I wake and walk calmly to the bathroom. I kneel on the hard tiles, lean over the toilet bowl and throw up. I rise, rinse my mouth, brush my teeth and go back to bed. It’s 2am and I promptly fall asleep.
At 6:30am my alarm sounds and I systematically get ready for work. I put on my coat, close my front door and head out. I step forward to cross the road and a cyclist zooms by, almost hitting me. He screams out abuse. I’m not startled. I’m unnervingly calm. It wouldn’t have mattered if he’d hit me. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t.
The work day passes in a trance. I’m watching everything through thick, soundproof glass. I hear my colleagues and politely chat, but I can’t connect with them.
I go home, I eat my dinner. I watch TV, I go to bed. At approximately 2am I will wake, feel nauseous, go to the bathroom and throw up.
It’s 1998 and this pattern will repeat itself every day for over a year. The year my heart was ripped through my chest, beaten to a pulp and thrown adrift in the ocean – left to bob up and down, stinging and alone in the dark, cold salt water. Dramatic? Yes. But to simply say it was broken doesn’t do it justice.
Each day I felt cold, contained, impotent rage. I didn’t kill anyone, I didn’t commit any lesser crimes, and I didn’t irreparably destroy my life; all three were a distinct possibility and I’m still astonished one or all three didn’t occur.
But each night the anger left and pain spewed forth, literally.
Weekdays I worked, weekends I did jigsaws. Countless jigsaws. The quantity of mental focus required was perfect; my empty mind robotically scanned for “The blue piece, the blue piece, the blue piece ….”. My jigsawing (
breakdown) obsession was inflicted on my friends who were obligated to partake when they visited. (Thanks Simon for hours of dedicated and silent jigsaw work. I do laugh about it now).
I sleepwalked through a year. In April I sent my sister a birthday card, in May I went to a wedding, in June I sent my mother a birthday card. I followed social processes; doing what was required with dispassionate inertia.
This is the aftermath of love. This is love when it’s ended for one, but not the other. It’s excruciating. It’s agony. It’s worse than any physical pain I’ve ever experienced.
People tell you you’ll get over it, that you’ll be fine in time. Fifteen years on I conclude that they’re the lucky people who have escaped true, crippling heartache. What they should be saying is that you’ll feel happiness again; your emotions won’t be forever restricted to only despair and fury. Most importantly, an interest in things will come again. (You also might lose the desire to kill every human you encounter … but that’s an individual thing and I still frequently yearn for the power to make peoples’ heads explode simply by looking at them).
Love at the start of the cycle is bliss; the days are bright, there’s a spring in your step and nothing can bring you down. On the rare occasions I’ve experienced this stage I’ve entered it without giving thought to the death stage. It’s always possible the grim reaper will never arrive and I genuinely hope (and even believe) that I won’t see him again; I definitely wish his head would explode.
So if you’re at the start of the love cycle this Valentine’s Day, enjoy it. If you’re in the middle, comfortable and undramatic stage, appreciate it. And if you’re nursing a skewered heart, survive it – you’ll feel happiness again. Or maybe you won’t. What do I know?
If you’ve recently had your heart obliterated and someone tells you “there are plenty more fish in the sea” … punch them in the face. Hard. If you manage to break their nose (fingers crossed), don’t apologise. I regret not doing that. And perhaps remind them that all the world’s fisheries are due to be depleted by 2048, so the expression is both infuriating and grossly inaccurate.