On remembering my first love Van Damme State Park, Mendocino

This weekend, I spent a few days in and around Mendocino with my buddy Josh. That area of California is one of my favorite places in the country. The ocean, the beach, the bluffs, the headlands, the small towns, and the redwoods, all packed together into one view.

It’s interesting going back to a place with so many memories. Like traveling back in time, where your mind projects images of a life once lived.

When I first moved to Half Moon Bay at the start of 2010, my long-time girlfriend secured a spot as an Artist in Residence at the Mendocino Art Center. By then, we had been together for five years. Half of our relationship was long distance as we were both pursuing opportunities around the country to start and further our creative careers.

By the time she found herself in Mendocino, the relationship was pretty much over. The long distance part of the relationship was wearing us thin. During those few months, I drove up to see her a few times with each visit confirming that our relationship and our love for each other were disappearing.

We ended the relationship that summer. I left California soon after to live in Maine and to continue my nomadic lifestyle. She moved on to yet another Artist in Residence program.

I returned back to Half Moon Bay at the end of 2011. Since then, I’ve visited Mendocino a number of times. When I drive into that small town, memories of her and us flood back. I remember our last few laughs together, the times she spent showing me around town, me giving her feedback on her work she was producing there, and us talking about a possible future together in hopes of trying to save something that we invested so much time and energy in.

But, I also remember the fights, the tears, and the feeling that we both made mistakes in the relationship that, at the time, neither of us knew we were making. We were each others first true loves. We were each others support as we navigated life post-college, trying to figure things out as adults. I often tell people that I wouldn’t be doing the work that I’m doing, living the life I’m living now if it wasn’t for her. And I feel comfortable saying that she would say the same about me regarding her life.

Time moves on. Wounds heal.

When I visit Mendocino these days, I don’t focus on the negative, the what if’s, the what could life have been if I only. Rather, I focus on what I learned from her, what I learned about myself, how to treat others, how to view life, what I look for in a partner, and how I’ve grown as a person since then. In each relationship I’ve been in since, I’ve thought of the lessons learned and how I can apply that towards my new partner.

I’m also more comfortable in my skin, more confident in my creative talents, more secure in showing affection, more open about my feelings, more willing to be myself… all because of her and our relationship.

Isn’t it funny how a place, a song, a book, or even an event can bring back memories of a previous life or of a person you shared life with? I think of these moments as check-ins, an opportunity to stop and see where you were then and where you are at this moment in your life.

Perhaps visiting Mendocino every so often is my opportunity to check in with myself. To get a sense of how I’m living now and how I’ve grown since having her in my life.

Maybe, I should reach out to her—to catch up and see how’s she has been, to share with her how much she meant to me and how she, along with our time together, completely changed my life and how it continues to do so to this day. Maybe…