(continued from the last post):
Once I was plainly dumped, all the energy that hadn’t known where to land during the course of our relationship stopped spinning around up in the air. It came crashing down, thundering in like a freight train.
I couldn’t fall asleep at night; to feel as though I had company, I started sleeping on the living room couch, with the television on. I, who have been known to ask for a granola bar mid-contraction during labor, who can cut a thousand calories from her daily diet and consequently gain seven pounds, lost ten pounds almost immediately. At no point during any day did my nerves quiet. I paced constantly. I cried unceasingly, even while standing in the back of the classroom as students were freewriting. Ham-handedly, I lacked empathy with friends who divulged their own vulnerabilities. My compass was spinning.
Still, I needed to know that, although the relationship was over, not everything was. I continued to visit my friends in their city, continued to hope that my burgeoning friendships with the Cabin Crew would progress. In the course of putting on a bright public face to these folks, I occasionally encountered The Bachelor. When I did, I was piercingly, stridently, intensely fine.
The same goodnesses in him that had first attracted me to The Bachelor came out again, after one such encounter. I had seen him in the city and smeared merriness all over the tall buildings; later, as he drove back to his new home in the UP, he stopped in a rest area and called me aa I sat, alone, in my wood-paneled shack back in my smelly little town. “I think you still have hope about us,” he noted. Laughing bitterly in response, I assured him that one thing I lacked at that point was hope.
“I don’t think we should see each other for a while,” he decided. “It’s not doing either of us any good.”
I protested, and not only because I chafed at him setting the terms of our separation; I also protested because then I wouldn’t see him anymore. There would be no more cabin weekends. And he’d be unable to see how much I didn’t need him.
He was adamant. I was cut from the group; astoundingly, that entire cadre of friends followed his lead. He continued to invite everyone—except me—to the sporting getaways. I had protested. No one else did. For someone hovering on the precipice of a breakdown, as I was, the lack of support, the absence of anyone shouting indignantly, “Hey, The Bachelor was an ass to you” while flipping him the finger, was a whole new level of torment. It really was just me inside this thing.
As I took in how provisional had been my access to that lively world, the sole windfall came from The Bachelor’s parting point before he hung up the phone that night, before I went on to spend six hours emptying an entire box of tissues: “The thing is, you’re nice to me when I see you. You shouldn’t be. I was a jerk. You should be angry at me.”
My lifetime of training had taught me how to slide the continuum of passivity into occasional aggression. But I had neither witnessed nor felt a reaction as appropriate, as healthy, as anger.
Certainly, part of me resented that The Bachelor gave me license to feel as I should. On the other hand, part of me was obliged for the lesson.
I worked on turning self pity into something more honest. I considered what parts of the anger needed to be directed at The Bachelor and what parts were better aimed at my own actions and decisions. In my meta-moments, I apprehended that many women don’t really know how to feel justified anger, how to channel it, how to employ its force. Rightly handled, anger can burn away contamination. Then, beautifully, the festering recedes.
In my case, the anger would have felt more gratifying if The Bachelor had been less matter-of-fact in informing me of the proper response. The anger would have burned cleaner if he’d seemed even the slightest bit ashamed at having been such a heel.
Apparently, for me, one of the clearest signs that I’ve broken up with someone is that he urges me to be angry with him.
One doesn’t learn the healthy expression of anger through sheer will, of course. I hacked around my head for awhile, attempting to connect the collapse occurring there to the constant ache in my heart. Partially, I was successful.
As time went on, though, I got past reacting with “It’s okay for everyone else, but not for me” when a few pals suggested I see a therapist. I listened to their testimonials and realized I respected the hell out of them for being willing to unpack their pain. So I made a call.
Again, a “moral of the story” tale would end here with personal growth, a shoring up of spirits, and some healthy moving on.
Ah, but morals are too pat for real life.
I went three times to see the therapist, basically for an initial consultation before deciding what plan to put in place. She was a dear Midwestern woman, in her drop-waist jumper, sporting her Dorothy Hamill wedge haircut. Listening intently, taking notes, she provided me the solace of being heard. She also was an uncritical audience—which meant, were I so disposed, I could lead her anywhere. I wasn’t so arrogant as to think “I’m smarter than the therapist,” but I was nervy enough to realize that I could be, if I felt like it. She was lovely, but she wasn’t sharp. Inside, I felt very, very sharp.
Thus, by the time she advised me, “We’ve done our three sessions, and I have to tell you you’re fine. You don’t need to see me. You know what you’re thinking and why. You’re actually very healthy in the ways that matter,” I had already decided the sessions served as a marking point, but I would move on without them.
Through all my flailing around, I had hit on a few ideas—sloppy morals, if you will–that provided enough thought fodder to propel me forward:
From The Bachelor: I needed to get better at realizing when anger is called for, and then I needed to feel it fully and let it blow through.
From the therapist, after I described the recent baffling months: “Those people you keep calling your friends? That’s actually not friendship.”
From my own whimpering noggin: The thing that kept me crying all the time was a prickly sense of humiliation, the worst kind of devastation. Being bright and cheery and helpful for someone who hadn’t even been looking—who didn’t esteem me enough to say what he was thinking–was perhaps the greatest diminishment I’d ever felt. Part of leaving behind humiliation, for me, would mean always, always, always being willing to say out loud the things I dreaded the most, lest I cripple a fellow human in the name of “prudence.” Saying the hard things out loud, being willing to cause that pain, is a way of bestowing respect. Hogtying expression is a kind of degradation.
From my traumatized heart: I could be my best self, and that might not be enough. Spotting So Right, I did everything in my power to become The Right One for One So Right, and it still was a bust. Effort, intention, compatibility—they didn’t necessarily combine into a winning sum. What looked right on paper read quite differently out loud.
Ultimately, this break up was like trying to crack applesauce; it’s impossible to shatter something fundamentally fluid and viscous. Glass breaks. Concrete crumbles. But a bowl of mush swirls, jiggles, muddles, gains definition only through emptiness. Of course, for the one staring at the empty bowl, spoon in hand, napkin tucked into collar, dolefully trying to dig into something not there,
there is only bottomless hunger.
(coda still to follow)