Why a pandemic taught me to throw away rose petals

Let’s talk about sex, soulmates, and COVID-19
TROY LAWRENCE/THE VARSITY
TROY LAWRENCE/THE VARSITY

To the boy who gifted me a pink rose in the fifth grade:

This will be the last letter that you’ll receive. There was a period in which we wasted hours writing letters to one another, our sweaty fingers stumbling over the keyboards of our Notes app. Earlier, you wrote me a final one requesting a temporary goodbye; tonight, I return the favour by deciding that goodbye will be permanent. I’m sorry my memo was sent a year too late.

As a child, I was made to believe in soulmates, that each person possesses someone else who was created to complement them. My best friend and her boyfriend met during a grade school exchange in their native country. My cousin and his wife met in their first year of high school, and they met again in their first year of university. My mother and father were raised in houses adjacent to one another. Through the influence of these storybook anecdotes, the message became clear: if I waited, my soulmate would come too.

I thought I’d found them in you the moment our classroom desks were moved beside one another’s eight years ago. We were infatuated within a few months, before parting ways on the account of being in separate classes the following year. Though usually, I loathe former partners, you were different. 

Through new relationships, mental health troubles, and career-advancing opportunities, we’d always found a way to be close friends: walking home from the bus stop together or consoling each other after breakups. I thought our connection could survive anything. But, more obviously, there was a stubborn sense that demanded we become more.

This instinct was confirmed immediately following my high school graduation, when I found out that you’d watched me walk on stage to receive my diploma. That proclamation initiated months of curating Spotify playlists with love songs, mid-afternoon 7/11 runs, and midnight confessions enclosed in your parents’ luxury cars. For the first time, I felt at peace. I understood why my life had run its course in the manner it did: to give me my own soulmate story, for me to encounter a legacy similar to my parents’. 

These ideas came to an abrupt halt when you characterized our connection as a summer stereotype. You were healing from a previous relationship. While you did so, you requested that we be friends. You reiterated that you wanted to marry me. You affirmed that, in the future, our love would resume.

As always, we actively attempted to maintain our connection. Slowly, our circumstances shifted from keeping in contact every day, to sending a simple “hello” text on holidays, to feeling out of place engaging with each other’s Instagram posts. In our excruciating silence, I believed your vow, that eventually we’d continue as normal, laughing at this stretch together. Despite my compulsion, I stopped initiating calls. For a month. Then two. Then six.

I succumbed to my urges as my father was transported to the hospital due to a substantial drop in oxygen levels. He would later be diagnosed with COVID-19. My mother would wait three hours for a temporal discharge, crying with relatives over the phone. I would remain at home with my younger brother, obligated to console him, though I was unsure of what the outcome would be.

“He’s gonna be good” was the response I heard from you, but that result wasn’t set in stone. To your point, there were statistics of elderly citizens surviving the virus; inconsistently, there were reports of men younger, stronger than my father passing away. Disheartened, I offered a “thank you” and was met with a liked reply and a read text notification. The style in which you ended all conversations. 

You, who’d once assured me that each of my worries would be heard, were now showing that you couldn’t be bothered by the man who’d caused your wrist to tremble during an introductory handshake. How am I to re-enter a relationship with you, who disregarded my father’s health, who cast him as a demographic? I’m not. I can’t.

On occasion, I witness signs, prompts to return to you. I hear the notes of Haley Reinhart’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” on television ads. I see the silver streak of an Audi racing beside me as I’m learning to drive on the highway. I smell the sugar of Sour Patch Kids Slurpees while passing teenagers in my neighbourhood. In their significance, the message is still clear: because I’m waiting, my soulmate will come, too.

I grieve your memory when roses bloom.

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