I Keep In Touch With My First Love (And I Wish I Could Let It Go)

let go

I need to know he'll be OK in the end.

My first love and I parted ways a little over a decade ago. At first we kept our distance, giving each other time to heal, but when we both ended up living in New York City, we got in touch again. That’s what people who have a past do when they end up in the same city and have yet to find a new set of friends.

We hung out from time to time, sometimes ending the evening with just drinks at a bar and other nights he’d come home with me. I no longer loved him with the same do or die type of love as I did at 21, but I cared for him deeply and he felt the same. When we both started dating other people we still kept in touch, but hung out less frequently, and when those relationships we had became more serious, our friendship became less and less important. Time and experience had shaped us into two totally different people. All we had left in common was our past.

After a while what interaction we had was the stuff that stays on Facebook, involving “likes” of statuses, the occasional comment, and sometimes we’d exchange a couple texts. By this time, he and his fiancée had moved out of the city, and the life he was living was even more different from mine. He had gotten involved in drugs, but still I hung on, occasionally reaching out to see how things were, what was new, and if he’d been painting. He was an artist and despite his addiction issues, I always wanted to make sure that, no matter what, he was painting.

Eventually his drug use got out of hand, and he found himself in jail. While he was in jail his fiancée, who was suffering from her own addiction to alcohol, passed away from health issues related to alcohol abuse. It was shortly after hearing this news that I reach out to him again and we began to correspond through handwritten letters for the duration of his imprisonment. Considering how important he had been in my life, having been my first taste of love, it was paramount to me to be there for him in a time of such tragedy and heartbreak.

In each letter, I kept what was going on with me to a minimum. I told him that was engaged, but didn’t tell him I’d be getting married in Paris, going to Italy for three weeks for my honeymoon, that I’d spend the spring and summer in Europe, or how I had had my first piece in The Atlantic.

I felt guilty for being so happy in my life and finally having found success; at least in the way I measure success. I was conflicted during these series of letters: I wanted to be there for him, but it hurt so much to see what he had become, that I wanted to let go, too. I know the latter is a selfish thought, but I can’t help it.

I hang on to this man because he is wounded. He had his entire life ahead of him to flourish and succeed because of his talent, but he willingly chose a dark side. I want to be there to see him turn it all around and truly be one of those people who comes out the other side, but if it’s not in the cards for him, I don’t want to be around to see that.

It’s a helpless feeling that comes when you watch someone, who means the world to you, destroy their life. It’s a jarring sensation that you feel every time you interact with them. I realize it’s not my job to save him, nor am I under any obligations to stick around, but I need to, in some way. I need to know he’ll be OK in the end.

The last time he and I talked was right around Christmas to wish each other a good holiday and a happy New Year. We mentioned possibly getting together soon, but as it had been for the best several years, the sadness in our exchange made me wonder if I’d be able to see him and be strong enough to do so without any unnecessary tears.  I realize it’s not about me and that for me to cry would be a disservice to his recovery process, but that’s just my first response to pain: tears. 

I don’t know what the future holds for that first love of mine. I don’t know if he’ll move back to the city once he legally can, or even if that would be a good idea for him. But what I do know is that I’ll keep hanging on to him and hoping for the best. Because that’s all you can do when you’re not ready to let go.


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