The text appears mid-afternoon, when you’re at work: “Hey, can we talk?” You go home in a daze, set your things down, lift the phone to your ear when it rings. He says words, you say words back, hang up. Just like that, it’s done: you woke up this morning in love with a man you’d loved for almost a year, whose family you had met, a man you thought you would have a long future with, and tonight you will go to bed no longer in love with him, you will go to bed alone. This is how things end.
They end not with a bang, not with an argument, not with an infidelity and suspicions. They end the way a movie ends, the way a song ends: this was happening, and now it is not. Just days before, you spend Halloween weekend together, tell each other you love each other, and now you scrutinize the weekend. When I told him he was my best friend, did I ignore a shadow that passed in front of his eyes? What did it mean when he touched my arm on the G line home? Then you go further back, question everything. How did he go so quickly from telling me I’m perfect and doing somersaults when he saw me, to telling me he couldn’t see a future together?
You stop rationalizing and start accepting. Your friends circle the wagons, they’re also baffled but they link their arms tight and surround you. They know you’ve been here before in this cell of grief, and they’ve been here too, they know how to tend to your wounds. Some tend to them with postmortems and hindsight. Some tend to them quietly, they nod and listen to you rambling about your confusion and pain, take you to movies, take you to events, distract you with tinfoil and noisemakers. The first night alone, without these distractions, comes almost by surprise. You spoil yourself with a movie and takeout and a bottle of good wine. You think you’re ready for this night but you’re not, instead of the movie your mind’s eye keeps showing you pictures of him in someone else’s arms, flashes of him going on a first date with someone, and a cruel mental image of a stranger’s hand caressing his skin the way you did.
You finish the bottle quickly and open another.
Your parents are kind to you, they’re sad mostly because they know the journey leading up to meeting David was long, they knew what he meant to you, they knew what it took for you to finally trust someone after the weird, long, strange years of being single. You tell your father that you wish you were dumb and shallow so that this wouldn’t hurt, so that this wouldn’t affect you, you tell him you wished you were as deep as paint so you could feel nothing. He understands.
Meanwhile, back on Scruff, you change your relationship status to “single” again. You hope the change will be subtle but apparently it’s not and acquaintances take note. Many express empathy and understanding. Some, in this hypersexual environment, express it differently. Those men leave tokens of their courtship like cats leaving dead birds at your feet but instead of sympathy cards and casseroles, instead of dead birds it’s dick pics. The body of your dead relationship isn’t even cold yet and they circle like vultures over carrion. You consider sinking your flesh into another’s to feel relief, to feel anything but this hollow feeling, but you know that road will just lead to missing David more. You politely decline the offers.
Little things catch up to you: the songs you now have to skip past as you walk to the train stop every morning (mostly Taylor Swift and Adele). The food at the grocery store that reminds you of his favorite dishes. Your coworkers asking how you’re feeling, actually asking about your cold but then you stand there and don’t know how to respond. You smile wanly and don’t make eye contact and mutter “Much better, thanks,” and walk away pretending like you have something urgent to attend to so they don’t see your eyes welling up. It occurs to you to never again tell anyone in pain that you know what they’re going through. You don’t know, you couldn’t possibly, and maybe every pain is unique, like a fingerprint.
The hardest is when you delete the pictures of him off your phone. This is evidence, somehow, this is the proof that the two of you existed, that once you existed together: the silly pictures you took, the videos he sent you of him playing the piano for you when he was applying to grad school at NYU. You ponder them before you press “confirm”. How did I get it so wrong? How did his mere tolerance of me look like love to me? And then a scarier thought: Would I even know anymore what real love would look like if I found it? You press “delete” and the deed is done.
A couple days later, you float through your apartment like a ghost, collecting things that remind you of him and putting them away. You have a fleeting fantasy of an art project, of putting every memento you’ve gathered in eBay auctions: the photobooth pictures of the two of you, the sextant he gave you, the T-shirt you took after you visited him in Milwaukee, the object in your bedside table. You would write a story for each one about how it was given, what it’s made out of, what it meant to you. You realize this is really funny but also kind of creepy and instead throw everything in a box in your closet. The next morning, you wake up and throw the box away.
You tell your friends you love them more than usual.
You are late to work several times and then you are not anymore.
You treat yourself to ice cream.
You remember in line at the grocery store that he taught you to finally be comfortable holding hands in public and you start crying right then and there and make strangers uncomfortable and you don’t care, you just imagine you’re Julianne Moore as one of her tragically beautiful characters and sweep out of Safeway with your frozen pizzas and Xanax prescription and tear-stained face. You’re not embarrassed. No one has the right to tell you how to grieve, how to survive.
You are sad that you won’t get to say goodbye to his friends, to his family.
You get used to not checking your phone to see if he’s texted you.
You treat yourself to a cute scarf.
You go for a hike and you scream in anger at the top of your lungs to the sky.
You bless this stillborn love, you close its eyes with your fingers, you dig a safe space in the ground to lay it in, you cover it with dirt. You stand watch over it through the night to protect it from predators. You hope in your heart that it will return, but you know in your head that it will not. You don’t know what is next, and that is okay. You’re not okay, and that is okay too.
And one day, almost a week later, and entirely by mistake, you give yourself permission to laugh again.