Eternal sunshine of an unintentionally spotless mind

I’ve been in love for most of my life. Not with a person or an idea or anything specific like that. It’s just a general feeling, a sensation of welling in my lungs. The objectlessness of it has made me restless at times and, at others, utterly convinced I was in the right place at the right time. That certainty burns just as brightly as the aimlessness does, but really, it all boils down to the same pervasive feeling of general, aching love.

Perhaps it is this perpetual blank affection that leaves me loving too long. I’ve never been in a relationship that wasn’t long distance at some point and at the end of each relationship, I have had the same bitter realization that it should have ended when one of us left. It seems natural in hindsight -— it should have never amounted to more than summer fun, a high school romance or a meaningless rebound. But in the heat of the moment, the welling gets the better of my judgment.

I’ve been loving that way for as long as I can remember. In elementary and middle school, I would harbor obsessive crushes that never materialized, not because of my lack of charm or attractiveness, but because I was terrified of destroying that distance. I’m not sure why. Maybe I was afraid I didn’t know how to conduct myself in romantic situations. Maybe I couldn’t bear the juvenile attention or “having a boyfriend.” More likely though, I think it was an inability to actually apply that over-arching love to someone — to let it escape the boundaries of myself.

I’m discovering that I still do that — love a lot but keep it contained. It is not that I don’t tell people that I value them or leave things left unsaid, but sometimes I think the love I feel for people stays mine — something I feel and not something inspired by someone else. It’s like this; I was cleaning out my junk drawers over the holidays and came upon a stack of postcards. They were signed with a name I didn’t recognize from places I couldn’t remember any of my friends going to. I looked at them, dumbstruck, for probably 10 minutes. It wasn’t until I said the name aloud that I remembered.

The merchant marine. We swam together in high school and fostered small, itching affection for each other. I lacked the confidence to obviously like anyone, and he was too religious to be openly fond of a staunch agnostic like me. But we adored each other, and when he graduated and set out for a year at sea, I was beside myself. I used to focus the full weight of my obsessive fantasies on those postcards — little glimmers that despite our distance and difference, something would come of our subtle romance.

Nothing ever did. I don’t think I ever saw him again, and I eventually hid him from my Facebook feed after one too many preachy posts. I didn’t feel bad about it. There were no lingering what-ifs. He had gone his way and me mine, and I had no desire to recross our paths. It was more of a disturbing astonishment that I could have completely forgotten someone who was so important to me once, that my hyperfocus on him could have been just me loving because that’s what I do.

I worry about that a lot now. There have been times recently when I have misremembered my number, and it’s not even in double digits. I used to want to be able to recognize the good times in every romance, to maintain a distant affection for everyone I used to love, but after finding the postcards, my hope is much simpler. I just want to remember. I don’t want to lose anyone like that, not after they’re already gone from my life.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone lament that they can’t forget something, someone, some time in their lives. Remembering hurts, and it would be easier to go through life free and happy again, like it never happened. But forgetting someone completely like that is like losing a piece of yourself — part of your own history. I’m all for change, progression and moving on, but there’s something so aggressive about forgetting, like the end was not just a finale but an erasure, taking even more from you than the person themselves. Even if my love was always mine, never really applying to the object of my affection, I want to remember that time, that kind of love because I want to remember me.

Rica Maestas is a senior majoring in cognitive science and narrative studies. Her column, “Cuffing Season,” runs on Wednesdays.