I sorted through a box of old photos the other night. When I was done I had cried and laughed, dumped more than half, and I’ve been trying to shake the melancholy since.
There were many pictures from my first wedding and honeymoon. There were pictures of girlfriends and lovers on trips to Hawaii and Utah after I left that marriage. There were childhood photos, and photos of family moments with loved ones now long gone.
Looking at the photos was disassociating in a way. They were me, and not me. Happy me, sad me, confused me, but not me. It made me wonder who I was then and who I am now.
What haunts me are smiling faces of former lovers. They loved me. They found me lovable when I didn’t even love myself. Who did they love? What did they love about me? I drank in their love to fill me and I pissed it away.
This is not self-flagellation but an accounting of fact. I was greedy, selfish. I was so lost in trying to find myself I only recognized the people who found me after I left them or they left me.
I try very hard not to live with regrets. I watched my grandfather spiral into it as he aged and vowed I wouldn’t repeat that mistake. I feel regret for not showing up and being present for those women who loved me. The melancholy I feel now is me sitting in that regret, noting it, and working to let it go and learn from those relationships.
I see how during my first marriage I poured myself into sixty-, eighty-, one hundred-hour weeks to get a business going as a way to disassociate from the creeping realization I was going to have to do something about being trans and in the process disassociated from my marriage. I regret not realizing sooner she was not a suitable life partner for me and wasting both of our time.
I regret the first relationship I had after I left that marriage, where I was selfish and used that woman’s love to bolster my ego and then unceremoniously dumped her because I couldn’t deal with her quirks. She didn’t deserve that.
After her was the one that got away. The one I climbed mountains and dived oceans with, the one who took me at my word when I said I was ready for a committed relationship. She wanted to take me home to meet her parents and it freaked me out so much I cheated on her with someone who I lusted after and loved dearly but was all sorts of wrong for me. After that betrayal of her trust, I opened up to her and disclosed my transness and she was still willing to at least try to work things through with me to see if we could make it work until I couldn’t commit because I was tangled up about who and what I wanted. She didn’t deserve that and I deserved the scorn she heaped on me in the form of a box she mailed to me filled with print-outs of everything I’d ever written to her professing my love. I deeply, deeply regret how I hurt her.
And that woman I left her for? I loved her, but we were both in a weird spot, and I regret not just stepping cordially away to get my shit together instead of trying to make something happen that was never really going to happen due to distance and different, irreconcilable life paths.
After her was someone who really had their shit together while I was spiraling down. She dumped me and broke my heart because I didn’t see it coming at all. I don’t regret that it didn’t work out because her family was all sorts of fucked-up and would have had me heading for the exit myself, but I do regret I didn’t see how far I’d fallen and was unable to show up for myself and for her.
I can’t go back and change the past. I can learn from the past. I can let go of the regrets. I can forgive myself and not erase the past. There were some good times there.