An entirely inconsequential regret I’ve been harbouring for years is of a photograph I didn’t take. It was something I looked up and saw as we walked underneath the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City once, graffiti letters the size of a person and what they said was, ‘But I still love her.’ Those words have lived with me ever since – a simple statement somebody, at some point in time felt compelled to shout out to the world. Maybe (I’ve always assumed it was a guy) he’d gotten to a point where he didn’t know who to tell anymore; maybe his friends had had enough of hearing him say the same thing over and over. And maybe she knew, too, but had moved on and left him behind. And what do you do when that happens? What is there to do?
Few people make it through life without experiencing the searing pain of loving somebody who has moved on. For you, they consume your world like they always did; for them, you’ve become something of a nuisance. You can see it in their eyes, and it’s the worst thing you’ve ever felt. You encounter friends in the same situation, where the truth is patently obvious to everyone but them – the guy just doesn’t want to be there anymore. And they make up excuses for his behaviour, as one time in your life you made excuses and it was your friends’ turn to take your hand and say, what do you see in this guy? You need to let it go now. But you can’t because you can’t, and that’s just the way it is.
I’m not good at letting go of things. I hang on until the bitter end, getting bashed up in the process. While we know on every level how foolish it is what we’re doing; while we understand that the people who love us and urge us to leave it alone already are every bit of right, somehow we have to stay until we are ready to go, and when you’ve loved a lot for a long time, that can take a while. Which is why I can’t judge the ones who are holding on like their lives depend on it. In a way, their lives do depend on it. The heart wants what it wants, and it has its own time – for loving, for holding on and also for letting go.
I wish I could say time heals all wounds, but I don’t think it does, always. I’ve seen too much damage done; people who get broken and don’t ever recover fully. It’s like you get badly hurt one time in your life and you never allow yourself to suffer that way again; a part of your heart gets sealed up never to be re-opened. I hope that that’s not the case for the man under the Brooklyn Bridge. I hope that that anguished night of misery and desperation was a turning point, and that when he eventually took himself to bed and lay alone in a room somewhere in that cold, vast city, he found some semblance of peace. I wonder if the graffiti is still there. I guess I’ll never know.
There was a time I listened to this song often and identified so much with its words. Tonight I dedicate it to him, whomever, where he is in the world and to every one of us who’s been smashed up on those rocks.