Photo: Courtesy of HarperCollins
As her third marriage unravels, Tracy McMillan prepares to move out of their home with her young son. But she has to stop fighting with herself first.
Most days I feel like I'm in this Quentin Tarantino movie, the one where a badass martial-arts chick played by Uma Thurman is thrown into a wooden coffin and buried alive by the bad guys. Even though it's a movie (and you know that if she doesn't get out of the coffin it's going to be a really short movie), when you're watching it you totally think, "Wow, she's a goner." Because her only hope of escape is to apply all of the kung fu lessons she's ever learned in her life. And even then, her prospects look really dim.
This is basically what I have to do now. Going through the death of my third marriage is just like being buried alive, and the coffin is my mind.
My brain, I am discovering, is my true enemy. There's an obsessive-thought factory up there, churning out an endless loop of negativity 24 hours a day and then some: "He left you for a 21-year-old. You're 41! You're old. You're ugly. He lied to you. He cheated on you. He left you. For a 21-year-old. No one will ever love you." You get the idea. About the only thing it doesn't say is "You're fat," and that's only because I'm pretty much starving.
The factory also produces so-called nice thoughts, fantasies, which are beautiful pictures of the way it used to be with Paul, or the way it could be if only he would come back, or the way it would have been if he'd never met that girl or maybe just gotten a job. These thoughts are just as torturous as the negative ones, if not more so, because some part of me wishes they could be true even though I already know they definitely aren't. And never will be.
Every painful feeling I'm having in this breakup—almost every tear I've shed—starts with one of these obsessive thoughts.
Which is where the kung fu comes in.
In the movie, Uma's kung fu master is a guy with gorgeous long white hair and a Fu Manchu beard named Pai Mei. Pai Mei sets up a piece of wood and tells Uma to break it in two with her bare hands. Of course she can't. She turns her knuckles bloody trying.
That's when Pai Mei tells Uma the secret to developing devastating kung fu: If she wants to break through the wood with her bare hands, she needs to stop being afraid of the wood.
"You need to make the wood afraid of you," Pai Mei says.
This is what I'm doing now. Instead of trying to get rid of the obsessive thoughts, I am using them. I am countering every single one of those agonizing fantasies and self-hating thoughts that enter my mind with four words I say to myself, sometimes silently, sometimes out loud: "I love you, Tracy."