break-ups severed heads in baskets

My Breast Hath All Those Pieces Still


A brief summary, in case you’ve been spending so many hours cruising and that you were too pressed for time to read the last few posts:

So I had a break-up, and it took the stuffing out of me, and I cried a lot; and then I had another break-up, which really took the stuffing out of me, and boy did I cry a lot; then I hooked up with Groom (detailed story can be read here), who, by meeting me fully and loving me ridiculously, has done an admirable job of keeping me from self-sabotage and the Kleenex box, except when the series finales of The Office (BBC version) and The Shield (oh, Shane Vendrell, what you did to your family…) are on, during which Groom just hands me the entire box of tissues, rubs my shoulders, and keeps me hydrated.


Now, the coda:

Three years after being sliced open by the Norwegian Bachelor Farmer’s destructive reticence, the universe had allowed me a triumphant rebound:

I had found the person whose love completed my confidence; having tasted easy, assured adoration with Groomeo, my hunger was sated.  Never again would I feel the compulsion to search for an Other. I had felt the exceptional balance that came from genuine partnership, so I was all good. If I’d never gotten to feel the sensation of soppy romantic love, I would have continued to crave that one elusive life experience, would have felt my heart had missed out on filling all of its chambers. However, now that I had been lucky enough to “get” it and with such force, my heart needed an annex;

I had given birth to our delightful Girl, then a toddling towhead who would bounce on my knee with excitement as she pointed at pictures of elephants in storybooks;

My little family and I had escaped the small town where I’d lived throughout the heartbreaks. While I’d made good friendships in that place, the town hadn’t felt like a perfect fit, and not only because any time I’d wheel my daughter out in the jogging stroller, I’d be stopped by at least ten people who would point and comment, “Sakes alive, Mabel, would you look at that thing she’s got that baby in? That’s quite a carriage, Missy!” The town also lacked a variety of green spaces, peers in our age group, and choices of activities. Plus, it smelled. Thus, when an opportunity to interview at a college in a bigger city, on the edge of a beautiful lake, cropped up, and I was subsequently offered a position there, we had packed up and sped northwards;

I had realized a new level of physical health once I ratcheted up my daily walking into very slow running. I started by running a minute at a time, increasing it to three minutes at a time, and had gotten to the point where, so long as I held my pace to a slog, I could run miles. In fact, when my long-time distance-runner husband broke his toe the week before a scheduled 10K (try this for indignity: he broke it on a piece of wicker furniture) and found himself unable to run the race, my thrifty self announced, “We’re not losing that race fee. Plus, someone’s got to uphold the family honor.” I got the race registration transferred to me and, although at that point I’d never run more than 4 miles in my life, I cranked out that 10K, turning in even splits on all six miles. It seemed, somehow, I’d learned something about endurance, pacing myself, and not bursting into tears in the middle of the race.

Rebound, indeed.

It was fitting, therefore, that I was running on a trail in my beautiful new city, buoyed along by thoughts of getting home to my husband and daughter, when the universe handed me closure.

I was almost an hour into my run that day, enjoying the burble of the creek that snaked parallel to the trail, when I saw a man step out of the woods about a hundred yards down. Instinctively, realizing how isolated the spot was, I slowed down and took stock. I had been running for an hour and had seen no one during that time, and then some Random Mountain Man stepped out of the forest—off of no existing trail—and he was carrying a basket.

Baskets are very good for toting around severed heads.

Needed a plan; needed a plan. So if I kept running, I’d get to him and his basket of severed heads and then what? Ask him if his arms were tired? And if he answered that they were, should I then offer to help him with his load (after all, since it seemed I was driven by a need to accumulate all possible life experiences, I could then add to my list the item of “Carried Basket of Severed Heads”), or would I simply use the advantage of my non-tired arms to bash at him when he sluggishly pulled his hacksaw out of his, um, buckskin hacksaw holster?

Or was all this frantic brain spinning—as usual—unnecessary? Because that lanky guy with a basket suddenly looked familiar. Like he was of Norwegian extraction. About 46. A bachelor.

When I realized who it was standing there, on a remote trail located six hours drive from his home, someone I hadn’t seen for three years, hadn’t seen since he’d dumped me, raw and bleeding, out the back of his moving van,


my knees got weak, my vision blurred, and my head felt all swimmy.

After six seconds of that nonsense, I shook myself straight, shrugged my shoulders, and thought, “What the hell. What a chance. Let’s see what this business is all about.”

More swiftly than before, I ran straight towards him, enjoying his jump when I approached him from behind and called out, “So. Do you accept hugs from sweaty people?”

He turned and, spotting me, registered the same weak-blur-swimmy feeling I’d had. I enjoyed seeing that, too.

We exchanged an awkward “aren’t we just fine with each other” hug, a few “what are the odds?” comments, and an explanation of why we were out in those woods at that moment. Turns out, he was there and carrying a basket because he was in town visiting friends and, since they were busy that evening with another commitment, had decided to go out mushroom picking.

Of course, sometimes mushroom picking is just Vixenish Universe’s way of giving people the chance for a random encounter that leaves them looking each other directly in the eye.

Having never gotten a final eye-to-eye moment with The Bachelor, part of me, for a nanosecond, considered revisiting old wounds. But damn if they weren’t healed, relegated to being nothing more than part of a previous plot. No need.

What I did get to do, standing there, was pull out a weapon called Bringing Up Personal Information. This had been the main issue when we were together: I wanted to say things out loud; he wanted to absorb them through some eighth sense. In particular, I knew that flashing around personal, romantic-type information would cause him to dodge and feint. I had no fear of a parry.

Moreover, it did rather seem we were on my turf. And that he’d be hard pressed to come up with an escape excuse. And that I could initiate the flow of personal information and probably keep up with him in my running shoes, should he bolt.

“Hey, so I’m guessing you’ve heard through the grapevine that I got married a couple years ago. He’s great. We have a daughter now; she’s 16 months.”

Decently glad for me, he made a supportive and kind response, a gush along the lines of, “That’s good.”

My next impulse was a common one: whenever I see someone alone, with no plans, and I know I’m heading home towards Tuscan White Bean Soup with Crusty Bread and a relaxed evening of hanging out, I want to invite that person to come along and join in.

I started to form an invitation in my mind (“You should come over for dinner and meet my husband and Girl!”)—only noting in passing that, while The Bachelor was tall, my husband was taller; while The Bachelor was attractive in his way, my husband was more attractive, in more important ways; while The Bachelor liked to cook, my husband invented cooking.

As I contemplated asking him over, mostly to eat and chat and only minimally to broadcast the jackpot of my new life, I followed up on the reports I had been hearing about him, which had filled me in on the fact that he was newly engaged to a friend of a friend:

“So I’ve heard you’ve been seeing Cassie for awhile…and that things are getting serious with you guys?”

Looking simultaneously discomfited and happy, he mulled over how to confirm that his hopes had landed successfully, too . “Yes. A wedding is being planned.”

Really? Really? “A wedding is being planned”?

Right there, my thoughts about inviting him to dinner screeched to a halt. In a single statement, he had reminded me of everything that had been wrong between us, had triggered some dormant indignation. Because, really? In confirming that he had met the love of his life, the woman for whom he’d been casting about for decades, and in confirming that they’d decided to get married and create something bigger together,

He used the passive voice. Further, he didn’t insert either of the involved individuals into his confirmation. Leaving himself and his fiancee out of the statement and implying, vaguely, that something was happening that he had no control over…THIS was his affirmation of a huge life choice?

I was truly and immediately exasperated. One of the twelve voices in my head piped up, “Hey, Joce? A few years ago, you knew how you wanted this guy in your life: as a partner and as a love. He didn’t want you that way. Moments ago, you were considering establishing a friendship with him. But that would be taking the consolation prize. You didn’t get him on your terms? Don’t renegotiate the terms now. You knew what you wanted. He’s just reminded you why you can be glad you didn’t get it. So be done with him. Keep his passive, elusive, slippery self away from the straightforward beauty of Groom and Girl. Be done. Move on.”

Promising that voice a big chocolate brownie later, I looked up at The Bachelor one last time, told him I was glad he’d found what he was looking for, and glanced at my watch. “I need to finish up my run before dinnertime, so must hie off now. All the best to you and Cassie—and, gollee, what a weird coincidence, meeting up like this, eh?”

With that, we parted—my choice this time–


never once looking back,

I aimed my active self, my active heart, my active voice,

towards the people who loved me.

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break-ups it would have been cool if Robin Williams or Judd Hirsch had been my therapist

Nothing Can to Nothing Fall (Part III of III)

(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)

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break-ups I should have hooked up with the Maytag Man Norwegian Bachelor Farmers as steamrollers

Nothing Can to Nothing Fall (Part II of III)


Continuing where the last post left off:

Essential to my ultimate disintegration was the beauty of our beginning. For the next few months, I drove to his house—nearly two hours away—at least once a week. He made me feel doted upon, as though I was the final piece to his life’s puzzle. Simultaneous to our starting up, he was planning the huge life change of leaving his longtime job at an engineering firm; he and his best friend were planning to poach a major client, move to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and open their own firm. Early on, he pointed out teaching possibilities in the UP that I could explore, suggested that I might consider a move, too.

Between “smitten” and “maybe you could move to the UP, too” I was besotted—so infatuated with the vision of a social, outdoorsy future of parenting that I overlooked conspicuous deficiencies. I accelerated my efforts to become unquestionably the “right person.” I wore Patagonia. I tossed out ironies. I picked blackberries and morel mushrooms and contributed them to his kitchen. I showed up, week after week, to help prepare his house for sale. I painted stucco for hours and, ironically, ruined expensive Patagonia shorts in the process.

He never visited my town, never saw my house, never met any of my friends that weren’t mutually his.

Each week, I would offer up when I could visit, outlining the projects I could tackle. My desire to be a helpmeet to him distracted me from noticing that–whereas he’d once asked me where he could take me out for my birthday, once reached for me with eagerness, once bought me copies of his favorite books—he now simply said yes, I could come. Yes, I could paint the upstairs bedroom while he was at work. Yes, I could make a triple layer cake for his birthday party. Yes, I could provide a feminine presence that caused his friends and colleagues to put their heads together and clack that The Bachelor had someone. Interestingly, no one ever asked him what was going on between us; they came and asked me. My answer consisted of a shrug and a vague rambling answer about his needing to get through the move to the UP before either of us could be sure of anything.

In the moment, I felt glad that I was able to speak for him because that meant I was part of an Us.

In retrospect, I can see that I was surfing on a crest of bewilderment, ready to accept any excuse for the lack of clarity between us if it meant I got to be with him.

And I was with him. However, he wasn’t with me. At some nebulous point in that stretch of months, he was done.

Because I had fallen in love with something as substantial as a moonbeam, I neglected a cold reality. The traditional practice of Norwegian Bachelor Farmers is to carry on steadily and deal with life situations through quiet compliance. Even when the humane thing to do is utter a few necessary words, the NBF isn’t compelled to step up, cannot force himself to violate the comfort of passivity.

Although it feels safe to the NBF to put his head down and tuck his arms close to his sides, such a posture of tameness can destroy those around him—can dismantle those putting out the energy to keep their chins up and extend their hands outside their personal space.

As the months carried on, I did cop to the one-sidedness of our relationship. One time, I hung up the phone after talking to him and thought, “Okay, this doesn’t feel right. Even though I’m petrified to face it head on, as that could mean the end of this thing, which then would deposit my lonely self back onto the pavement around the ponds, getting chased by geese as I listen to Roddy Doyle’s The Woman Who Walked Into Doors on tape, I’m ready to ask him what’s going on.” Inhaling a dramatic breath, I picked up the receiver and, with cold and shaking fingers, dialed his number again. Even though I’d just talked to him, and even though I knew he was home, it rang and rang and rang and rang and rang, endlessly.

By the next morning, my resolve was lost.

Something was starting to shift in me, though, starting to wake up to his absence. Because I was stubbornly blind in matters of the heart, the shift only began with an act of nature: my town was struck by a group of tornadoes one summer afternoon. Nothing in my life will ever again feel as starkly terrifying as being alone in my basement, crouched behind the washing machine on the grimy cement floor, pleading to a potentially-nonexistent God for safe passage, while all the world outside turned ominously yellow, hundred-mile-an-hour winds thrashed electrical wires loose, and the sound of a freight train bore down on my house. Alone, I screamed and screamed, hugging the washing machine, hoping it wouldn’t be lifted, only to land on top of me. Because if it did, who would know? Who would find me? Who would save me?

Someone who was loved would not have to ask such questions. Someone who was reasonable would have realized that if she was going to die, she was going to die, and even being loved wouldn’t change that.

Feeling neither loved nor reasonable, I emerged from the basement twenty minutes later, more grateful to a washing machine than I knew I could be. The town was devastated, with more than 250 trees down across major roads; there was no electricity restored for 4 days. I rapidly discovered orienteering by headlamp and candle after dark only feels “fun” and “like a lark” when in the company of others. In a house alone, the darkness flowed directly from my heart. My mechanically-challenged self also couldn’t figure out how to open the garage since the garage door opener was powered by electricity, and simply tugging on the door budged nothing. For the first three days after the storm, I walked and biked everywhere. Eventually, I waited outside until a stranger passed by, and, feeling rather like Blanche DuBois, asked him how to disconnect the opener and pull the door up manually.

A week after the well-publicized decimation of my town, all services restored, I still hadn’t heard from my—what to call him, wondered the woman who likes to sculpt snowmen out of air—boyfriend. Eventually, I called him, assuring him somewhat sarcastically that I was fine. Sarcasm, of course, is a sublimation of graver feelings.

Yet. I am nothing, if not loyal to moonbeams.

For the thing between us to be over, he needed to participate in the separation; without his acknowledgement that it was over, I would never be certain that anything had existed in the first place.

Respite from the haze came when I took another trip to Ireland that summer. I was gone for six weeks, and further regret came after I neutralized several opportunities involving lads with lilting brogues, uncertain as to whether I needed to honor the relationship back home or not.

Upon my return home, the issue came to a head. Two of the friends from the “cabin weekend” crew were having a commitment ceremony; because I was relatively new in their lives, yet they liked me, they assumed that the best approach was to invite The Bachelor and that I would be his date. So I waited. As the days passed, other Cabin Crew friends called to see if he’d asked me. Finally well and sick of not knowing what my own life even was anymore, I strapped on my Big Girl Belt—which was heavier than anticipated—and I called him and asked what was going on, straight out.

Catching him unawares was an efficient technique, as he had no dodge prepared. His answer was a clean, “No, I wasn’t going to ask you.” From there, he admitted, using the worst of clichés (“It’s not you; it’s me”), that our connection was quite over for him. We actually talked, and although I sobbed through much of it, at least when I hung up, I knew something.

A “moral of the story” tale would end here with personal growth, a shoring up of spirits, and some healthy moving on.

Morals are too pat for real life.

(Part III forthcoming)

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at least I discovered Pizza Luce and Gloria Naylor break-ups doesn't a curry sound good right about now?

Nothing Can to Nothing Fall (Part I of III)

Even as it was happening, I didn’t realize we were breaking up.

This time, I missed it because I was too busy cataloguing evidence that we were “together.”

Certainly, I had acted the part. I drove once, twice, each week the two hours to his place. Once there, I shared his bed, made meals, answered his phone, painted his house. I was energetically—unrelentingly—devoted to providing what I perceived he wanted.

Certainly, I had been crazy for him, and if he’d suddenly blurted out, “Let’s get married,” my answer would have been a rushed and hearty “YES!” I would have been planning how to stuff Siberian Iris into every centerpiece before he’d had the thought to learn my middle name.

Curious, then, that I was never completely certain of where I stood…or if I was even welcome to stack up each of my vertebra into the tower of my full self. A posture of anticipative crouching typified those six months.

Easy psychology might conjecture that I hunched into the crouch after my previous six-year relationship with a man who had never wanted what I wanted, with a man who rarely made me feel prized or desired, with a man so wounded that I finally had to refuse to be his healer, lest I start dropping limbs myself. It could have been posited that the remnant damage from that relationship of my twenties—a mere nine months behind me when I launched into Hope with this new man—readied me for New Man’s confounding treatment, an approach that careened from blood-rushing attentiveness to perplexing inscrutability.

Of course, the workings of the psyche are never easy.

In truth, ending the relationship of my twenties ultimately felt right and good, like a release from middle school lunch hour—something I craved for the opportunities but, more deeply, mourned for the daily disappointments. Once the redheaded man and I had parted ways, I had turned my face, beaming, towards the future; I was both unfettered and gleeful. Within months of his moving away, I’d retrieved cached pieces of self, lost 40 pounds, reinvigorated friendships, found a new recipe for cashew chicken, gone bowling, seen movies requiring Deep Thought, shopped for new sweaters, and planned a summer trip to Ireland with several Women of My Heart.

Then again, there was also the loneliness. Without the definition of a relationship, life seemed aimless, without purpose or momentum. So, what?—I was to get up every day, eat some Raisin Bran, and—then what?—try to figure out where in the world Matt Lauer was? And I was to repeat this ritual until when? And why was I doing any of it anyhow? At least in a relationship, the yoke to Other nudged me when it was time to turn back to the barn at the end of the day.

Unyoked from my former love, I felt free to sprint across a sun-dappled meadow, yet part of me wondered if I weren’t also dashing toward the edge of a long, flat world, galloping into a pre-Columbian void of darkness.

Caught between dapple and dark, I engaged in a deliberate Creation of Meaning for my days, no simple feat in a town of 23,000 people, two-thirds of whom were over the age of 65. Mostly, Meaning Creation entailed fine-tuning my personal profile, trying out activities that might ripen me for presentation to A Different Kind of Man: A New Man. In this quest, I rented inline skates; I made a pair of snowshoes; I cooked a cauliflower pie in a hash brown crust. Each of these—undertaken solo–filled hours and gave me material for conversation.

Should anyone ask.

And that’s what loneliness is: deliberately filling the hours, warding off potential silence in the face of a welcome inquiry.

After being single for a handful of months, recovering from the six-year relationship, listening to countless hours of books on tape while walking paved paths that encircled ponds, shooing the geese when they waddled up to hiss and peck at my feet, some friends came to visit.

I didn’t realize at the time that they were on a reconnaissance mission, that they were checking the walls of my house to be sure I’d removed all pictures of Redheaded Long-Term Man before beginning to orchestrate a series of “introductions” to the single men in their lives.

Apparently, I passed their covert tests and, subsequently, began to get invitations to come visit them in their city. And so long as I was there, I was welcome to accompany them to whatever they were doing that weekend–even and especially if it involved opportunities for me to stand in the same room with single men. This I realized only after the fact, as seems to be the case with most anything that might potentially change my life.

The first guy I was tossed towards was too recently divorced to realize I was single and in the same room with him. From my side, I was too recently single and too unable to see myself as appealing.

The second guy noticed me in the room with him, registered that I was single, and found me appealing. Oblivious, I asked him a lot of questions about his previous girlfriend and counseled him as to how to get back together with her.

The third guy was hosting a dinner party, so I was one of many in the room; he was making a Thai meal from scratch, showcasing skills he’d picked up in the Peace Corps. While he was convivial, he also spent three hours sweating over the food. Most of that time saw him sitting upon a wooden construction he’d hammered together, a little wooden bench called “The Rabbit.” The purpose of The Rabbit was to allow the sitter to shred, pummel, and juice a whole coconut until it yielded enough coconut milk for the meal. Terrifically hungry by 9 p.m., I still grasped these points: there was actually very little food put out on the table for all that effort; my idea of a dinner party involves more than 2 ounces of food per guest; I was going to need a burger on the way home; sometimes it’s okay to take the shortcut called cracking open a can of coconut milk, particularly if doing so allows you to talk to the people who have come to your home; and, finally, at least the host had enjoyed a vigorous and gratifying date with The Rabbit.

The fourth guy was jokingly called a Norwegian Bachelor Farmer, for he was tall, lanky, laconic, nearly 43, never married. I met him at a ski weekend at a friend’s cabin in Wisconsin—the type of weekend for which my parched soul had been thirsting: there were people, food, talk, laughter. Because I had no notion that my participation in the weekend was actually an audition for affection, I was relaxed and easy. Beneath the joking around, though, some part of me observed that The Bachelor was charming in his quiet way; some part of me discerned that a place in his affections would also grant me continued access to this group of friends. He was a package deal.

Thus, a squeal escaped my lips a few days after the cabin weekend when I opened my email to find a message from him. True to his form, there were few words, simply a brief “I believe I’m smitten.”

Reading those words still qualifies as one of the most heart-poundingly-satisfying moments of my life. I checked quickly over my shoulder to see if a television camera hovered there, recording my reaction as part of that week’s episode of The Jocelyn Chronicles, an episode entitled “Life: There’s Payoff After All.” Unfortunately, all I spotted was a withered house plant, its own parched self crying out for a little attention.

I replied to that email with excitement only loosely harnessed. Fairly quickly, we arranged an actual date, and when we shared asparagus off the same plate during that meeting, I was further convinced of our potential.

He also tempered the residual backlash from Redhaired Man of My Twenties. Still reacting to that previous relationship, I saw The Bachelor satisfying my desire to have children, for he felt his own clock ticking and was more than ready for fatherhood. We wanted the same things. We liked each other. What more did there need to be?

Naturally, The Bachelor had dated before me. One of his ex-girlfriends was part of the “cabin weekend” group. She and The Bachelor seemed fine friends, which spoke well of his character, I thought. Later, I did hear that, after he had broken up with her, she had not participated in the “friend weekends” for quite some time, absenting herself for a few years. He had also brought an unfortunate woman to one of the cabin weekends; she was quickly tagged with the name La Nerviosa due to her evident feelings of unrest, anxiety, and confusion throughout the weekend. The rest of the cabin group was taken aback by her questions about why The Bachelor seemed to distance himself from her presence; they were incredulous that she cried; they still told stories of how La Nerviosa, after that cabin weekend, followed The Bachelor around plaintively, unable to make sense of what was going on between them.

Chortling at the “craziness” of La Nerviosa is one of my greatest regrets.

It would take ten months for me to be rendered La Segunda Nerviosa.

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break-ups Ireland past summers travel

“Busted in Ballyvaughn”

Eleven years ago, I started to turn my life around economically. However, my romantic life was still facing the wrong direction. It took another year for the About Face of the Heart to take place, for me to realize that I’d spent the bulk of my twenties in a relationship that, while fine and good on many fronts, would never fully satisfy. It was too full of emotional landmines (whoops! Triggered another one!) and divergent goals. Even though Boyfriend Of My Twenties had moved to Minnesota with me, and I appreciated that act of solidarity, things had to change.

Thus, one decade ago this summer, I was mourning the demise of my six-year-relationship. And the break-up? It had been long and exhausting and had pretty much cut me off at the knees.

Metaphorically speaking. I mean, I still had calves and feet. C’mon. What’d you think? That I shuffle around on my patellas? Imagine the horrid scraping sound that would make.

At any rate, after wading through a fair amount of extended emotional upheaval, there I was. Thirty years old. Overweight. A mixture of really sad and strangely buoyant simultaneously–certain I’d never find genuine, healthy love at the same time I was glad that new, better, love was a possibility.

So I started exercising; lost a little weight; realized the beauty of feeling free.

And in response to all this? Deeply and profoundly, I knew it was time to start making my credit cards flex their personal-debt-inducing muscles. It was time to get my wounded soul a passport, mix it up with The Ladies, and take a trip.

And so I did, mixin’ it up, generationally, too. That summer, I spent three weeks scooting around Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man with my mom, her cousin, and one of my treasured girlfriends. Ranging in age from 30 to 61, we were dope, jiggy, and phat–ready to get down with the scones and the clotted cream. It wasn’t exactly dropping acid at Ozfest, but it would suffice as a heartmender.

We giddy four hit the 40 Shades of Green that make up the Irish landscape with all the enthusiasm and eagerness of, well, a leprechaun on acid at Ozfest. We saw castles. We listened to music. We got a puncture in our tyre, fixed by a lovely man named Michael (Honest to St. Patrick, his pre-adolescent daughter put on her saucy skirt and amused us with step-dancing while we waited).
We saw theatre. We ducked into Stone Age tombs.
We enjoyed an entire 15 minutes on the Isle of Skye (last ferry of the day arrived and soon after was departing). We stayed with my excellent Manx friend on the Isle of Man. We applauded a sheepherder and his border collies.
We spent some days in Edinburgh during the yearly Fringe Festival, marveling at the talent unleashed. We, my friends, had our scones.

In sum, we rocked it–me and my companions, The Mothers, in their modest, knee-length skirts, with their sensible walking shoes, tittering at the hint of a brogue.

Sure, we had our moments of stress. One morning I hopped on a train easily, wearing my backpack, and then turned to watch my mother and friend try to board, only to see their big suitcases get hung up on a stack of bikes just inside the train’s doors. As they futzed with their cases, trying to get through, the doors slid closed, and the train took off, leaving them standing, with very big eyes, on the platform. Ah, well, I mused. I guessed they’d catch up to me at the next stop. If not, I’d get back on a train heading the other direction and find them still standing there, trying to get their rolling suitcases to budge over a 100-year-old crack in the pavement. And traveling with a diabetic (my mom’s cousin) who used denial instead of insulin was stressful, as well. Every night, after dithering about being unable to check her blood sugar levels, she would order a huge dessert and then start holding forth at the dinner table in fairly mendacious fashion, telling stories that, if not completely untrue, were unfair and mind-boggling. It was only after we put her on a plane home–and she had a stroke within the next week–that we realized she may have been having a series of mini-strokes as we traveled.

But overall, the trip rejuvenated my dented self. In particular, one night in a little village named Ballyvaughn did this girl some good. We checked in to the hotel there and then headed down to have dinner in the pub. Soon after we started eating, a charming lad–that evening’s entertainment, in more ways than one–started setting up his microphone and guitar, chatting us up a bit as he worked. Amazingly, my mother and her cousin lasted through his first set or two before complaining of the ringing in their ears. Shortly thereafter, when Pub Stud took a break, he came over and suddenly transformed me into the star of my very own one-hour-television-drama by whispering to me, “Don’t go anywhere, now.”

Rooted to my bench, I sipped my pints until the last note died away. And only then did I go somewhere, in his car, to the beach, where I was reminded that there was life outside of that newly-departed six-year relationship, that I could still glimmer and shine, even at 30.

Naturally, while I was on the beach, doing my best impression of Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity at four in the morning, the fire alarm went off back at the hotel. Everyone scurried outside in their nighties and waited for the all-clear. And when my mom couldn’t find me, she started to fret. Luckily, before she could rouse the garda to start a search for my corpse, even though there was no fire at all, my galpal jumped in with a suitably-vague excuse: “Oh, I think she left the pub with some young people. I think they were going somewhere together.”

With that, me mum relaxed.

And out on the beach, with the crashing of the waves around me,

so did I.

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