My girlfriend and I have led busy lives for about as long as we’ve been together; for most of the last 6 months, this busy-ness had us on two different Circadian rhythms—I’m up by 8 and asleep by 11 p.m.; she doesn’t go to bed till 2 or 3, somehow musters the energy to make breakfast and get her child on the bus, then sleeps till 10 or 11.
Last week I was out of town. I missed her. I missed her kid. Hell, I even missed the dog. We’d talk on the phone at night, before going to sleep, and when we did I felt lighted and delighted, like I was on top of a cloud…and the first few nights I was away, I was sleeping on an air mattress that turned out to have a leak and was rubbish within 2 days. So when I say speaking with my girlfriend made me feel like I was on top of a cloud, that’s not some casual, throwaway simile. That’s elevation, holmes.
One thing I always teach my college students is to watch out for arbitrary binaries. When you decide something either boils down to A or B, I warn them, that’s when C shows up and surprises you. And a lot of the time, that unexpected C makes more sense than A or B ever did. A lot of times, C, the obvious answer, still comes as a surprise, because we allow our anticipation to override our sense of sense.
We broke-up yesterday.
It wasn’t totally out of leftfield. Oddly, though, it also kinda was. We were on our morning beach walk, a new shared experience I mistakenly began to think of as one that’d turn into a ritual. By the time I got home from the walk, I was no longer in a relationship.
We’ve both wondered, aloud and to ourselves, how long this would last. In some ways, my girlfriend and I were always “same planet, different world” kind of people. We come from very different backgrounds, we’ve led our lives differently, we have different dreams for the future. Also—and this is always a big one—she has a child. I love her kid to pieces. We’ve grown closer and closer over the last few years, and sometimes I even let myself imagine what it’d be like to still have this little unlikely family of ours together when the child first learned to ride a bike…to be a sullen, smart-mouth teenager…to graduate from high school…etcetera.
My girlfriend and I got along really well, I think. (I thought) we communicated pretty openly, and made a lot of compromises for each other. But we’ve both known from the start of our relationship that if there was one thing we’d tangle over, it’s child-raising.
My girlfriend has raised her child mostly on her own. She’s an amazing mother; to see the way she and her child interact has been a blessing. And not to toot my own horn (though whenever someone says that, they then toot), but I was a freaking spectacular stepdad. Despite what I considered surface-level differences—she, the laid-back, free-wheeling, hippie mom, and me, the…well, I am not a free-wheeling, hippie mom—I thought enough of our sames went to the bone to make us an effective pair.
Instead, we broke-up.
I’d t’ought I t’aw a binary: be like her or be like me. I thought the average of our differences would bring each of us the best of each other, and benefit us all. I didn’t recognize the binary I’d built. So I missed out on the obvious choice C: it wasn’t about this approach to parenting or that approach to parenting. What my girlfriend wanted was not a parental co-star, but an understudy. Someone to fill in when she couldn’t, but who wouldn’t want a bigger role.
I thought today I’d write about the various stages of break-up.
I’m not really feeling that.
Today I think describing the stages of a break-up is as clumsy and presumptuous as trying to describe how one has an orgasm. The universal details are so familiar and specious as to be descriptively useless, and the unfathomable differences that give them their color are unique to everyone.
You probably already know what it feels like when someone breaks up with you: those chest surges, where your heart feels like it’s trying to break free of your chest; the moments where the low tide of anger swells to tsunamis of sad, and you feel like you’re going to puke, but you don’t, because your body isn’t the one who needs to expel the sad.
I yelled. I wanted to punch out a window. It started to hurt less. I decided this is really all for the best. I thought of our breakfasts together; how witty she is; her face when she sleeps. It started to hurt more.
My goal as a writer, as a human being, is to describe impossibilities.
A few weeks ago, I had to get a book review in to an editor. The thing I’d loved about this book was that I knew absolutely nothing about it—didn’t read a synopsis or book jacket or anything—and, as a result, the way the book unfolded was everything that’s good about being surprised. Remember when you’d finish a book when you were a kid, and how it exhilarated you in such a way that you actually felt tangibly moved? Transformed, even? That’s how I felt after this book.
So I wanted to write my review in a way that would convey my sense of joyful unfoldings without ruining that same potential for the reader. In essence, I wanted to write a review encouraging people to read a book without telling them anything about the book.
I confessed this intent to my girlfriend. Lovingly, with sympathy, she told me I was trying to do something impossible, and that that was impossible. I’ll always remember that: she was standing in our kitchen, backlit beautifully by the yellow stove light behind her, shaking her head and smiling at me. I was smiling, too. Because she’d just summarized everything I want to do in life, but can’t. I was looking at her, thinking what a miracle it was to live over 10,000 days on a miracle blue planet in the boonies of space, and most of those days you’re spinning along with 7,000,000,000 other miracles yet feeling like you’ve always been alone and always will be, and then, miraculously, finally, you one day find someone you love so much that you want to share your miracle of a life with them, with someone who’ll stand in your kitchen and shake their head and smile at you, who knows exactly who and what she’s shaking and smiling at, too.
There will be no anniversary. We will not end up as the average of one another.
She is she, and I is me, and never the twain shall meet. Because it’s never A or B.
Fuck you, C.