Looking back at what I now know to be the heinous deflowering of my complacency, I have to admit that things could have been worse. My boyfriend of five years managed to skulk around the house until March before running off with the woman he’d been cheating on me with. That left me with only a few weeks of winter alone in the Vermont home we’d bought together. There was plenty of wood left to burn, and the roof was holding up in all but the most laughable spots. I was going to be ok!
And in truth, those first weeks drifted by in a not unpleasant pharmaceutical stupor. In brief intervals between sleep, I went about the necessary business of throwing his clothes out the window, shredding his mail, and deleting him from family photos. Before long, my revenge fantasies took on a predictable cast, and he showed no sign of acknowledging the pit of despair his world had become without me. It was time to move on.
With spring came new life blossoming from the six inches of water in my basement. By now I had discovered the solitary pleasures of box wine, and the hours of mopping went by like so much Sisyphean busy work. Why, this was just like napping! Of course, what goes up must come down, and what comes down is probably going to just lie there at the bottom of the stairs, moaning. Eventually, through the clarity of alcoholism, I came face to face with the fact that I was a middle-aged woman on a Saturday night with diminishing savings, a half-assed career, and no romantic prospects. And hardly any wine left.
Never one to say “it can’t be done” while drunk, I dug the peanut butter out from under my nails and pedaled my bike into town. The stars were out! The wind rushed across my face! This was what pretending to be alive was all about!
This leaving-the-house business reminded me that in my former life as someone who did not weep while grocery shopping, I made conversation with other humans. Given that several of them were lurking on the sidewalks avoiding eye contact, this seemed a fine opportunity to practice my atrophied social skills. As bad luck would have it, one was a man who had once claimed to have read Anna Karenina in its entirety, a feat that clearly made him my only plausible mate. Life seemed awash with gravy indeed as he strolled into the bad-bar-band bar and I inched toward him. We exchanged labored smiles. He offered me a drink. The deal seemed sealed.
But after nodding in my direction for twenty minutes or so, he zipped up his not-just-another-sissy-copyeditor motorcycle jacket and made for the door. Like an abandoned puppy, I trailed him, at which point he turned to me with a look equal parts exasperation and terror. “It seems that you may have certain feelings toward me,” he said. Hmm, feelings is a mighty big word, Mr. Whatever Your Name Is. “And I must tell you, they can’t be reciprocated.” What? Why? No penis? “Listen, why don’t we go to my house and talk?” Ooh, yes! I want to hear more about my inadequacy! More and more!
As I steered myself home, passing the love nest where my ex and his bride-to-be were no doubt engaged in savage knife fights over wallpaper swatches, I realized that all possibilities for happiness had eluded me. There was only one thing left to do. I ran into the house, ripped open the wine box, and suckled it like the abandoned runt I had become. And I sobbed. Kicked. Threw stuff. Face down on the floor, my slip-dress coated in cat hair, I wailed to the universe to stop it, stop this, stop doing this to me!
And I might have lain there all night but for my neighbors, who overheard my distress and, being warm-hearted country folk, called the cops on me. Opening the door in the most gracious, raffle-ticket-buying manner I could muster, I looked up at the officers as they stroked their billy clubs and drilled me regarding my untoward behavior.
“Your neighbors reported a disturbance?” Um, apparently. “They say there’s been screaming and pounding?” Mmm-hmm. “Ma’am, had you been drinking when you had this tantrum?” Tantrum? I considered my answer while they shouldered their flashlights and scoured the house for headless torsos or whatnot. Satisfied that I was no more a danger to others than I was to myself, they left to write up a report for tomorrow’s front page.
Well, this is the lowest of the low, I thought. Unfortunately, in the words of many a single freelance journalist with no master’s degree, just when you think things can’t possibly get any darker, some damn idiot forgets to pay the electric bill.
I wish I could say that, as the months dragged on, life cheered up. I spotted Anna Karenina boy ignoring me while mangling a plate of fried dough at a local fair, which neatly sealed whatever cracks remained in that particular coffin. My ex and his pugilistic concubine are, as I write, honeymooning in a tropical paradise known for sudden tidal surges and poisonous snakes. I’ve been dumped by a man who likened his decision to stop dating me with his resolution to quit smoking, among other nasty habits, and by another who thought a test drive might help him decide whether I was worth leaving his children for (I wasn’t).
But I’ve also single-handedly restored and refitted a houseful of storm windows. I’ve stacked six cords of firewood while fending off spiders the size of grapefruit. I’ve figured out that when cars stop running they might need oil, and that taking sinks apart is far, far easier than putting them back together.
I’ve even come to understand, sometimes for hours at a stretch, that a lover who lies is nobody’s prize. That all the compromise and kitchen sex in the world won’t help you win a game whose rules changed while you were looking the other way. That arguing with someone who’s already left the building takes up a lot of time that could be better spent learning to parasail, or saving the Siberian tiger, or writing vindictive little exposés on your blog.
In other words, things don’t happen for a reason. They just happen. Then, if we’re lucky, we get to figure out what happens next.