“Nothing’s free,” she used to say.
You give a kiss to get a kiss. Bring home flowers in exchange for forgiveness. Pay a compliment to get a smile or, if you’re lucky, a little bit more. My girl liked to keep a tally of who owed what to who, and during the two years we were together I drew up quite a tab.
When she broke up with me, suddenly, after her sister introduced her to another man with a more obvious future, I hoped that when she broke my heart I would take something from her. I didn’t want to think my heart was free.
She left one month, three days and seven hours shy of our anniversary. I had a surprise trip to Costa Rica planned to celebrate. We would immerse ourselves in the forest, lie around half-naked and, somewhere between finding new things to do to each other, I would propose.
Instead, I found myself on the plane heading south with my best friend. He convinced me a guys surf trip was just what I needed to get over her. We arrived in Santa Teresa in a cloud of dust. We hit the beach and jumped in the water. At night we dove into one Imperial after another. We didn’t come up for air for days.
Somewhere around the fourth day I woke up and left my friend snoring in his bed. The sun was strong and the air was sweet. I headed to the water. No board this time. Just me. It was calm that morning and I floated on the surface of the water, looking at the sky. I listened until all I could hear was my breath riding the sound the waves.
After awhile I stood up, and felt the soft sand under my feet. I felt my pocket. It was there: the ring I was going to give her. I hadn’t let it out of my reach for weeks. I pulled it out and watched the light play in the stone. I thought about the life I thought it would get me. Nothing’s free, I thought. Then I let the ring slip into the water. I let it go, like a big fish I had fought to catch but then decided to set free before it pulled me under. I watched the ring sink and then it was gone.
I walked out of the water and headed back to the hotel. I felt lighter. For the first time I noticed smiling faces. Pretty girls riding bikes, all tanned legs, flowing hair and white smiles. Little kids playing. People starting their days. Their whole lives ahead of them. And I was one of them.
My heart was free.