First heart break: Bring on the teary-eyed monster

Originally published in National Post’s Arts & Life section on February 11, 2011

One month after we broke up, I turned to my ex-boyfriend and asked: “Are you dating anyone?” We were in that awkward “let’s be friends” stage, which I now call “the period of denial.”

“Yes,” he replied.

“Who?”

“Take a guess.”

Oh, right. The Other Woman. How predictable. How cruel. I arrived at my best friend’s house, like a lost alien, my face wet and slimy, my speech garbled. She wrestled me into pyjamas and shoved one of her stuffed animals into my arms. I think it was an ostrich. How else would you comfort a grown woman acting so hysterically?

There was life before heartbreak and life after.

After heartbreak, I scribbled illegible rants in my journal. I danced feverishly at clubs sporting a new haircut and new clothes and then went home to sob in the shower. I slept all day. I burst into tears in the grocery store, while pumping gas, at the gym.

I was a monster wearing a Melissa mask. Family members stared at me with scrunched faces, as if wondering if I was even still in there. Everyone spoke to me in preachy tones like we were on an episode of Dr. Phil, saying things like: “This will make you stronger,” and “leaving is a celebration.”

After heartbreak, the days were perilous. The radio would play a certain song and my insides would shrivel like a dry leaf to a flame. Mutual friends would mention sightings of my ex, and I would silently nod but I wanted to scream: “Was he alone? Did he look sad?” As if you could measure your significance by how much — and if — the other person grieved.

One day, I walked into a store and I thought I saw him behind the counter. I whirled around, fled the mall and got into my car. I sat gripping the steering wheel with the engine running and I thought, “This is crazy. He doesn’t work in a camera store.” When I went back, the guy looked nothing like him.

Friends who endured me, the ones who dragged my sullen, self-absorbed ass out to movies and restaurants, the ones who are still my best friends today, promised I would one day return to Earth to live again. I thought they were full of it. Then one day at about 2 p.m., someone asked me about my ex and I realized that I had not thought about him until that moment. It was a revelation.

Several years later, he passed me on the sidewalk. Although it is possible he did not see me, I thought: “You’ve seen me naked. And now you’re going to pretend not to know me?” I took his arm and he turned to face me. We exchanged pleasantries and parted ways. Just like that.

I know I’m supposed to have sage words about the experience. I’m supposed to be enlightened or have grown stronger or have celebrated the leaving. But I just know that it freaking hurt. And now it doesn’t.

There is life before heartbreak, life after — and then life after that.

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