Something about what he said stuck out, like a nubby loose thread on an otherwise tightly knit sweater. I couldn’t let it go, poking and fussing at it.
I never expected that with a single tug, the entire thing would unravel.
A week ago, I was in Korea riding through the mountains. My life had been shifting and changing dramatically for the previous six months, but I loved where it was going. I was in love with a man and his little girl, running the team but stepping away from the obligations of training and racing, planning for grad school and to become a mother. I had finally relaxed my rules enough to start truly living every day. Whatever unknown remained, I knew it was going to be exciting.
A week later, I am driving to Virginia to live with my parents. My life is packed into the same car that took me out west with him into what I thought was my future.
Wednesday was literally the longest day of my life.
I woke up in Korea at 5am, restless from persistent jet lag, moody, and hungover. Went to the hotel gym and dragged my body through workouts until the sun rose and my head cleared. Spent the day wandering around Seoul – lunch, coffee, photos, stores – and then caught a cab to the airport. Made it onto the plane, then dinner (again), drinks (more), a movie, my head in his lap while I slept fitfully through the long flight. I remember his arm draped over me while I dozed feeling safe and loved. Landed in Seattle at 11am on the same Wednesday morning, passed through immigration/baggage claim, picked up a car, went for coffee and food, did some time-sensitive errands, home to unpack, did some work, showered, headed back out for more errands. I went to the grocery store at 5pm the day before Thanksgiving because our refrigerator was empty. Bought everything we needed for daily life and to make an improvised Thanksgiving dinner for two. Came home, stumbled onto a tiny detail, explored it further, and ended my life as I knew it.
The longest, worst day of my life ended 32 hours after it began. My biggest regret may have been going through the time and expense of buying so much food. I gave it all away.
The details of what happened are not mine alone to share. My part of the story is to say that in a instant, everything I believed in and planned for came crashing down, leaving me standing alone and shattered in the wreckage of what had been my life.
What came next is the part of which I am most proud. I brushed my teeth, slept, got up the next day, ate a few bites of food, showered. I kept going. Packed his things, reached out for my friends and family and held on for dear life, kept breathing. I started packing and loading my car, ruthlessly boxing and bagging and trashing the entirety of our home. It felt like I was dying inside but I did not stop moving. Slept again, showered again, finished packing and loading the car. Strangers from Craigslist came to take away the furniture for free. I wept through it all. The couple that took our bed hugged me, said everything would be okay in time, and gave me $40. The Xfinity representative who cancelled my account told me she loved me and was sending hugs. The inherent goodness of people was a tiny speck of light in a dark hole. When everything was packed and cleaned, I went to the leasing office and terminated the lease on what was supposed to be my home through next July. I cried into the paperwork and cried to the mailman who dug out my mail so I could leave right then, but I still got it all done.
Just 34 hours after being decimated and heartbroken, I was done in Seattle and on the road out of town. When looking back on this part of my life, I will always be proud that I mustered up the strength to act quickly and decisively. I feel so shitty about myself in every other way right now, but I have that.
What the hell comes next? I have no idea. The slate of my life has been wiped clean of all the plans I was actively pursuing. At some point when the hurt dulls to something less than agony and crushing depression, it will probably feel exciting, like the world is my oyster. For now, I am too raw and sad. He loved oysters; we’d eat them together all the time. I can’t believe it’s over.
There are three things I take from this chapter of my life.
First, always trust my instincts. My gut tells me a lot of things that I often ignore – don’t eat that much dairy, you don’t need three dinners, another scotch would be a mistake – and this was no different. For the rest of my life, when my gut says to be careful and pay attention, that something is not right, I will listen.
This does not apply to scotch, at least not for now.
Second, it’s better to live life than live by endless rules. He taught me to cut loose in so many ways and while I often panicked and clung to my old self-imposed restrictions, I also felt more alive than ever before. I know that a healthy balance between the two extremes is where I want to spend the rest of my life.
Third, crying and talking to friends and strangers is cathartic. There is no shame in loving and losing, in trusting and being betrayed, in genuinely trying and still failing. I overshare; it’s who I am and I’m not going to shy away from being open about my life and getting my ass kicked sometimes. This is what it is to be human and fallible.
Oh, and a fourth thing: people will haul anything away from your home in a hurry if it’s free. It usually took two of us to fold down the heavy hardwood futon into a bed, but I watched one skinny dude carry the thing out of my apartment alone.
The mornings are hard right now. I wake up to face and reprocess this new reality every day. It probably hasn’t helped to be waking up in South Dakota or Minnesota in roadside motels that make me wonder if I’m current on my vaccines.
The nights are hard too, when the longing and loneliness of losing my partner sets in.
The time in between is also hard, when I spend endless hours looping though why/how/why/how. An autopsy on repeat in my head. I can’t make sense of any of it and I have dozens of questions that will remain forever unanswered. Sometimes it feels like I’m in shock: surely this happened to somebody else, not me, or perhaps I’ll wake up still on the airplane home from Korea.
It’s all hard, but I suppose that’s to be expected. I love instant fixes but there is no cure except time.
This is life, right? Live and learn, love and lose, break and rebuild.
What a time to be alive.