You know how in the movies, sometimes people react to a shock by throwing up? And you're sitting there watching the movie, thinking, "Now come on, that's some major dramatic license! Bad news can't make people throw up!" As it turns out, yes, it can. If the news is bad enough---"sickening" enough would be the literal term, I suppose.
And you know how in the movies, when the spunky heroine gets screwed over, she spends a few hours having a photogenic cry in a lyrical montage, walking on a windblown beach, through a fall-dappled park (the falling leaves symbolize change), or sniffling into a tissue as she sits before a roaring fire, surrounded by gorgeous home furnishings, taking occasional sips of tea from an antique cup, often with a breathtaking view of the city or the bay through the windows in the background? And how the next morning she pulls herself together and Gets Back Out There To Take On The World, perhaps beginning with a shopping spree for clothes that broadcast her newfound self-confidence? That one is a big, fat, honking lie.
What really happens is, you have a huge, noisy, messy, window-rattling cry at first, surrounded by the piles of laundry, dishes and mail you're too exhausted to even contemplate. That lasts maybe twenty or thirty minutes. Then it happens again. And again. And just when you're starting to think you'll be okay and are finally ready to rejoin the world of the rational and self-controlled, it happens again. There's nothing photogenic about it, or about you. Thanks to a number of huge, noisy, messy, window-rattling cries over the past two weeks, my face now resembles that of a sunburned mole. With the mumps.
Then you calm down, wash your face, try to make yourself look presentable and finally leave whatever little cave of anguish you've been wailing in. And you're still very, very upset, but you're holding it together. Until suddenly, you're not. This usually happens in public, and without any particular precipitating event. Unwanted thoughts assault you and hold you hostage on a mental merry-go-round of fixations, recriminations, rage and despair.
When you pick up a bottle of window cleaner at the supermarket you're reminded that very soon you will be using it to clean different windows because you'll be selling your house. But it's not just selling a house, it's losing your home. You turn on the TV for some distraction and wonder why you never realized how many happy couples there are on your favorite shows. You realize many of the favorite songs on your iPod are favorites because they're associated with memorable times you've shared with your ex, and it occurs to you they will never, ever sound the same to you again. You hear, see, or read something that strikes you as funny, fascinating or provocative, and you're halfway there with the impulse to share it with your partner before you realize he's not your partner anymore. Then you realize how much of your former enjoyment of such things came from sharing them with him.
You also find that the customary greeting of, "How are you?" has suddenly become a loaded question buried in an emotional mine field. You have to muster every ounce of self-control to reply with the anticipated rejoinder of, "Fine, thanks. And you?" instead of collapsing into the other person's arms in a sniveling heap. Amazingly, that's the impulse you have even if the person who asked how you are is a bank teller or retail sales clerk. Those church ladies I turn away from my door every month may be in for a surprise next time they show up.
(If any of you church ladies are reading this, my advice is to open with, "How are you?" and as soon as you detect my jaw tightening, follow it up quickly with, "You seem upset, is anything wrong?" You'll be so in there.)
Then you call or email your friends, and sympathetic family members, and they spackle over the cracks in your self-image and self-control with their love and support. They tell you you're not crazy, you're strong, you're capable, that you'll get through this and one day, you'll wonder why you didn't leave him a whole lot sooner.
And then, if you're me, you write.