What happens when the good chemistry of romantic love turns to toxic waste?
A lost love has a half-life, a period of decay and decomposition. Long after the end has come, a failed relationship continues to emit a faint radioactive glow, poisoning and contaminating what is left behind in its wake.
October 22, 1997. That’s the day the nuclear bomb of my one great love detonated and exploded. Its mushroom cloud cast a long, lingering shadow that took many years to dissipate. But the fallout still rains down grey ash on the bleak, barren, desolate landscape of my heart, like fire and brimstone on the biblical twin cities of the plain. And I look back, transfixed, at the devastation and destruction, like Lot’s wife turned into a motionless pillar of salt.
If my lost love were a chemical element in the periodic table, it would be called vincentium, after Vincent van Gogh, the subject of my beloved’s favorite song by Don McLean. Vincentium’s chemical properties would be hard to categorize. Originally a noble gas, light and ethereal like helium or neon, it ultimately became a heavy metal, like lead. Vincentium would have strong bonds, like carbon chains. Yet carbon takes the form both of diamond, strong and indestructible, and graphite, the soft “lead” of a pencil, blunted and dulled by time.
October 22, 1997. That’s what should be engraved on my tombstone, not the actual date of my demise. That’s the last day I felt truly happy and alive, the last day my life was genuinely worth living, the last day I felt whole and complete.
I was gloriously, deliriously happy that night, filled with joyous anticipation of precious time spent with the one I adored. I had not even the faintest premonition of impending doom. If I had perished in a car crash before sunset, on my way to that last rendezvous, I would have died perfectly content. I never fully understood the reasons for the collapse of our relationship. For a long time, I obsessed about how I might have been at fault. Was it something I had said or done, or failed to say or do? I approached the question from the other side of the equation as well. I crossed paths with my beloved several paths over the years, including a meeting at my own request to seek closure. But no apology, no explanation, was forthcoming.
Sometimes I fear I have forgotten the once-familiar features of my beloved’s face. But then that face, those eyes, are restored to me in dreams in all their pristine clarity. The conscious mind may forget, the subconscious may repress, but the memory of the heart is unfailing and evergreen.
On November 11 of that year—Remembrance Day—I left the following quote on the wall of the bulletin board system (BBS) to which I then belonged: Short days ago, we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved.
John McCrae’s World War I poem, In Flanders Field, had assumed a deeply personal significance for me. But it was my heart that had fought its last fight, and now lay bleeding and dying on the battlefield of life.
That January ushered in the terrible ice storm of 1998. The ice encasing bare tree branches and twigs created a fairy-tale landscape round about me. But my heart was as cold and wintry as the garden of Oscar Wilde’s selfish giant, from which joy and laughter were banished. As Valentine’s Day approached, I learned from a friend—some friend!—that the love of my life had moved on and was seeing other people. By the calendar, winter was drawing to a close, but the nuclear winter of my heart dragged on. Spring thaw caused the river between my home and office to flow freely again, and its dark deep waters dangerously tempted me. Like Ulysses of Greek legend, I deafened my ears to their siren song. But, emotionally if not physically, I was just as good as dead.
Some, indeed many, readers may feel that 14 years of mourning is excessive, even pathological. I can only reply that I have spent no longer grieving my loss than the biblical patriarch Jacob is reputed to have waited (and worked) for Rachel. Had I experienced such a loss earlier in life, in my 20s or 30s, I could perhaps have found a new love and rebuilt my life from the ruins and ashes of a tragic affair. Youth, strength, and resiliency might have helped me on the road to recovery.
But to find and lose a grand passion, at 40—ah, that is an entirely different proposition! The lost love becomes the first of many doors to close, many hopes and dreams to be dashed, many once bright opportunities to become impossibilities.
Three months after the sudden end of my one great love, I saw the movie “Titanic”. Toward the end, Rose watches in anguish as Jack’s frozen hands lose their grip on the life raft they share. Finally, he sinks into the murky waters of the Atlantic. Tears streamed down my cheeks, in the dimly lit cinema where, mercifully, no one else could see. I too bid farewell to a lost love, gone forever from my life. The sinking of the Titanic became yet another metaphor for the shipwreck of my heart.