The best part of a breakup is wallowing. There are five stages immediately following a breakup, and they aren’t denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They are as follows: shock, blubbering, wallowing, staring blankly at walls, and finally, dancing. The final stage is usually preceded by a music montage featuring upbeat adult contemporary music, a shopping spree, and a night out with your best slutty friend. But of all these stages, the one I enjoy the most is wallowing. It’s the best part of breaking up or getting dumped, because there is no such thing as a “mutual breakup.” That concept is strictly for the press. One party always wants the breakup a little more than the other party. Not that I’m advocating dramatic split-ups that resemble NASCAR fireballs. But one person is always left sniffing a forgotten, leftover sleeping shirt, searching for a whiff of their lover’s familiar funk. The wishbone never cracks completely in two.
There is a difference between wallowing and marinating. One can wallow for far too long. Soaking in memories can cause the heart to shrink and wrinkle. Wallowing is an art. If you do it wrong, it’s like being stuck in a broken time machine that doesn’t fling you into the future or the past, but just keeps you at the very moment your chest tore open and bled. So long as you know when to move on to the next step of a breakup, wallowing is a distinct, if morbid, pleasure. Heartache is, after all, proof of love. Evidence that blood rushed, wings grew, that you were in fact a human being, your nerves little signal lights all blinking green for “go.” Believe me when I say there is a vast segment of the population that are cyborg zombies, Borgs who want brains. No one starts out like this, but the hive has perks: undead Cylons only leak fuel. They are never lonely. Life offers no risk, just the comfort of efficient routine. The burden of flesh is that it has to heal; chrome can be replaced. This is the true, secret story of civilization, the struggle between those who feel, and those who don’t, can’t, or refuse.
When you’ve got a real good wallow on, you can eat whatever you want. Cheese doodles on top of Tres Leches ice cream? A Big Mac with a side of Filet O’Fish? A manhole cover covered in nachos? Eat it all, with a gardening trowel.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise? I say no. Likewise, if I shave, comb my hair, and put on a suit and the only eyes that matter aren’t there to grace my efforts, do I look handsome? It doesn’t matter. I think I’ll call my new product “The Shroud of Sad.” It will be a spill-proof poncho that comes in three colors: black, gray, and butterscotch pudding.
Then there’s the music. Your songs. Those random tunes that played on iTunes the moment Tequila-scented lips collided. The soundtrack to early love. It’s amazing how love can strong-arm a song into making it think it was written for you and you only. Science says that space is full of broadcast signals from Earth. That the vastness of space is slowly filling with human melodies (and right wing political tirades, but that’s another essay entirely). Every song that lent its voice to your muted heart hangs out with the stars. And revisiting those songs while you wallow let’s you float there too, in the infinite blackness, just you and the echo of a time when you were happy.
And then there are the pictures, a record that what happened actually happened, and that it wasn’t all a dream. The only disappointing part of digital pictures is that you can’t get really pathetic and smash your face against them. Wipe your face with a Polaroid of her, in bed, practically inventing the smile. There are the movies you shared. The words she mined her soul to find. Not to mention the silly gifts and the meaningful ones. And that empty space where she used to sit, something you can’t touch but you know something is there. When you wallow, you make friends with ghosts. You dangle your feet off the edge of the world, peer down, and scream. To wallow, you build a raft of what was in order to get you to what will be.
My first experience with heartbreak happened when I was 15. She was my first kiss. An upperclassman. Even today, I can remember everything about her. Her lips were soft. Her hair a tangle of black licorice. She whispered in my ear, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” With me? ME? I was bulletproof. She breathed superpowers into my oblong teenage body. I needed a wheelbarrow for my heart. And in between our first kiss and a week later when I caught her kissing Eddie, I had decided that we would have star babies. I had no idea what to do. I felt like a snail evicted from his shell. I was the first person, ever, in the history of the world, to feel this way. Suddenly, I couldn’t stomach food, except for Funyuns, loathsome corn meal rings dusted with onion powder I haven’t eaten since. I drank tons of Jolt Cola. The radio insisted on playing songs specifically written by Phil Collins to bring up the growing sinkhole in my chest. That sadistic son of a bitch. I stopped shaving, which meant one rat’s whisker grew straight out from the center of my left cheek. The last time I had cried that much, Optimus Prime had died in a PG-rated cartoon movie about The Transformers.
And then it happened: the radio played Aerosmith’s classic cheesedong ballad “What It Takes.” What does it take, Erin, to let you go? Preach on, Steven Tyler! And then I did something that I am ashamed to admit. I wrote her a poem. I wrote her a poem and then I set it on fire in the kitchen sink. I don’t have the poem, of course, but I remember the final line. It was free verse, because my melancholy was too impatient to rhyme. The line was: “I will love you forever. But not tomorrow.”
And as the paper turned to ash, I went to my room and stared blankly at a wall. Finally, I had found a way to kick off my underoos of thorns. The heart is made of salamander tails. It grows back. I stared at walls. Read comic books. And, long story short, I have repeated this process more than once. It’s all going to be OK. Later, I would find out that Eddie already had a girlfriend. This made me feel better, but that’s another story.
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