In growing up, the ends justify the means

What are break-ups if not jumping-off points that catapult us closer to where we need to be right now?

I’ll never forget my first time. After it was over, I laid my body down on the bunk in a tangle of extra long twin sheets.

U2’s “With Or Without You” was playing on the stereo -- not an iPod dock, a real stereo. The kind with a volume dial like a doorknob. It had half a dozen push buttons and a digital, blue marquee screen that contemptuously flashed the letters H-E-L-L-O and G-O-O-D-B-Y-E.

The 6-CD table tower was flanked by two speakers, each most closely resembling the 3x3 cube in the corner of my cement dorm room -- a brown mini fridge whose coil hummed restlessly.

In bed I watched headlights from the taxi cab roundabout beneath my third story window circle the stucco ceiling above my head. The deliberate blink of my eyes dazed wide open kept time through the night.

I was weary and sick to my stomach.

It was over.

This was my first break-up.

I didn’t think it possible then, but I eventually got over it. Just in time to start work on the next one.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the end of romantic relationships, and as many different ways to deal with them, but when your twenty-something heart has just been razed from your chest, decisive self-destruction seems the most effectual course of action.

I’d cobble together enough cash for a bottle of cheap vodka. Any leftover change the clerk tried to give back to me was peddled toward a nip of Jack which I pointed out in the clear plastic case that sits atop every check-out counter in every liquor store in America like a dollhouse presenting row-upon-cute-little-row of miniature elixirs.The thing is, sinking your spare change into two more fluid ounces is less like tossing insignificant pennies into the convenience store wishing well and more like throwing yourself decidedly over the edge to rock bottom.

From within break-up haze, I made an impressive anthology of dejected mix tapes and wrote feverishly in journals oscillating between poetic sonnets that would surely get her back, and exasperated, emo rants enumerating exactly why I left her in the first place.

In the first place, I left her.

I’m not turning the table of who-left-who for post-mortem posterity; it’s just that, I always left.

I always hated the day that I decided to say the goodbye. These were nice girls -- the kind that kissed my forehead in the morning, lit candles at night, and wrote messages with heart-shaped vowels in spiral-bound notebooks for me to find while sitting in a lecture hall the next afternoon. They lit me up, I was crazy about them, but I was entirely unable to rationalize a life where I was forever by their side.

There’s no doubt that someone reading this now must wonder what my problem was. I would attest (and my exes -- if they were speaking to me -- would emphatically agree) that it was indeed my problem.

A few days ago, after trying to send an ex girlfriend of many years ago a well-intentioned hello, she wrote back an incensed email that explained my problem, in no uncertain terms. I share the following vivid snippet of her lengthy evaluation not just because it’s probably the most exciting thing you’ll read all day, but actually in hopes that putting it out there is the most operative and unbridled mea culpa I can offer for my younger self. Here's to hoping a public stoning will quite literally, put the past to death:

“I don't think you're a good person at all. As an added bonus, I’ve been introduced to a few of your ex-lovers here and there and seeing their faces drop (as I’m sure their hearts, egos, and feelings have before) when your name is mentioned is quite the testament. It’s really no wonder you relocated to the opposite side of the country -- your degrees of separation ran out. For me, you are wasted energy. It’s been easy to forget about you because you’re so good at making yourself detached and unavailable... I’m not going to be a friend, I’m not going to respect you. You are one giant disappointment. And always will be.”

There it is; I couldn’t commit. I couldn’t quell my curiosity. I couldn't extinguish the burning wanderlust that I had fixated on for so long, obsessively pouring over passages in Kerouac's classic "On The Road". I unapologetically chased every shiny thing (and each beautifully illogical love) the world put in front of me. And for that, my relationships were short lived. That’s really the whole of it, although I swear some exes would rather hear something every bit as blunt, if definitive, as, “You know what, actually, it's NOT me. It’s YOU.”

But the truth is, I adore my ex girlfriends. I have no damning rationale to vindicate our inevitable collapse. That’s why I never burned photographs at the stake or anesthetized my life by shipping memory-laden mementos back in tidy, brown paper packages. We didn’t work out. We weren’t meant for each other. It’s as simple as that. But, like so many fatally flawed dolts before me, I thought it completely possible (and worthwhile) to salvage friendship from broken love. A few of my exes – quite insistently – do not agree, nor do they seem to share the same sentimentality for what once was. For so long, I couldn’t understand that. The beginnings were good, and the good times were great. As for the ends, well, everything ends badly, right? Otherwise, it wouldn’t end.

I was young, I was impulsive, I was artless; I checked out as fast as I checked in, usually without much of an explanation. I was writing music then and could hardly finish a song about my fascination before penning verses about another departure. I was hardly out to myself, let alone my family, or friends. I was insecure; I didn’t let myself stay in anything for fear that I would be nailed down and found out. Maybe I thought that my gayness could only be vetted by long, serious, emotionally-invested relationships. I was deliciously selfish. I was unprocessed by the process that I was unwilling to be a part of. I kept letting go because I was never ready to let go of myself. I was on an adolescent tear, setting up camp for a short while before moving on when the embers began to burn a little too bright.

For the insensitive and hurtful actions, for what I have done and what I have failed to do in the frenetic pursuit of myself, I am unconditionally sorry. And while mistakes are plentiful, to be clear, I have no regrets.

Through travels from one corner of the country to another, I’ve kept a quote taped to a wall in about every apartment I have ever lived as a constant reminder of where I am -- the present, of course.

“You must believe completely in the lives of the people and places where you find yourself today even if it causes you to lose faith in the life you left behind.”

This idea of faith in the now has gotten me through the volatile decade where adolescence goes to die. While I’ve always used it to empower me with the ability to get over imperfect relationships and situations (personal, professional, whatever) I realize now that it’s just as important in helping to get over myself.

We will all endure phases of unreliable irregularity and debilitating insecurity. Aging is in and of itself a whole body of work. Work that's always in progress. No matter how many reasons I have to regret what I once was (or wasn’t), I’ve got to believe in myself wholly and completely in this life I live right now.

We make change for a reason; we grow old, wise up, settle down and along the way, we all need a little forgiveness for the hearts we've broken amidst the tethers we were busy breaking free.

Mary Buckheit can be reached at