This is how it happens. You’re going fall in love with the wrong person. You’re going to draw lines on a map that lead nowhere. You’re going to get hurt. You’re going to give your blood away for a year. You’re going to get no blood back.
You are going to get your heart broken.
I’m sorry if that’s not gentle. It might help to read it again in a comforting voice. Hear Morgan Freeman at your side, telling you that you are going to be torn open and emptied out like a bag of airplane peanuts that someone absentmindedly handed to a toddler. Hear him say he’s sorry about it but it’s life, you see, and scientifically speaking Life is a Bitch.
It starts small, a wobbly tooth feeling, not painful but not quite comfortable, either. It starts with not saying goodnight, with going to bed angry, with sharing your good news with somebody else first. You’ll feel it coming, like a pinch of cold on a late summer’s day, and you’ll ignore it just as easily. You’ll think there’s still time to save it. You’ll think of love like a phoenix, losing its feathers, dying, but then reborn again in soft ash, burning back to life. But love is not always a phoenix. Love is sometimes nothing more than a mean-eyed goose that bites your hand and steals your whole bag of breadcrumbs before running back into its pond and never looking back.
So lose. Let your hand be bitten, let yourself be ended by the end, finished by the finish. It’s over, you’ve lost. You are no longer in love, you’re outside of it, and no amount of banging on the door and the window and asking to be let back in will change that. You’ll try, you’ll run desperate through the stages of grief. You’ll shout and argue and bargain. I’ll be better at this, I’ll know you, you’ll know me. Like a child begging forgiveness; please, I’ll eat all my vegetables. Just please, please let me have my ice cream, too.
You’ll cry. You’ll hurt. You’ll eat a whole wheel of cheese. You’ll get a lizard. The lizard will run away. You’ll wonder what you did wrong. You’ll cut off all your hair, wanting to rid yourself of every part of you they touched. Perhaps you won’t be able to touch yourself for a while, or else you will but only when you think of them. You’ll be ashamed of this, but you’ll do it anyway. This stage of longing insists that it will last forever. It won’t. It will last just long enough for you to think that it will kill you, and if not all the way you’ll be sure that it will kill the best and ripest parts of you.
You have to know that this death is not a death at all. You have to know that what doesn’t kill you strips you to the bone, grinds you up and makes you into soup. But from that soup you’re born again. Like Jesus.
You have to know that you’ve never been in so pure a position to start over.
But how to start over? By learning to be alone, by learning to look people in the eye and see them for who they really are and not for who you wish they would be. By gritting your teeth. By changing. Changing what you believe about love. Changing what you believe about yourself. Changing what your hands reach for in the middle of the night. So stop texting, stop calling. Get down to it. Be lovely and gentle and delicate to yourself, but be tough too. Don’t let yourself make a museum of them, don’t scroll through old texts and old photographs, don’t like their Instagram posts from 2014. Don’t imagine them coming back. Don’t ask mutual friends if they’re seeing someone new. Don’t put your heart in the fire anymore.
It’s as simple as that. There’s no big secret. It’s hard until it’s not. It’s Enormous and Ruinous until suddenly it isn’t, until suddenly it’s Small and almost completely harmless. A souvenir sized pain. A smooth pebble at the bottom of a pocket.
So this is how it happens. One day you will wake up at the end of it, and you will step out of yourself and be okay. You will be happy again. You will be un-scorched and un-ruined and unburied.
This is not forever.
And the truest truth of all:
The phoenix is you.