Tears of happiness stream down your face as you think: thank you God. You are sitting across from him on his bed in his apartment in Bed-Stuy, you flew here a week after he called you and said he was sorry, that he’s had a rough time without you in his life, that he’s missed you since the breakup. You didn’t tell your friends about the call, you secretly flew out on a redeye after work one day. You went to his apartment, and after hasty greetings to his roommates (who scrammed the fuck out of there quickly), the two of you went to his bedroom and talked about everything: the expectations, the communication that was absent until it seemed too late, the pressure that social media puts on a public relationship. You find a common ground, you make commitments to mend what was missing, you hold hands, you cry together. The two of you call your families, your close friends, agree to keep it off of social media for the time being, maybe forever. Later, you hold him in your arms, you smell the familiar smell of his neck, of his hair and his sweat, and you get a full night’s sleep for the first time in almost two months.
You wake up from the dream crying: the call, the visit did not happen, will never happen. You look at your phone: like all mornings, there is still no message from him. You get dressed, go to work. You go home, you eat dinner, you go to bed at midnight. You wake up at 4am, like clockwork since the breakup, stare at the ceiling get lighter and lighter with the rising sun. Once every couple of days someone will ask how you’re doing, you lie, you smile because it’s been weeks and they expect improvement. Once in a while someone says “yeah, breakups suck” and you have to resist punching them in their stupid face. Breakups do not “suck”. A flat tire “sucks”. Your cat throwing up on your carpet “sucks”.
You shuffle through your apartment, occasionally catch yourself having conversations out loud with him that you’ll never have in person. Some little idiot in his life who doesn’t even know you probably told him to “rip the bandaid off” and now you live with this open wound, it makes him a bullet that did so much more damage exiting your life than entering. Now he’s just some wifi password that you used to know. You can do this yourself though, you can heal on your own, you don’t need help from anyone.
The heartache occasionally breaks like a fever, it’s a sine wave of sorrow whose peaks and valleys get closer as time passes: you have good days and bad, then good hours and bad, then good minutes and bad. At one point you Google “Can someone go crazy from grief?” and the results aren’t encouraging. You Google “dead baby eulogy” to find parallels to the breakup. You meditate on the lesson you’re supposed to learn and conclude that maybe the universe is just bedlam, this is what happens when people swim in water too deep, this is what chaos’ song sounds like. Even jellyfish are beautiful until you swim too close. You theorize that perhaps your ex was a machine sent from the future to break your heart so your writing would get better because it’s simply too important to the future.
You take notice of a new face nearby you on Scruff. Carl doesn’t look like your ex, which is a blessing. The two of you message, move quickly to text. You’re rusty at flirting, you didn’t think you would ever have to catch a stranger’s eye again after meeting your ex. Your flirt is the sad, flaccid, futile flirt of a 42 year old who’s just been broken up with by a 20-something year old, whose family was probably relieved when David shared the news that you were out of his life forever.
In the meantime, a friend of yours who’s going through something similar offers the number of a doctor, his therapist. You thank him, smile and nod, shove the scrap of paper in your pocket to forget later, probably be lost in the wash. You can do this yourself, you’ve been through this before, and you don’t need help.
Carl asks you out for a drink, you wave him off, tell him you’re currently damaged goods and not bringing new people into your life right now. He persists, sweetly and considerately, and finally you relent. You meet him on a rainy night and you’re captivated by him, by his eyes, by his experiences. The two of you share beers and tell stories. You’re listening to a story about his job when suddenly the anger, the rage comes out of nowhere and it’s David across the table from you. Why did you end it in the exact way you knew would trigger every anxiety I had?, you think as he keeps talking. Why did you withhold information that would have saved the relationship had you just told me? My heart grew so big for you, why did you give up on us so quickly, so easily? Why was that software to tell you that what we had was worth fighting for, worth working on, why was that software never installed in your brain?
You realize all of this as you’re staring at Carl’s face in this bar, your eyes blur with tears and you quickly wipe them away without the guy noticing. I don’t want to do this all over again, this, whatever it is. I don’t want to learn about someone else’s fucking birthday, their favorite stupid food, their goddamn family’s names, their mom’s favorite wine that I bring when I meet her. I know so much about you, David, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with all of that space where you live in my brain, with all of that information about you. Knowing all of this is like having a degree in something completely useless, like Theater Arts. How am I supposed to move forward when your ghost won’t leave me alone?
You walk him to his car, you’ve brought your umbrella and it’s still raining. He asks if he can kiss you. You say no, you see the dismay flash across his face. You walk home as Carl drives away, and this is what you’ve become. Your ex has infected you not with disease but with sorrow, with despair, and now you spread it to others. This man you will infect with disappointment. This other one you will make ill when you fade away. The next one will get his hopes up and you will break his heart. This is just who you are now, after the breakup. You are patient zero of grief.
That week, you are a tidal wave of bad decisions: You email a guy who broke your heart years ago. You cry discreetly and unnoticeably at work like a Sadness Ninja. You turn on Scruff while shopping in Costco. You end the week by waking up with Carl in your arms. It’s all wrong: he doesn’t smell like David, he doesn’t taste like him. This must be what it feels like after you’ve cheated on someone, your body is not geared for someone new yet, it is still used to the way David touched you. After Carl leaves, a friend who lives in Brooklyn who’s never met David texts you that he was 4 feet away from him on the train that morning. Your heart cannot break anymore than it is right then.
You know this will be a long road, this recovery. The road ahead is at least as long the love was wide, and it was so wide for you. You think of that famous definition of crazy, you think it’s time to do something different. You tour a gym, sign up for spin classes.
You find the number that your friend gave you, the number for the therapist. You clear your throat as you call, and the voice on the line says hello.
“Hello? My name is Mike. I need help.”