It's hard to let go.

We all have boxes of junk in the closet or attic; we all contemplate calling that ex in moments of weakness or inebriation. The longer the relationship, the stronger the bond and the more difficult it is to move beyond the comfort of the familiar into the dangerous beyond. So blame Hillary Clinton if you must, but don’t feign ignorance of the gravity of her choice as she looks down into the abyss.

There was a double-dose of sadness June 3 on the final evening of primaries starring Montana and South Dakota. Sad that Clinton refused to officially concede the Democratic race to Barack Obama, to graciously step aside after a contentious but well-fought campaign. Sad also that South Dakota and Montana fell by the wayside, their results so important to the race but overshadowed by political machinations of the will she/won’t she deathwatch with superdelegate vultures circling.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of this five-month manic tour of the country was that every state (and every territory, protectorate and registered-voters-abroad amalgamation) got its say in a process too long dominated by a tradition of obtuse regionalism. In my column here on Jan. 9, I lamented the arbitrary preeminence of first-in-the-nation Iowa and New Hampshire, bemoaning the fact that so few would speak for so many in an election of such magnitude. As fate – bound inexorably to Hillary Clinton’s refusal to retreat – would have it, everyone, including the “half” selves of the disgraced Michigan and Florida delegations, had their day.

I had the chance to meet Clinton ever so briefly on the trail in West Virginia, shortly before she tallied one of her largest margins of victory in the entire campaign. By then, indeed, the cause was out of reach, but to see the faces of the townspeople of Grafton as she shook hands in the rain and was greeted with a chorus of “don’t give up!” I saw for the first time how genuinely difficult giving up or giving in would be for her.

She was, after all, only months earlier the presumptive nominee, so far ahead that she had taken to saying “when I’m president” in interviews and really meaning it. She was to be the first female president, a history-making, barrier-shattering candidate for the ages, after whom schools across the country (though mostly in blue states, no doubt) would be named.

Add to that potent ego brew her latter-day emergence as the champion of the working classes and older women, groups who in sizeable numbers felt left out of Obama’s soaring rhetoric and latched onto Clinton with their hearts, hopes and wallets. As the citizens of Grafton so intoned, her fight was their fight and her loss would be theirs too – “don’t give up!” was the tight-throated call they had to muster.

The question has been raised ceaselessly by the punditry as to whether Obama won this nomination or Clinton lost it. Most experts wallow in the murky middle-ground or claim a fiery, partisan, always overstated slant on the whole mess – Obama as the next coming of JFK/RFK/George McGovern/Jimmy Carter and Clinton alternately as the GOP-like antichrist or the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy.

I’d like to think of the race in more personal terms. I see Hillary as a candidate who remembers how the paint in the White House smells and knows all of the speed-dials by heart. She understands the power of the office and the rights, responsibilities, perks, punishments, triumphs and disasters that it holds.

Is she obsessed with returning to the Oval Office? Absolutely. Like all obsessions, did it cloud her judgment in matters of what was best for her party and country as a whole? Probably.

But obsession is both universal and a particular hallmark of all great states(wo)men, a necessary character skew that helps shoulder the burden of leadership. Clinton, long derided as robotic and coldly calculating, has shown more humanity – for good and bad – in this campaign than any other candidate.

We all do crazy things when faced with loss, the imminent and embarrassing fall from grace and comfort. We so often are slaves to our own ends, chasing obsessions in the shadows and away from the public eye.

Of Hillary Clinton, whose quest may have cost her more than she can yet realize, let it be said that her failing is ours too, played out on the grand stage with no safety net. Losing, as we all privately understand but must publicly embrace, is not merely the absence of winning but the presence of accountability in the face of what is lost.