My life-changing breakup

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Q

Hi Darcy. First of all, you are amazing. Thank you for giving young women like me someone to look up to.

So I just had a breakup and I’ve been drowning in “how to get over a breakup” posts.

What I really want to read is someone else’s breakup story from someone I admire. I know you’ve been married for a long time but you must have had a breakup at some point. Would you ever  consider sharing your own struggle with a breakup?

A

Absolutely.

Managing heartbreak isn’t for the fainthearted. The times when life has brought me to my knees were each precipitated by losing someone I loved. I still remember the first time like it was yesterday.

Up till then, I’d been on high alert for all forms of betrayal or rejection - historically pulling the trigger the moment I smelled it coming – beating them to the punch.

I’d just gotten back together with my ex-boyfriend of two years. We’d broken up that summer so I could date more serious guys – guys who weren’t three years younger than me and unwilling to discuss a future.

Having spent the summer dating some amazing resumes and one amazing man, I was surprised when, by early September, I found myself pining for my ex, willing to put my future on hold in exchange for a present with him.  

We were both in our first year of graduate school: Social work for me.  Law school for him. I was modeling to make spending money. Back then, agents communicated with models by paging us, leaving a voicemail, or both. And that morning I’d noticed that my answering machine wasn’t working.

All it took was one unanswered call to be dropped from an agency like Ford. And because I didn’t have time to mess with it, I asked him to swing by my house in between classes to see if he could fix it.   

Later that day, as I walked into my bedroom, I saw that he’d been there and had given me his answering machine. He was like that - would give me the goddamned shirt off his back during winter if he thought I was cold.

As I moved closer to the answering machine a weird chill went up my spine, though I couldn’t place it. But I remember distinctly thinking, how does giving me his answering machine fix the issue? If my booker calls me, won’t they be confused by his voice being on my phone?

So, I hit PLAY, and instead of the little tape playing an outgoing message, it plays a recorded phone call between a friend and me from back in the summer. I was bragging about having slept with someone. We were laughing over my escapade. The message was date and time stamped. It was the day before my boyfriend and I’d broken up for the summer.

Apparently, having thought through the need for my outgoing message to be on my answering machine, my boyfriend pulled the tape out of my broken machine and put it into his machine – now connected to my phone – and instead of it playing my outgoing voicemail message, he’d just learned that I cheated on him.

The conversation between my friend and me ends and my boyfriend’s machine says, “End. Of. Messages.”

It should have said, “End. Of. Sanity.”

Because for the next four days, the closest people in my life – myself included – will think I am losing my mind.

The boyfriend, now my ex – again – is deeply outraged and I, in turn, am so traumatized by his reaction that today I can’t remember the specifics.

I recall that he is sanctimonious, he feels I have put his health in danger, and it doesn’t matter that we’ve just had three of the best months we’ve ever had …what I’ve done to him is unforgivable.

He’s even met with the guy who I hooked up with, saying that in order to forgive me, he needs the detail of that night - a request the schmuck grants. I only learn about this meet up when the details I share don’t match up with the schmuck’s version.

My body tingles from top to bottom for hours – to the point where I don’t really feel like I’m in it. When the tingling stops, I am so riddled by grief and panic that I basically sit in the fetal position, rocking back and forth, whaling.

My sister, who divorced the previous year without a fraction of the pain I’m incapable of containing, looks at me in horror, as though I am another species. She has always told me I am too sensitive, yet she’s never seen the kind of the gore that’s oozing from me now.

My mother vacillates between yelling at me to pull it together, and joining me as I sit in the fetal position on the floor, trying to spoon soup into my mouth.

I’m vaguely aware that the reason these few months have been so fulfilling is that for the first time in my life, I’ve thrown myself 100% into the relationship. No flirting with strangers. No exes functioning as insurance policies. No complaining. For three solid months, I’ve shown up in my relationship as though my job was to make him happy. And it’s been the best three months of my life.

This all happens on a Tuesday. By midnight, I’ve been crying non-stop for seven hours. Nothing I do helps. When I try to watch TV, I start to hyperventilate. Around 1:00 a.m. both my mother and my sister suggest I page my therapist, something I haven’t done in the three years I’ve been seeing her.

On Wednesday, I drive to my scheduled appointment. She listens to me confess what I did – how I got caught – and at the end of the 45-minute session, she tells me to sow my own garden. I do not know what that means.

The next day I go back to her and when she repeats the phrase, I ask her what it means and she says, focus on your own life. I leave the appointment wondering how she makes a living.

By Wednesday night, my brother has called the ex-boyfriend, my friends have called him, his roommate and other law school friends are all beseeching him to forgive me. He will take calls from all of these people but he won’t speak to me. Won’t return my calls. And with each passing day, I unravel a little more.

On Friday, I skip classes for the second day that week, bringing my remaining absences for the semester to zero. Instead of spending the day trekking to the useless shrink, I drive myself to a bookstore and commit to staying there until I’ve got a plan – a way out of the darkness. I plant my ass on the carpeted floor of the self-help section, buttressed between How to win friends and influence people to my left, and Think and grow rich to my right.

The titles blur into a long line of what seems to be motivational fluff, though the sunglasses I’m wearing to hide my bloodshot eyes could be skewing my vision.

After what seems like hours of spinning my wheels, I head into the philosophy section. He was a philosophy major, the ex, and I feel anchored by the books he’s surrounded himself with throughout much of his life.  

I’m completely absorbed in a book when I feel the presence of someone familiar. It’s one of his friends from law school. He’s there for a study aid. And yes, he’s heard about what happened. He doesn’t tell me this straight away. I can tell by the way his eyes hold my gaze.

Looking at someone who doesn’t expect me to burst into hysterics helps me breathe deeply for the first time in days.

I turn back to the book I’m reading and he says, “My last breakup almost landed me in a psych ward.”

I don’t trust myself to respond without crumbling so I stay quiet, eyes glued on Aristotle’s writings on relationships.

“I wound up going into a program for depressed people. And they wouldn’t discharge me until I was willing to admit that the pain I felt after losing my ex wasn’t really about my ex. It was about pain and trauma that came long before her. Anyway, it gets better.”

He bends down, kisses me on the head, then walks away, which I see through the side of my sunglasses.

I blink and a tear falls on my book, spreading wider on the page.

I won’t understand his words for another 14 years, which is when the ex-boyfriend turned husband, becomes my ex-husband.

I’ll recall those four days of darkness, and I’ll draw strength from knowing that I was able to pull through it once before when I was in my 20’s. And this time, I’ll heal the deeper wounds that my first breakup exposed.

But that’s another story.