This weekend at my parent’s house I spent time rummaging through my old things. Namely stacks of memory boxes with objects that date as far back as 20 years ago. I figured that it was good a time as any to do some housekeeping since I rarely made it back to visit since our baby was born.
I went through the usual stacks of greeting cards. Tossed the ones with generic pleasantries, kept the ones with thoughtful sentiments. Filtered through memorabilia I knew that I’d be happy to see again, and stared puzzled at objects that lost their value over time.
It was standard sorting until I got to a series of boxes overflowing with memories between me and my wife, Crystal. There were photos, gifts, letters, and poems some dating as far back as the first time we met. In truth, I hadn’t really looked at the contents of these boxes for what must have been 7 or 8 years. I overlooked them for many reasons. The main reason likely being that I didn’t feel like I was far enough removed from the actual events, making the nostalgia seem like it wouldn’t be as poignant or meaningful. I also avoided diving back in to old letters and chats because I thought that reading the mushiness would be embarrassing! So I was fine just to know that they were stored safely on the top shelf of my old bedroom closet. But, on that day I felt the need to wade through. I found so much that I was surprised that I had forgotten: A small collection of animal cracker boxes that Crystal bought me because she knew I liked them, A manila envelope full of letters written while in Vegas (she gave most of them to me en masse on her return because I wasn’t home at the time to receive them), A package of Vienna Finger Cookies that she had dropped off for me when I was home sick…
…And that was barely scratching the surface. There were origami folded letters upon origami folded letters and enough AOL chat logs to write a small book (or a blog post!). There just wasn’t enough time or emotional breathing room to go through them all right then and there. I decided to bring back everything that I could with me to San Francisco later that night.
I stayed up late combing through everything. What had started as shuffling through a couple letters, ended with me sitting and bawling amongst a pile of unfolded papers and trinkets. The sudden rush of emotions due to me realizing that Crystal was still the girl I had a crush on those many years ago. At first I started to remember the little things from the start of our journey that made my life with her so special. I remembered seeing her everyday at school, captivated by how pretty and charmingly quirky she was. From her eclectic taste in fashion, to the soft milky texture of her voice, to her long river-length hair, everything about her was appealing.
I remembered the first time she messaged me on AOL through a friends account and I remembered the anticipation of waiting to chat with her again. I would check out her webpage every day after school. One time finding out that she had a crush. I remember the wishful thinking that it might be me, then the empty hollow in my gut when I verified that it wasn’t.
I remember the year after when we became good friends. That was the year she asked me to the prom. I remember how I made her wait for my answer out of confusion and a lack of confidence– though I eventually found the nerve to say yes. A theme which repeated itself when she built up the nerve to say that she liked me. Yes, I made her wait again. Being socially awkward and a romantic idiot, I opted to sign offline instead. I remember how I felt that night… a feeling that took to task every good thing that happened in my life until then and multiplied it by a thousand. I remember it feeling surreal. In that no girl let alone one that pretty or that smart as she could seriously have been interested. Yet she was.
As I read through our chat logs, I started to remember the guy she fell in love with. I remembered him enough for me to know how far I was being him. That thought alone broke my heart.
To clarify, this wasn’t an admission that I’ve fallen out of love. Have I been affectionate since then? Yes. Have I loved her since then? Unquestionably. But something got lost along the way. While I continued loving the person she was becoming, I forgot about the girl she always was. I stopped seeing that part of her. I stopped seeing the girl who made my heart beat faster. The girl who made me feel like I was fighting to stay asleep just to chase the tail end of a dream.
This of course was far from being her fault. I simply forgot about the part of me that understood the magic of the relationship I was blessed with. I forgot how lucky I was at the time and took for granted how lucky I am now. I let a part of myself get buried. The part of me that reveled in one fact alone: she liked me. Even if I had just been living in a moment that wouldn’t last, her coyly saying she liked me would have made that moment worth it. My buried self relished and thrived in that moment. I wanted to be like that guy again, so I unearthed him.
The day after sorting through my memory boxes, I apologized to Crystal. I told her that I felt like I had let a rift grow between us. Not sizable enough to keep us apart, but enough to keep me from seeing how precious she was to me. I said how sorry I was that I let my stress from school, work, and family take over and make me lose sight of her.
When I look at her now, I remember how even if I couldn’t hug or hold her hand, how it was enough just to be near her. I start to miss her in a way that I hadn’t in long time. I see her go to work and I miss her, experiencing again what it’s like to love someone so much it hurts. I remember how it is to feel like I don’t deserve her and how badly it makes me want to prove that I do. Taking every opportunity to compliment her and dazzle her with affection, even it could only ever be a fraction of how happy she makes me feel.