As I was making breakfast this morning (I make a fairly consistent breakfast every day), I was struck by the fact that I basically inherited the contents of the food I was preparing from an ex-girlfriend. It seemed like a funny thing for me to continue carrying on from a previous relationship, but there I was preparing the same thing she would make for me. It’s a protein-heavy, paleo-inspired thing she concocted for me one weekend: turkey bacon, corn tortillas, spinach, and refried black beans. I loved it then, and I still love it today, breakup or no.
It’s not about the meal. The meal is trivial, but it’s a meal that is unmistakably her contribution to my life. And it’s a contribution that I revisit almost every day. I did not go to work or go about my business without carrying a piece of what she gave to me at every step.
It made me think that every relationship is like that. Every smile, intimacy and trust we share with someone creates trails of their gifts to us whether we like that or not.
The breakfast I make is unmistakably hers, and so I think about the relationship from time to time while it cooks. If it weren’t for those reminders, I’d not think to remember the past that way. As it stands, this morning, I got this picture of what my life looks like as a result of our time together. The meal is a symbol of a reality that I cannot escape. As painful as a breakup can be, and as much as you can sometimes hate a person or never want to speak with them again, if you’re paying attention, you can’t help but notice all these pieces of what you shared lying around that you’re actually really happy to have. They remind you that the relationship was rich, and lots of it, you wouldn’t trade for almost anything.
Of course breakfast isn’t the thing I took away from being with her. It’s just a symbol of all the things I learned, but wouldn’t otherwise remember. I learned how to start loving myself then, but that’s not something any of us think about every day. I just notice that I’m a better person, and more at peace today than I was 2 years ago. I know how to express myself better in a fight. I’m not as quick to run away from my emotions.
There’s a million things like that, which represent the love we shared.
Listening to the bacon cook, I was taking this all in and thinking about the relationships that I have had and will have in my life. How will the women that I connect with continue to leave traces of themselves in my life. Will I be as pleased to discover them as I am to find hair on my pillow, or notes on my mirror? Will I look back on a particular event in a relationship and wish it gone completely? Will a mistake that I make turn every reminder into a dagger?
Of course, this is true not just for all of us, and not just the people we allow ourselves to fall in love with. Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve made some amazing friends. They’ve all brought new things into my life, and I’m quite sure that I won’t recognize many contributions for what they are until I’m making a new breakfast or ordering a drink that someone introduced me to. And then that act will serve as a reminder of the part of that person that they gave freely.
All this made me realize that we never really know in advance what gifts someone will bring to us. And once those gifts have been given, it’s impossible for them to be taken back. That relationship has ended, and new ones have taken its place, and I’m the product of all of them along the way.
It’s a great mystery worth celebrating how someone will affect us. From the people we work with to the friends we get drunk with to the lovers we share intimate moments with.
As I was thinking about that, I realized that my heart was full and my life was beautiful. I had nothing to take for granted, but everything to share. Hopefully I’ll be remembered fondly along the way as well.
Hopefully we all will.
I hope this helps.
Austin W. Gunter