Up until now, I was always the one to leave.
Sure, my parents abandoned me emotionally, but they were always there physically. When we became estranged, they kicked me out of their house. They made me leave. I had to find somewhere else to sleep.
I was the one who went away to college.
I was the one who left her first boyfriend behind to study abroad in London.
I was the one who quit her favorite job ever to move to New York City.
I was the one who left all of her friends back in New York to move across the country and start a new life in LA.
I didn't know what it was like to be left behind. I was always moving forward.
Sure, I've been left before – my affections spurned, romantic advances rejected – but now I find myself holding down the fort in LA while someone I love is gone for two months. And he wasn't exactly mine anymore when he left. And I don't know if I'll be his when he returns.
Two months is a long time.
I remember I'd only been dating my first boyfriend Seth for a month and a half, maybe two months when I had to leave for London in the Summer of 1995. Our relationship was so new that we knew we'd have to break up before I left, but we spent so much time together right before my departure, at the last minute we both kind of looked at each other and said, "We don't have to break up, do we?" That August day I left, he dropped me off at the train station to say goodbye, and I sobbed as I tried to hoist my luggage full of four months' supplies onto the overhead rack.
I was a mess when I arrived in Hudson, NY to join my future roommate on the way down to JFK for our flight to London. It was my first flight ever, and I was anxious, nervous, and most of all, heartbroken.
But then I arrived at Heathrow, took a black cab to pick up the keys to our new flat, arrived in Kilburn Park, and started to settle in. I met my new flatmates and classmates that lived across the courtyard. I started drinking and forgetting. I moved on more quickly than I ever expected.
Right away I started receiving letters and phone calls from Seth. I didn't always answer the phone. The distance from him was too great, and after such a short period of time dating, I started to doubt everything we'd experienced together. I grew cold to his affections. Even though he sent me flowers on my birthday and wrote the most loving things to me, I didn't believe him.
I recently recovered a couple of those letters from storage boxes, and, in reading them, terribly regret how I treated him. He always considered our breakup temporary. He wrote that he would only consider himself complete with my hand in his. That my competition was none. That I remained in the future. That he was mine without question.
I don't know why those words didn't make my heart melt back then. I don't know why I didn't believe him.
No one has ever said anything like that to me since. I don't think anyone has ever felt that way about me since.
Instead of writing him back, talking with him and reassuring him, I had sex with other people, even though I knew that was the last thing he wanted me to do. After I'd been gone for two months and acting increasingly distant, his letters began to express his worry. He asked if everything was OK. He tried to make me jealous by talking about other girls.
When I finally got home in December, I didn't call him right away, though I knew he expected me to. When we finally did talk on the phone, he admitted that his ex-girlfriend (the one with whom I likely overlapped when I started dating him) wanted to get back together with him.
"Maybe you should go do that," I said. And that was it. We were really broken up. I didn't want to come home to him. I'd lived a whole lifetime in four months in London, and I was a different person than the virgin girl he'd taken out dancing the summer before. I was hardened by city life, and by the world. I'd experienced other men, and women.
Granted, I was only 19 years old when I left, and turned 20 while I was away. I didn't know anything. When I came back, Seth said that he had been in love with me, but I didn't believe that, either. After all, although I'd liked him very much, and I'd loved having a boyfriend, I didn't love him. I couldn't imagine him loving me.
And now I do love someone, and I'm the one who's been left behind. I thought my heart would grow cold again – I looked forward to the separation, so I could move on – but my heart still beats hot and hard. I'm not moving on. I'm waiting for the days to pass. I'm hoping to wake up from a coma two months from now so I don't have to wait the entire time out.
I don't know what's going to happen when he comes back. Considering what I did to my first boyfriend when I was the one to leave, I probably deserve however he treats me, having lost whatever love he once had for me in the time since. Maybe he'll meet another girl. Maybe he'll remember things differently. Maybe he'll want something new and unfamiliar when he gets back to LA.
There's no way I can know. All I can do is wait it out.
To Leave, and Not Be Left Behind
These Unavoidable Regrets