In the winter after Lev’s death, I operate on two speeds: suspended animation and blur. No in-between. There is the sound of gasping sobs inside my head, the TV droning in the next room. And there is the bombast of Out—an epic, bacchanalian roar. After four years as the lone cynic in a cellblock of the hopeful, I’m liberated. Everyone who knew Lev is still shackled, now held underwater each by their own grief, by its suddenness. I’m the opposite: I’m Houdini kicking free. It’s three months since Lev’s been gone, six months since I’ve left my house, two months since the clock started on my divorce. Valentine’s Day—King Douchebag of made-up holidays—looms, bullying those loved and unloved alike into the purchase of cheap, pink boxes of bullshit. I struggle to feel some reverence for my past life; to conjure wistfulness, specifically, for the marriage I deserted. I can’t. If the opposite of wistful is giddy, I’m that. I’ve proven myself inelegant at being single—mixing up my messages, never getting the tone quite right. Despite my ineptitude, I’m a dyed in the wool romantic. Always ready to fall in love again. I want to believe it’s all still possible, that I haven’t blown my allotment of chances at love and happiness.
I don’t think I tried very hard to save my marriage. I stayed a long time after it was over. I think I wanted it to be okay. I know I worried a lot. Talked about it a lot. Anguished. Thought. Brooded. I wanted to feel better about things. But I don’t recall doing very much. Taking real action. Things just kept falling apart harder and faster until there was rubble. My ex-husband swears he loved me. I don’t know. Maybe, probably he did. What I can say with some degree of certainty is that he didn’t know me very well, and he didn’t love me my way, the way that I wanted. I wanted to be nurtured and understood. But in truth, I never loved him my way either. I wanted to be loved with affection and abandon. I loved him pragmatically and deliberately. I loved him in part because I was convinced he could never break my heart. He was someone upon whose calm fondness I could rely and return. In the end, he became unpredictable; he became passionate about things and people that were not me in a way we had never really been passionate about each other. He poured himself into a life to which I had no connection, and he followed a dream I did not share. Without malice or intention, in the end, he broke my heart. He says he loved me till the minute I told him there was no saving us. And then he tried not to love me anymore. I was already long gone. For me, everything changed long before the ultimate dissolution of my marriage. We are in agreement on this. When I had a miscarriage before Joss, the optimistic part of me went dark and the loneliness became impenetrable—an electrified fence; after that, there was no saving us.
After a torpedoed marriage, failed campaign to save my son, retreat to my parents’ empty condo—I’ve officially botched my mission to be a functional grown up human. I’m a decommissioned ship as yet to find new life as a floating museum. Suddenly, subtraction is all I can process. I never intended have an only child, certainly not by subtraction. But such is life. Subtract husband, responsibility, home. Subtract sad friends. Subtract fear. I wrestle with this purge in my sessions with Old Fancy, my elegant senior citizen therapist. Around this time, she and everyone else weighing in tell me to give myself a break, that I’ve been through a lot, I should live life and not worry so much. Fuck them. All of them. I suspect I may be turning into a terrible asshole, but I have subtracted giving-a-fuck. Everything was awful and off kilter, now maybe it can be amazing, boundless, an orchard of perfect peaches, wind in my sails and a waving sea all the way to the horizon. There is no in-between.
The life I’d built over the preceding decade was one in which I’d given a (very grave) fuck about what everyone thought of me and of my choices. Now that Lev is gone, I have a tragicomic amount of free time and little—save Joss, who I see only half the time—to anchor me. Fuck it, I’m ready to stand with my ½ of Joss on the shore and give the rest of it a Viking funeral, set it all on fire. Rise from the ashes like an awkward past-her-prime phoenix. Take 2. This time, the part of Me is played by pure, unfiltered Id. I think not-at-all about how anything I might do will look to the outside observer, how it might portray me to the people watching. As a consequence, my plotline unfolds as a slapstick sex-comedy. Watch if you must, I think, but you’re gonna get an eyeful. I fit my truest self into the cracks, but I don’t hide. Everyone is welcome to watch me screw around and find my sea legs. For a while, I fall under the spell of a couple. Him a laughing giant of a man whose sleek body dwarfs mine and whose neck smells like home; her an all-American beauty excellent at every sport, nurturing to pets and plants, but desiring of no children of her own. They are like foxes or wolves, gleeful pack predators whose bite leads to long evenings of lazy consumption of homemade pizzas and margaritas made with fresh limeade. And sex. I get restless when they treat me like a snack. I want to be sustenance. I move on. No in-between.
My old friends feel remote to me. It’s harder for me to experience their pain than my own. I can’t help them. And so, they can’t help me. I make new friends. The friends on whom I begin to rely are mostly younger than I am and childless. I’m a strange sort of celebrity among my new acquaintances, an item of gossip: “Oh my god, did you hear about what happened to her? Her son died. She’s amazing. It’s the worst. She’s so strong…” Easy to simplify me this way, to boil me down to one-clause sentences that make me sound heroic. People seem to want to solve me or to bury me, to exalt me or count me out. It’s less easy to just roll with me, to support me, to let me support them. Especially once they realize I have only two speeds—sprinting and broke-down. Many candidates quietly disappear. When I shed them like sandbags from a hot air balloon, I am lighter, leaner. Some of them don’t last more than a conversation. All of those who make the cut are all broken in some major way. Broken people are the only folks I can understand. People walking around intact, functional, hiding little to no darkness—these people frighten me. (This is not a new development. Even as a child, I exasperated my parents by bringing home the most bizarre feral-child creatures Public School #19 had to offer. I had a few ordinary, calm children as childhood friends, but they didn’t endure.)
On Valentine’s Day, I will host a white elephant party where every invited guest will bring a date they do not want. My new friends will come. I will hand out peacock feathers and drink French 75’s and dance the Charleston. There will be a bearded gatecrasher and an unrequited infatuation between friends. There will not be new love. But there will be hope.