Have no worries--Dr. D and I are just fine and dandy. I decided that I'm going to make my current project in its embryonic stage available for reading from my blog.
I'm embracing the cheese factor of writing about break ups of all kinds, so, expect some regular Breakup Story installments here. That also means that I'll be posting videos like this one. I mean, who doesn't love a good break up song?
Breakups aren’t what they used to be. We apparently now live in a time where the breakup has been replaced by the “conscious uncoupling” and “ghosting.” Breakups used to be more work and they used to have clear edges. Not so much anymore.
A good friend from high school virtually broke up with me a few years ago. It wasn’t our first breakup as friends, but it was interesting in its passive aggressiveness. She emailed me to tell me she was shutting down her Facebook page to everyone but her mother. She wanted her mother to see pictures of the grandkids. “I just don’t Facebook much,” she said. “It’s not personal, really.” This is the friendship version of “I think we should see other people.” It’s one of those statements that is said as a way to ease out of things, but it really means “screw you, I’m moving on.”
This friend has broken up with me before. We not only went to high school together, but we also went to the same college for undergrad. We didn’t hang out a lot, but I’d catch a ride home with her on occasion. When we were in high school, she’d been really worried about my spiritual and religious safety. I was hanging out with some other kids who were known to smoke pot (I didn’t until college) and who were having sex. And I had a Ouija board and a copy of the Satanic Bible that I purchased from the mall in Little Rock on a band trip. She was actually with me when I bought it. Her attempt to reform me included recommending books like Mike Warnke’s The Satan Seller and trying to get me hooked on listening Christian rock. I was entertained by the book and I was lukewarm at best to the music. I kind of want to buy a copy of that book again, as I’m pretty sure what I found edgy and scary in the late 1980s would come across as far more amusing now.
We’d had a lull in our friendship once college started, but I was riding home with her one weekend and paying for the gas, so we met up in her dorm room to talk about what time we were leaving and where we were meeting later that week. She used me as her confessor that afternoon. She wouldn’t really look at me as she unburdened herself. I think it started with her acknowledging that the rumors in our senior year of high school that she had offered herself up to one of the more popular boys was true. She had offered him a ride home one afternoon and propositioned him.
“I wasn’t interested in a relationship. I just wanted to have sex with him.”
She’d been a virgin at the time, most likely the last remaining virgin in our small group of friends. I sort of understood her reasoning. I mean, he had a girlfriend so she thought he’d at least not want to get serious. And, he was a really nice guy. So nice that he thanked her politely and turned her down. The story still got out, though.
That day in her dorm room, she went on unburdening, unable to stop herself. She feared she had a problem. Since we’d started college she was drinking and having a lot of sex, including at least one interlude in some guy’s parents’ toolshed where she mentioned standing on a shovel during the act. Even more than 25 years later, I’m still not really sure how that worked, but I am no less fascinated now by the idea than I was as I listened to her that afternoon. The stories kept coming all the way home that next weekend, and I felt closer to her than ever before. I also think that was the last time we really spent any real time together.
A few years later, I went to her first wedding. I think I had just started graduate school, so it’d been a good three years or more since that weekend of closeness. She got my phone number from my mom and called me to tell me she was getting married. She wanted my mailing address. I went to the wedding with my then husband who you’ll meet later on. It turned out they knew each other. They’d met in ROTC and gone on exactly one date. On the way to a Razorback game, his car caught on fire. Apparently that was the only heat that night, as they never went out again.
Her first marriage was relatively short. I sensed that maybe it was like when she asked the clean-cut nice guy to deflower her—she thought the guy she married would tame her somehow and she could turn a corner, never to shag someone in their parents’ toolshed again. Instead, he was a bit of an absentee husband, leaving her home alone as he went off deer hunting. We lost contact after the wedding, but a couple of years later I heard through small town gossip she was divorced. At some point I ran into her, probably at Walmart, and she looked exhausted and after quick “hi, how are yous” she rolled her cart away from me as quickly as she could without seeming rude.
Years later, I moved back to Arkansas and was living in North Little Rock. My wife and I were in the local butcher shop on a Friday afternoon picking up something to throw on the grill and there she was. She had remarried and had a couple of kids—sons who were in elementary school. She smiled her wonderful smile and we chatted, both careful not to give anything away or say anything that her kids might ask about later. Over the next couple of years, we would later run into each other at the Saturday farmers’ market now and again. There was even an evening of dinner and catching up with another person from our high school circle one night, and I felt like our friendship could start over. We’d evolved. We were finally happy and confident in who we were as individuals so now we could be real friends.
And then she came out with the email informing me that “I’m just going to use Facebook for family.” I think I emailed her a time or two after and, of course, she never responded back. I wasn’t even trying to be just friendly—her husband was a house inspector and I was trying to throw some work his way as we were selling our house and moving for residency. I'd been ghosted.
I think I prefer breakups to what we have now. We’re all so digitally entangled that we can cyberstalk old lovers and friends. There aren’t clear boundaries anymore.
The verb “break” is abrupt and, to me, shocking. That term “breakup” seems contradictory to me. Even when I know that it is for the best that a couple breaks up, I always grieve over it. When I hear that a couple I know has split, I always have this horrible feeling in my gut and a wave of paranoia. After all, if they broke up maybe we’re next. Even though my current relationship shows no cracks or signs of breaking, if I hear that two unbearable people I don’t even like are splitting, I get unsettled.
Even so, I still prefer real breakups to the passive aggressive alternatives we have now. There is something final and clear about a breakup. Lying to someone that you’re taking a break from Facebook and blocking them leaves them in a nebulous spot. I’d far rather be called a chickenshit for dumping someone (who has broken up with me twenty times to my one "we're done"--you'll hear that story too) than being in some ghosting limbo where the response is “Oh, I didn’t get your text” or “Your email must have gone in my spam folder.”
Grow a pair, people.
Ideally, I want to embrace the breakup as positive. It certainly has been for me, probably every time I’ve had a breakup, even if I didn’t want it to happen. If we think of the word, the idea is that you break to improve—the “up” part of the word indicates that upward progression, despite the downward progression that it feels like. Perhaps breakups are like broken bones in the sense that once we’re over the initial shock we’re stronger than we were before (cue the video again).
Maybe this fear is due to a lack of familiarity. I’m not only a serial monogamist, but I also come from parents who were still married after 56 years. The only thing that truly parted them was my father’s death, but they are still married. I would have no problems with my mother finding someone new to include in our family, but I don’t know that it’s in the cards.
My parents’ generation was really the last one not prone to divorce. Like all couples, they weathered rough patches, sure. And my parents spent many weeks and even months apart, first due to my father’s military deployments, and then later when he worked in the oil fields overseas in Brazil and the Sudan. Maybe that old adage of absence making the heart grow fonder was partially at play, but in their later years before my father died, I think they were closer than ever. They had time to know themselves again and to know each other. Watching them together in those last twenty years or so brought to life for me the stories she still sometimes tells about their young married life. They truly loved each other and, perhaps more importantly, they liked each other.
I’m sure that my mother’s family background also had something to do with her views on marriage. Even though my mother is a lapsed Catholic, she still has a sort of Catholic sensibility about marriage in terms of it’s permanence. That sense of permanence seems to have carried over to her brothers, as well; my uncle Lloyd is still married to his one and only bride Joan, and my uncle Larry died still married to my aunt Gay.
My father, born in 1934, was actually the child of divorce. Apparently the split was incredibly contentious and there was a huge custody battle between my grandmother and her tenant farming ex-husband. My grandmother was eventually murdered, although not in connection with my grandfather. The violence and contention, however, that I associate with that relationship haunts me, though, probably because the details are so murky for me. My contact with my father’s family when I was younger was minimal and is nearly non-existent in my adulthood, so I wasn’t well-exposed to divorce as a child.
That’s not to say that we didn’t know any people who were on a second or third marriage, but as a kid I just saw the current marriage the adults were on. People didn’t talk freely about their previous marriages as we do now. I wasn’t an ear-witness to divorce stories. I can’t identify any of my grade school friends who came from divorced families (which I prefer to the phrases “broken family” or “broken home”).
Despite the long marriages in our parents’ generation on the Shannon side of the family, all of the kids that resulted from those marriages are pretty familiar with divorce. My sisters and I each all divorced at least once, and most of Larry and Gay’s seven kids have experienced divorce. Lloyd and Joan’s kids haven’t married.
Even though I'm working to embrace that positivity of breaking UP, though, breakups upset me with their abruptness and rudeness, no matter how evident it is that they are inevitable and for the best. This collection is all about my examination and reflection on many different breakups I’ve had over the years—breakups of romantic relationships, of friendships, of legal relationships, and even with concepts and ideals. There are some breakdowns detailed here as well.
In the upcoming essays, I’ve changed some names to protect identities, although many of these stories are shared by others. People who know me will be able to identify people, regardless of the names I use. All I can say here is that these are my versions of the stories as I experienced them. My lens is a particular one, but I don’t think it’s completely inaccurate for other people, but it's accurate for me.