I’ve had enough girls break my heart over the years that it should’ve been my minor in college. That’s how bored I am with it – I view it through the lens of cold, hard academia.
The shadow of my parents’ divorce provided a twisted sort of shade from any other hurt they might cause, much like how stubbing your toe almost tickles after being kicked in the balls.
My unrealized ambitions of medical school have now made the transition from “shameful failure” to “hilarious pipe dream” alongside playing for the Braves and being Inspector Gadget, somehow.
I’m not trotting out the low points to garner sympathy, but rather charting a pedigree of resiliency, providing my resume of heartaches that have only served to make me better and stronger.
And then my friend died.
“This is a new one,” I thought, staring at the ceiling until 3 AM the night after his funeral. Suddenly my toolbox for dealing with heartbreak looks like my actual toolbox, full of strange things that are theoretically useful but felt awkward and foreign in my hands.
“Talking it out” felt like hammering a screw. “Cherishing the memories” left me drunk and crying, same as when I use a socket wrench. Nothing is working, meanwhile the dishwasher is barfing brown water and I’m falling apart.
Make no mistake, the fact that this experience is a new one at 25 makes me one of the lucky ones. I’d hate to be an old pro at handling this situation. But I would’ve been perfectly happy to go my whole life without getting this square in Character Growth BINGO.
But then one day, miraculously, I felt better. I didn’t want to cry anymore. I could look at old pictures and smile. I told my family I was doing OK, that things were looking up for ol’ T-bone.
Two days later I was drunk again, talking out loud to him in my living room. I’m no grief expert, but I don’t think that’s a stage after Acceptance. And therein lies the problem. The 5 stages of grief are a crucial coping device, simultaneously acting as a barometer for how you’re feeling and a map for what lies ahead, going where so many others have gone and, most importantly, survived. The problem is the common misconception, in pop culture or otherwise, that this is a meticulously timed assembly line with a sad person entering and a happy person emerging, something you go through once and you’re good.
“Well I got through Denial sooner than anticipated, putting me ahead of schedule for Anger. If I punch a hole in my wall on Wednesday night I’ll be able to knock out Bargaining on my lunch break Thursday, enjoy my weekend, then I’ll double up on Depression and Acceptance Monday morning. Setting a calendar notification for ‘Acceptession’ with a calm and zen emoji that’s also crying so I won’t forget. I am kicking grief’s ASS!”
Instead, I go through the full cycle about three times a day and I don’t think I’m unique in that. I feel as though I’ve lived 20 years in the last month, with easily 10 of those years coming just from the day I got the news. Some days I feel like he was never alive, like this was always the reality I live in, with a best friend who was always gone. Other days I think about how I’ll give him a big hug and tell him how nice his funeral was the next time I see him. I feel like I’m losing my mind a little. I keep dreaming about him, but instead of feeling “haunted” or “tormented,” I cherish it. I spend my nights roaming the halls of our high school with him, laughing and teasing our teachers and hugging him and then I wake up, laying in bed a few extra minutes while I remember. The Rolling Stones song “Waiting on a Friend” just came up on Spotify shuffle and I want to laugh and cry at the same time, something I’ve become very good at these past few weeks.
I want to carpe the shit out of some diems, but then the guilt demon immediately shoots me down.
“Spend time with the friends you have! Let them know how much you love them!”
Why didn’t you tell him how much you loved him more?
“Don’t worry about money! Don’t stress about anything, ever again!”
Must be nice having a paycheck. You know what isn’t? Being dead.
“Life is all about love! Man up and tell your girlfriend you love her!”
Hey creep. You don’t have a girlfriend. Quit staring at that girl.
I’m better for having known him. I’ll never forget him. I’ll never stop missing him, though I know it’ll slowly get easier to handle. I don’t want it to get easier, not right now anyway. In the grand scheme of things, I’m approximately the 107,000,000,000th person to lose someone they love. But the heartbreak is new to me.