When You Couldn’t Love Them Back
Have you ever heard or experienced a love story where one person received so much love but they couldn’t give anything back? Think of the second lead in a Korean drama who is so devoted to the object of their affection but lost the race to the main lead. That kind of love. The one that makes you sympathize, the one that frustrates you into asking, “But why? Couldn’t you see how they were prepared to lay down their lives for you?”
I have, when I was 14. In this scenario, I was the main lead who couldn’t give as much love back as I received. Let alone love, I was not even able to extend the friendship that they deserved. It never sat right with me how badly I treated him, but I was also never ready to address it until I finally did, when I was 18. It was four years after they and I stopped seeing each other because we went to different high school, and four years before today, as I write this memory down in class, at Harvard.
It was a Monday, and I was already in Japan at this point in time. They were visiting Japan with their sibling, traveling just by themselves. I knew there was only one chance to see them off, so I left my house at five in the morning to catch up before the next train takes them to Tottori.
I remembered dreading seeing them again for the first time in four years. I hated being reminded of the person I was when I was 14 years old, who was in need of so much healing but did not receive the support she needed, and therefore she let out her uncontrollable anger and angst to the world, and in extension, to them. But I was better, at 18, and I thought part of healing was to finally make peace with that part of my life that involved this person, which looked like this, in quick summary:
We first got to know each other when we were 12, and they learned to loved me so, so dearly at certain point in our friendship. Although I grew aware of how our relationship had turned romantic on their end, I was fighting a personal battle so detached from the reality I was living in, and I was so focused on the struggle that I completely overlooked everything else in life.
I’m inching closer to recovery everyday that I still live and breathe, but I had faced something that had scarred me so deeply that to this day, I wonder if the wound will ever close. And as I was fighting this battle, my emotional range of a teaspoon could not hold anything beyond what it was already holding: terrible and immense rage. There was nothing they could have done for me at that time. So much love, and I wasted it all away. They couldn’t be the savior that I needed, so I lashed out and pushed them away for being (what I thought at the time) useless.
It was a battle I didn’t know how to win, not with the state that I was at the time, and this person’s existence in my life planted this expectation that perhaps they hold the medicine to my pain. It wasn’t fair because he didn’t know what he was supposed to fix. He didn’t know what the demon inside me was, didn’t know what was causing me so much pain, and I had expected for him to see right through my layers of rage, reach deep into my inner scared child, and tell her she will be okay. When he didn’t do exactly that, I was angry. I was mad at him, and I was mad at me, too, because I really was just so angry on a lot of things at the time.
When high school came and I was finally able to breathe a little bit freely, I became better on my own, because I had finally decided that I was sick of being angry all the time and wanted to make up for the three years of my childhood that got taken away. That was when I realized that I was what I needed. The inner child in me did not need a hero or a savior. What she needed was time, and only the natural course of life was able to give me the time I needed to heal. I started seeing the cup half full, and I shifted my focus to doing the best for my inner child who never stopped dreaming for the world even in her darkest hour: on my education, on pursuing academic achievement, on making it to the top of the pyramid so I can leave unlock the shackles that bound my feet and fly.
Where was this person, in the midst of all this?
You see, as I was learning to unfurl my own wings, I was fully cognizant of their presence. I had known they were watching from afar, with great patience. I had known they were waiting for me to be ready, and they were ever so lovely through it all. I was never pressured, never urged to make a decision and meet them halfway. They gave me time, when I asked. Distance, when I was unresponsive. A sweater, when I needed a reminder that I was loved. A heart, that they carved out from beneath their ribs and handed to me so earnestly.
This is the sad part: it still did nothing to me, even though I was in a better place. Perhaps it was because I had changed so much and the world around me had changed too, and they were still an anchor of my past that stayed that I wanted nothing to do with. At some point, it became too much. My tea spoon range of emotion quickly over flooded, and so I asked them to leave.
They had given me a love so pure, and I was too broken to see, appreciate, and accept it.
If someone asks me today whether I have any regret regarding this story, I guess it not being patient enough. But I’ve decided long ago that I was not going to blame myself too harsh on this. I could have been kinder in how I ended it. I could have shown the compassion and gratitude that they deserved. But in the end, I had not owned them the same kind of love. It ended the way it was written in the stars, and it ended the way it needed to, so the two of us can be grow from it.
Seeing them again for the first time since high school had helped me put things into perspective. The conversation we had was friendly and sweet. We were distant, for good reasons. There was nothing but polite kindness in the way they addressed me, and I found that I was not heartbroken over the dimness in their eyes that used to light up in my presence. I exhaled in relief.
We waited for the next train that is going to carry them to their next destination awkwardly. We tried weather talks, at first, to get our bearings, and then we slowly moved on to throwbacks, and finally, apologies. After four years of putting our story on pause, it took us all of 20 minutes to write our endings and dry the ink on the dusty page. We were finally able to close that one chapter of our live, all before the train came. In this new book, we both agreed to re-start as strangers with blank pages and clean slate.
Now we can both look beyond the past and perhaps be friends again one day, if that is what we want.