I know I need to sleep, know it in the basic instinctual way like having to breathe, eat, blink, and everything else that it takes to keep your heart beating and your brain functioning. But I just can’t seem to do it; sleep. All night my eyes remain open and I find things to do. Hours spent watching movies I’ve already seen without really watching them, reading books whose endings I know, and scrolling through newspapers, blogs, and social media. I am so tired and I need to sleep but my eyes stay open, like their being held apart and, really, I know why: I’m afraid of sleeping, afraid of dreaming of you, afraid of waking up alone in my bed and remembering that you’re gone, really gone. I’ll reach for my phone, an ingrained habit, to text you or call and then think; no, I can’t, he’s gone and we don’t speak. Then the pain hits and I sit there, under my covers, for ten, fifteen minutes, until I have swallowed back the tears and repeated my new mantra at least fifty times; get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, go to work, eat lunch, go to work, go home, shower, make dinner, feed the cat, study, and go to sleep. It is almost three am but I am not asleep. Today I failed.
Some nights when I can’t sleep, this night, words come unbidden. It’s things I’d say to you, things I’d say to my friends, thing I’d say to my therapist, things I’d say to anyone willing to listen and capable of understanding. I don’t think that person exists, you used to be that person and you’re gone so I choke down the words. Most nights they eventually fade away, swallowed down with the sobs and tears I refuse to shed, and then I can drift into this sleep-wake state where my eyes are closed and I’m disconnected from the world but I am still aware that I am lying in my bed in the apartment we got together surrounded by the furniture we put together in the bedroom whose walls we painted togetherm but you’re not here. I have to always be aware of this because if I forget for even an instance then I’ll dream of you, dream of us. And that is so much worse than being awake and knowing you’re gone.
I tell myself that I am ungrateful and pathetic and that there are millions of people who have it worse. My heart was broken, but no one I love is dead. You walking out on me, exiting my life without so much as a wave, is not as bad as others have it. “It could be worse, other people have it worse” has been my mantra since I was small and missing my mother, who lived in a different country, and wishing that my father or grandmother or someone loved me. I would remind myself it could be worse, that at least I had food, water, books, toys, and everything else that people needed. “You don’t need love”, I’d whisper to myself in the darkness of my bedroom.
Some mornings I wake up and I know, deep down to my very soul (if we have one), that I just can’t…not this day. I know I need to slow down, take a break, check out, but I don’t. Instead, I tap into some unknown well of inner strength and determination and force myself to get up, get dressed, go to work, and do everything I do every day again. Of course those days I am a nightmare. Everything reaches me through a dense fog and all my words come out in a harsh bitchy tone that lets everyone else know how unwelcome their presence is.
Those are the days when the panic starts to rise; by midday it’s clawing at my throat, tightening my chest, restricting my breaths to shallow gasps. The tears burn at the corners of my eyes and my mind is racing while my body moves through a thick slog. Reality recedes and the only thing left are my thoughts and the world I can build from it. I am in a bubble…floating…a bubble of pain and grief but in the center is me and around me is a thick wall I’ve constructed of meaningless clichés to get me through the day. If I ignore it long enough, the pain and loneliness, it’ll go away.
Anger is the easiest emotion to process; much easier than sadness. If I let myself feel sadness then I end up writing things like this, instead of working or researching or completing tasks on the never-ending list of “productive” things I need to do. Things that, if I do, will help me get away from here, from this place we used to inhabit together. If I get away I never have to see you again and that’s the only thing I can look forward to…erasing you. I can’t stand another awkward moment where we cross paths but I refuse to make eye contact because if I do, if I acknowledge that you exist and you left, you chose to leave, then I will fall apart and I can’t. I’m too poor to allow myself to fall apart. I need to work to pay bills, to pay the over-priced therapist that helps me get through each week with some semblance of sanity. It’s bad enough I live in a mausoleum of our memories, that Facebook insists on showing my memories of us every single morning! The pain, the real and true knowledge that loving you was not enough, that four years together amounts to nothing, that you drove away as if I were some stranger…that pain cannot inhabit the same space I do. The ghost of you is more than enough.