Audacious: adjective, extremely bold or daring; recklessly brave; fearless: an audacious explorer. (How I want to be.)
You already know how this story goes.
If this were a book by Andrew Sean Greer or Elizabeth Gilbert, you’d be reading about a trip around the world: spaghetti in Italy, a fling in Paris, a trek across the Sahara desert. But the borders are closed, as covid-19 continues to spread. I will not be eating pasta at a small outdoor table or having sex with a stranger I met at the Eiffel Tower or finding inner peace while riding a camel. Metaphorically and literally speaking, I’m stuck.
All the same, the truth is that this story has been told a million times. Two people meet, they fall in love, they start a relationship. They break up.
That’s where this collection of essays begins–where my last collection ended. “Are we breaking up?” James asked me. And when he couldn’t say any of the things I needed him to say (“I hear you,” “I understand where you’re coming from,” “I’m going to work harder on this,” “I’m going to fight for this,”) it was over.
She Wore Blue Velvet
I became very familiar with my best friend’s couch over the next week.
It was blue velvet (“But when she left, gone was the glow of…”) and folded down, though I left it folded up, a sheet beneath me and a Green Lantern quilt on top. The couch was in his office, so I was able to close the door and have my privacy.
We’d just celebrated two years on May 1st. And four months later…
My dad always talks about the Bergeron charm, which is scientifically proven to be real. Little things just happen to go right for us: never hitting red lights, finding the last of what we were shopping for on the shelf, stepping down onto the platform just as the train arrives. One time I went to visit a friend who was running a sunglass booth at a convention, but I showed up so late that everyone was tearing down. Because it was over, my friend’s boss gave me the TV they bought to show their commercial during the convention! A lovely parting gift.
Alas, I think there’s a Bergeron curse too–the two-year curse. When I was 19, I was engaged for two years before we split up. Adam and I broke up two months short of our two-year anniversary. And now James!
But three has always been a lucky number for me. Maybe, I told myself, if I can stay with someone until the three-year mark, we’re in the clear and the curse will be broken.
I called out of work sick twice that week–yes, two times–and I wasn’t lying. I couldn’t get out of bed. My entire body ached from my hair follicles to my toes, and I felt sick all day long—I couldn’t eat and I could barely drink water. My best friend and his partner woke up every morning to me retching in their bathroom—I’m a fantastic house guest, I promise.
I had to wake up early every day because getting ready took twice as long as normal. Everything required so much effort. Just lifting my arms to shampoo my hair was exhausting.
This isn’t me, I told myself, laying down on the blue velvet couch. I’m not the type to be immobilized by a boy. To not be able to get out of bed or focus at work. I wasn’t suicidal, but as I lay wide awake at night, body aching, I thought Wouldn’t it be nice if I just didn’t wake up?
Two years and four months. Three months of dating before that. A year of will-they-won’t-they? before that. Gone.
You don’t get anything back that you give, I decided. You give all of these parts of yourself to a relationship, you give your all to a relationship, and when it’s over—poof. Everything you gave it is gone. That’s why you feel so empty after a breakup–you have to rebuild everything from the ground up. (“But in my heart there’ll always be, Precious and warm, a memory…”)
That Thursday, not a week after the breakup, I had to return to our apartment to pack a bag.
Every summer, a group of us go upstate for the three-day weekend. We’d been planning for a while, but of course now the trip was one person less, an empty seat reserved next to me in our Zipcar.
The bedroom was in disarray because James had begun to sort his things to pack and move out. We’d agreed that he’d move all of his things to a friend’s place until he found a new apartment and that he’d be gone by time I returned from my trip.
He was there, wearing a pair of short shorts and a bandana around his neck. “Do you need any help packing?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I don’t want to be going on this trip.”
“I want to stay here with you.” He said nothing. “You should be going with me on this trip.” He remained silent. “What if this isn’t right?” I sat on the edge of our bed, on top of the pink flamingo quilt we got the summer before. “It isn’t right.”
“Yes, it is,” he said firmly.
“Then why does it feel like this?” I felt the tears come. I didn’t try to hold them back. “We can work on this. We can keep seeing the therapist. We don’t have to go back to where we were. We can rebuild this from the ground up.”
“I don’t want to.” He stood a little taller than usual. “I need to do this.”
“And I need you.”
He left the room and left me alone, on our bed, on our quilt. Only it wasn’t ours anymore, and I had to accept that. He’d take what was his and everything left would be mine. My apartment. My quilt. My life.
I’d spent an hour preparing a list of everything I needed for the trip. Tears streaming down my face, stomach churning, body aching, I ignored the list and grabbed what I could. Some shorts, some T-shirts, some underwear, a book I knew I wasn’t going to read, last month’s Vogue.
Knowing that my favorite Classical Lit heroines would be ashamed of me, I zipped my Michael Kors weekender and headed back to the blue velvet couch. (“And I still can see blue…”)
Without a word to my friend or his partner, I ran into their office and cried myself to sleep. Jo March, forgive me. I’m trying my best.