This Is How You Lose Her

A month into a break and suddenly I’m Ricki Lake

It was one of the old Greek guys.

Back in the day, he said, we’d been cut in two, and our lot was to spend the rest of our lives in search of our other halves, the ones needed to make us whole again. That was it. As I lay there in the foetal position on the cold floor of my flat in a pool of tears, I felt cut down the middle. I hadn’t felt that kind of emotional pain in years. I thought I was too old for this shit.

Ever since Ross and Rachel popularised the break and it hit the mainstream, people have needed space to ‘work on their shit’.

I asked my mother what they used to do back in her day and she was like well they didn’t exist in quite the same way really. More a grave conversation followed by much lingering by the phone or the post box. So not that different, I proclaimed. I should think we were better at waiting, she said.

You know when you’ve stayed at home to receive a package of great importance and you’re waiting for the door bell to go so you can get on with your day and a message bleeps on your phone informing you that Guan tried but you weren’t home and Sorry we missed you! And you’re like Guan I’m here you tool, literally the only reason I’m here is to wait for you. All you have to do is ring the doorbell.

It felt like that.

Just me, sat there in limbo, waiting for this person, and the rational part of my brain reminding me that no matter how long I waited, nobody was going to come.

*

It wasn’t my idea. I went along with it because I loved her. And I was probably terrified of being alone. Nodded my head in earnest understanding of how space could be a sharpener, a great motivator, how we’d come back together stronger.

Lying there with a damp cheek stuck to the floorboard, I thought this is a first. I’d done the breaking but never the being broken and not that it was anything to be proud of but at the very least it came with agency. I typed something scathing meant to wound her and before I could hit send the phone slipped from my salty fingers.

Walking in the park with a friend one morning, it was pointed out in some ways a break could be harder than a break-up. With a door slammed in my face there was no option but to shuffle off. But a door half-open was confusing because the other side of it was hope, and yet through it the cold hot doubt of unknowing whipped me in the face like a harsh November wind.

One morning I got her dress out of the drawer under the bed and cried into it. I looked down at the little patch of damp and hoped the salt would linger there, so if one day she came back and retrieved it, to put it on rather than fold it into a box to take away, she would see the little salty residue and sense my tears and realise what she’d done.

It took me two weeks and four days not to cry. Strange rasping cries, tantrum-like, the sobs of someone who’d given up on language. But tears brought calm, like my brain was pouring water from my tear ducts to heal me, less a symbol of my sadness than a balm for it.

Then one day they stopped. I tried and nothing. I tried harder and they came, but reticently. And I had a thought. If I wasn’t crying, was this some sign of progress? I didn’t want this at all. I wanted to be half-broken and spluttering, because at least that meant being close to her.

I’d wake in the night half asleep to go for a pee and it would flood back and I would stand there alone in the dark, steadying myself with a forearm against the wall, disbelieving. But the anger got lighter. Some days I’d kick through leaves and feel my eyes stinging and think wow I’m not getting over this at all, and realise it was just my new nivea cool kick hydro-intense arctic freeze moisturiser.

One night I scanned her recently played on Spotify.

Were they songs of heartbreak or defiance, songs of missing a lost-love or moving on. I looked for Single Ladies and saw no sign of it. As I sat there trying to decipher what Idioteque by Radiohead had to say about the current state of our relationship I decided this was one of the worst ideas I’d ever had and resolved not to do it again.

Some days I’d just wait by my phone and stare at it, and a voice in me would be like bro… she’s not going to text. Think of something else. I stopped drinking. I was no match for the floodwaters of even a slight hangover. I’d get nailed on non-alcoholic beer and pass out and dawn would rouse me, clear of head and peace of mind.

Just off C_____ street, the road that swoops down through Barnsbury towards Kings Cross, is M_____ street, the one that bears her name. In the past every time I cycled to the library I would blow the sign a kiss or whoop in its direction, or if we were mid-fight I might scowl. But I looked the other way now, took a different route. Now I think of it this whole time was enveloped in a veil, a dreamlike veil, which made none of it feel real at all. The only thing that punctured it was an inkling of a recurring thought that came back again and again.

This is how you lose her.

When you’ve moped yourself to sleep, talked yourself out, bored your friends into metronomic muted nodding, paid your Colombian cleaner overtime because she gives you better advice than your therapist, when you’ve blasted Take A Look At Me Now so many times a neighbour slides a note quietly under your door, when your journal is an endless jumble of smudged repetition, there comes a moment when rather than dwelling on the fact that you are single, you have to get on with the business of being it.

And unannounced, it sneaked up on me. The same thought that weeks before had been so terrible now, although faintly, began to whisper its allure. The I made my family disappear Home Alone raised eyebrow moment.

It’s only me now.

Pause.

It’s only me now.

And it all came flooding back.

The intense selfishness. The sweet lack of compromise. All those years I’d been single and jolly enough and too scared to give myself to anyone. When I had no need to look for the other half of myself, because who needed anyone else to be happy, certainly not me, so fond of the lie that I was whole and complete as I was.

I would relearn to be alone. I’d been an expert once, all I had to do was retrace my steps. I would remember the hopeful mornings. The expectant nights out. I would run nothing by anybody, cycle as fast as I wanted without watching to see who was keeping up, I would make coffees for one, revel in film nights for one. And the 3am plods to the loo, pillows suffocated with cuddles, swallowed whole by Sundays of clawing loneliness. Slowly the wound that ran down one side of me would begin to scar.

Not drinking was the easiest thing in the world. I’d go out for dinner and sip the lightly sparkling and try and cloak my sobriety in great conversation and realise nobody cared. The clarity the mornings brought was celestial. I was up at half five, exercising, writing more than ever. This was progress, maybe even something like pride.

Still I missed having the person you could tell the stuff to. I’d learnt to file a fingernail, switched up my Y-fronts, put onions in the ragù. No one else cared about this stuff. And the idle intimacies. The nicknames and in-jokes and interlinking fingers. The sounds of her slumber. One day I went to the barber just so someone would touch my head. I picked up a conker from the pavement and whispered something into it and put it on a shelf.

But I was working on my shit.

That part was true. The weeks in the calendar I’d looked at with the fear of God in my heart back when each quarter hour crawled past were gathering pace. What did it mean about the depth of my feeling a month before if I didn’t feel it now. What did it mean for us, if she no longer had the power to glue my salty cheek to the floor for an afternoon. I felt far stronger but also further away from her. Something scared me. My severed other half, the one that had been cut from me, what if it didn’t fit anymore.

Again unannounced, morning came one day and I felt a shifting of the search coordinates. All those years of being single, selling myself the lie of being whole and complete as I was, I wasn’t all the way wrong. The dawn brought a realisation, that my search to find my other half was off the mark, because I’d been looking in the wrong place.

The last few days I’d felt a peculiar presence behind my left shoulder, like a warmth which became more and more felt with each day. That morning sat on the sofa in my white towelling dressing gown feeling the light pour through the big school windows caking the long wall and glinting off the frames, I was like shit.

What if my other half wasn’t her.

What if this other half, the one I’d been searching for all this time, this elusive other half I’d lead myself to believe was someone else, what if this other half was not actually another person at all, what if it was something along the lines of…

me.

What if all this time my other half was the one I’d jettisoned a forgotten lifetime ago, the half of me I’d never known, the me I’d struggled in vain my whole life to love. I didn’t even know I was in half, I always figured the cruel master of the horrid voices was the whole of me. Sitting there with my head rocked back, I wondered if the fear of rejection, the mistrust of being adored, the not being enough, it was all the cry of pain of someone who’d been torn in two, crying out for the half of them they didn’t know they were without. Of course I couldn’t find me, I didn’t even know there was a search on.

And this process I was living, perhaps the defining growth-spurt of my adult life, was me joining up with the me I could be brave enough to love. Coming into one another’s view, this new half stared back at me. It took you a while, I said to me. Here I am. Here you are. I’m sorry you were so sad for so long.

So what was this then.

Was this being whole.

What did this mean for her. Where did she sit in all this. Like so many things that demystified themselves over the course of that strange October it became clear that whatever happened between me and her didn’t matter so much. This Rocky fight-training montage I was in the midst of was not a means to get her back. Rather, it was getting me to my finest self, preparing me for any outcome, and tattered heart to one side I was the best I’d been in years. I got it now, her half was not the half I needed to be whole.

Often the wash of sadness would return, I’d lean on the kitchen island and shudder and spy my face in the mirror cracked and wet. Her chocolate on the newsagent shelf, the pavement where we danced one Christmas after cocktails, that dumb fucking song she always lost her shit to. I imagine it was because I was doing well, and the part of me that was bereft was fed up with being ignored and was clawing its way back to the surface. But it was a gift too. A reminder of how deep she was inside me and the sadness was a little whisper in my ear.

Her photos were everywhere, in frames around the flat, in journals, on my noticeboard. Nothing could be more sad than removing them, putting them in boxes, replacing them with something new, wiping the walls of her memory, and I was sure that nothing so sad could be allowed in life, and wondered if I should take them down.

The days drew on.

The way I thought of her now was a little different. Back on the floor of my flat all those weeks ago I couldn’t imagine a world with her not in it, and the pain of separation did feel like something being torn from me. But pain had become something else and I felt stronger and more upright. I loved her, and that meant being in love with her path I suppose. I was no kidnapper. It was quite simple, if she wanted to come back she would and if she didn’t what could I do. Looking down at the leaf wet and starfished against the cobble, I felt my heart hold its middle finger vehemently up to my head.

Love + love = pain.

The mathematics of love spew out some strange answers. I suppose lovers can get so enmeshed in each other they might not see how it is strangling them, and flying instead towards love like some holy grail they attach themselves to another like a grotesque Frankenstein creature without watching to see if the stitches take.

Would I take this love I’d made and pour it into something new. Or take the other road, of those so burnt by love they turn their backs on it, losing sight of all intimacies out of a hardened heart, walking in limbo with steps that echo like old memories, preferring to die than to suffer but never dying.

Who knows.

Weird that something so painful is revealing itself, annoyingly, to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. Perhaps her and me figured out we were missing a part of ourselves and thought we’d take time out to relocate it. Perhaps along some distant day into the future, we’ll come back together as whole complete beings and fall into a tentacled embrace, and perhaps we won’t. But one thing is for sure, I feel less alone I think.

November, 2020