A recent post over at Pop Candy – Cool stuff inherited after a breakup – got me thinking about this topic. The post was flippant and amusing; simply a list of the top five things left behind by the writer’s ex-boyfriends:
1. Spaced: The Complete Series DVDs
2. Best of Depeche Mode – Vol. 1
3. The complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books
4. George Lucas In Love (on VHS)
5. Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Series (Collectors Set)
Not a bad haul, for sure. But it made me think about all of the things we hold onto – and how they can often cause both temporary pain and some sense of long-term satisfaction. A friend of mine has a mug that used to make her cry. It belonged to her ex-boyfriend – and I have no idea how it worked its way onto her shelf – and after they broke up, seeing it reminded her that they wouldn’t spend any more mornings drinking coffee in bed together. Now, a couple of years later and involved with a wonderful someone else, she continues to hold onto the memento and it brings her – if not quite happiness for the things that happened in the past – then a reminder of how much happier she is now with someone else.
Walking around my city, I can feel my personal history writ both large and silent on many of the buildings and parks and street corners. Almost daily, I pass by the art gallery where, very late one night, my ex-boyfriend and I had our first kiss. There is the park where I have met countless dates for Prosecco and badminton on hot summer nights, and the dumpling place where I had to say goodbye to one particularly promising prospect who moved far away. And there is the tiny restaurant – in spite of it all, still one of my favourites – where I reluctantly broke up with yet another not-quite-right match in the middle of a dear friend’s birthday party.
Apartments and possessions can carry the same sense of history. I find it almost impossible to part with anything with serious sentimental value – even if it doesn’t evoke the happiest of memories. And, weirdly, there is a kind of happiness or contentedness in the ambivalence I have toward old notes and gifts and the novels left behind. Just as I walk around the city, constantly reminded of my past triumphs and indiscretions, my apartment and my things offer so many signposts of my life to date. When I make coffee every morning, it’s with the espresso maker given to me by someone who broke my heart. Occasionally, I make eye contact with the small statue another ex brought back from a trip to Egypt. And my photo albums, mostly digital, are filled with people I will likely never put my arms around again.
There was a time when seeing these things and walking by these landmarks only scraped a fresh wound. But now, months and years later, they are more likely to make me smile. They’ve come to remind me of how funny and unpredictable love is, and how fast the heart can heal from a heartbreak that once seemed irrevocable.