“Oh no,” my partner says as he looks into a box he’s unpacking.
“What did you find?” I casually ask while sorting through clothes, “An ex thing?”
We laugh nervously while he leans down and reaches his arm into the box. I feign nervousness. He quickly pulls out a big red scrapbook and wipes the dust off of it. I breathe a sarcastic sigh of relief. “I tell you a lot about my bad relationships,” he starts, “but this . . . this was a good one.”
“Show me!” I say.
He hands me the scrapbook, mumbles something about cleaning and goes into the next room. I know he just wants to give me privacy. These sorts of moments are important to me — moments when I get a glimpse into who he was before I knew him. I open the book.
She’s cute. She looks a bit taller than me and has reddish, strawberry blonde hair. I can see why he was attracted to her. But that’s not all I notice.
I also notice the beautiful photography. She must be a photographer, I think. (I’m right.) That makes sense, my boyfriend is a creative soul, and he thrives off of other creative and independent energies. The scrapbook not only has typical kissing selfies, but also photos of the sunset, the beach, a little cafe they must’ve frequented, and their pumpkins on Halloween. Every photo seems to be taken with such love and care.
I can also tell she is artsy by her handwriting and the way the pages are laid out. There is negative space that makes the scrapbook refreshing to flip through, color that captures the emotions felt in the frozen memories, and lovely little sentences written to commemorate their relationship. My favorite anecdote is about how she’d lick his face to distract him while they were playing video games. She seems goofy and dorky — it reminds me of how we’re goofy and dorky together.
I see a picture of my boyfriend all dressed up — spiky hair, a scarf, a peacoat. He later tells me that she was a really stylish woman and was the one who taught him how to dress himself. Thank god.
There’s a picture of him making a really uncomfortable face and pointing at a goose, and it makes me laugh out loud. Though the picture was taken six or seven years ago, my boyfriend still makes that face today, toward me now. While he looks younger in the photos, his spirit hasn’t changed that much at all.
My face gets warm and my heart feels like a (somehow buoyant) piece of lead.
I move all the way to the end of the book, which isn’t even really even an end, because there are still pages left. It seems like she never got a chance to finish making it. I call my boyfriend from the other room to tell him I’m done. He walks back in, sits next to me, and puts his arm around my shoulders, “Are you okay?”
“No,” I croak through tears, “I’m . . . I’m so sad that you guys broke up!”
The thing is, had they not broken up, then another series of events in his life would not have happened, and we likely would have never met. I am fully aware of this paradox. Had they not broken up, we may not have met at work, had our first kiss on Valentine’s Day, and celebrated a full year of happiness. Had they not broken up, I wouldn’t be crying on the floor of our brand new apartment. We wouldn’t be moving in together, and I wouldn’t be looking through their scrapbook. Yet, I am somehow sad for them, all the same.
Looking through that scrapbook felt like reading an immensely important chapter of my boyfriend’s life. I’m not crying because I wasn’t a part of it, or out of jealousy over what they had. I’m crying because something that seemed so pure had to end. Shouldn’t good things go on forever? Don’t happy relationships deserve to last a lifetime?
“Why did you guys break up?” I ask.
“Well, we were young. She wanted to explore and I couldn’t hold her back from that. And . . . really, that’s it.”
It’s a story that a lot of us can relate to. Your first love, your first long-term relationship, the first person you think of as “The One.” Maybe you met them in high school or college, or maybe even during childhood. It’s a sparkling, special, full kind of love, until you realize that perhaps you’ve gotten too comfortable in your picture-perfect bubble. Maybe you look away from the sparkling happiness and realize there’s a lot more out there. You don’t know what’s out there exactly, and you don’t know if it’s worth leaving your shining world – but you know that if you don’t, you’ll never forgive yourself.
That is why I’m crying. I’m crying because sometimes love isn’t enough, and sometimes the time isn’t right. I’m crying because I can relate to her, and while it’s impossible for me to go back in time to tell her to not leave my boyfriend, I don’t know if I would want to. Not because it would revert the timeline back to the original one where they do break up and we meet and fall in love, but because I’m proud of her for making that decision. Because it’s one that I know all too well.
I’m crying because I’m so happy for them, that they got to share these memories. I’m so happy that she had made him happy.
To my boyfriend’s ex: if you ever read this, thank you. Thank you creating this beautiful keepsake that I had the privilege of looking through. Thank you for teaching him how to dress himself (again, thank god), and for sharing such wonderful memories. Thank you for leaving when you did.
Thank you, as well, for the fact that he could give me a scrapbook from an ex-girlfriend and say, “This . . . this was a good one.” It really did seem like a good one.