“It’s sad how the people you were once so close with can become just another stranger you don’t know.” ~ Unknown
I was down the beach doing my daily walk.
The sun was warm on my shoulders and the waves were crashing down gently on the sandy shore.
There were people going about their daily activities. Some playing with their kids. Some were enjoying an ice cream from the local ice creamery. Some soaking in the rays on their near-naked bodies. Others practising yoga, or some other form of mindfulness. Me, I was just taking it all in, being in this present moment. I felt at peace and happy. I felt alive.
And then I saw him.
He was up ahead, under the beach shower, peeling off his wetsuit, his surfboard resting against the log fence behind him. That pang of familiarity striking me from within. My first thought was to say “hi,” and I knew deep down there would be that fall into old but too recognisable energy.
Alas, I wouldn’t be saying “hi,” as I don’t believe either of us were ready for that. Even though it’s been a few years since our relationship technically ended, it’s been far less than that since we stopped communicating. Or rather since he stopped reaching out to me and me responding. And I knew at the depth of my being that a connection of that energy was not a healthy thing for either of us. Time, reflection, and deep work has taught me that whilst there was love and an undeniable chemistry and attraction, it wasn’t always healthy, and it was never going to be enough. We were in different places in life and with our healing journeys.
I discreetly moved down to the sand, avoiding going toward the shower area. I admit I was feeling a little breathless and my heart was pounding a little harder. It was a bit of a surreal feeling. I didn’t miss him anymore, nor was I feeling heartbroken or wished we were still together. No, that ship sailed with the choices he made and the pain he ultimately caused when making his choices.
But nevertheless, when you deeply love someone at one point, a little of that love remains in your heart and soul, and that’s when you learn the depth of your ability to love another human being.
So when you unexpectedly see them, it’s bound to trigger some memories.
As I proceeded up the beach, I was thankful for the slight breeze. I didn’t turn back, on the off chance he had spotted me; we didn’t need that eye contact. I focused on the music playing in my headphones. Interestingly, the song blaring was “Unstoppable” by Sia. “I’m unstoppable today.” Yep I feel unstoppable.
A smile broke out on my face as I remembered he had left his old wetsuit at my place and said I could keep it, as he needed a new one. Not sure what I was going to do with a wetsuit, even if I did have this fantasy of taking up surfing, an activity I did enjoy in my younger years. I knew I wasn’t really going to take up surfing. I tried it on once for no real reason but to see what I looked like in a wetsuit and to convince myself I could surf if I wanted to. Those surf lessons are still waiting of course. At first I threw the wetsuit in my closet, partly in case I changed my mind about those surf lessons, and partly because it was a reminder of him.
It’s gone now.
I remembered his pride and joy surfboard he left at my place for a bit. It stood in the corner like some important piece of artwork. A centrepiece, holding that space. The smell of surfboard wax and salt filling the air. Wonder if it’s the same surfboard resting on that log fence whilst he showers.
The surfboard left my place one heated afternoon, when he had one of his tantrums and threw his set of keys at me. Only to return the next day sad and sorry for the preceding day’s events. That energy calm and serene like a gentle waterfall one minute and vicious and unrelenting like the pounding waves the next.
As I walked along the shoreline, paddling my feet as I went, I looked at the people walking in front of me and past me. Some alone and some with others. I wondered how long those who were with others had known each other. I wondered if those alone had recently ended relationships, or did they have someone waiting at home for them. Were they enjoying their solitude?
I wondered when they looked at others on the beach, did they see someone they knew? Someone they thought was familiar? Or a complete stranger?
How weird it is I just saw a man I was in a relationship with for two years, who I shared everything with, and who I had felt so intricately connected to, yet now all I saw was a stranger. Yes, I used to know him, and my memories of him were still packed away inside of me. But the man himself was now a stranger to me, and my memories are of the man I thought he was. The man he was with me. But I have learnt that man is a different man to the man he presents to the world.
Stranger: a person whom one does not know, or with whom one is not familiar.
I stop to study a jellyfish I see in the shallow water and am reminded how vast our world is and how many living creatures there are. I wondered if it could see me. I love how the jellyfish has the ability to heal itself. To transform itself. And now I feel a kindred spirit to this jellyfish.
My mind is brought back to the man I just saw. I would recognise that body, the way he held his arm back to get out of the wetsuit anywhere. Some things just don’t leave your memory, no matter how hard you try to rid yourself of them. But he could have been anyone. Any man taking a shower after their surf. Any man glinting his eyes from the sun.
But he wasn’t any man. He was a man I once knew. A man I once loved. A man I knew more intimately than I probably knew myself at the time.
Yet he’s a stranger now. Just someone I used to know.
I wondered what he was doing here and why he’d risk bumping into me. We live on the coastline and there are many beaches he could go. Maybe the surf was better here. It doesn’t matter. There are bound to be times we are going to see each other, and we have over the years, but this time it’s different, as before I saw him as the man I once loved, with the smallest wish that things could be different.
Now, I see him as the stranger I once loved, and I know things happened just as they were meant to. A stranger who let me touch his soul, but I still question whether I really knew the depth of him. A stranger who so many people think they know, but have little idea of the man underneath the mask. A stranger I’m almost convinced doesn’t know himself.
We all grow and change. Strangers become friends and lovers. Friends and lovers become strangers. It’s hard to imagine my life without his part in it. He, or rather us, fundamentally changed who I am. The stranger who became my friend and then my lover steamrolled into my life, throwing his love at me like the most beautiful confetti I had ever seen. He threw in some joy and a heavy dose of passion. It was an addictive mix. A heady concoction that could make you lose all your senses.
But on the flip side, he caused carnage. Absolute carnage. Like the beauty of the sun when it burns through the dry foliage and starts a devastating fire. That level of carnage, where everything in its wake could be destroyed. We parted ways. We tried to be friends, which in hindsight was rather ambitious, and in reality dangerous to our emotional health.
Lovers cannot be friends until space, time, and healing has taken place. And even then, depending on the connection, it’s healthier to be strangers. Some energies just ignite regardless of logical decisions. Regardless of what’s healthy. Regardless of the best intentions. Some energies need the physical beings to be strangers.
Strangers who once knew the souls of each other. Strangers who once knew each other’s body in detail. The curves. The softness. The firmness. The likes and dislikes. Strangers who once talked for hours on end. Strangers who could once make each other laugh so hard it was contagious. Strangers who once shared parts of themselves that will forever remain locked away within the other’s soul. Strangers who were once so attracted to each other, the energy was electric. Strangers who were once confidantes, lovers, and friends, now just simply, strangers.
It’s funny how that happens. How people move in and out of our lives and change the core of who we are. How one minute we are sharing our lives and the next minute it’s like they never even existed. But of course they existed, and even though they are now strangers, those memories don’t leave us.
We are different because of them. We have grown because of them. We maybe even found ourselves because of them. Or perhaps it’s in spite of them; either way they are the catalyst.
The salt water whipped around my ankles. It felt good. I felt good. Actually, I felt so much more than good. I was unstoppable, and over the past few years, I had proven that to myself repeatedly.
I felt like a far better version of me. Like I had been on an arduous journey and finally knew my destination. The pain was gone. The hurt was gone. The heartbreak was gone. And the wetsuit was gone.
All that was left were the memories of a man I once knew. The lessons that I learnt. The blessings I was grateful for. And the stranger showering at the beach.
The stranger I once called my love. A man I used to know.