Heartburn: New Strategies for a Broken Heart (Joce)

As you know, I love a good review sesh when it comes to the New Year. And after the review, I like to set some target objectives for the future. Not resolutions, per se, but actual strategies on how not to re-make the same mistakes this go around. Let’s set some goddamn goals already, strive, be better, match wishy-washy whimsical hopes with accountability and measurable outcomes.  Okay?

One of the areas where I always feel the need for improvement is in dealing with a breakup. No matter how I brace myself for the likeliest outcome, knowing, in my heart of hearts, that THIS is NOT going to work out, duh, I’m never fully prepared for how much it knocks me on my ass. Every. Single. Time. It doesn’t get easier, with age, with experience. No. It never doesn’t hurt. It never doesn’t completely paralyze me with fear and sadness.  It never doesn’t make feel fat and foolish and self-loathing and dismissive of all mankind and it’s tedious relationship tropes like Valentine’s Day, joint tax filing benefits and the word “fiancé.” And in times like these, after the glancing blow, the left jab followed by the right cross, the knockout, as one does, I turn to comforting behaviors. Things that help me heal and forget.  After a solid 18+ years of dating, relationships, flirtations with commitment, live-in situations that can be all summed up, finalized by the term breakup, a fine-how-do-you and goodbye, I’ve got my “heal and forget” down pat. 

It starts with a good car cry.  Inevitably the brutality, the reality of the situation, or the final text, always hits me at an inappropriate time and place, like a meeting at work or Pilate’s class or breakfast out with my Dad. I maintain my cool until an opportune moment presents itself for me to exit gracefully and go to my car. I get in the back seat, thank God for tinted windows, and have a good sob. For however long it takes. Then I find a Kleenex and my make-up bag and pull myself together. I go about my business until I can go home and mourn my loss by indulging in a Gilmore Girls marathon. Particularly Season 7. The one where Luke and Lorelai call off their engagement and she sleeps with Rory’s dad, Christopher, on the same day and eventually marries him and Logan gives Rory a true love rocket and then moves to London and doesn’t want her to visit until Christmas. It’s wholesome and funny and you know at the end of the season, even if there is some sincere suffering, and people ending up with who they shouldn’t, that everything will be a-okay and Luke and Lorelai will finally have their wedding, just as soon as that marriage to Christopher is annulled.

I know the cliché of a poor heartbroken girl sitting around eating a bunch of ice cream, perhaps during a Gilmore Girls marathon. However, I’m lactose intolerant so that cliché hasn’t served me particularly well in the past. And anyway, when my heart breaks my stomach usually ties itself in complicated knots with frayed ends and I feel like eating nothing at all, at least for awhile. Part of me likes the feeling of starving when my heart is cold and empty, and if it’s a really dramatic breakup I might even lose a few pounds and my cheeks will look hollow and my eyes droopy and sorrowful and so if I run into my ex, I’ll look particularly pathetic and then maybe he’ll actually feel BAD or SORRY for what he did (this has never actually happened). Instead of eating, I drink, heavily. You know, to numb the pain. Plus, beer is nutritious. Wine and whisky have gotten me through the last 18 years and that’s not an exaggeration. I am thankful for it.

Another one of my breakup strategies is fresh air and exercise and sad, sad songs. I always need a lot of alone thinking time to come to terms with it all so I’ll put on my boots and walk for miles and miles and days and days. Being outside, breathing, I’m reminded of the beauty and grace of the world. The wild vastness, the vast wildness, that I am simply a collection of cells, an animal, one of millions, the unimportance of my petty heartbreaks when compared with ancient granite and fall leaves and the rich, humble mud. In my ear buds my favorite songs of sadness: I’ll Sail This Ship Alone, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, All the World is Green, Lost Cause

And if all that doesn’t work to make me feel better: the starving, the crying, the aspirational TV shows, the sad, sad songs, the fresh air and alcohol and exercise, well I’ll simply pack it all up and move. To another apartment, another city, another state. Anything to MOVE ON.  I want to move on, I need to move on, help me Mary, Mother of Jesus to forget this man and to find myself again in this emotional rubble. 

And after a few weeks, maybe a few months, the black scab that formed over my heart will gradually slough off, leaving the faint white crisscross of scar tissue. My patchwork soul will self seal with mismatched threads of faith, optimism and the possibility of possibility. And I’ll be ready to try, try again.

I hate to discount the value of all these things that for so many years have kept me going, into another day, into a better frame of mind, led me from despair to hope, but 2013 is my year of living dangerously. And by living dangerously, I mean I’m doing things differently. My life, the strategies employed, I have to change. Because, maybe, if I don’t change everything, nothing will ever change.

And you know, it has been different. It started different. On the right foot, instead of the left. For the first time in many years I had someone to kiss on New Years Eve. And as the clock ticked upwards and the seconds counted down, I had a warm hand on the small of my back and a glass of champagne and the most blissful happy feeling in my heart, and a midnight kiss! A midnight kiss. It was a terribly cold New Years and I was underdressed for the snow and freeze but I couldn’t care less. That kiss put lava in my veins. And I decided then and there, that I would stop waiting for what I want. I would grab it, with both hands, and…kiss it back.

I've never admitted to anyone that I've dated what I really wanted, or what I really needed. I just give and give and hope and pray that that person will reciprocate, figure it out. I've always been terrified that they would leave me or think me a fool, if I ever asked for anything, if I ever wanted for anything. I just say, "it's okay, it's fine." But, also, because I knew that they never would reciprocate. That in the end, they would leave or do something horrible to make me leave, because they didn't love me or even like me, in some cases. I could have, should have saved myself a lot of wasted time, and them, too. But, I didn't. 

So, for the first time in my life I actually asked for something in a relationship. I spelled it out. I said: I'm ready for someone to appreciate who I am, to see that I'm lovely and amazing and sweet and smart. I want someone to think I'm beautiful, and to tell me so, even though my hair is going grey and I'm soft around the edges and I have wrinkles around my eyes. I want to fall asleep tucked under someone's arm and to wake up and have a cup of coffee together on a Saturday morning. I want to have a movie marathon on the couch and make dinner for someone and share it with them at the same table. I want a Valentine. I want to take an evening walk and a road trip and read a book together, out loud. I want someone to surprise me on my birthday and yes, get me a present for Christmas. Even if it's just a card and a mixed tape. I want someone to proudly and happily refer to me as their girlfriend, and someday, even, their wife. I want to "be in this together."  I want someone on my side, on my team, giving me the benefit of the doubt, forgiving me. I want someone to love me, goddamn it, with all my sparkles and flaws. I want it to be you.

And you know what, dear reader? He said yes.

But then he changed his mind. A couple of weeks later.  As soon as I assigned him a speed dial number on my phone, and left a toothbrush at his house and admitted to my friends that things were, unexpectedly, good, he told me he couldn’t be who I wanted him to be. I know. It’s okay. I understand. In the immortal words of Bonnie Raitt, “I can't make you love me if you don't. You can't make your heart feel something it won't.” That is a sad, sad song. 

Silver lining.  Opportunity knocks. I get to define and utilize new breakup strategies for my dangerous year! So, as soon as I got that text, I started crying at work. I didn’t bother going to my car. I just sat there at my desk and I cried. And when the guy came to deliver office supplies, I pulled a Kleenex from the box and wiped off the streaks of mascara from my puffy red cheeks and signed for the copy paper and two dozen gel pens. He didn’t ask and I didn’t tell.

I went home after work. And instead of starving I made myself a giant pile of nachos with pickled jalapeños and onions and habanero salsa and extra sharp cheddar cheese. I guzzled a bottle of red wine. I felt disgusting and angry and in honor of that I turned the TV to a Bachelor marathon. The one and only true representation of modern romance: vapid, vain, catty bitches ready to murder each other for a two-timing, three-timing overblown doofus. Someone will end up with a beautiful ring! And then it will all fall apart and they’ll spend the next 6 months in the tabloids in unflattering bikini pictures with yellow headlines proclaiming “So-and-so jilted at the altar!” and “Unhappy Ending to So-and-so’s Fairytale.” And it all made me very pleased. Heartburn, like lava, coursed through my chest, and my big broken heart, well, it shrunk three sizes that day. A smaller heart definitely hurts less. 

The next morning I took my dogs for a walk through the neighborhood. And instead of breathing deep the cool mountain air, I shallow breathed the icy atmosphere, it was .7 degrees. Hell cold. And where I might have seen the perfection in the sparkling white skiffs of snow, I saw instead the dog pee stains and dead black weeds poking through. I tuned my iPod to Pandora and made a new station: Britney radio. Bubble gum girl power pop, the opposite of sad, sad songs.

And that, my friends, is change. 2013.