Two years to the day after we broke up, we met on the highline.
The highline, much like our relationship or our friendship or our whatever we were, was built on leftover, damaged tracks. Nothing about the foundation was sturdy enough to hold it, and though we decorated it with potted flowers and translucent hopes, we started as a forgotten, disabled path to, well, nowhere. Though beautiful things may have been produced, the wreckage was still brightly on display, easy to sense, harder to forget.
He was gone from my life for the past year, mostly anyway. Some place, past the pond, past my reach. And that’s why I made such great strides: apart from a few emails and texts and calls, he was far enough away that I couldn’t be tempted and out of my thoughts long enough that I could move on and let go.
I still thought of him though. More often than I’d care to admit. More than I told my friends.
When good things happened and when terrible things did. When I ordered a mojito at happy hour (his favorite) or my group of friends split shumai at a sushi restaurant. When we would venture across the river to Williamsburg, and walking through Rockefeller Center, a place that will mean more to me than it did to him. I thought of him while crossing Bryant Park, and sometimes when I wrapped my arms tightly around myself in the dark, feeling the void of a man’s body, and willing myself to not wish it was his.
I had made the decision to move on, and though I seesawed in and out of his bed and in mine, for too many months to count afterward, I knew the choice to choose impossibility over desperate hope was smart. It was right, but it was hard. Probably, the hardest and most emotionally tangling thing I’ve ever had to do. The worst part was not actually breaking up with him, but the endless, depressing and most often, disappointing dating that followed. He didn’t fulfill my needs, but neither does this guy or that one or any of them. Was it me or was it them? Or was it the both of us?
Or was it just New York?
Standing on the edge, overlooking the bustling city below, with its maze of lights and billboards and taxis, I waited to see his shape. I knew it would be familiar and unrecognizable all the same. A few martinis in to ease my anxiety, I’m not sure if I cared how I looked but I hoped he would notice. Or at least see how much I’ve grown in the past year, how deeply I’ve mended myself and how difficult it is to stand here, in heels, looking into the city hoping for my future, while feeling my past creep up on me. When I felt his palm grace the small of my back, I quickly turned around, braced for the emotional impact, prepared for the fall.
But he was just himself. Mr. Possibility. Two years, 20-something countries, thousands of dollars I’ll never see, far too many one-night-stands, I’m sure, later — he was just the same. A little more gray hair, the same dimpled-smile, the same strange eyes.
My friends advised against seeing him, for fear it’d only bring up bad habits and make me feel worse instead of better. There was no need, they said, to open up wounds that had scabbed over, but not healed, and putting myself in a situation where the odds are against me was a chance not worth taking. The idioms are all true and terribly overused, but couldn’t be more fitting than this planned encounter, where I had to face up to these visions in my head, instead of letting them dance around in never, never land – never being a reality.
We shared our niceties, politely and kindly. We talked about the same things we always talked about, we mulled over the same frustrations and the same conversations, sending me back into a time where my mind was far more clouded than it is now. Just like the day I broke up with him, he was still lost in himself, unable to put anyone else before him, and incapable of moving forward with anything or anyone or any plan. All of the things about our relationship that bothered me two years ago, bothered me in this moment, watching the sun set in the West, and feeling my heart swell up into my throat, asking me: were you really ever in love with this man?
Or was it just what you thought he could be? What you thought you could turn him into? Was it the idea that by being the most perfect girl with the most perfect everything, you could turn the imperfect man into the guy you want to be with? Did you think your reward would be his hand, your payoff, his love? Had you really waited – consciously or not – for him to turn into something that simply, my dear, he’s not?
He noticed my changes, and I tried to comment on his, though to me, he was still my impossible first New York love. That man that makes the island a little colder, a little less like the scenes you dream of, and more like the harshness, the toughest, the city actually has. I had hoped a million tiny, irreplaceable dreams about Mr. Possibility and I, and even more about our tarnished fate.
But I’m not 22 and fresh off the boat. I don’t feel that way, anymore.
I’m not persuaded by clever words and empty promises. I’m not willing to settle for someone who can only love with half of their heart. I can’t swallow myself deep enough for someone who can’t see the good when it’s there or the damage when it’s done. And though I sort of already knew all of this, it took another mistake – or was it a milestone? – to make it feel real. To make it have that crisp and finally, solidified ending that doesn’t leave you hurting, but instead, makes you thankful.
Thankful that you had the chance to learn and in some twisted, unhealthy, unproductive way, love someone who can’t love you back. If it’s something I must be taught, I’d rather know it now than to linger on a possibility that always, honestly, was impossible. Thankful that when faced with the choice of getting back into an endless, tainted circle of exhausting conversations and maddening druken nights with someone I used to be, well mad, about or be alone, the latter seems so much better.
Thankful that though I wasted time and fragments of my heart that I won’t – and don’t want – back, and even though I discounted my worth to try to match his, and even though it took way longer than I imagined it would, I can calmly, confidently close the chapter of possibility. Thankful that by finally letting the first possibility become a memory and not a maze, I open myself up to the kind of possibilities I really want. The kind of love I know I deserve. The more than just possible man that I know is somewhere in this city, wondering about the me, the possibility for him.
As for Mr. Possibility and me?
We’re like that highline, where two years later, we finally cut the heartstrings, and went in our own separate ways, walking on rusted tracks, stumbling but not faltering, remembering with love, but never – not again – looking back.