There’s a particular type of pain that comes with entirety.
Losing everything we have is devastating in its own right, but there is, perhaps a mercy in the absence. There’s a different, inescapable relentlessness when a relationship ends and everything that came about as a result of that relationship is all still there.
When you’ve only ever experienced a certain world through the lens of that former relationship — and only ever expected to — seeing it any other way can seem nearly impossible.
We weren’t together when she moved to the city. I was not a part of her life at the time, not a part of the decision, not a part of her considerations, first impressions, or experiences. When I moved to be near her months later, it was still new enough to her to be interesting, but she’d already known it without me.
I moved with the understanding that things between us may not work out. I had been ready to move anyway, and I was truly enamored with the city to which she moved. It was my decision, and I knew that I might have to live with that alone, but it would be dishonest to say it had nothing to do with her. It never would have occurred to me to consider it, otherwise.
When I visited before I moved, she picked me up at the station. There literally were not two initial steps between the city and I that didn’t involve her from the beginning. She helped me find an apartment and a temporary job to ease the transition.
From the moment I moved, I spent much more of my time in her apartment than in mine. I slept there at night, walked her dog throughout the day, and went grocery shopping with her. I got to know every door and window downtown while walking that dog, and together my girlfriend and I sampled every grocery store looking for the one that felt right.
We discovered every restaurant, park, store, and theater together; and we perfected a cooperative approach to the two weekly farmers’ markets. The people I met were all her colleagues from work, and the events we attended were all related to her or her interests somehow.
We explored the entire state (completely new to us) together, sometimes because she was traveling for work. We were adventuresome, relishing every unfamiliar landscape and unimagined cultural characteristic. We were two outsiders amongst locals, and we conspired to both appreciate and poke fun at them as we lay in the dark before sleep.
Eventually, we moved in together. We cooperatively decided on a posh apartment that neither of us could afford separately, but that thrilled us both. We discarded my few tasteless belongings for her carefully selected decor. I covered a wall with a design she preferred, and we filled the gaps in our small apartment with mirrors and lamps and all of those things that a living space needs to be a home.
We talked incessantly about our new city, sharing with each other every new piece of information we discovered. We talked about its future, about our place in the city in the future, and about our future together. We decided on an out-of-town annual vacation spot and solidified our routine for hosting out-of-town guests.
When she left, suddenly and unexpectedly, I was left surrounded by all of that. There was nowhere I could go, nothing I could do, nothing I could see, or even think of, that didn’t involve her. What little she left in the apartment had all originally be hers or had been purchased by the two of us.
I wake up in the morning in our bedroom. Through the bedroom and living room windows is the view we chose and loved so much. On the balcony outside my bedroom are our two deck chairs. When the window blows hard enough and from the right direction I can hear it rocking back against the exterior wall as I lay in bed.
In the hallways and the elevator I see the neighbors and building manager who all knew us as a couple. I take the stairs more now, which was something her aging dog was unwilling to do.
I sometimes still try to walk the riverwalk right behind our building, but it always feels awkwardly like something is missing without the dog or her beside me. She walks that riverwalk still too; it would be unfair to blame her.
I don’t know where she’s moved. I didn’t ask and she never said. I know that it’s quite close because she still walks the aging dog by my building now and then. When the warmer months come, we’ll inevitably encounter each other often at outdoor events and markets. It already happened at a Christmas event.
That part doesn’t matter, because she’s in every single thing I know here, whether or not she’s present.