The morning after Randy left, sobbing in my therapist's office like some kind of made-for-TV-movie cliché, I said, "I'm just not up for another 6 to 12 months of wallowing in grief."
"Okay," my doctor said, "then don't."
I blew my nose and looked at him. It was a captivating idea.
I consulted the three little girls who live inside me—a 5-year-old, an 8-year-old, and a 12-year-old—as I do at times like these.
"We're actually glad he's gone," they said, arms crossed over their chests, the beginning of a smile lighting their eyes. "We were a little bit scared of him."
"Not so fast," I said. "In the first place, he wasn't scary. And you must be forgetting what time of year it is. What about spending Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, my birthday, Valentine's alone?"
They were all in agreement. "We like it better when you're in charge of those things," they said, "and if he wasn't scary, why were you always acting like less than you are?"
That stopped me. I had described myself several times in the last year as "running consistently on about 60 percent Pam." For a while I thought I just needed more sleep. Then, when I got more sleep, I thought I must have cancer. I was perpetually exhausted. I wasn't laughing as loudly or arguing as vehemently or writing as passionately as I knew I should be. Somewhere deep inside of me I knew that if 100 percent Pam was really starting to piss Randy off, then maybe 60 percent Pam would piss him off less. I didn't articulate that to myself, and the fact that I didn't scares me. I shut myself down incrementally without being forced or even asked.
Because I never before had a relationship go from making wedding plans to total disappearance in less than two hours, I never had the experience of seeing myself at 60 percent one day and at 100 percent the next. Which is not to say that 100 percent felt so great at first. Because all of a sudden 100 percent of me was sad and excited and completely freaked out. Adrenaline was knocking around that numbed 40 percent, lighting me up from the inside like a human pinball machine, as though somebody had just shown me a door to an enormous white room and left me in there alone with 1,000 crayons.
"So what you're saying," I said to my therapist, "is that I have to grieve, but I don't necessarily have to wallow."
He got the look on his face he always gets when I have at last arrived at the ridiculously obvious answer.
I walked out into the bright light of my first full day of singlehood, my grief held tight like a bouquet of crayons in my fist.
Step 3: Accept grief's not-altogether-ironic consolation prize.
There's a song I love by Dar Williams called "The Blessings" that perfectly describes the particular way the world comes into razor-sharp focus during grief. It's not a release, not a reward, she sings, by way of consolation to a suddenly single friend who's just called her at three in the morning, it's the blessings. It's the gift of what you notice more.
A wake-up call into a world where everything—but everything—has a recognizable and momentary magnificence. Every bud on every flowering tree, every snowflake in its perfect symmetry, every shade the aspen leaves turn on their way from green to yellow to orange to brown; the world seen through the lens of grief is crystalline in its clarity. And all of it beautiful and hopeful and healing and fleeting and, for all of that, almost too much to bear. The gift of what you notice more. The barista at the market with the long, dark ponytail who makes the perfect tall, single latte. The young woman at the dry cleaner's with her rainbow eye shadow and her Lee Press-On Nails who gives her customers a perfect 1 percent of her attention. Seats right behind the goalie at the hockey game and the thwack of the players' bodies up against the boards, the thunk of stick against puck, of elbow against rib, of helmet against helmet.
And if, God forbid, you should find yourself somewhere really romantic, like Paris or a candlelit restaurant or Long's Drug Store the night before Valentine's Day, swear that as soon as you are in love again you will come right back to that spot on the Pont des Arts and feel everything you are longing to feel right now. Alas, it will never happen. Because it is only your longing that is making Long's Drug Store and the candlelight and even Paris profound. Savor your longing. Note the clever way it has of reminding you that you are very much alive.
Step 4: Push your luck.