I have a "big" ex. We met when I was 18 and years later we had a pretty painful split - the kind of split that kept me in bed for a few days listening to Landslide on repeat. I don't think I'll ever write in depth about that relationship - it was a long time ago and I feel like I would need an entire separate blog entitled "...and yet, I'm still working through shit that comes up from time to time when I least expect it." Or something.
One of the things that is always hard about ending a serious relationship is the loss of friends and family. I was extremely close to his family and vice versa. When we split up, I never got the chance to say goodbye to anyone. I lost an entire group of people with whom I was extremely close, and that loss has stayed with me years beyond the loss of my relationship.
One of the people I was closest to was my ex's sister-in-law, Jennifer*. She and I spent hours upon hours together, having conversations, shopping, cooking, you name it. We were friends as well as family. I looked up to her and loved her kids very much. I was as much their auntie as I am to my own nieces and nephews. Even after the split, I went and visited Jennifer when she had a baby. That was one of the last times I saw her.
Albuquerque is a small city, but big enough that it's easy to avoid seeing someone, especially if you don't hang out in the same "scene." Being that my ex and I are vastly different when it comes to our tastes in, well, everything, I rarely see him. The same is true for his family members. I rarely see anyone from his family for the same reason, but back in May I ran into Jennifer at Target. I was purchasing toiletries for my upcoming trip to San Francisco and she was there with her daughter, shopping for their family vacation. I was surprised that Jennifer looks a little bit older, and that her daughter is a teenager. I know time goes on and people continue to grow and age, but I guess I thought they would always stay the same, frozen in time. Because my life as ______'s girl ended, I forgot that life itself continues.
Jennifer and I exchanged pleasantries the way old high school friends do. I asked for her other kids, she asked how my family is doing, asked where I work now. She liked my tattoos. She asked what I was shopping for and I told her that I was going to San Francisco to perform poetry and she congratulated me. She asked a few times how I am doing and each time I said "I'm good, I'm doing great, things are great, I'm really happy." After a while it felt I was trying to convince her - and myself - that I really am happy and that I didn't make a mistake by ending the relationship so many years ago.
Had I stayed in that relationship, I wouldn't be who I am today. Had I stayed, I would be a shell, a shadow, an almost. I have zero regrets about walking away, but when I see his family, I can't help but feel a pain that I've never really dealt with. The need I felt to tell her how happy I am is rooted in the need to let him know that I'm fine and extremely grateful for the fact that we are no longer together. I'm pretty sure Jennifer didn't run to him to let him know she saw me, but if it ever comes up, there is this part of me that needs for him to know that I'm not only alive, I'm thriving.
As always, I'm not really aware of things until I start writing about them. Now that I'm aware of what I'm feeling, it's something I can begin to work through. Breaking up with someone is hard; breaking up with the family is sometimes even harder (on the flip side, I have another ex and I could care less if I ever see his family again). Having the awareness that residual pain exists means that I can begin to work on it. I don't wish to be a part of that family again because it would mean being in a relationship with him again. So much of my relationship with Jennifer was built on the fact that we were family; she and I don't have much in common anymore and I'm not sure I need to be her friend. She can just be a good memory of someone who was really nice to me at one time.
Next time I see her, I'll let her know how I'm doing and when I say I'm fine, I mean it.
Next time: The Honeymooners
*Names changed to protect the identity of the past