woman in wedding dress
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An eight-step approach to pulling yourself together.
Step 1: Get dumped.

It was November 1, All Saints' Day, my calendar told me. I woke up at 8 A.M., took my dogs for a walk around the ranch, came home, did a little writing, and decided to go into town to pick up a few groceries and get the mail. I kissed Randy, my fiancé, goodbye and asked him if I could get anything for him in town. He said no, but I intended to pick up some Gosar's organic Thai sausages for dinner, his favorite.

There had been some tension between us that summer around his kids' visit and my teaching and travel schedule, but we had just had two great weekends in a row, and I was pretty sure we were getting back on track, talking about our wedding that was only eight months away. I took my letters to the post office, picked up the sausages, drank a latte, then headed home. I was gone from the house approximately one hour and 15 minutes.

When I walked in, I wasn't aware that anything had happened. I figured Randy was downstairs working. I'm still not sure what tipped me off, but at some point my heart started beating fast, and time started to take on that freeze-frame quality it does when the mind is just figuring out that the bad thing has happened and the body is getting ready to grieve.

I opened the door to the basement and saw that Randy's desk had been cleared. My heart got louder in my ears, and those small voices, the ones that belong to my younger selves, started up the way they always have. Like when the truck driver came to the door carrying the body of my first puppy, or I heard my dad's voice one morning on my answering machine—way too early—telling me to call him at the hospital right away, or when my best friend, Sally, called to say her lump was malignant. "No, no, no" is all the voices say, but over and over, "No no no, no no, no no."

I ran to the bedroom, opened the closet, and saw that nearly all of Randy's clothes were gone. I ran to the garage and knew, by this time, that I would not find his car.

Right about then my neighbor Joe pulled up, wanting to make small talk about the horses I keep for him during the summer.

Even now, I'm not sure why I didn't tell him what was happening, why I just stood there trembling, no doubt white as a sheet, trying to hold up my end of a pleasant conversation. I think it's a child-of-alcoholics response: the old "What? Something wrong? There's nothing wrong here at all!" routine.

In the middle of Joe's visit I saw the note leaning up against my purse, and while Joe talked on I picked it up and read it.

Four lines, saying nothing. Saying "Don't try to call or write." Saying "I really did love you. Randy."

If I were the type of woman who got the vapors, I would have gotten the vapors right then. What I did instead was focus my mind on the story's most bizarre detail: There is only one road in and out of my ranch. Which means if Randy hadn't been all loaded up and ready to go 30 minutes after I left the house, I would have passed him on the road on my way home.

Step 2: Go see your therapist.

Randy's departure was the second time I'd been left suddenly and unexpectedly in the last five years. David, at least, stayed around to say goodbye in person. In both cases the decision had been made before I was told it was imminent, and in both cases I would have said the relationship was going pretty well.

A long-term, loving partnership with a man has been the one thing in my life I have not been able to succeed at, though I have tried harder at it, at least in this last decade, than I've tried at anything else.

Step 3: Accept grief's not-altogether-ironic consolation prize.

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