You will feel sadness most of all. Sadness filtered through loneliness. You will spend your days wondering why. Retracing all your steps, picking apart everything you’ve ever said or done. Trying to pin-point exactly where it started – was it leaving clothes on the floor, or the sarcastic comments you made? Replaying the moment over and over, when your phone first chirped and you looked over to see a message that read:
There’s someone on my bus that is so beautiful it makes my heart hurt and I’ve just never felt that way about you. I’m sorry .
You will look back on old memories, and things will go all beautifully foggy, like a camera lens covered with Vaseline in the romantic scenes of old movies. You’ll picture how things were, back when you were in love. And it’ll surprise you, the memories which stick. It won’t be your first kiss, or the first time they said ‘I love you’. It’ll be the simpler things that last.
You’ll remember early mornings, they will have been your favourite times. Once you’d untangled yourselves from the bedsheets, rolled out of bed and into the kitchen, making cups of tea and boiled eggs. Standing around the oven and using it as a heater. Moving around each other, packing lunches and coordinating schedules. Or dancing to warm up, whirling around to Miles Davis, to what will have been ‘your song’. You always said nothing beats jazz in the morning. They will have complained that the kitchen was too small. You thought it brought you closer together.
Or afternoon toast-a-thons, when you had both gotten home from class or work or whatever daily errands that were being run. Dinner was still a couple of hours away, so you’d make cups of tea and toast. Some afternoons you’d go through an entire loaf, two slices popping up, and another two going straight down. Butter slathered on, and whatever topping took your fancy. And you’d sit around the island bench, legs intertwined, the afternoon sun coming in through the window, crumbs everywhere, talking about your day.
But now , you will not want to eat, no matter how much you know you should. “It’s been days since we’ve seen you eat a meal,” your housemates will say.
And you will know they mean well, but they just won’t understand. You’re not choosing not to eat, there’s just no desire to. You will have both loved too many of your favourite things, a lot of the meals will remind you of them. You’ll have to fight to enjoy cooking again, something you’d done together. Licking the spoon, their fingers. Blanking that out will take months.
Living in a small coastal town will make this harder. Everyone will know everyone, and everyone’s business even more. Walking down the main street, you’ll avoid everyone’s eyes, sure they know. People will come up to you and say that they are sorry. They’ll tell you that they knew you’d never last, that you’re better off without them. You will write them letters that ask: (a) why they never said anything; (b) if they are fools, because you’re meant to be together; or (c) who in the name of all things holy do they think they are giving their damn opinion. You will stamp these letters but never mail them.
Conversations with your best friend will go around in circles. “I’m worried about you,” they’ll say.
“Don’t be. I’m fine. Really I am. I don’t think this will last. I think we just need some time apart. Absence makes the heart grow fonder you know.”
“It doesn’t always. Some things just aren’t meant to be. And I’m sorry to say that. But I just don’t want you to hang all your hopes on this.”
“I appreciate you saying that. But I think you’re wrong.”
“But what if I’m not? What if they find someone else, move on. I don’t want to have to be the one to put you back together again. God, they’re your entire universe. And I’m worried that you aren’t theirs.”
You won’t know what to say back.
Sitting on the bus going to and from classes, pop music will play through your headphones. Sad-alt music is for people who want to exacerbate the mood, and the word ‘jazz’ can no longer be uttered. You’ll have to find a new favourite genre. No one will warn you about this side of break ups. You’ll stare out the window , and realise you can actually feel sadness in your eyes. You’ll go home and go straight to bed.
You’ll fall asleep thinking of them, maybe you’ll still be together in your dreams. Go on long drives and stare out at the sea. It’s a cliché, but you’ll do it anyway. You won’t know quite what you’re looking for in the crashing waves. Maybe they’ll remind you of your heart, both constantly breaking. You’ll think about all the times you had laughed over this scene together in movies, the overworked ‘lonely lover stares out to sea’ trope. How you had thought you were lucky, because that would never be you. You will wonder how much God is laughing.
When you break your favourite tea cup, you’ll cry for a week. Getting a tea cup that you find aesthetically pleasing, has a good hand grip, and is both the size and shape that you like, is harder than it sounds. Someone will say it’s a metaphor. You won’t like their Instagram pictures for a month. You’ll put hours of effort into finding an exact replica. It will break your heart when you don’t. You’ll wonder if that someone is right, if you’re trying to distract yourself from the existential crisis looming in your peripherals. You’ll consider getting a fringe or a new car. You wonder when you became a cliché.
So you’ll start to read more and talk less. Try and understand who you are through comparisons to Elizabeth Bennett, Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield and Sal Paradise. See if you can learn from how the Greasers dealt with loss. You’ll try your hand at poetry, and start writing long sad letters after reading too much Virginia Wolff. You’ll realise that other people have gone through this: love, heartbreak, confusion. You’ll also realise this doesn’t make it any easier to bear.
But, for the most part, you will go on existing, trying to live a normal life. You have always prided yourself on not needing people to be complete, so this will hit you hard. You’ll go to work, classes, whatever extra-curricular activity you choose to kill your time. You’ll laugh harder than normal, you always do when you’re faking it. You’ll tell people you are fine, because you are – on paper. On paper, this doesn’t affect you as hard as it will.
Then, on an ordinary Tuesday, you’ll laugh and not fake it. You’ll be sitting in the lounge room, and the sun coming through the front door will bring that nostalgic joy, like the smell of earl grey or a tea cake in the oven. You’ll see the dust motes meandering around, nice and lazy, and you’ll realise for the first time in a while that you no longer feel like the human personification of a clenched fist.
And you will see them, maybe with someone else, and they’ll be happy. But their happiness will no longer make you want to crack open your ribcage, and give your heart to someone, anyone, else.
Other things will become your favourite thing. The smell of a new book, or how the sound of hot water getting poured into a cup sounds different to cold water somehow, the ritual of tea. The way the sky looks when the sun is setting behind you, and for a split second the whole world is pink.
You’ll decide you’ve had an epiphany. You’ll get a hobby, and go for runs. You’ll make a habit of looking up at the sky, even if it hurts your neck. You’ll use the space in your brain where their favourite book was to remember the names of the five closest stars. You’ll still go for long drives, and sigh deeper than you used to, but the plant that is your heart will start to grow new leaves and get taller.