I’m Alone Now, and This Is How I Got There


A meditation on love and divorce

by Laurel Fitzpatrick

woman shaking head in front of a wall

You try to listen. Your friends, your mother, the people who have known you for decades, for longer than this relationship has existed, say something else is going on. They say words you refuse to comprehend—drugs and affair and alcoholic. You say: If it’s anything, it’s the drugs. He would never have an affair. We’ve talked about that. He would never do that. Not to me.

You feel your heart crack on your birthday. He tells you he is not sure this will work. You ask what he means. He gets annoyed and asks if you are going to dinner or not, because the reservation is in fifteen minutes. It is the day you turn thirty. You feel less like thirty; you feel younger, more fragile, sick, unsteady. You try not to cry through dinner. You try to smile at him, to appease him. You cannot taste the food. You cannot feel your fingers against the metal of the fork. You stare at the floor and bite your lip until it bleeds on the inside and you say nothing for fear that what will come out will sound like an animal dying.

Happy birthday.

You lie awake at night wondering where he is, why he hasn’t come home. In the four years you have lived together, he has always come home, always told you where he was, and you always believed him. He has always been considerate, timely. Around midnight, you get a text: Too drunk to drive. You text back: Okay. Thanks for letting me know. Even though it’s not really okay and you don’t feel thankful. You try to give him space, because that is what he said he needed and you want him to be happy. And so badly, you want to trust that he will be back, wholehearted.

you keep trying…

You sit in couples counseling, crying. He sits stone-faced. Half present. Not even. In the waiting room, he paced for ten minutes, threatening to leave. You sat silently, slumped, making yourself small and then smaller still. Don’t leave. Please don’t leave. Your heart pleads, but you say nothing. You stare at the floor. You smile. You ask if he wants anything—water, something to eat—and you hand him your water bottle. He drinks the last few sips and hands it back to you, empty.

You lose weight: 112 pounds, 110 pounds, 105 pounds. You weigh less. You become less. You cannot eat. You feel nauseous, sick all the time. You drink coffee to get you through the day. You stare at the ceiling, periodically checking the clock throughout the night. Looking at the scale, you wonder if you’ll weigh less than a hundred pounds soon. You have not weighed that little since eighth grade. You wonder if you will eventually evaporate, implode to nothingness. Weightless. You imagine floating above the world. You imagine you are stardust.

You go away. You come back. He is home. He has put a guitar in the living room. He is cleaning the house. His alarm clock is on the side table on his side of the bed. He decides to sleep in your bedroom. You lie still all night. You don’t dare to move; you take shallow breaths. You listen to his breath. You hope he is sleeping. You think that, if he can sleep soundly here, he’ll want to sleep with you. You think that if you are perfectly inert, he’ll see you again. He’ll come back, wholehearted. You wonder if this is the last time you will ever lie beside him. Dimly, somewhere in the back of your weary mind, a thought begins to form: You realize you can’t see him anymore. His edges have become blurry, unfamiliar. You hold your hand in front of your eyes in the darkness and you realize you cannot see yourself either. You have lost your sight. You touch the place where you know your wedding ring rests. It is loose on your bony finger.

…until you can’t try anymore

You don’t ask questions. You climb a mountain alone. Afterward, you visit a friend for coffee and conversation, and she says that you should do the things you want to do. You manage a smile, because she has been through this, too. You know she is right. You try, but you cannot remember what it is you want to do. Even as you gaze out at the earth from the top of that mountain and into the eyes of dear friends, into all the things you love most, you are shriveling like a grape in the sun.

You almost feel relief when you find the notes. It is Easter. He hasn’t come home. You had asked him to spend Easter with you. Your husband had responded, “I’ll be around, so yeah, maybe.” You don’t know where he is, where he has been. You have called. No answer. You wonder if he is hurt, if he is alive. You open his work bag. You’ve opened the bag a million times to retrieve a used Tupperware, a pen, a dollar. You pull out a pile of Post-It notes sitting at the top. The air leaves your chest all at once, but quietly. You feel dizzy. Last night was goddamn magic. You cannot stop reading this note. There are others, of course. But you read those five words over and over and over, hands shaking. You call your best friend. You call your mother. You call your father. They knew this was coming. They knew it months before your heart could. You call his phone again. He does not answer again. When he pulls into the driveway, you walk outside and say: we need to talk. At least you finally know the person you are speaking to.

You say all the things you think you should say about forgiveness. You try to be as kind as you can. You feel numb, and you wonder if you should feel angry. You eat dinner together. Like you will be friends. He leaves a week later. You lie on the bathroom floor, sobbing. He kisses your forehead. You don’t know if you should scrub your skin until it’s raw or never wash it again. You wash it. The night before, you stroked his hair as he cried, but he did not stroke your hair. And you were crying, too. When you hear his car pull out and you know that he is finally gone, you get up off the floor and drive to a yoga class. You spread your arms and legs wide. You take up space. You take a deep breath for the first time in months. Years, maybe, if you are being honest with yourself. But you are not yet ready to be that honest with yourself.

and then you exist again

You drive south down the highway until it’s warm. Then you drive east until you’ve reached the farthest point you can reach, where the road is enveloped by the Atlantic. You park. You slide from your car. You climb the dunes. You hear the waves. You collapse into the sand, exhausted, encapsulated in a sorrowful soul. The sand is soft and cool, and you watch as the sun sets and the sky turns pink and red and then purple and the darkest black-blue. You watch by yourself as the stars appear, singular and then en masse.

The moonlight glimmers on the surface of the turbulent salt waters. You hold your hand in front of your face. You see its outline. You count four fingers. No rings. A thumb. When you touch the sand, you feel the grains with your fingertips, soft and cool and gritty.

Laurel Fitzpatrick

Laurel is a teacher, runner, yogi, and ice cream enthusiast. She loves the outdoors, has been married and (almost) divorced, and believes in love in all its forms. She is a New Englander through and through, and is currently transitioning from one version of herself to another.

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  • Jessica

    This made me take deep breaths and hope for better for and from all of my people.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Abby

    This is why getting married terrifies me, the utterly real possibility that you can lose yourself in the devastation of separation.

    This was beautifully written, you’re incredible.

    • Danielle

      This can happen in the break-up of a long-term committed relationship, even if you’re not married. The legal stuff will be different, but the feelings can be the same.

      • toomanybooks

        I’d be scared of the legal stuff alone! ?

      • Abby

        An excellent point. Especially because it’s the emotional turmoil that I fear the most.

        • idkmybffjill

          May I recommend the book Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser?

          I read it during my worst break up and it kind of changed my life. Basically all about growing and changing from hard times.

          I think the emotional devastation of losing a relationship can be so scary and daunting, but having lived through that in an LTR (though not a marriage, gratefully), I sort of think it shaped me really positively in a way that made me stop fearing the what ifs of “if we break up” and allowed me to be open to the “what if we don’t break up” that led me to my (brand new, admittedly) happy marriage!

          It kind of helped me see all the good in being broken, and allowed me to find such euphoric joy in rising from the ashes, so to speak. I still feel that if my marriage were to end, while I would be devastated, I would be able to get back up.

          • Abby

            You’re a saint…I’m downloading it to my nook as I type this.

          • idkmybffjill

            Oh yay! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

          • sofar

            Haven’t read that book, but you are right about the euphoric joy of rising from the ashes. We don’t get a lot of opportunities to be “re-born” in life, but I feel like my last break-up (after a four year relationship), as horrible as it was, allowed me to start anew and start from scratch. Which, once I got past the hell of the break up, was a really exciting thing.

            A close friend is going through a break-up from a super unhealthy relationship, and I just want to tell her, “Hey, you get to burn it all down and start anew!” But she does not want to hear that from me. I will recommend her this book.

          • idkmybffjill

            Getting over that break up is something that I think of under my proudest accomplishments. The book helped me when I wasn’t ready to end it fully, and then again when I knew there was no going back!

            I’ll never forget the moment I knew I was totally me again. I’d had to move home with my parents, and I was moving on my own to Chicago (where he and I had planned to live together). I had all my possessions in my car with just my dog and I. And the tremendous joy I felt! My god! The only more joyful moment I’ve ever had was walking down the aisle.

          • sofar

            I love how you put that — the second-most joyful moment to walking down the aisle. We celebrate unions and relationships so much in this society, and we think of break-ups as failures. But ending a toxic relationship and moving on is SUCH an accomplishment.

          • idkmybffjill

            Totally!! And it was a moment that was totally mine. It was alone and quiet and didn’t belong to anyone else, I wept really happy tears knowing “I am okay and I can do this!”.

            To be perfectly honest, sometimes I feel a little bad for the people I know who’ve gotten happily married before going through something like that. Not that I wish them ill in any way, it’s so awesome that they got it right so early! But it was just such a tremendous feeling!

          • Danielle

            One more voice chiming in: I was also burned to the ground after the breakup of a 4-year long relationship (and engagement). It was awful and terrible and there were days I could barely stand up. But I rebuilt my life one day at a time and became stronger and more *myself*. It was one of the hardest times in my life but I wouldn’t exchange it for anything.

          • I was thinking about this and remembered how it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I had to start over when it happened to me. In my case I had no say in the end of my marriage, so that lack of agency and control, combined with the love I still felt for my spouse, made any suggestion of new starts almost nonsensical and impossible to fathom. I was reeling, unmoored from everything I thought was sure about my life, and I did not want an of what happened. And about a week after my life exploded, someone told me something about continuing the new chapter of my life solo, and it was just so terribly sad. It took a long time to see the positive that came after the loss.

  • Sara

    This was beautiful and devastating. I wish you nothing but peace moving forward.

  • Cleo

    Amazing. Beautiful and devastating. You’re so brave. And this: “You take a deep breath for the first time in months. Years, maybe, if you are being honest with yourself. But you are not yet ready to be that honest with yourself.”

    Right in the gut.

  • AP

    This feels so, so familiar. Thank you for sharing. <3

  • A.

    This is so difficult, yet so important to read. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • idkmybffjill

    “You drive south down the highway until it’s warm. Then you drive east until you’ve reached the farthest point you can reach, where the road is enveloped by the Atlantic.”

    There’s something so cathartic about driving after going through something so awful. Just being on your own and able to guide your path, being able to literally move forward. Thank you for this piece, it’s gorgeous.

  • Deirdre

    Thank you. I’m in the middle of all of this right now. Alcoholism, missing for days, inappropriate relationships, the endless weigh loss – all of it. Plus a newly-minted one-year-old. It’s good to know I’m not alone and that I’ll survive.

    • Danielle

      I’m so sorry. Wishing you (and your baby) all the strength and love in the world ???

    • Jay Fitz

      you (and the boy) deserve better. seek it.

    • You will survive and come out better on the other end. It’s a long, hard road, but it leads to a better place. Just think, one step, one minute then one hour at a time…. You deserve better.

  • lady brett

    <3

  • Just incredible. Thank you.

  • mmmmmel

    Wow. This is amazing. Thank you.

  • Jay Fitz

    I read this a second time. I did not know. But I know the hurt. I do. Life is better on the other side, once you reach it.

  • Laurel, you beautifully expressed your feeling and journey so far through this. Sending you healing thoughts and strength for the long journey ahead. It’s like others have said…a chance for rebirth, life 2.0. Probably not a new beginning you ever wished for, but nevertheless, it’s what you’ve been handed, and all we can do is do the best we can with what life hands us. We can control how these things impact us. Do they make us a grey-faced person or do they allow us to dive into life determined to slowly work to make our life the best we can, after we rebuild from ashes? You can do it… So glad you are now breathing deeply and taking up space….

    • Laurel Fitzpatrick

      As the person who wrote this essay, thanks you for this lovely comment — and to everyone else for their lovely comments. I’d say, having gotten through the breaking down process and having moved into the building up phase (some days = better than others), rebirth is a wonderful analogy. We have relatively few chances in life to recreate ourselves and few opportunities for such profound growth. This level of transition can be very painful and hard. While I would never wish the experience of divorce or loss on anyone, it can offer you a new lens, renewed strength and purpose, and can be an invitation to envision and recreate with a sense of intentionality that I, for one, did not have prior to this experience. Love to all of you…on this day of all days!

      And also…VOTE! :)

      • Glad you are in the rebuilding phase now. I found that for me, within the general phases/trajectory of healing (deep grief and acceptance of my new reality/rebuilding) were cycles or waves of grief, etc., and that the process was more cyclical that I had expected. Thankfully though, with time, when the pain/grief resurfaced, triggered by a comment/place/event/memory/etc., it would be a little less intense and last a little less time. The pain became less raw, but the grief continued to boomerang back unexpectedly here and there for a long while. But it eventually feels like it’s in the rear-view mirror instead of front and center, and that’s such a relief when that happens.

        Thanks again for sharing your experience!

        • Laurel

          Oh yes! It is very cyclical. And I don’t anticipate ever feeling completely apathetic about the experience. But you’re right. It grows more dull with time and, I’ve found that if you can sit with the pain and discomfort and live it and acknowledge it’s rawness, you can start to process and move forward and learn and grow. Not easy. At all. But real growth may never be easy, I’m learning. I expect the renewed sense of ease may come in moments as time passes.

  • Kelsey

    Sending so many good thoughts your way. I am sorry you had to go through this.

  • Kate

    It gets better. You are a beautiful speck on our pale blue dot. In the grand scheme of life and the universe, this is a small part of your story. You can do it. You are better. It hurts now but you are here. You are with us. You are the universe experiencing itself. Nobody can ever take that away from you. Live big, regardless of circumstance. Know that you are loved, by those close to you and by all of us.

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