“Loneliness and solitude are two things not to get confused, because I spend my solitude with you.”
– Relient K, “Therapy”

I’m not sure if it’s the grey skies, the bitter cold, or the profound solitude of post-college life, but She has taken residence in my thoughts once more with her smile and light voice and tender heart. I imagine a mug of tea in her hands, her hair in a bun, and a big knit sweater that she keeps pulling tight around her shoulders. My heart sits deep in my belly. If only her company was real. Half an hour later I realize that I’m staring at the fireplace, my coffee has gone cold, and I am restless.

I get in the car and put on Forget and Not Slow Down by Relient K and drive around the back roads of Wisconsin, through snow-covered cornfields with big red barns and cows still brave enough to wander outdoors. A light snow has dusted the hills from the previous night, soft and glittery. Even beneath grey skies, Wisconsin has its charm. I never thought I’d be driving through the country just to drive. Maybe she will be gone after.

I sing along to the lyrics I’ve known intimately for so long and think of her, letting it all sink in, trying to let go while the world moves past my windows.

Is it time I befriended all the ghosts of all the things that haunt me most?

Memories of us together surface and I live fully inside each one. I thought I had let them go—I threw out our letters, deleted our emails—but here they are, and I yearn for them. When one leaves, another enters: the smell of her room, her love of beets, the dock of her family’s cottage. Each memory fills me with a sweet grief and sinks my heart deeper (To know her is to love her).

Why, after six months of being okay has such a storm overcome me? It’s as if I had pushed my feelings aside until now, tossed them up into the sky and hoped they would go away only to have them rain down in a torrent and sweep me off my feet. I miss her terribly. I want to hear her voice again, experience life with her again. The memory of her once feeling the same way makes me ache.

I imagine the dismay she might feel if I told her, six months after we said goodbye, that I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, that I still wanted those arms wrapped around me; dismay because she had hoped I’d moved on too, because she doesn’t feel the same way, because I couldn’t keep it to myself. I am dismayed with myself, too.

 (Don’t tell me you let go

Six months is a long time—she is hundreds of miles away, surrounded by a different community, pursuing different goals; maybe she has her eye set on somebody else. Those are all wonderful things, and I imagine her going about it all in that quirky, soft-spoken way that is hers alone. I miss that. I miss the warmth she radiates.

This is the end
(If you want it)

The roads haven’t been touched by a plow yet, leaving them slick with snow. I drive slowly down a hill hugged with trees on either side, and am surprised to find I have driven myself to the old home where I grew up. My family moved out of it not long after I said goodbye to her. It sits high up on a hill with a view of the valley and all of its homes beneath and the vast horizon above. Candlelit summer dinners on the porch and warm nights spent reading by the fire in the living room with my family capture my thoughts, if only briefly.

A new family lives in there now, with their own belongings and patterns of life. I remind myself that I will never live in that home again except in memory. The parallel is not lost on me, and I drive away.

Without you I’m still whole
You and life remain beautiful

I know as time goes on the weight in my heart will fade. But not right now. Right now I’ll grieve, and watch as these complicated emotions tangle and tangle and finally untangle. She and life will still be beautiful then, as now.

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