The contents of her shopping bags on the A train Thursday night: two pints of chocolate-peanut butter Häagen-Dazs ice cream (“looks delicious,” says a cute boy with a twinkle in his eye, her swollen red eyes telegraphing confusion; “the ice cream,” with a nod toward the bag; “oh.”); one package of chocolate-chip cookies, another of dark chocolate; a six-pack of all-natural dark cherry soda; a box of chocolate frosted Entenmenn’s donuts—a self-care package for a woman who’s just been dumped in a way both matter-of-fact and cruel.
She never wants to hear “you’ve got a lot going for you” come out of the mouth of a man again in her lifetime. Truthfully, she stopped wanting that decades ago, as she’s known from a very young age that she has more going for her than she’s ever lets on, mostly out of fear. It’s been decades since she’s allowed any man (other than close friends or mentors) to catch a glimpse of herself, wings fully extended. The first few times she did that were enough for her to know that it scared people away, or else made them do things—usually resulting in broken bones or black eyes or handprint-shaped bruises—to convince her not to be so big. It’s easier to stay smaller most of the time (which is already bigger than average, so it already scares people, already has people wanting her to shrink). She’s spent a lifetime trying to figure out a balance of what’s right-sized, so, no, she doesn’t need to be told she has a lot going for her. Because, even if you don’t know it (because you know everything), she knows that’s part of the reason you don’t love her anymore.
She is single for the first time since autumn; before that she had been alone, more or less, since her fiancé died 2,185 days ago or, in easier terms, six years ago this coming Friday.
She supposes it’s no coincidence that the night before the breakup she had a bad dream in which she’d accidentally called her now ex-boyfriend by her dead fiancé’s name. The next time she saw him in the dream, he was also dead, in a casket, another man she loved and lost without warning, without closure, without any say on her part.
She thought there would be more tears upon coming home. Instead she was tired, emotionally hung over, exhausted from trying to convince a self-centered man to be less so. She didn’t eat the ice cream, though she did enjoy a can of the black cherry soda and one of the donuts. On the way home she’d called a good friend and described the trajectory of the relationship, did the requisite post-mortem, and had it slowly dawn on her all the red flags she had ignored for weeks.
Instead she gathered all the things he’d left at her house along with every gift he’d ever given her, including the books he’d purchased that were more of a reflection of his tastes than anything he could possibly imagine she’d want if he’d bothered to take even a cursory glance at the hundreds of volumes on her shelves… or simply had a conversation about what kind of books she liked to read (another sign of his obliviousness, she realizes). She has no desire to see him and is for once looking forward to going to the post office to mail a package.
Over these weeks she’d forgotten the red flags of the emotionally unavailable, the self-absorbed, those with avoidant attachment styles. She thought she’d dated enough of these men by now and had worked so hard on herself to be ready for a healthy relationship that she had her identification skills down pat, but the skills must have grown rusty, because it turned out that he had the traits of all three and she’d either missed or willfully ignored them. Or maybe she’d forgotten because she believed he could have been (should have been? was supposed to be?) different.
She knows that no matter what the case will be, it will be her fault: she was too critical or expected too much or was too emotional, she was needy or broken or damaged. Or, her favorite: she was always “going off” on him, always yelling. (To which she would say: if she were yelling, he and the entire building would know.)
And here’s where it gets real, where I switch into first-person. Where I become me. Where I allow myself to be honest about what I’ve been feeling for the past few weeks but, instead, I’ve kept silent about. Why? one might ask. Because I had this foolish idea that I was in love, that love is a policy and not a feeling, that I had an obligation to work things out because of that love, and that I would be a failure (at what, I don’t know) if the relationship fell apart.
I fully admit there were wonderful moments. That I did fall in love. That I am heartbroken. That if he were to call me up and say he’d made a mistake and ask if we could work on things I would say yes. (I would want there to be a concrete plan, though. With professionals involved.)
But there was also a lot of pain and confusion and a great deal of feeling as though what I believed and cared about and thought and wanted just didn’t matter, of me being made to feel like the things that made me feel good didn’t rate as highly as the ones that made him feel good. I never felt as though I could talk about something without being interrupted or told I was wrong — once even about something I’d studied for several years and written my masters’ thesis on. He was constantly forgetting that I’m always in pain, I can’t just force my body to do things it’s incapable of doing, and I’m just one person who’s trying the best she can to be a better person, one day at a time. And he had lingering issues with both his ex-wife and his childhood that he’d never addressed (and, even more troublesome, didn’t think he needed to, and, more troublesome still, took offense at my concern that they might be a roadblock in our ability to have a healthy relationship—which, as it turned out, is exactly what happened, though I’m sure he’ll deny that to his dying breath because, you know, he’s always right and I don’t know everything; denial is a deep river).
I would wake up early, sacrificing my sleep and fighting through my chronic pain to show up for things enjoyable or important to him… but he’d be unable to stay awake past 8:30pm on a Saturday night to spend the evening with me. And I put *hundreds* of dollars on my credit cards for Christmas gifts for him and his family (no small deal for someone who’s unemployed; ironically this is what caused me not to have room on my cards to pay for a rental car for HIS move, which he was terribly annoyed about on Wednesday night; but, again, all my fault, right?)—and, yes, I know he also spent a *lot* on me and my son, so it’s probably proportional, but he also has a steady paycheck and I’m 100% sure he isn’t worrying about how he’s going to come up with $800 in the next 15 days to pay his rent.
The last time we made love, Thursday morning, he grew limp inside me, which wasn’t unusual, but I said it was okay, he had a lot on his mind. The night before he had stopped spooning me, saying his body ached, and when he rolled over I spooned him instead. After he’d gone soft, I said if his body still hurt he should try ibuprofen. Tylenol is for fever, ibuprofen is for aches, I said. He mumbled something I didn’t understand and now it doesn’t even matter. That morning he started to leave without even saying goodbye, only happening to do so because I’d pulled on his Michigan sweatshirt to grab a Red Bull and ask about the Verizon guy. I saw him heading out the door, grabbed him with a Hey! and a hug. It took a dozen “love you”s before I got one back, and I should have known then, but instead I thought it was the same “you’ve got a lot on your mind” that had made his cock go limp inside me half an hour earlier. I suppose both are true.
Even though there were troubles, I think they could have been fixed, and I’m furious that he doesn’t think I’m worth enough to even try. I want the man back who looked into my eyes while we held each other under the stars in an outdoor pool in Northern California, not the one who knew he didn’t love me anymore but pretended he did so he could go to work and still have someone at his condo when Verizon came to install his Internet. I want the man who saw me as a lover and a partner, not an annoyance or a convenience.
It will be a while before I stop missing him, the curve of his body against mine as I fell asleep, the feel of his strong arms wrapped around me and his beard scratching my cheek as we kissed and hugged goodbye. The sex was neither the best nor the worst I’ve had, but I’ll miss the intimacy we had, the easy pull toward each other that never wavered from day one. I don’t know when he’ll stop missing me. Quite possibly he already has. Maybe he’s already fucking someone else.
And I think that’s probably what hurts the most: the thought that perhaps I meant so little that I could be so easily let go, so easily forgotten, so easily replaced, while I remain so utterly heartbroken. While his dirty underwear and smelly gym clothes still take up space in my hamper, he could very well be in bed with another woman, enjoying the process of thoroughly erasing me from his memory. But I suppose I can’t dwell on that. There’s Netflix to be binged on, and Häagen-Dazs to be eaten. I have to let go. I’ve been given no other choice, even if it feels excruciating and cruel and like a big Fuck You from the universe. I’ve gotten them before, lots of them, and while I never expected it to come from him, I have no say in the matter.