to love. It is always there waiting, like a tightly bound bud just waiting for that exact right moment to release.