February Was the Longest Shortest Month of My Life: What’s It’s Like to Say Goodbye to 2,190 Days
I didn’t know how to feel when my boyfriend, who had already whittled down our weekly time together to just two nights and half a day, asked for more time apart. A full two weeks, no contact. Logistically, the difference was barely noticeable — I would spend, in total, two Wednesday evenings, two Saturday evenings and two Sunday mornings alone. Fillable time. Four movies, two nights with my friends, two brunches with my parents. A blink and it’d be the past.
The weekend of the decision and the first week of our time apart rolled out in front of me, days piled on days, stretches that felt three times longer than they really were. The air felt colder, leaving me shivering all day and night, even when the heat was turned up, even though I so often feel warm. At first, I felt like I was moving through mud. Then it got better. Then the better grew.
I found myself staring down a six year relationship that we had all but lost and the decision hit me clearly.
Phone calls and messages were answered the same: I’m okay. I really am. A little tired. A little worn out. Yes, I made the right decision. No, he hasn’t been unkind. I’m fine. I’m fine.
And I was, at least in answer to the questions I knew they were really asking: Did you do the right thing? Do you regret this? Are you ready?
Yes. No. And no, but still yes.
I counted my life in weeks. The week he wanted apart. The week between the final decision and the day he moved his stuff out. The week I curled up on two oversized pillows covered in a blanket, a makeshift couch in a mostly-empty living room, barely enough energy to stay awake through a string of movies, a box of Kleenex next to me, my mom calling every two hours to make sure I was okay. (I know you’re okay, she said. You’re strong as steel.) The week I spent voraciously buying and rearranging furniture, determined to feel at home in my home, to make the space mine after everything else I knew and had grown used to had left me.
Those closest to me didn’t see the days when I’d nearly faint from hunger and try to eat a spoonful of something and immediately feel ill. They didn’t know how, when I packed his things, I had to stop over and over to lean against my kitchen counter for support, the tears hitting the countertop I’d just wiped clean. They couldn’t have counted all the times my energy ran out and I dropped my forehead into my hands and let out a shaky breath, no matter where I was or who could see me. And nobody was with me the evening when I heard back from him, slowly scrolling through the long, emotional email on my phone as I sat in the empty laundromat, a wave of people rushing in at the exact moment I started crying. I could feel their eyes on me and I moved to the back room only to be crowded there too.
At the thought of him never being in my home again, I’d feel woozy. It would hit me late at night as I tried to fall asleep or first thing in the morning before my eyes were open. Being without him didn’t feel wrong, but my life suddenly felt empty. I had been lonely for a long time, but now I couldn’t avoid it, not even on a stray weekend night when we’d laugh and get along, giving me a glimmer of hope that I knew, deep down, wouldn’t turn into anything.
Weeks later, when I thought the worst was over, after I’d held my head up and explained to my mom and my sister-in-law and my best friend how I’d already done so much mourning, already experienced the pain of a dying relationship over the past 12 months, already made peace with the goodbyes, I found myself at a stoplight, frantically wiping tears from my eyes so I could safely drive when the light turned green. Finally home and just inside the door, I pulled over one of the stools in the entryway and sat down hard, my eyes facing the window, the midday light blinding me. I couldn’t turn to look at my apartment.
My apartment. The technicalities of returning his furniture and appliances and pint glass collection and the presents he’d left there were unexpectedly enormous. There was less than if he’d lived with me but more than either of us had realized. An apartment that I had completely setup within 48 hours of moving in took three weeks to get back to normal, or whatever my normal was going to be. It’s always easier to start from scratch than to edit. I contemplated moving.
Sitting in the doorway, the sun too bright and irritating, I couldn’t bring myself to look at the living room. It was filled with new furniture that I loved, an area rug that brightened the space, yellow curtains, light wood, nothing heavy or dark or leather like had been there before. But it was the one room that held his absence the most. This was where we had eaten the seafood dinners we’d cooked together; where I would pat my knees and say, “Come here, I’ll rub your head,” when he’d had a bad day at work; where we’d lean on piles of pillows to binge-watch a new show we couldn’t stop talking about; where we’d opened every Christmas present, Valentine’s Day gift and birthday card; where we’d planned our first vacation together.
It was also where I’d slept one of those last nights he stayed over. Where, back in October, I buried my face in my hands, trying to catch my breath as I faced a new reality. Where he shut the door, gently shaking the house, on the last day I saw him when he was still mine, the sun not even up yet as he left for work. Where we said our final goodbye to each other, a kiss on my forehead like always. Our life was in that apartment more than anywhere else; if our relationship was a one-room play, it would be that living room.
I stood up, blinked my eyes until they no longer stung from the sunlight, picked up my grocery bags and walked into the kitchen. I leaned on the counter, put my head in my hands, slowed my breathing, sipped cold water, composed myself. I thought of the lesson I learned when I was 17, back when the other shift in my life happened, the one that turned everything into before and after: sometimes it doesn’t get better. Back then, it took 10 years. I’m sure the pain will leave me more quickly this time. The lesson is the same, though. We move on, not after the pain, but with it, despite it, sometimes even because of it. I’ve always wished somebody had told that teenage girl that it wasn’t going to get easier. She would have harnessed it right from the beginning instead of letting the waves hit her that first year, then the next, then the next, leaving her baffled as to what was happening. This time, I’m able to warn myself.
Leaving a relationship for thought-out, genuine reasons and never second guessing yourself is a beautiful thing. It’s hard to ask for a better atmosphere than that when a bond you’ve built with someone is shattering around you. Trusting my choice didn’t protect me from despair, though. I hadn’t had a life without him for six years. Before that, I was a different person from the 33-year-old who stood surrounded by boxes and bubble wrap during those terrible and electrifying and crestfallen and exhilarating days in February.
I love the person I’ve become. I love her so much that I couldn’t bear to stay with a man who didn’t love her too. But I don’t know what she’s like on her own. My relationship, while unsatisfying, among other things, was still an armor, a dull protection I’d grown used to. I’ve never been happy with comfort for the sake of comfort, though. I need more.
Six years is a long time. Six years that carry you into your 30s, when life is changing and getting harder, feel even more substantial. But it wasn’t seven years, yet. And I couldn’t let it be.