I watch as Dad slits the skin of his fingers on the edges of bills he has to pay before he grips his glass, swirling around the rum. He seems impervious to the eerie stillness of the room, though Mom just slammed the door. The air feels like it’s shivering, rippling out in the fallout of my mother’s crying. On the walls hang pictures of their younger selves. As I look at them, I wonder what strangers left their photographs behind on our walls.
“She was a different person then,” Dad mumbles with a telling laugh. “If you can believe it.”
When I first heard my parents were considering divorce, a friend of mine told me, “Your parents almost always serve as your first and only example of love in life.” Naturally, when that example turns on itself, implodes and festers, my opinion of relationships evolves with it. Maybe I was an unabashed romantic most of my life because at any point I could almost relive those tender childhood memories of waking up between my parents, swathed under the sheets of their bed. But like other memories from my childhood, any recollection of my parents’ early marriage is losing clarity with every day. The older I become, the less my mind holds onto what my parents once had. As their love ages and grays, I become less confident that the most beautiful things in life last.
I’m learning with every new moment that all relationships — romantic, platonic, familial — inevitably decay. Personally, I am at a stage in life when I’m really trying to decide who my true friends are. It has involved painful decisions to step away from some people in my life I thought I would never leave. Our lives had touched in delicate compatibility, but once the universe spiraled us forward, I felt this sudden nausea as I glanced around. Once confident they had barreled along through life with me, I then watched as they floated away, like flickering lights dimming as the distance grew between us.
Any kind of “divorce,” whether romantic or platonic, tends to kindle negative connotations when mentioned. The loss of love and the waning of closeness almost always bring us to a world of emphatic nervousness because we crave profound intimacy. We want to love and be loved. Because we are attached to what we know and therefore find security in what can be measured, felt, expressed and conceived, severance leaves us in this uncomfortable, nebulous limbo. All it takes is a friend expressing disillusionment with me before I start wondering how sustainable other friendships really are.
I learned recently to let relationships die with more understanding — and especially with less repulsion and hostility. The challenge is allowing relationships to evolve, instead of fighting to preserve a small piece of something so naturally dynamic and inconstant.
That idea could never really settle inside me, even when I watched my parents slowly reaching this peculiar acceptance of their deteriorating relationship. Now, Mom stares vacantly at the burning white of her computer screen when Dad starts hissing. And his nose stays peacefully submerged in the pages of his book when she slams doors and cries that she will move overseas. They aren’t complacent, nor content — just aware.
But the mortality of relationships finally made sense to me this past weekend, while driving up the interstate, a road that stretches out over miles of unraveling terrain and demands conversation, when I asked my mom if their love will reignite.
“It will never be the same,” she admitted. Then I saw something wonderful in her wrinkled smile when she added, “But it constantly changes in character.”
When we look back on a decayed relationship, what we linger on is that almost incapacitating feeling that singes every nerve in our body when we’ve lost someone, sometimes in little realizations that come in small, aching stings every single day. We feel as if we have amputated a part of ourselves. But we forget the more invisible force behind every gradual estrangement of friends, family and lovers; we forget what we’ve become from the pain and in what ways we’ve been saved because of it.
Every day we become different people. I mean, there’s something truly elemental about ourselves that never really changes, yet there’s so much of who we are that is constantly stirred by every new thing we see, hear or experience. Our relationships tend to change with us. We walk away from some, yes, but also toward others.
It was only recently that I realized how close I had become to my parents in the middle of their disintegrating romance. The moment came after one of their embittered arguments, when I heard the story of how they fell in love for the first time and I felt like I knew them better. And suddenly I began imagining the love I’ve had for the people I’ve lost forever suspended in little pockets of time, in little niches I leave behind me as I continue walking away, at peace. Then I perceived my life as this series of vignettes of love in different points of time, hanging in the walls of my mind like the frames of my parents at home, eternalized forever.
Thinking of it that way offers a kind of solace in knowing that relationships will never last. But it’s worth knowing, too, that new, beautiful things come to life every day.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers are selected.