When you lose your first love during quarantine, what do you do?
Obviously, the first thing that you do is cry. You hope that simply enveloping yourself in heartbreak’s folds will cure you of pain, like sucking venom from a snake bite. But after trying this approach, you find that it fares much more recklessly than expected.
By diving headfirst into anxiety and sadness, you allow them to overwhelm the brain and the body soon after. Over the next few weeks, you spend several mornings over the toilet, vomiting, and only manage half a bowl of soup for dinner. Therapy feels exhausting. And each night, you can feel meditation sending the brain into shock. Your body sheds seventeen pounds, but weirdly enough moves in slower motions than before.
Like food, you find yourself starved for attention but both emotionally and physically unable to ask for it. You can’t ask for hugs from friends. On FaceTime, you find the reassuring intimacy of these conversations dissolving somewhere in the static bouncing between phones.
A friend suggests that you try distracting yourself so you paint your childhood bedroom’s walls white. You travel back to Duke just to lay on a blanket and read. FaceTimes, video games, books, and hikes fill the time that could otherwise be spent deep in thought, ruminating over him.
But even as you escape your pain through distractions, heartbreak still finds you. His posts on Instagram trigger waves of desperation, and sometimes you think you hear songs whispering his name through your headphones. A wildfire of painful memories begins spreading across your mental geography. During these times of helplessness, you find yourself habitually turning towards him for comfort. Have him say that everything will be ok. The first time that you feel this way, you text him and realize that he has blocked you. It’s a brutal reality check when the ones we love leave us, but it stings even more when we realize that they may never come back.
The cycle restarts. This time, you stare squarely at the pain of this second loss, reel back, distract yourself, and then wait for your memory to conjure some awful reminder of him. When this happens, you text him again, pleading for an end to the cycle. Rinse and repeat.
It’s only a few relapses later that you step back and evaluate the emotional toll of waiting for him. It stands before you in its enormity, and you realize that you’ve spent weeks reinforcing it with layers of idealization and guilt. This former monument of affection now exists as one solely of self-affliction.
During one instance in bed, you stare into the monument’s stone eyes and memories flood back into your brain. The shape of its lips as it spoke about how awfully it thought you treated it. Happy sighs during kisses. Sitting with it under a tree, staring at patterns on the blanket beneath you, and unable to put thoughts into words.
But this time, you shift your glance away the monument. You feel your consciousness drift upward and past your bedroom’s ceiling towards the clouds, staring objectively from above. You smile as you view life’s dynamism and vibrancy flowing below you. A world overrun by a deadly pathogen still teems with an abundance of opportunities and joy. Inside, you begin feeling the same way. Then your consciousness returns inward and all you feel is a blanket touching the platforms of your feet. A warmness spreads from the inside of your chest.
When you find this sense of presence, you meditate on it and imagine warmth circulating through your veins until every square inch pulses with light. Opportunities rush to the head that you would not have considered otherwise. You plan a trip to the mountains, camp in the car, and spend hours listening to the sounds of birds and cicadas. Your communication with the world remains limited to electric signals, but you find more love reverberating from these messages than you thought possible.
Even after heartbreak, there are still only a few things that you know about love. Sometimes the only thing known for certain is that, when you lose someone that you love, time is your ally. It will continue pulling you forward even as pain and loss shout at you from the side of the road. When they confront you, you often feel heat flush your face or your stomach drop. But with time, they fade into the distance. Gradually, these figures mean less and less and what matters most appears on the road ahead of you.
As you look outside of the window, you see alliums blossoming. Miracles for now and not the past.
Apex, North Carolina. 5/30/20