If I could, I would go back in time. I would go back and seek out the 16-year-old version of me. The one who didn’t quite know herself. Didn’t quite believe in herself. Didn’t quite love herself, but did manage to fall helplessly in love with you.
If I could, I would find her and tell her about you. Warn her about you. Let her know that she can love you with all her heart, but you’re going to break it just the same.
But she would go on and love you anyway. Because some things she’ll just have to learn on her own.
If I could, I’d go back in time and talk to my 18-year-old self. The one who gave you everything she had. Every ounce of intimacy. Then watched as you flirted with other girls at your high school. And felt her heart break for the first, but not the last, time.
If I could, I’d tell her it’s okay to feel broken. And it’s okay to ache. I’d tell her that time does heal, but she’ll never be the same. I’d tell her being lost for a while is the only chance she ever has of being found.
But she’d ignore me anyway. And she’d cling to you. Because some mistakes are worth making.
If I could, I would go back in time and seek out my 20-year-old self. The one who looked in the mirror and decided to see beauty. The one who discovered being herself filled her up with infinitely more joy than living up to everyone else’s expectations.
If I could, I’d tell her that you cheating on her had nothing to do with her weight. Or the size of her bra. I’d tell her that the details are even worse than what she’s imagining in her head. I’d tell her that turning her back on you would be the hardest thing she’d ever do, but her future self would be forever grateful.
But she’d stay by your adulterous side. Sweeping up the pieces shattered around her feet. Hoping for the best. Because that sweet little girl’s tragic flaw was always relentlessly following her heart.
If I could, I would go back in time in search of my 22-year-old self. The one who finally saw all she was worth. And all she deserved. The brave girl who stood her ground and said, no more. No more.
If I could, I would wrap my arms around her so tightly. And I’d tell her it’s okay to be sad. And I’d tell her it’s okay to miss you. I’d tell her to let her heart weep. I’d tell her to long and mourn. I’d tell her to dwell on the loss of her first love for as long as she needed.
But she’d shut that out too. And she’d choose to never acknowledge the sadness, to never talk about the fear that maybe she was wrong. And she’d choose to let anger be the only emotion associated with you. Then she’d move on with the heavy burden of a bitter heart. Because there are some things that are worse than saying goodbye.
But this 27-year-old can’t go back. And she got here with only foolish emotions guiding her way. And all those bad decisions took their toll. And you still haunt her dreams. And that time never did come by and heal. Because she never let herself break down. And grieve the loss of a truly great love.
So to her I say, it’s not too late. And it’s still okay to think of you. It’s still okay to be sad. And it’s still okay to wonder. It’s even okay to remember. It doesn’t make her weak or pathetic. It makes her human. It makes her the woman she is. Built on the bones of her reckless 16-year-old, broken 18-year-old, devoted 20-year-old, and valiant 22-year-old selves.
She’s the glorious compilation of all the mistakes she’s ever made.
And if she’s lucky, there’ll be many more to come.
We used to make leaf piles. Rake the yard clean of fallen mahogany and amber and crispy browns until the shivering blades of grass beneath were revealed. We’d drag all those colors into the back corner of the yard. But we didn’t burn them. No we’d never let them go up in flames.
We piled them tall and wide until we created a mattress-sized heap of all the trees had shed that year. Then we jumped high in the air and let our bodies fall carelessly down to earth.
It was fall when I found you. Or you found me. And we both forgot – even if for just a moment – that our hearts were too broken to love again. And the time it took for a ruby red Sweetgum leaf to dance its way from the highest tree branch to the anxiously awaiting ground below, that was all the time we needed.
We were falling too.
In a coastal town you have to seek fall out or you’ll never realize she’s there. When the humidity steps aside, backs away after a cleansing rain. And winter’s bite hasn’t taken hold. The sun is still warm, but the swirling breeze carries just enough coolness to make it possible to sit under those soothing rays forever.
I miss the way the Georgia trees paint the ground with colors. And spending all day in the backyard raking up those leaves just so I could fall with splendid abandon.
But the trees here don’t change with the seasons. And as quick as she comes to visit, fall will move on.
So I’ll just breathe in each precious moment. And be thankful that a childhood spent watching leaves tumble helplessly in the air was enough to give me the courage for my greatest fall. When there was no leaf pile to catch me.
Do you think it would help if you talked to him again?
(sips coffee) . . . I don't know, really. I mean, if I talked to him and he said what I wanted him to, then it would help.
What do you want him to say?
That he knows I did everything, tried everything to make it work. That he knows I was wonderful. I was great. I was the best thing that ever happened him and he screwed it up. That he destroyed it. Pulled it out of the ground with its roots still intact. . . . That I gave everything. And he gave up.
But don't you know that already?
(shrugs) I want to know that he knows.