She Will Always Remember The Good Times You Shared, Despite The Bad


I was sitting on the rickety balcony in our barn, going through boxes when one toppled on top of me.

It was on top of a pile that was higher than my head and I got a little too optimistic about my gracefulness when reaching for it. After it fell, I was suddenly covered in notes, letters, artwork, photos and some dust.

I coughed and swiped away the dust with my hands to see faces and handwriting I hadn’t seen in years: It was my boyfriend box.

I remembered my mother saying she had packed a few boxes for me and thrown them in the moving truck. I laughed when I saw what she'd snuck along.

For years and years, I had burned or given away things I couldn’t stand to look at anymore after boys broke my heart. I kept a few mementos in this box from which — even with the ache they brought on when I saw them — I couldn’t bear to part.

I had letters from the soldier who held my picture for hope during boot camp. I had notes from my high school boyfriend that counted down the days until we’d be together. I had pictures my college boyfriend drew me with his talented drummer’s hand.

Just as quickly as the box toppled and papers flew on me, my heart turned inside out. I held in my hands and across my lap the biggest heartaches of my life. Why had I kept all of this? Why had I kept any of this?

I really admire anyone who can stay friends — true friends — with their exes. I am not friends with any of them -- not real friends, anyway. Staying friends with exes seemed to me to be a recipe for disaster.

It seemed, I thought, to be like dumping a box of letters on yourself every time you saw these people. I couldn’t imagine why someone would do that to him or herself.

Why not start fresh with new people rather than with those who have the potential to make your heart ache each time you see them because of things that happened years ago?

To take that step, I decided to toss the box and its contents and perhaps admonish my mother for sneaking my past along with me on my move. Then, I started reading the letters and notes. I really looked at the pictures I had saved.

As I had feared, my heart did drop, but in an entirely different way than what I had expected. I pored over love notes and felt myself slipping into the memories the photographs captured. I began to feel warm and lovesick as I was transported back to each past romance.

I could feel the smack of the cool water as I fell off my high school boyfriend’s jet ski into the river. I sat in my dorm room stairwell, watching the first snowfall of the year, and a beautiful boy from my freshman hall leaned in to kiss me on my birthday.

I opened the tiny, tin mailslot in that same dorm to find letters postmarked from Army bases as I screamed with my best friend.

There is this “common knowledge” among women that the best way to get over someone is to remind yourself of everything horrible he or she ever did to you and how wrong for you he or she is.

That’s why I never understood how people were able to stay friends with their exes; I totally agree with this method to heal your freshly broken heart. How else do you move from loving someone so much to needing to forget him or her?

I wrote my lists, friends stole my phone to stop me from calling the heartbreakers in question and I had done my job: They were forgotten.

The funny thing is that each person you let into your heart can never truly be erased. You are a different person, for better or for worse, because these people loved you or hurt you or left you. All the career successes, school acceptances, wonderful friends and even new loves cannot take away that love and pain.

This can be something that can weigh you down forever, or it can be something that you choose to celebrate.

I used to think nothing could compare to the pain of a truly broken heart, but I think it is much more painful to try to pretend that these people, who meant so much to you, never existed.

Do you really want to forget about the time you finished a one-gallon milkshake with two hardworking straws at that diner with sand for a floor?

How about the road trip that took you to six different destinations, required you to call in sick for work three times and for the first time, showed you the real amber waves of grain?

What about the college football games and high school wrestling matches when you cheered like crazy with matching painted faces and, by the end, hoarse voices?

When someone rips apart your heart, it seems that the easiest thing to do is to erase that person from your life. But, if that means losing all of the good memories along with him or her, I wouldn’t do it.

People come into your life and turn it upside down. They drive you crazy and make you angry. They are the people who tell you they’ll call then don’t. They make you fall in love and then they leave you. They are mean and selfish and cruel.

Yet, they are incredible. They are forces in your life that lead you to achieve more than you ever thought you could. They are the hand in yours as you run for the ocean waves.

They turn your tassel at graduation before you throw each other’s hats into the air. They write you letters that make you feel like a character in a Nicholas Sparks book and tell you that picturing your face gives them hope.

I won’t argue with anyone who still believes that the best way to live is to forget all about those you used to love and those who used to love you. But, I think people are losing much more than they gain by employing that method.

The joy and beauty of the past is something I hope I can always hang onto. I’m not holding onto heartbreak; I am holding onto the way my prom date looked at me when my sister whispered to me to walk slowly down the stairs in my pale yellow gown.

I am holding onto the night a boy fell in love with me, far before he broke my heart, as my friends and I ran around the District monuments with spiked hot chocolate and too-loud laughter.

I am holding onto love letters and notes and photos of the people who shaped me and loved me and yes, maybe left me, but only so I could find the person with whom I was really meant to be.

I am so thankful to have these wonderful memories that helped build who I am today, even if I am still figuring out exactly who that is. I’m not sure spontaneous friendships with my exes are in the cards, but one day, I’ll treasure those mementos, not toss them.

That’s my life in that box and it is one worth remembering.

Photo credit: Karen Sofia Colon/Flickr