this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on october 23, 2018.

I had thought that Denette (not her real name) was the one I would finally settle down with.

Perhaps, naïve as I was (and still am), I had mistaken the contentment I felt with her over the last few years for peace of mind and heart. She was my first in so many aspects. We lasted far longer than anyone thought, and against everyone’s expectations.

She gave me a sense of security. I no longer cared what anyone else thought about me. She loved me completely and unconditionally. I loved her just as deeply. That was more than enough. It was all I ever needed.

I could be myself. I did not need to impress anyone. For the better part of the last few years, I had been conditioning myself for a lifetime with her, because I thought that she was the one I had been looking for all my life. In those moments, I truly believed that she was a dream come true.

However, I learned that, as with many things, such dreams are better left to sleep.

Just as I thought things were going well, in the blink of an eye, they suddenly weren’t. One moment we were planning the future together. The next moment she was doubting our relationship. Before I could even blink, she was gone. Her sudden departure truly changed me and turned my world upside down. It rocked me to my core and made me doubt everything I had ever believed in. It made me lose the will to live.

I heard from her eight days after she left. She was happily seeing someone new. In that same amount of time, she promised this new man everything she had promised me over the span of years.

At times I am still stunned with disbelief when I think about it. At the time, I refused to acknowledge the inner voices in my mind telling me that another man’s arms were wrapping slowly around her while she slowly let me go. She carried on with life happily draped in the arms of another, as if what we had meant nothing to her.

She left at the worst possible time. She left as I was slowly sinking under the weight of the goings-on around me. She left when I needed her the most. She left me to face the world I had turned my back on for her sake. But in that world I remained, still bearing the heavy cross that her existence had placed on my shoulders; a cross I didn’t even know existed until I finally felt its weight.

When she left, it was as if she took the very life out of me.

I admit that it was truly a mistake to have let my world revolve around her. It was a mistake to ever think that anything was set in stone. I thought I was smart enough. I thought I was strong enough. Perhaps like every other young fool in love, I thought I had everything figured out.

When she left, it was as if she took the very life out of me. I was left with next to nothing. I found myself trying to pick up the pieces and rebuilding my entire world from scratch.

My instincts told me that the simplest solution would simply be to find another. Why not take a leaf out of her book? Make her see that she was just as replaceable. Make her see that it was her loss.

However, I realized that to do so would be to use another human being to fill the void that she had left. To do so would not sit well with my conscience. In truth, I also doubted if I could find another, given the state I was in. At any rate, I pushed on, praying that all of this suffering would mean something in the end.

Her existence has truly changed me for both the better and the worse. I spent many nights trying to make sense of things. In a way, her departure was like death, for all that remained for both of us were shadows of who we were.

I admit that, at times, I do miss her. Perhaps it is the image of her with which I spent the last few years that I miss. Reality, however, ultimately sets in, and I am faced with the fact that this image of her has died and will never come back.

In a way, I died that day, too. The young idealistic fool who believed in an equally idealistic notion of love died. Stabbed in the back. Left for dead.

I do not regret loving her, nor do I regret the time I spent with her. Having said that, I don’t want her back; I can no longer love her the same way I did before. Perhaps it really is for the best if we lived our lives apart from one another.

Yet, despite all of that, I remain unsure of one thing: if I could ever feel for another woman again as much as I did for her.

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