Monday, September 17, 2012

The Upside of Being Down

In every romantically inclined film ever, the protagonist, at some point, loses love. She spends days in bed, first sobbing violently, but soon reduced to silent tears at the whisper of every floorboard creak that might mean he has returned. Her friends console her, first with sympathy, and then with tough love phrases like “if you don’t get up and go to work, we will 51-50 you.” In the movies, she gets a 10-minute depression montage, where she is melancholy and listless in no fewer than four separate locations. After that, the music changes and she becomes emboldened with a new sense of self-righteous indignation. Who needs love, she battle cries. I have no feelings anymore! With a new attitude and a snappy new outfit, she is triumphant and healed. 

And then when she inevitably runs into that murderer of love and happiness, she is classy and charming and “so over that shit.” 

And boy howdy is he sorry. 
And boy howdy was he wrong to leave her. 

And boy howdy is that not my life. 

I’ve had relationships end before. I’ve been dumped. I’ve been screwed over, burned, left out to dry. I’ve had my fair share of rage blackouts and some stuff got broken. I lost myself, and rose heroically from the ashes of the lesser person I had let myself become. And yet, never before have I found myself unable to stop crying in the middle of a fairly routine coffee order. In the past, words like “snarky” and “independent” have described me. Phrases like “inspiringly hateful.” Never before have I been referred to as “forlorn and overly weepy.”

And then just any other day happened, and I went from having everything, to desperately grasping at anything. Just another day happened, and my everything shifted. 

Maybe it’s that I’m simply dating the wrong type; as in the type that doesn’t think breaking up with me is a horrible, horrible mistake. I guess I should really start trying to date the opposite of that. But I chalk it up to experience, right? Because if I don’t, there comes a time on my everyday drive to work that I start to muse the notion of swerving in to oncoming traffic. It’s not that I’m saying I think that’s a good idea, I’m simply saying, I get it. 

The problem lies in the midst of all the “meantime” in between having everything, and having a new everything. The problem is a huge pit in the middle of those two peaks. This is the sadness pit. This is the pit where a girl becomes an emotional leper to the universe around her. 

I know, it sounds horrid. But hear me out. There is an upside of being so down. 

That moment my world realizes the full weight of any difficult emotional change is always out in public; it never fails. For two weeks, I was able to successfully delude myself into believing that I was only dreaming. It could be that living in my crazy-person world of fiction had made facing the truth even more jarring, or it could be that it didn’t matter when I accepted it. Once it sunk in, it was futile to dispute how I ended up the crying, snotty shell of a person in a car on the side of the freeway that even highway patrol didn’t want to deal with. 

I’ve never been the girl to get swept up. Always one step ahead, always the first to correctly identify and bail on the sinking ship, always the one to know when I’ve had more than enough. But love is tricky, and it snuck up on me – it was hard to even know just how far he had sunk his teeth in until he let go. I mean, think about every time you’ve been stabbed. (No? No one? Well okay then.) Think about every time you’ve gotten a tattoo. (If you don’t get that one either, that’s too bad. I’m leaving you behind!) At first the sting is sharp, maybe you wince, maybe you cry out, but after a few minutes, the area is numb. You go the rest of the day with deadened nerve endings, and you think, “maybe that was just an overreaction at first. I feel okay.” Then it’s the day after, and the “healing” begins.

Have you ever noticed the way the general public behaves around a person with a “healing” tattoo? With almost unprecedented diligence, they maintain a safe distance at all times from the flaky, bleeding work of art with a human being attached. That same social curiosity can easily be applied to the way normal, functioning people behave around the emotionally plagued. 

The first night I went out to interact with the regular people of Earth, I immediately discovered one of the benefits of being sad Eleanor-bot. It was in the very moment I opened my mouth about “how I’d been.” The free drinks just appeared. Sympathy drinks, appeasement drinks, whatever. I had stumbled upon the greatest truth of our culture: people are so uncomfortable with the fragility of the loveless, they will just throw whatever they can at it to make it stop doing what it’s doing. 

In my case, what I was doing was talking. And the solution was free anything. Dinners, drinks, therapy sessions – it was all bought and paid for by the good, fearful people of Oakland; as if my emotional instability were dead skin cells flaking off my personality in droves, and since a tattoo can’t be bandaged and hidden away, they chose to drown it in distractions. I couldn’t blame them; I even went so far as to suggest making a sash, similar to the one that an engaged woman gets to wear at her bachelorette party to announce her achievement. The only difference with mine was that instead of saying “bride-to-be,” it would say “will-probably-die-alone.” Shockingly, THAT got vetoed. 

Not long after, I realized the other big plus of being miserable. Everyone around me was actively avoiding sharing his/her own feelings. Sure, in my free time I was slowly being crushed by the weight of agony that comes with getting your heart precariously ripped from your chest cavity, but in social engagements, I didn’t have to pretend like I was happy for anyone. My new, tragic robot disposition became such a happiness-suck that no one would fess up. Amazing things were happening in my friends’ lives, and I heard naught a syllable. It could be that my failures as a functioning citizen made them uncomfortable; it was probably that they didn’t want to remind me of just how much I had lost in one fell swoop. And there is always the smallest possibility that I just frighten them, generally. Either way, the burden of thinking good things for anyone else had been lifted. And let’s be real, it was a trying task for me on a good day, anyway.  

In the past month, I’ve grabbed a firm hold on everything that mattered to me, and done my damnest to break it apart. If the sensation of ending a relationship is equitable to the act of getting a needle gunned into your arm a billion times, then the past month has been a repeat of the day after.

The day after you get a new tattoo, or stabbed, for those of you still following that one, it’s not just that it hurts. It’s that it aches. A constant throbbing that never eases up, that never goes away. You see, a lot like a tattoo, a lot like getting stabbed in a non-fatal area of the human body, we have learned to love with our incisors. Teeth that break through boundaries and walls, teeth meant for getting down to the very bone. And when the teeth pull away, all that’s left is mangled, torn and nearly unrecognizable. When the needle is gone, when the knife is removed, when he leaves, you bleed. And that makes a royal mess of things. You bleed into your job, you bleed into your other relationships, you leave stains on everything that touches you. And then you just have to wait. Waiting for the ink to settle, for the blood to clot. Waiting for the taste of his name to fade from copper to vinegar to nothing at all. And waiting does help, time helps. But when it’s done and you wake up one day to feel that your tattoo doesn’t itch and your stitches are out, the marks are still there the same. What time can’t fix or undo is the impression all that waiting left behind.

I can’t say what lesson I learned here, or that I’m better for it. Given the number of bridges I’ve lit up like the 4th of July in the past month, I can’t imagine anyone would call that progress. All I can tell you is that it’s true. Every part that is funny, and every part that hurts. No one is ever just one feeling at one time; no one is ever just one goodbye. Not a single damn person looks pretty when they really cry, and no one gets out of heartbreak with a mere sadness montage. In time, I’ll feel better. In time, the seas will settle. In time I’ll look back and know if the bridges I burned were made of more than just plywood. In time. 

For now I’ll just revel in the fact that no matter my mood: happy or miserable, I still have the ability to scare away the joy of just about everyone else.  

1 comment:

  1. Jeez, and some people are even scared to comment. I guess I'll bite first then. This is the definitive written version of something that every male or female has gone through...and if you haven't, you will. Can't you wait????

    Your pain makes me laugh.

    Great writing soothes my soul, Eleanor. I hope it soothes yours.