Sunday, August 30, 2009


He wanted to buy my mother a ring, my brother a pair of red painted maracas. We sat at an outside table at Carlos O' Brian's, my father a few months into sobriety, me a few months into nothing; we poked at a platter of tortilla chips in the flat sun hot.My dad had come to San Diego to help me move back home, my chest shattered into a thousand tiny pieces by my latest breakup with Bryan. I was 19, my dad 49. My mom had just announced the end of their marriage and so we went to Tijuana for the day, a surreal jaunt that smelled of stale beer and carne asada, piss and heat. I talked my dad out of buying the ring for my mother but the maracas sat in a plastic bag at our feet. Neither of us said much of anything.

On the drive back home I would like to say we listened to mariachi music, the foibles of the heart up Interstate 5. I don't remember, though I doubt we did. What I do remember is that my cat was positioned in her kitty carrier right behind my father's head on a stack of my hand-me-down furniture. Everything I owned fit into a car back then, and my cat yowled for the entire nine hour drive, over and over and over again, the foibles of the heart broken sounding slightly dead up and over the Grapevine and into the dry of the valley.

We talk about that trip now with a gallow's humor afforded by 18 years. Bryan and I eventually got back together (broke up again and then got back together, I got a tattoo), but my mom and dad got divorced. Got mad, got restraining orders. I don't know if my brother ever got his maracas because around that time he stopped talking to my dad, the silence lasting for ten+ years. We don't laugh about that yet, although some day we may, the way a mariachi band pins you there smiling. Bryan and I are now married, Zoey. My mom and dad now friends, my brother a son. This is that tomorrow, what came next from a time that felt as if there was nothing more.

I have a friend, let's call her You, because it has happened to all of us, curled in bed wanting to die. That horrible moment when You wake up and remember that it's gone, that he is gone, that something essential that makes You you is gone. And you want to die. Maybe You are dead somehow, it feels. You are sure. I am worried about my friend, about You. I know there is nothing I can really do but proselytize my confidence in after, that sometimes we have to have faith when others do not. (Breathe in, breathe out, You are now two more breaths closer to something else.) And so I am hoping that maybe you can help? In the comments section, can you please leave a story of your own loss, how you felt, how you got over it, the After of a time when Happily was not even a hope? Feel free to be Anonymous. I am just banking on there being salve in all of our afters. So what's your story? Let's help You get through this one day.

Thank you.

p.s. Maelstrom is a beautiful Dutch word meaning crushing current. Click on image for link to photographer's Flickr account.


Anonymous said...

I am the after. I am still breathing, 10+ years later, waiting for nothing.

whattheham said...

really fantastic post. i was the before, wishing and hoping that someone would notice and write a letter to me, just like that. but people were too scared to. to afraid about how i'd react.

Never That Easy said...

I wasn't crushed by a person's leaving, not the first time, but by me leaving. At some point, I just up and walked away from myself. And there I was, that friend on the bed, waiting for someone to notice. Thank you for noticing.

And for breathing with me, through the next few minutes.

Anonymous said...

I stand by the mantra "nothing lasts forever, everything changes" and that goes for the good and the bad. The pain, the loss, will loosen it's grip and become a softer memory, it really will.
But that goes for "the good" as well.
Cherish, appreciate and live in the moment. It's so hard at times. But as the movie said "this is as good as it gets". Live now. Live deep. There will always been great times and the very not so great times.

Anonymous said...

There does seem to be a rythem to life... funny how you wrote this today and one of my bestfriend's marriage exploded last night.

meinkc said...

Okay so loss. Once I moved far away for a relationship and once there, the boy who had really really really wanted me there, didn't anymore. Just like that. All of a sudden. All-of-a-sudden meaning me basically unloading a U-Haul (of the nine things I owned) in utter despair and confusion after figuring out The Story. Then the very next day I fell and broke all my teeth. Thus the heavy, grinding wheels of My Darkest Period Ever (among pretty stiff competition) were set into motion.

It's all kind of a blur. I remember sitting in my almost empty apartment in the one chair I owned listening to music and smoking and drinking and weeping and wondering why. I remember feeling sort of like dying one night but only having Nyquil at my disposal and figuring if I drank it all I would probably just throw up green and keep living, free of any and all congestion. The whole thing must have been a pathetic site for wall flies. I remember at some point (way later than it should have been) mustering up strength to quit the job, toss the nine things back in the U-Haul and leave. Which made me feel all capable and strong for about twenty minutes until it happened all over again. Because I'm not very bright about these things.

It's like that scene in Pretty Woman where Richard Gere shows Julia Roberts a diamond necklace and when she reaches out to touch it he snaps the box shut and starts laughing. But over and over again and on a grander scale and with more at stake. And at some point the laughing gets all creepy like the kind that laces the circus music they play while showing funhouse mirrors with scary, distorted, sneering clown faces reflected in them in B-movies to signify the onset of a drug-induced-bad-trip-type hallucination. I don't know why it happens. No one has ever explained it to me and I’m not smart enough to figure it out on my own.

My daughter has a funny poster that says "School prepares you for the real world. But I want the fake world". Me too. Me too. The kind of world where the person I love loves me back and we are happy - thanking lucky stars, dancing mental jigs, sleeping smiling tangled, scribbling hearts in margins and never leaving.

I'm certain, because I am trying to believe in good and time and renewal, if I keep trying, things really will be happy for me someday, even though a small part of me doesn't exactly believe that, right this minute.

JackeeG4glamorous said...

Oh My Sus, this touched a chord....If I knew how to post anonymous I would say a whole darn lot about loss and how it affected me, and how it wound up!

Anonymous said...

I had a boyfriend move away once and when he left, it hurt my heart. It physically hurt, for a long time. And, right now, I am in the midst of losing something, someone I love dearly. My dog. He is my soul mate (seriously) and my best friend (I have 3 other dogs too, but he is special). I am 54 years old and have been blessed to never have experienced the death of a dearly-loved one and it scares me. It scares me because his life is in our hands and I don't know what to do. It scares me because I think I will fall apart. The more you love someone, the more it hurts.

Kirsten @ Apotheca said...

Sure, I was a You once. Wasn't everyone? My advice: don't talk to him, see him, for god's sake don't sleep with him. You need time to let your brain detox from its oxytocin addiction. Brush your teeth, brush your hair, get outside and do something nice for someone else. A lot can change in a year and it's really true that the good stuff never comes from forcing it.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to not sound dense... but wanted to reach out, but only want to do it in the right context. Is it an actual death or a parting of the living that causes the grief and the hurt?

Even if I did "get it" the first go round, I'll still go back and read this one several more times for the verse alone.

Petunia Face said...

Hi all,

Thanks for taking the time to tell your after. Hopefully she reads this and it helps just a teeny bit.

Anon @ 4:40: In my case, it was my own breakup and my parents' divorce that sucked the life out of me for awhile. In the case of my friend, it's also a broken heart. It's strange how a broken heart can feel like death sometimes :(


Anonymous said...

what is this post about? i'm so confused...did bryan leave? what is happening....are you okay??

i will give you the short version of my same story: i met a man 3 years ago, and i knew right away he was 'the one'. we were in love, but it was hard...but it was real. anyway, at the end of last summer he decided it wasn't enough for him, and just left...poof. just like that, it was over. it's been over a year now, and i still miss him EVERY DAY. every damn day. i cry sometimes thinking that my life wasn't supposed to turn out this way, that i wanted kids and a house, and now i'm almost 36 so who knows if those things will every happen, but i will also say this: it gets easier every day.

so, please tell us what is happening in your life to make you post this...fingers and toes crossed that you are okay.

Petunia Face said...

Anon @ 4:47pm--I guess I was a little too obtuse for my own good :) Everything is fine with me. Bryan is awesome, my family all good. No, this is truly for a friend who is going through a terrible break-up that has shattered her. I was hoping to show her that everyone has a story of heartbreak, and that there is an after to this feeling. I remember when I was feeling as if the world was over that hearing other stories of heartbreak (and ultimate okay-ness) made me feel just the tiniest bit better.


Alexsandria said...

Not too long ago I packed up and moved to a city I didn't like for a man's career. I left all my friends, my family, college. To be with this man, in a city I hated.

I had an idea that soemthing might be wrong with this decision when he asked me for half of gas money for the move when I a) didn't want to move b) only had one small trunk of things packed in a trailer full of his stuff and c) had already told him I didn't have the money to move across country and he said not to worry.
After two years of trying to make it work with a man who "moody" doesn't even begin to cover it, after two years of hardly ever even seeing the man I lived with (workaholic), I finally broke it off when he said he would be out of town for two months. After all, I had moved to a city I didn't like and gave up everything I had going in order to be with the one I loved.
When he came back he begged me to take him back. Said he'd changed and apologized for many of the cruel things he had done out of total selfishness (like abandon me in LA on Thanksgiving with no car and no friends). He convinced me to try again.
Not 1 month into trying again, I discover that he's been communicating with some girl he fucked at Burning Man and she's going to be visiting him in LA. The tickets were already paid for. Not only did he keep this from me, but he lied when confronted.

I thought I would die. I had given everything I could and had finally plucked the courage to admit failure and walk away only to be dragged back in and slapped in the face.

But now, a year and a half later I am in the easiest, most fun and healthy relationship I've ever experienced. I'm dating my best friend and I've never felt more content and simply happy. Sometimes I'm so happy I panic, thinking that there must be something I'm missing, this is all about to implode. But it's not. And I'm learning to accept that sometimes things are just good.

Anonymous said...

I am You when I am too far inside my own thoughts, when I let my mind travel down the "what if [insert horrible scenario #143] happens". I love my life. I love the man I'm with and I feel so damn blissfully happy that I get scared. Could it be too good to be true? There is some mechanism in my (our?) brain that is trying to prepare me for that worse case scenario. I know I shouldn't be living in that moment, that I should chose the awesomely, oh-so-wonderful present that I so fortunate to live in every day. Am I alone?

KJZW said...

I was YOU 6 months ago. Flash forward a year ago, I was madly, deeply, stupidly in love with a man I had known for a while. A few months into the relationship, he discovered he had a tumor. A couple of months later he moved to another state supposedly to begin treatment- still telling me he was madly in love with me.

6 months ago I found out he had gotten married. He was living with someone and married all while telling me I was the love of his life, huge asshole!

I thought the pain and embarrassment would never go away. I couldn't believe it had happened and couldn't believe I had missed all the signs that were so OBVIOUS in retrospect.

It was sad, horrific really. But, now I am dating a guy that is hilarious and finds me incredibly sexy and says what he means. It is refreshing and fun- the way a relationship should be. I hurt for your friend, because I know how bad it hurts to be YOU.

mosey along said...

Being left IS a death. I've been more than happily married for nine years (and with my hubby for four years before that), and the memory of the pain of the break-up 16 years ago with the one whom I thought was the love of my life can still take my breath away.

At the time of that break-up, a friend's husband died after a lingering disease. We had a long conversation about how she at least was left with the knowledge that she was well and truly loved. We grieved differently but it was still grief.

Time passes, we heal. And we have to heal ourselves and not rely on that person anymore to do it for us. Like someone else said, stay far far away until you're sure you can protect your heart from being fractured over and over again....

maggie, dammit said...

Ohhh, but this is lovely. Aching and sweet and gritty.

We have all known loss. We have all had those nights when we wonder if we can possibly wake up again in the morning. I keep going back to the simplest truth so many years ago, my dad whispering over poached eggs one morning when he didn't know what else to say, "this too shall pass." Because it does. It always does.

I am sorry for your friend.

Beth said...

It's one of those random chance meetings of the universe that I read this post today, because exactly three years ago one of my best friends passed away, beginning the worst year of my life. I haven't (thankfully) been through the kind of breakup that you describe, but I know what it is like to lose someone you love.

All I can do is repeat the excellent advice given already--this too shall pass, and it will get better. It will never really stop hurting, but you will be stronger and better able to deal with it as time goes by.

I stole your Prozac said...

Dear You,

Well shit. Losing someone sucks. Really hard. I usually like to make light in these situations. Play the rodeo clown to distract from the hurt, but per Susannah's instructions here is my love lost story:

I loved a boy. I loved him the moment I met him. I pined. We spent time together, we started to date. The lines blurred between him and me, me and him. It was bliss. I trusted him completely and gave him all the love a young girl can muster, which we know can be a quite a bit. Things began to change though and eventually we broke up, still young. After a year of awkward pouting/avoiding we went back to being best friends. This is clearly not the sad part.

Years passed and boys came in and out of my life. Boys I loved turned into man/boys I loved, but every night I dreamed of Him. Every time I went to write in my journal about love, His name came up. I had moved to another state, but we never lost touch. I would visit and it was as though time had stood still for us. I never had to pretend with him. Well except for pretending that one time, when we laid on his bed, arms touching, listening to music that I was thinking anything other than the words "I love you" over and over again.

Him: what are you thinking?
Me: .....(iloveyouiloveyouiloveyou) I really like the string arrangement in this song (iloveyouiloveyou)
Him: Yeah.

And it never went away. We had a moment when we became lovers again. After a lengthy series of email confessions to one another we took our chances. He came up for a vacation. It was divine, strange, complicated, sweet. And short. He had to leave. I had to stay. We longed again.

I moved after a time to be closer. Told him I would take the risk if he would take a risk for me. I though he would. He thought he would. He didn't. It was not a sudden moment when I realized it would never be the way I wanted. It took me months to accept it, but I also had the moment when breathing seemed like really asking too much of me. Thanksgiving was upon us. The Thanksgiving that he had invited me to with his entire family and then uninvited me to. I sat alone in an apartment, alone in a city. My meal was approximately 8 Ding-Dongs and a gallon of milk. I curled up on the floor with a heart that hurt much, much more than my stomach. And that is saying something.

I didn't stop loving him either. But the hurt is gone and I was able to love again. And love better, because I made sure I was loved back the way I needed.

You will be okay. I know it.

meinkc said...

p.s. Do you think it means anything that I initially read the title of this post in my head as "male storm"? :)

Petunia Face said...

Ohmygod Meink! You're genius. I love it when the world aligns like that. Male storm = maelstrom, but of course!

Anonymous said...

I will never forget what you wrote: "Breathe in, breathe out, You are now two more breaths closer to something else."
Thank you

Simply Mel said...

Love is such a powerful force that can makes us feel as if we are over the moon or make our hearts break with anguished pain.

I never knew the greatness of an incredible, deep, real love until I met my husband twelve years ago. Now, I feel as if I am on top of the moon every day of my life. A blissful existence and one I thank my lucky star for each and every day.

However, before him, there was another. Another who tore my heart into pieces, then stepped on each piece crushing them into shards of despair. We were both young, but I thought madly in love. I abandoned my goals, college, and dreams for him. I gave him my everything, and then one day, he simply came to me and said, "I have found someone else who makes me happier". And he left, never to be heard from again. I was left with an apartment I couldn't afford, student loans, and credit card bills. Mostly, I was left with no self worth or care for anything in the world. I only wanted him, and I couldn't understand how someone else could make him happier when I gave him EVERYTHING! I sank into a great depression. I vowed to never open my heart up to anyone ever again. I knew I couldn't live through another heartache.

Of course, time passed. Quickly. I regained my self confidence, put a smile on my face, and realized that life was too short not to let love work its magic. The one who found something to make him happier continues to look for the next Miss Happier. A few years later, I found my Mr. Happiest, and I have never looked back.

Time does heal, and love is the greatest gift of all. Even though it can hurt like hell, it is worth throwing your heart back into the game of 'happily ever after'.

I'm sorry for YOU who hurts and aches. YOU will mend when YOU are ready. I hope your READY comes sooner than you think...

krista said...

i have been sitting on this all day. i've had my heart broken, repeatedly and by the same person. not intentionally, he's not evil. he just never chose me.
my after took years. sorry, but it's true. time. stretched like taffy and never breaking. and just when you think it can't stretch anymore, it does. there's a bit of beauty in that knowledge, the idea that pain will always stretch with you.
it may not be much, but at least its yours.
that always comforts me for some reason.
until, finally, you look down and realize you aren't attached to it anymore.
and that's when the new "before" starts.

jenny said...


thank you for posting this, and thank you to everyone who posted a story! my heart is healing from a very sad/unexpected/heartbreaking break-up and hearing that others have felt the same way really DOES make me feel better...not alone. it's funny how we can think that no one has ever in the history of the world had a broken heart like ours, and then hearing this makes me realize we are all going through the same things. i don't know why, but it helps. thanks for being so generous with your blog, and especially thank you to everyone who has shared a story. wow.

Anonymous said...

My mom crawled into bed with me and told me absolutely everyone has had their heartbroken by someone at sometime in some fashion. Every. Single. Person. She told me to cry and be sad and take a day off of work to cry and be sad. Then she told me that she always thought he was a jerk and reminded me that I never really loved him. She was right about all of it.
Did you know there's a company in Japan that gives employees under the age of 24 one break-up recovery day each year, employees between 25 and 29 two break-up recovery days and if you're over 30 you get three whole days? I guess it hurts more when you're over 30 (I think it does anyway).

Anonymous said...

hello, all.

it's YOU. the YOU Susannah wrote about. (that's me.)

i can't thank you all enough for sharing your stories, for opening your hearts in the way that you have, especially for me, a total stranger (to most of you--but some of you who have posted here actually know me, but don't know it's me...).

my story began three weeks and one day ago today. he and i had been together 4 years. happy, deep, real, true. and then he went on a mission trip to mexico. and didn't come back. the person who did come back was self-righteous, cold, rigid, and unfeeling. and ended everything in the name of Christ. said he was going to be a missionary. said he couldn't do that if i was here clinging to him when i should be clinging to God. it was disgusting. and completely opposite from the man i'd fallen in love with and had known and grown with for the past 4 years.

last night i had a breakthrough. a very good friend of his from his church contacted me. said that nobody at the church is behind what he's doing. nobody condones it. everyone is upset and concerned. everyone thinks he's behaving horribly and making big mistakes.

and so, the work begins. an intervention, perhaps. some of you may say NO! STAY AWAY! but when you love someone, and you see that something isn't right, sometimes you have to fight for it. to try.

i think of my father, who has stayed with my mother for 37 years despite her battle with schizophrenia. do you know what schizophrenia is like? it's beyond awful. it's terrifying. everyone told him to leave. but he didn't. he stayed and fought. and she is so much better now. but it was hard. but that is love. THAT is love.

i feel stronger today than i have in the past 3 weeks. i have a community of people beside and behind me. i am not alone. i am not alone.

thank you. to each of you. i wish i could hold your hands and look you in the eyes and tell you that you are angels. thank you for reaching down into yourselves and for pulling out what you could for me. a stranger.

i don't know what will happen. perhaps he's really gone--mentally, emotionally, spiritually. but i must try to fight. i will go down kicking and screaming, and i will not do it alone. because there are so many people who love him and know, deep down, that This Is Not Him. and so we love. even if it hurts. and even if the end result doesn't change. we try.

we are put on this earth to love and to be loved. that is it. everything else is a bonus.

p.s. I love you, Susannah. Truly. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

What a gorgeous post and a generous friend you are.

There was a time, five or so years ago when I thought I was losing everything at once: a partner to alcholism, a wonderful job to a broken contract, my mother to illness, and my father to anger.

I moved to be close to an old friend, one like you, who could remind me to just keep breathing. One that let me sleep on her sofa for months and finally bought a condo so I could have a room.

Now I have a place of mine own, a job I love, a patched up mother, a patched up relationship with my father, a new husband who adores me, and a baby on the way.

I don't pretend that I won't be back in that place someday. Crisis and grief come to those who are lucky enough to love - and to love strongly. And I love so many so much.

Amy said...

People may say, "Oh, you'll get over it, in time." You won't get past it, but you will weave it into your life story, it will be a chapter two pages back, then 20 pages, then the book will close and go onto a shelf.

My mom went through a horrific Leaving. She was entirely shattered. I didn't know if she'd ever be restored. She is, now. It took 8 years. She is remarkable and more true, now.

L said...

My best friend sent your blog to me yesterday and I read it today. Your post resonates so deeply with me and is beautifully written.

I am young and am experiencing my first real heartbreak- someone I wanted to have a future with. After 8 blissful, wonderful months of a relationship, my ex, out of absolutely no where, told me he was no longer in love with me. He didn't understand why he felt this way, as nothing in our relationship had changed. I was left completely broken- spending the nights at my best friend's house to escape being alone in SF, sobbing at work uncontrollably. The situation is complicated as I work with his best childhood friend- seeing her everyday is a very painful reminder. It happened 7 weeks ago. Can't eat. Can't sleep. Can't get these knots out of my stomach. The pain is constant as are the flashbacks.

Yesterday, I confirmed a suspicion from the day he broke up with me. He admitted shortly after ending our relationship that he began trying to "figure things out with his ex," who works in another country and visits twice a year. They broke up after a 5 year long distance relationship during college, due to her international job. Though I'm glad I know this truth, it is still incredibly painful and I am beginning to feel so much anger- I hate it.

He brought me into his life and his family's in a serious way. The abrupt decision was one thing, his old relationship coming back together, is another. It's very overwhelming and hard not to look back and think "this meant nothing to him." It's hard to think about taking care of myself. I know life isn't fair and love isn't fair, especially right now.

I cannot imagine how my mother made it through a divorce after 21 years.

Thank you for your post. Everyone's comments are helpful and real. Thank you thank you thank you.

Anonymous said...

beautifully written.

in love and light,

Anonymous said...

oh Susannah. I am You right now. Tears streaming down my face, hope melted away and wishing. Just wishing for that tomorrow- or maybe just a very different today. It hurts so searingly badly. It's really called a broken heart for a reason, no? And i know that the pain won't last forever, and breathing does help. But damn. On my happiest high it's hard to remember the opposite is also possible. Until I'm here, and it is so so real.
I hope your friend made it through.