This story is by Lillian Piel and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Short ginger hair, dark button-up shirt, and doc martin boots on her feet. Her eyes, so bright, the color somewhere between green and gray. The way she used to smile at me like we were the only two people in the world, and she looked at me like she understood everything about me. My Alex.
We met through a mutual friend, and I asked her out after we hit it off at a party with some of our friends. Our first date felt different from the many first dates I’ve been on in the past. I knew whatever was between us would blossom into something more than just a few casual dates, and it did.
I was happiest whenever we were together. Alex and I would visit our favorite café and talk about everything and nothing, then take long walks through the city, hand in hand. We would sit on my couch while she ran her fingers through my long dark hair, not saying anything, just enjoying each other’s company. We would cook dinner together, and whenever we caught each other’s eyes while we were in the kitchen, she would pull me in for a kiss.
Even though Alex understood me like no one had before and the love we felt for each other went deeper than I had ever known, after three years, she left.
It was like being caught in a storm, the wind and the rain and the sadness and the pain consuming me.
Alex came home frustrated one day from her job as an assistant professor at a nearby university. “I just can’t believe that the computer science department promoted Devin over me. Honestly, I think it’s just because he’s a man and I’m a woman. Even though I’m more experienced and a better professor and connect with my students more than he does and he’s just a misogynistic, son-of-a…”
“Alex, honey it’s ok!” I walked over to where she was pacing across our living room and gently wrapped her in an embrace. “Why don’t you talk to the head of the department about it? I’m sure they would listen to you.”
Alex took a deep breath and sighed. She pulled back from the hug to look at me. “I know, Ella. You’re probably right.”
Except Alex seemed off. She was more tense than usual, her jaw was clenched like it does when something is bothering her. Something more her job is on her mind.
“Alex, what is it? I know when you’re hiding something.” She paused, and turned away, breaking the embrace. Before she answered my question, Alex looked down at the floor, and her voice got quieter. “I started looking for job openings. I don’t see my job taking me anywhere, especially after Devin got promoted over me.”
“Okay, that’s good!” I replied, happy for her. “If you’re ready to look for a new job I’ll support you the whole way.”
“I am ready, Ella. I was actually offered a job that would be a really good fit for me.”
“That’s amazing!” I took Alex’s hand, but before moving closer to kiss her, something stopped me. The pained look in her eyes, and the tears just barely hiding behind it. “Alex, what is it?”
“The job isn’t here. It’s on the East coast.” She paused again. “And I already told them I would take it.”
My thoughts and my heart were racing. It’s okay, we’ll figure this out. Alex must have a reason for waiting to tell me, right? I thought.
I sat down on the couch and waited for Alex to join me. She slowly slumped down next to me, but the air had changed. There was excitement before, but that quickly shifted to a sense of dread that hung between us.
“I’m really happy for you baby, I’m glad you found this new job and it’s a good fit for you. I’m sure we can figure something out. I’ll find a new job too on the East Coast, we can find an apartment to rent…”
“Ella.” Alex took my hand, and something in her voice made me stop mid-sentence. “I need to move on, by myself. At least for a little while.”
Her words hit me like a brick. My tears began to form, the drops glistening on my eyelashes before they streamed down my cheeks.
“I don’t understand. Alex, I love you, with all my heart. I thought we were in this for the long run. How…how can you just spring this on me? How can you just leave me like that?” My tears began to fall faster, as my voice grew louder, shakier, angrier.
“Ella. I love you too. I’m sorry. I just need a change, and I need to figure things out on my own for a bit. Honestly, I haven’t been happy here for a while, and you haven’t noticed. I hope we can find each other again someday. But I have to go, I’m sorry.”
After Alex left, I was a wreck. I stayed home from work for a few days, and I tried to figure out what I did that caused her to leave. I couldn’t focus on anything. I cried and cried until I didn’t have any tears left. I didn’t enjoy the things I used to, and I stopped going out with friends. I convinced myself that I wouldn’t be able to love anyone again like I loved her.
I started seeing traces of Alex everywhere. A passerby with short ginger hair. A woman wearing doc martins like Alex’s and laughing with her friend as they walked by. Someone in line at the coffee shop who ordered her favorite drink. My memories of her were everywhere, and it was driving me crazy because I wanted her to come home more than anything.
It’s been a few months since Alex moved away, I’m still not feeling any more like myself. I get irritated more easily at little things. I check Alex’s Instagram sometimes and it doesn’t help to see that she seems much happier. I used to spend my Saturday nights out on the town with my friends, but now I just stay at home, huddled on the couch watching sitcom reruns.
I feel like I’m bound to Alex. A love like that doesn’t come often, and now that she’s gone, I’m afraid I won’t find love ever again.
One weekend, Meg, a close friend of mine, texted me asking if she could come over for the evening. She said she had something she wanted to give me. I hesitated. Do my friends even want to spend time with me anymore? But I agreed, because it’s been a while since we’ve talked, and Meg is one of my closest friends.
Meg arrives at my house with a carton of my favorite ice cream – mint chocolate chip – and a basket full of anything you could possibly need for an at-home spa day. The weight of everything that had happened feels so heavy on my shoulders, and it’s so good to see Meg. As soon as I open the door to greet her, I just hug her tightly.
“Ella!” Meg hugs me back just as tight, and I immediately start feeling better when I see her smile. “I know things have been hard since you and Alex…you know, and I really miss you, girl. I hope you’ll start hanging out with everyone again soon, we all miss you.”
“I miss everyone too. I’m sorry, I’ve been so preoccupied with the break-up and I don’t know if I’m ready to get back out there. Alex and I were together for so long, I’m bound to her. Or at least, I wish I was, because I miss her like crazy.”
“I know you do. I hope you know that I’m here for you Ella. Everything will be okay eventually.” Meg playfully puts her arm around my shoulder and flashes a grin. “Now come on, this ice cream isn’t going to eat itself. Actually, I may have called in a little backup.”
I realize what she means when she opens the door and lets in three of our friends. They’re all excited to see me, and they tell me they miss me. That they love me. Sitting in my living room eating ice cream with friends I haven’t seen in forever, I feel myself smile wider than I have in a long time.
As I look around at my friends, my heart suddenly feels full, a feeling I’ve been missing since Alex left. With this newfound realization, I slowly start to let go of Alex in my mind, to not feel bound to her anymore. The love I have in my life already is enough, more than enough. I have family, I have love for the things I find beautiful in life, and I have friends who pick me up when I fall. I finally see that boundless, unconditional love can be found in more places than one.