Let's pretend your name is Leigh. You're 32 years old. You and your husband are mid-divorce. Like many newly separated people, you lose a lot of weight. It's mostly because you live on cigarettes, the odd piece of beef jerky and guilt—guilt about failing at marriage, about disappointing your family, about being so poisonous that everything you touch withers.

Each Saturday evening, you drive 45 minutes from your tiny rural Massachusetts town to a bigger rural Massachusetts town, the one with the highway, the multiplex and the fancy new Trader Joe's. In that glorious supermarket, you walk the aisles filling the cart with triple-crème Camemberts and thick-cut steaks and vats of clam chowder, not to mention a gallon or two of hand-squeezed orange juice; all foods you hope will fatten you up and make you look saner and more healthful and dateable. Only this has not been working...at all...and this particular Saturday, while midway through the dried pasta aisle, you have to physically pull your face together in order to not weep all over yourself. There is nothing intrinsically sad about a box of tortellini, and you are in the middle of a grocery store, for God's sake.

Finally, with little-to-no elegance, you make it to the cashier, who whisks your items into a sturdy, flat-bottomed paper bag, then tucks the receipt in at the top. You pick up the bag and trudge toward the rubber mat that opens the exit door. First you hear the rip—then the explosion, as all that hand-squeezed orange juice and clam chowder and Camembert hit the floor and smash open, the bottom of the bag having fallen out.

Standing there, you recognize that in another time of your life, cream-based soup squishing through your tennis shoes might have prompted you to laugh, or to call for help. But tonight is this time in your life: You're alone. You're broken-hearted and self-loathing. You're not able to move forward and you never will be and you're stuck and you're going to be all by yourself for forever. You are one of those people now—the ones who not even the God of Grocery Store Bags looks out for; the ones who Love forgot.

You slump down onto the stack of charcoal-briquette bags positioned by the door. Looking over the events of your life, you suddenly understand you may have joined this group much earlier than you thought. Like the time in middle school when you believed your dad might somehow show up for the father-daughter dance, even though he lived 5,000 miles away, right up to the very moment of entering the gym and not seeing him standing there with a name tag and a sign reading, "Surprise!" Or the time in high school when you believed that guy (with the girlfriend) would (leave his girlfriend and) take you to prom.

On both those occasions, Love did not show up. Maybe it just got tired. Or, considering its vast responsibilities in China and Brazil, Minnesota and Rhode Island and Syracuse, it got stressed; and, as happens with all of us, it did not look at the calendar and failed to show up at the expected time.

Next: Making it through the tough days


Next Story