You will know how this story ends, once I tell you how it begins, which is me deciding to delete all the old/accidental/excess drafts in my Gmail folder.
Naturally I came across a string of correspondence with my college boyfriend, a chain triggered two years after our breakup by a misunderstanding with a mutual friend. Although the entire stream was intensely interesting to me, I imagine most of it would be pretty dull to anyone else.
Then there was this:
Did I ever know you? It’s so hard to tell now. I would accept that I wasn’t worth your time. I wish I had been. I like to think that I did know you, at least a little, although I’m quite sure I never understood you. Some few things remain: a thumb hole in a brown jumper; a copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (never finished) which gets a space apart on whichever bookshelf it’s on. Not much of a claim to say you knew someone I suppose, but when it comes to the past I’m not particularly rational.
The “not being worth my time” is artifice; he left me for another girl, so I imagine this having been written without too much pain. (You’ll excuse reduced empathy on this one count.)
Dial back, however, to the clincher: “I like to think I did know you, at least a little, although I’m quite sure I never understood you.”
The (short) catalog of items that “remain” has the effect of doubling the hit. If I were to tell you what I wanted you to “know” about me, I’m afraid those things would not have made the list.
“I am quite sure that I never understood you.” Does this make me feel vindicated, or failed? I can’t put my finger on it. I know that I wanted him to want to “know” me; I still am left wondering if maybe he tried, maybe the unknowability was on my end.
It’s marvelous to me that this–being known, and the possibilities and impossibilities of being known–was a matter I was talking about when I was 21, something that has bothered me deeply lately about other relationships and which I thought was a product of becoming older and perpetually more mysterious to myself, never mind others. A good friend of mine also recently left a long-term relationship with a partner she had been living with, and this is something the two of us come back to frequently. “How did he know me so well about X, Y, and Z, but never know that A? Or B?” It has been 6 months since I left F, who I miss in some way every day, and in this time the thing that has not stopped hurting is that after five and a half years of living together there were mysteries of my soul–not very deep ones, in some cases–that he either never tried to tap into or even willfully ignored when I tried to share them. And to be fair, I’m sure that was a two-way street, although I hope I tried.
My friend and I are flummoxed and dismayed by this mutual experience, because we feel we “know” each other, and each of us also feels we “know” certain other people. But maybe a partner is a different matter, a person with whom you spend so much time that you must, defensively, protect some unknowable part of yourself. Is it possible to find a partner one can truly “know”? Or are we disappointed by a lack of something that would always have been impossible, anyway?