After going through it numerous times in my life having someone break up with me ought to get easier. And at times it has. I can see the signs as the experience grows, I know what’s coming. And I protect myself from the blow by backing away before it happens. I’ve avoided getting married to certain women that way and I’ve sidestepped getting fully involved in many relationships as a way to protect myself from future pain. But all of these relationships have always proved to be unsatisfactory, inherently calling out the pain that I had tried so hard to deny.
This time I let myself go without reservations. I flung myself into the river and, flailing, often scared, I let her take me where I never knew the heart could go. I knew the risk very well. I even said to her once, when she first starting voicing her lack of confidence, “If I fall from this I’m going to fall hard, very hard.” Nevertheless I forged on, trusting in the possibilities she represented and ignoring the telltale signs that were ringing bells all throughout my head.
Then it came, the fateful afternoon when she insisted that it wasn’t working and that she wanted out.
It was a dignified break up. In keeping with my mostly dignified interaction with her throughout our relationship, never once losing my temper with her even when she was unfair or unkind, we quietly discussed the circumstances and spent hours listening to one another. I left with as much poise as I could muster, with the insistence that we were good together and that if she ever really needed me I wanted to become part of her life. I think we were speaking different languages: I pointed out the advantages of being together and how well we both got along… she saw the realities of disappointment and making money and having time for one another over long distances. Both of us had good points, and neither of us was willing to give.
So here I am trying to be intellectual about something that tripped me up very badly. A week after breaking up the pain got to me and I panicked like I’ve never panicked before. I realized I was losing something that I had wanted for a very long time and that she had offered a way of living that I had needed. Desperately I contacted her, begging her to reconsider. And, as all such desperate pleas tend to do, it did nothing but turn her cold and more distant. The last time we spoke she hung up the phone on me and we’ve never talked since. To end it that way, after it had at first ended with such dignity, snapped something inside me. I went mentally completely numb and couldn’t so much as lift a sponge to wash the dishes. I got home and there I was alone as ever, but this time with this hulking emptiness that threatened to consume me. I cried and cried all night long, more crying than I’ve ever done in my life and it wouldn’t stop. The next day when I had to go my university to proctor semester finals tests for large numbers of students I stepped into the room with all those faces looking at me and suddenly, without warning, everything came shaking loose in my head. All the bad decisions and mistakes, the unhappy jobs and failed relationships, the drifting from my original purpose in working and living, my failed marriage, the years of fighting, the arrival here at this dismal place and the resulting, soul-eating isolation.. all of it came crashing down and right in front of all those students I lost every remnant of courage that I had and fled from the room. I just fled, bumping into walls, oblivious to students saying hello, sobbing and very alone. I needed to speak to someone, anyone, another human being whom I could trust without question, just feel that there was something and someone left without her to latch onto. I stumbled right into my boss’ office and she agreed to talk to me.
We talked for a long time, with her listening to everything I said and offering to help me out. “Why don’t you work on the Tokyo campus?” she suggested. “Get a year contract there and then we can work out something for you to move on to from there.” It was completely unexpected. A chance to get out of this place and jump start my life again? Was there really someone that nice at work who would help me out? Could I finally get away from the isolation I’ve been in?
The need to be with someone was so great and the prospect of another night in my coffin of an apartment so distressing that I called my wife and asked if we could stay together. She said, “Of course! You are always welcome here.” Right then and there I went all the way into Tokyo and spent three days with her. We talked. About everything. And I spilled my heart about the woman I loved, knowing that the story would hurt my wife, trusting that our friendship was real and that she would understand. My God, her forgiveness and generosity were almost too large to bear, and yet she was there and she listened to me for two days straight. I sobbed over and over again until there was nothing left and I felt sapped of all emotion. She was just there, within reach, always ready to touch. Another human being. A friend. Someone who saw me and let me know that I would be all right.
It’s been three weeks now and the pain still rolls in in waves. Every woman on the street looks like her. During a yoga class earlier this evening the instructor turned out the lights at the end of the session and as I lay there in the dark, breathing and relaxed, the room suddenly filled with memories of her and a tear began forming at the corner of my eyes, but then I let it go. Enough crying. She had never taken the time to get to know me better and just wouldn’t have any idea what a loss it was for her. Because I’m beginning to remember what it is I have to give and how much living I want to do, with or without her. Before we stopped even our friendship, she had asked, “Can we still go hiking together?” And I had said, “Of course!” That is gone, too. She’ll never really know why I love the mountains so much, and how much I could have shown her about that side of me.
I leave for Tokyo at the end of March. I’m packing up this apartment and getting ready to say goodbye to a place that brings back two year’s worth of reasons to forget. This is another chance. I hope I don’t screw everything up again. For once I want to get it right and live lightly and a part of something other than just myself.