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"Yeah, one day, when you're a cute little old lady with white hair, you'll be telling your grandchildren all about 'that mean bastard, ____.'"
I was eighteen at the time, and hurt that my boyfriend would say such a thing. This isn’t something most of us would like to hear in the frenzy of young love, hurt that our first partner didn't see a future with us towards the end of a casual date. The summer before my first year of college, the third week of July marked our first anniversary. And what did we watch? Bruno. Sacha Baron Cohen was one of the few people we could agree on. Almost anything associated with the vulgar, anyway. We’ve all reflected on failed relationships, wincing at moments of childishness and words said in cruelty. We often ask ourselves, “What went wrong?” and sometimes, after further thought, we acknowledge that the pairing was incompatible and, simply, not meant to be.
Some of us invested several years into dysfunctional relationships, told towards the end that we were something akin to the biggest failure in the other person’s life, that we embarrassed that person and wasted time. At a certain point, some of us may agree with the negatives, that indeed, the relationship was a waste of time and a hallmark of personal failure. We may even sever ties with anything and everything associated with that relationship, including the beauty in the world around us that always stood near for our comfort and meditation, irrespective of the relationship’s course.
During my time with that boyfriend, I went on a life-changing road trip across the Eastern United States. I travel seldom, and stayed in the same metropolitan area since the age of ten. The haunting warmth of Yorktown Battlefield, the intricacies of human anatomy in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s reminder of grandiosity gone awry became more than what I knew as photos in a textbook. When we feel, hear, touch, and engage with different environments, we acquire new ideas, refreshing tastes, and sometimes, pleasant memories. If we embarked on a journey with a particular someone from whom we unpleasantly separated, should we rewrite our lives to say we never took the trip just because of an ex?
We should savor the memories, and cherish the lessons they impart. We all know the pangs of longing, hatred, bitterness, and regret. They are discomforts iconic of romantic dissolution, but should they tarnish our overall perception of a world bustling with wondrous adventure? Should we surrender to replayed conversations and painful memories that stand separate from our positive experiences? To say “yes” would be to stifle growth and succumb to embittered, cyclical self-destruction.
I chose to keep the pictures from my 2012 road trip. Few of these pictures feature my ex. Though familiar, the physicality evokes nothing. Our heated conversations danced till their legs gave out, and indeed, our political debates ran marathons, paying no heed to exasperated tendons. But the freshness and diversity this road trip offered transcended our shared negativity. While we may initially shy away from admitting that there were good times in a bad relationship, we should take a moment to recognize kinder experiences that nurtured instead of neglected. We took from those experiences, and should keep from them.
Some of us rarely forget, harboring vivid memories whether they sting or comfort. We may ask if not forgetting is a curse. Like most other aspects of life, the answer depends on our attitude. Was that vacation necessarily bad because we shared it with an ex who controlled, criticized, and belittled? Looking at photos taken from our trips and focusing on the vibrancy in our surroundings, we may relent in our sourness, enjoy the beauty, and say, "You're being ridiculous."
We should choose to keep these pictures, remembering the days in each place so well. And of each locale, we should keep the lessons learned from its history, its people, and its culture. One person, a rainstorm, and an unsavory dish are not sufficient to erode the wonders of time well spent.