The man I have loved for the best part of four years is gone. He had a “gut feeling”, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
The first night I sit on the cold bathroom floor until 3am and write. Lists of the things, everywhere, that remind me of him. Strands of his hair, dark and long, on the tiles that surround my bath – the bath he scrubbed with vinegar and Cif only last weekend. The double bed that I once filled alone but can no longer seem to. An avocado! The time I cried (after a very long day, in my defence) when he served fajitas without guacamole… His keys to my flat, left where I dropped them after he pressed them into my palm. Pieces of him in the back of my skull.
The second night I write on the train to Devon – where I have fled, to my mum’s house (does that instinct ever leave you?) – like a budget Carrie Bradshaw, and am grateful for the mask obscuring the wetness of my face. I write down the things that we said to each other: bad Hollywood-movie lines that sound good in your head but terrible once spoken. I write down the last times I didn’t know were last times – what I would give to do them again, the time I would take.
I write down the things I want to tell him. The Twitter cat videos, the silly things my mum’s puppy has done. How my dad said all the right things and touched the back of my head when he hugged me. How the first thing I ate and kept down was a pizza – that would make him smile. I fill pages and pages with questions. Who will scrub the limescale from my bath now? Who will fix things when they break? Who will stroke my hair when my mind is too loud for sleep? Who, in the words of the inimitable Jenny Slate, will be hungry for me?
I stack the losses neatly on paper as they flood in, as if by doing so I can prevent them towering and toppling in my mind. The entire island of Ireland, which I am not sure I will ever be able to face visiting again. The friends who are no longer mine because they were his first. His wonderful, ridiculous parents.
There are little scraps of joy among my pages, too: the colleagues who are overwhelming in their kindness; the friends who say the things I cannot yet in earnest – that he will soon see what he has lost, that he does not deserve me – and ply me with food I cannot stomach.
I’ve had break-ups before, of course, but, approaching 30, this one feels different, less hopeful. I do all the things you’re supposed to do: I call old friends; I remove all trace of him from my phone; I run; I gather up pictures of us and hide them under the furniture.
And I do something many would say I should not, less than 48 hours later, when I am still all exposed flesh and nerves: I write about it in these pages. Conventional wisdom is that the immediacy of shock is the wrong time to make big decisions, to do anything drastic – certainly to share this most intimate of pains with strangers. But I wonder if, really, this is a moment of rare and precious clarity.
I resist the urge to cut off my hair, or get a tattoo, simply because he would hate it. I resist the urge to put my belongings into storage and leave it all behind. But I cannot resist the urge to write. Before I can even process the words they tumble themselves into sentences. I was composing this column – or, rather, this column was composing itself – in my head before I’d even washed the dirty dishes from the last meal we shared together. “How can you write about it so soon?” friends ask. How can I not?
I write because I know there are those who will read this and understand exactly how I feel, and that makes me feel saner, less alone. I write because maybe he will read this and know that I meant it when I said I love him still. Maybe he will read this and feel ashamed.
I cannot craft meaning from this ugly sadness, not yet, but perhaps I can write some beauty into it. Maybe I will be embarrassed by these words in six months, a year – but in six months, a year, I know I will be OK again, and, God, that is all that matters.
The man I have loved for the best part of four years is gone. He had a gut feeling, and there’s nothing I can do about it – except write.
This article appears in the 23 Jun 2021 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit changed us