I thought my last post would be my final breakup post. Not so!
I am very sad. I am unimaginably sad. I’m just lumbering through my house, brushing my teeth, and trying to forget that I live in a world filled with people. I’ve been focusing on my body and need to protect my heart — with muscle. Since the breakup, I’ve been going to the gym almost every day. I added an extra day to my workout week and added another set to every lift. I’m swelling up.
The word “heartbroken” sounds a little mawkish, but I’m somewhere in that vicinity, questioning everything I thought about our breakup, questioning if I made the right decision. As I write this, I’m on vacation in Florida with my family. I keep wandering away from them to walk on the beach alone. Teenagers on Spring Break and happy couples pass by me. “Morose” and “shattered” sound dramatic, but here on the edge of the Atlantic, these words feel true. I feel it in my body, a weight I’m carrying around.
I miss having a second set of eyes on the world, a different set of thoughts to compare mine to. My ex was more perceptive than me in almost every way. Where I see cynicism and dark portents, he saw the world as it was — kids playing in the surf, handsome men on the beach. He did not project his glum thoughts onto everything around him as I do. He was fully aware of his inner self and where it ended, something I struggle with. I fall into a habit of thinking everything is symbolic, everything is a reflection of my inner self. This mental state is regularly associated with sociopaths and sufferers of schizophrenia — and, apparently, writers. I become the main character in my inner narrative. He was just a character in the world and he delighted in it.
He probably would not admit this to anyone, but he fostered an indefatigable joy. I was in awe of it. I have never been able to produce that in me, that excitement for living. I think I’ve touched it a few times, but I don’t stay in that place. With him, the world always seemed better.
There are many articles online that instruct on how to handle a breakup. Many list “what to do” or “what not to do” with cute illustrations. I do not believe such a personal thing like a breakup can be reduced to a list. Every breakup is different — they are mysterious, brutal things. They feel like deaths.
Newly-single people are expected to make mistakes, stumble home drunk. The world pardons us when we start crying over a book. We are given some bad nights and sad fucks. But at some point we have to lick our wounds and move on. No one can get me out of the pit. I’m on my way up, but I keep getting stuck on my repetitive thoughts, on my mistakes. I regret so many things I said.
Something has helped. I just finished a book called Gratitude by Oliver Sacks, published posthumously. Gratitude is four essays that Sacks — a surgeon and renowned medical writer — wrote in the last years of his life. The fourth and last one, “Sabbath,” was written two weeks before his death of terminal cancer. It was a death he saw coming and he faced it as only a writer can — he wrote about it. At the age of 81 and facing brutal final months, Sacks writes:
I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
I want that same intercourse with the world. His essay “My Own Life” closes with this powerful sentiment: “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
I read it on the beach and when I finished, I was crying. It might seem silly to apply his words to my little breakup, but I’m in the middle of it, and it feels huge — sorrow threatens to swallow me whole. I know that in a few years I’ll look back and wonder how I ever let myself get so sad. I may even feel stupid for letting anyone make me this sad. Perspective will likely make this period seem small and survivable, the same as all my past breakups now look, but I don’t have that perspective now. So following Sacks’ encouragement, I confess here that I am grateful for the relationship and even grateful for the pain that has followed it. It makes me human. I have been in this world and been in love.
I left L.A. I didn’t leave the city because of the breakup — just because there wasn’t a job waiting for me at the end of my internship with the magazine. I’ll continue writing for the publication remotely.
My drive from California to Georgia was a dash to get Jose back, but when I arrived, he had moved on. He had hurt enough. After all, I was the one who left him here — twice. But I can’t be sorry for that, because I had to leave him and go to San Francisco and see it fail, and then I had go to L.A. and do something with my career. L.A. was magnificent and exciting, and I might’ve gotten more out of it if I hadn’t felt linked — by love and heartbreak — to someone back home. When we finally talked, face to face, I saw it in his eyes: we were over. We had to be over.
What I didn’t tell him is that I was going to propose. I had a ring — a cheap one, purchased with the budget of a writer in his first editorial internship — but it was still a ring. In the rough months since, which have seen me fall into a bad depression, I have come to understand and even agree with his reasons for ending the relationship. I’m glad I didn’t propose.
Until reading this little book, I have not thought about gratitude.
Maybe gratitude comes at the end, after you put aside the anger and resentment. I am grateful for whatever this sadness can teach me, whatever lessons I will derive from it when the dust settles. Love is will sustain and shatter me all my life, repeatedly, and I will keep chasing it. What else does one do with life?
I could not imagine being Oliver Sacks and having to slowly let go, to watch my body surrender. If I was to die, the only thing I’d leave is this issuance: value the intimacy, because it’s more important than your job. It’s more important than a raise or promotion. At the close, you won’t miss the money — you’ll miss the moments of touch and warmth and breath. This is the stuff we live our lives on.
A fixation on my body may not be the best way to recover, but it keeps away the drugs and gives me a reason to see the people regularly — the bizarre cast of characters who populate my gym late at night. They ask me how I’m doing. And I’m doing better.
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