Her away message went up first.
He quickly followed suit. Ten minutes later, two consecutive door slams came bustling from the computer speakers. He signed off. She signed off right after. Slam. Slam.
She’d typed the words “It’s over” to me and I knew that she and him had just been huddled up in their own corners of their bedrooms, crying and breaking things off in the most delicate of ways possible. Her fingers maybe curled and anxious, tangled in the wires of the rotary phone. Tears strewn all over this portable, hoping his mother wouldn’t pick up on the other line and hear him pleading for the girl to take him back. Please. Rethink it. Baby. I love you. Baby? Baby?
These were the rhythmic motions of a high school breakup before the days of text messaging, cell phone plans, driver’s licenses that let you hurl yourself into the car and drive across town just to stand outside the basement door and wait for the other one to prop it open and let you in. You could hold each other for 10 minutes and say nothing at all and try to convince your heart– your 17-year-old heart– that it would never need to let this one go.
One day I’ll get to tell my children that there used to be legitimate sounds of a front door slamming when someone would sign off the Internet for the night. One day, their mouths might halt wide open to learn that you used to have to listen to the dial up sound on the computer, never fully knowing if you’d get online that night because of too many busy signals. The most glorious word you could hear in those days was “Welcome.” You were on. You were online.
One day I’ll tell them that away messages used to read like Facebook statuses and that on the day my best friend’s heart got mashed up and served like applesauce, I waited for her to list “single” in her AOL profile before scanning the internet for Kelly Clarkson lyrics. I’ll tell them I took those lyrics, copy and pasted them into a word document, and dyed them all sorts of funky colors before printing them out. I sat there– before this tiny tin box– and I decoupaged the lyrics of that ballad all over it. Long, skinny strips of lyrics making that tin box seem not so naked anymore:
I’ll spread my wings / And I’ll learn how to fly / Though it’s not easy to tell you goodbye
I gotta take a risk / Take a chance / Make a change / And breakaway
I used to think those little lines of pop girl wisdom were all the words she’d ever need to read.
I thought breaking away was just that– taking a chance, making a change, and learning how fly. If you’d told me it was more than that, my 15-year-old heart would have never been able to take it.
I didn’t know that ties didn’t cut without making a mess. I didn’t know that breakups are quite literal– in the sense that sometimes you feel everything inside of you crunching and breaking. I didn’t know the lines of that song, the one that won’t stop flooding the airwaves, was really probably true, “Only know you love her when you let her go… and you let her go.”
One day I’ll tell my children that the sound of a real door slamming will hurt them more. The slamming of a door that isn’t automated or a sound effect that tells you when your buddies have signed off for the night. I’ll tell them I first heard that car door slam when I was 19 years old. Facebook was a new thing. Away messages were starting to become the “passé” thing.
I knew that I loved him. I suddenly knew that loving someone isn’t always enough. For a moment I prayed the door might never slam. And then I prayed for the resolve to know the truth: there was no other way.
It was after I reversed my car down the steep driveway, after I was driving away, that I noticed the two yellow lines on the roadside for the first time. I could see them before me. I could see them in the rearview mirror. They didn’t touch. They were going in the same direction but they didn’t touch.
I parked my 1999 green CRV on the side of an abandoned road because I didn’t want to go home and fall asleep without good night messages. It was two in the morning. And, as dumb as it seems when it’s not playing out before you in a scene from the Notebook, I laid in the road and got bits of concrete stuck in my hair. And the moment didn’t feel romantic. And no one laid down beside me and held my hand.
I sat up eventually, tucked my legs into criss-cross position and laid my hand down on the road. My hand fit right between those two yellows lines painted on the roadside. My hand was like a bridge to those two, bright yellows lines that were parallel, parallel, parallel.
Honestly, I felt like a loser in that moment.
I’d just gotten my heart-broken. I’d just made the first not-so-clean break. And all I could think to do was lay down in the middle of a road I knew no cars would come down and just be still. Just be still in knowing that I made the right choice. Just be still in knowing that even though I made the right decision, it didn’t mean my insides would not stay yelling, Come back. Please come back. I can fix this. I promise I can be better.
I felt like a loser. But it would take that. It would take being the loser to find everything else. It would take losing to find that we were made to be losers. We were made to lose: friends, lovers, ourselves. Not always, but sometimes. It’s a natural process in life. It hurts like hell but it happens just as quickly as strange little reptiles shed their skin and cocoons get broken and we stop clinging to “what might have been.”
It takes losing to find out you couldn’t fix it. Find out that you aren’t some supreme fixer upper who sits in the clouds and restores the world with happiness. It’s not your job to make someone better. A relationship– love, or whatever you call it– isn’t a reason to play doctor to the person you kiss long and slowly at night. A relationship isn’t laying there, curled up in your corner of the bed, hoping you can change them. We, humans, we change on our own. Life changes us. Whispers change us. But only when we are ready. And only then.
It takes losing to find out you that mythical characters like Hansel and Gretel were actually quite smart. They were strategic. Diesel, little German children. They left breadcrumbs scattered all around the woods. And while it seems like nothing, it probably meant everything when it came time to trace their way back to a place called home.
It takes losing to find out that sometimes things just don’t work. There’s no rhyme or reason beyond that. Someone– somewhere out there– once sat at a drawing board and decided that on every little roadway they would paint two, bright yellow lines. And they’d have to keep coming back to refresh those lines with new paint. But the color would always be yellow. And those lines, they would go a lot of places. They would certainly weave and bob and push into a lot of new places. But they would never touch. They would never cross paths. And maybe there was no reason at all for that beyond that just being the way things go sometimes.
It takes losing to find that maybe we’ll never know the reason why those two yellow lines never touch, but does it really even matter? I guess making them overlap and become one isn’t nearly as important as the truth: though they never touch, the two always seem to get to exactly where they need to be.
Since some Mondays are worse than Sallie Mae, I created a little breakfast club/secret society to help kick Mondays off right. You are reading me right. Every Monday. Me. You. We roll out via email and your morning brew. I promise to meet you with only the good stuff. Highly recommended for movers, shakers, and original gangsters. No rules. You feeling me, boo?