“I can’t fucking breathe,” I said, walking down the street.
Ever the consummate writer, I was trying to describe the feeling of heartache. Did it feel sharp? Did it feel like pain right in the center of your chest, like Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy?
For the record, heartache sounds like the annoyingly chipper alarm that played at 5:30 and 5:45 and 6:00 because she needs multiple alarms to get up and start the day.
It looks like someone who can’t look me in the eye on Video Chat because she can’t tell the difference between my face when I’m sad from how it looks when I’m annoyed.
Heartache tastes like red wine. Merlot, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, when mixed with tears, it all tastes the same.
It’s the weight of a hairy leg tossed over mine in the middle of the night, possessive and insistent.
But what did it feel like? Even the word heartache was misleading, because I didn't feel any ache at all.
No, in thirty eight degree weather on the upper east side of Manhattan, it felt like I could not breathe. Like I was four hundred pounds again and had run up a flight of stairs to catch a train.
It was an unwelcome callback to my book, “The Accidental Tsundere.” Except this time, the thief that stole my breath wasn’t a blood clot, it was a broken heart.
The unthinkable had happened.
I was single again.
There was a feeling of it happening both quickly and in slow-motion at the same time. It took place over a series of four conversations, with each leaving me feeling increasingly despondent and more anxious than the last one had found me.
We had just left each other’s presence on New Years Eve. The trip had been decidedly different than the others, but I chalked that to two people becoming a bit more comfortable with each other; settling into themselves and the life we had talked about building. She had bought me a pair of house slippers and a toaster oven, and we spent our time on her new couch eating home-cooked food and watching Greenleaf. It was a preview of a life I was looking forward to, a sign of things to come.
She saw it as a sign of us growing apart, but forgot to let me in on the memo.
Each time she emerged from her self-imposed silence to say, “we have to talk about the conversation last night,” I felt a pit in my stomach, because it had meant that I had started to disturb her peace instead of bringing it. Time spent with me had lost its value, and she was reclaiming it by choosing to spend it alone. I didn’t know how to fix that. Looking back, I don’t think there’s anything I could have done at that point to fix that. Everything I said seemed to push her even further away. Giving her space did the same.
I recalled how she told me her last relationship ended with them taking a break from each other, before walking away for good. I pre-gamed each conversation with a healthy swig of wine, hoping to numb the dread and calm my nerves. But all it did was help my loosen my tongue, and dig a neat hole for my own grave.
It was like watching a car skidding towards you and not being able to stop it. And when she finally said she didn’t want to do it anymore, didn’t want us anymore, finally it happened. Swift, hard and startling. Impact.
Five days before our first official anniversary, (same day as my parents wedding anniversary, I had bragged to friends) our relationship was over.
The love we had once looked each other in the eyes and declared had been the one we had been waiting for, was gone.
This isn’t meant to be a dissection of a relationship or what lead up to it. My now ex-girlfriend calls it bad timing. My friends and family have their own theories about what happened. One says we were weighted down by expectations of what the relationship was, and each other. Another calls the things my ex mentioned in our exhausting post-relationship talks “petty” and wondered how the one and only time we ever broke up proved to be the final one. Yet another called it the inevitable result of a rushed love affair and hormones clouding good judgement. And, along the more extreme side of things, one stopped short of calling it abuse and unchecked co-depedency. She told me I had left Tamika only to come back to her in a different form. She looked at my red, scrunched-up face and told me that how I felt now would have been how I felt every day for the rest of my life if we had stayed together.
I think the truth is somewhere between all of these. I remember laughing myself breathless at something funny she had done, and kissing her shoulder as she wrote an essay, and the moment she told me she had loved me for the first time, and these are things that I will lock away in my heart forever. But then there were times where I was so mad I couldn’t speak and shut her out, and times that she sounded more like a parent than a girlfriend, and the one time I was so afraid of her disapproval that I cleaned a table three times. A story she told me about her ex-girlfriend putting her out of her apartment, which sounded cruel at first had started to make perfect sense.
Much like my freshman biology course, I’m in no rush to remove the cloth, slice the corpse open and tug at the guts inside the thing to examine its parts. Maybe with time and distance I can begin to pull it apart and figure out the things I still don’t understand and am still too raw to see.
But right now, for the time being, I’m still learning how to breathe.