Hunched over the kitchen sink, beneath the dingy glow of fluorescent light, the wave hits me. I’m washing spoons caked with Greek yogurt and my blousy top is damp with sweat and water. The dishwasher leaves a white film on all the cutlery, and I ambitiously feel a desperate need to keep my mind busy, so out come the condom tight rubber gloves and lilac infused Palmolive.
Usually, if kept occupied with mindless tasks, I can keep the waves at bay. And nobody has more mindless tasks to do than a mother. There is always a dirty dish in the sink, a rogue Walking Dead figure on the floor, and towels to be folded. Lunches must be made, pediatricians need to be called, and sex ed permission slips have to be signed. This is good. The more I move, darting about from room to room, from task to task, the harder it is for one of the waves to catch me. I must be swift. For if I dally, I risk being caught by that one wave which will knock me over, potentially dragging me under, its fierce current pulling me back towards that raw, hollowed out part of my heart. The part of my heart that I wait for to scab over, clotting the gaping wound closed so I can function like a normal person, instead of bursting into hot tears when the Muzak station at the grocery store plays an even bleaker version of Hello.
You see, at the ripe age of 42, I am suffering from the fresh hell known as a broken heart. It is unequivocally, one of the worst pains I have ever experienced, surpassing the time I was in labor and had to stay crunched in a ball for 32 minutes while an anesthesiologist struggled to find the correct spot in my spinal cord to thread the catheter into during my epidural.
Yeah, it hurts that much.
When you’re 22 and broken hearted, it’s endearing. You lay in bed all day listening to sappy songs, watch Bridget Jones’ Diary, and eat your weight in Cherry Garcia without actually gaining an ounce. People want to hug you, take you to a bar and get the DJ to play All The Single Ladies, surrounding you in an energetic circle while you dance wearing a fitted mini, and skyscraper high heels. To get your mojo back, you wear push-up bras, swap nude lips for red, and flirt shamelessly with every cute guy you see. And they flirt back. Even though your eyes are puffy from crying, you still look gorgeous, because after all you are 22.
At 42- not so endearing. You gain 11 pounds just by eating two Weight Watchers ice cream sandwiches, which are consumed standing over the dishwasher, because let’s face it, there is no lounging in bed when you have to schlep the kids to play practice, clean cat poop, and fold laundry. You look like hell. Your friends, most of whom are married, roll their eyes when you start blubbering, and everyone’s too tired to go out dancing. So you get good at jumping over the waves.
Which is why, when a particular rough one caught me one Sunday night, I drowned.
My boys were at a friend’s house and the stillness of the house was too much to bear. The laundry had been folded, the dark wood floors were oddly crumb free, and I found myself with a well of pain in my heart and nothing to do. So when I found the crusty spoons in the sink, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Something to do.
As the warm water spilled over my weary hands and I began to scrape dried Fage yogurt off the spoon, the tears began to fall. Slowly at first, like Spring’s first raindrops, then a torrential downpour. I sobbed like a child who’d lost their parent at the store. I cried for the loss of touch, the loss of connection, the loss of my friend. The loss of hope. The pain was palpable and I thought I would die. In fact, I wanted to die.
When a woman loses a partner to death, she becomes a widow. There’s a funeral, a body to bury, flowers and heartfelt condolences are sent, and not a soul utters those dreaded words.
Get over it.
He’s not worth it.
However, when love leaves of its own accord you are expected to wipe off your mascara-stained cheeks, put on a brave droll, and forge ahead as if nothing ever happened. As if your soul wasn’t crushed. As if your heart hasn’t been cleaved by a tremendous blow. Every day you’re putting on socks, drinking coffee, driving to work, forcing smiles, standing in line at grocery stores, and you have to do so without losing it.
We don’t tend to give the broken hearted their due respect. A grown woman weeping over a man is, quite honestly in this day and age, frowned upon. This goes double if you’re a mother. It’s like the world is telling you it’s wrong to be so sad because we have children and they are all we need to be happy. The world also sends us the message that as women, we don’t need a man. Of course these two things may be true. Our children do make us happy, and we don’t necessarily need a man, but these truths can still exist next to the truth that the loss of love is a crippling experience.
When my partner of ten years suddenly left me, I spiraled into a depression so deep, it left me gasping for air. I had trouble doing basic human functions such as washing my hair, cleaning the house, walking the dog. For months, I didn’t recognize my trashed home, or that pathetic girl with inky black circles under her eyes in the mirror. Sobbing continually, I walked around in a constant state of gloom, praying to a God I wasn’t sure even existed to give me enough strength to fight against throwing myself in front of a train.
Grief can take you to some dark places, my friend.
And then there was the guilt.
I’m a mother. I can’t be this sad. I’m not supposed to have these horrible thoughts, lest over a man. But I do.
My partner was the love of my life, my soulmate. I thought we would be together always. Being with him gave me the same feeling I get when I hear the first few notes of any Otis Redding song—electric. Being in his arms felt like being home. Warm, safe, protected. And we had fun. There’s nothing quite like going through life with a partner in crime—finding sheer delight in the uneventful, picking out produce together, hanging blinds, getting lost on the way to a lavender farm. It was far from a perfect relationship, but I was old enough to know that perfection doesn’t exist, and that when you love someone, I mean truly love someone, you love the blackest part of their souls. A monster resides in all of us humans, and I was fully aware that loving my partner meant accepting his monster. And I did. But now there is a new monster I am forced to accept.
I once asked my therapist how on earth will I ever get over this. Her reply? You won’t. But you will get through it. And that meant no more jumping over waves. It meant letting the waves take me out to shore, wash over me, but never let them drown me. It meant I had to feel the pain, not run from it. It meant making a space in my life for grief, but not letting it consume me. I had to accept that yes, I may never be the same again, but at the same time I could feel joy again.
So I made a place for it. The sorrow. I accepted the days that I had to hide away in the bathroom at work to sob. The times when I’d see an old couple, fingers intertwined, and my heart would lurch into my throat. The moments I’d break down and call him, desperately trying to pin down the reason why he left. I became kinder to that lame girl with the tear-stained cheeks looking back at me in the mirror. Instead of berating her for not moving on as fast as people expected, I gave her a break. I started to notice I didn’t need to escape to the bathroom quite as often. I found myself laughing at a group text from my high school friends. I binge watched Stranger Things again with my kids. I bought a new lipstick. Red.
I’d like to say I completely got over him, revamped my life and never shed another tear again. But as anyone who’s ever grieved before knows, the process is not an undeviating path upward. There are dips, pits, and sinkholes as we trudge forward to our ultimate goal—Okayness. My home no longer smells like a foot, and I can shop at Kohl’s without the music moving me to tears, but in late summer, when the air is a few degrees cooler and I hear the roar of a motorcycle, my heart skips a beat and my eyes grow moist. I can almost feel his tanned sandpaper hand in mine, smell the earth, feel the hot wind in my hair, the apricot sun warm on the nape of my neck. And I remember.
I always remember that I loved.