The Break-Up Aftermath
I fell in love in a parking lot.
My senior year of college, I took a creative nonfiction writing course. Carl and I were placed in the same peer conferencing group. We began to share personal pieces with one another, and within weeks, Carl was regularly walking me to my car. There, our academic conversations would turn into flirtation. And eventually, he would confess his feelings for me one Thursday afternoon. Our first kiss was in that parking lot, and we soon turned to it as our midnight safe haven.
It wasn’t a healthy relationship. It was founded on infatuation and secrets and lust. We dated on-and-off for months before I called it off (for good) during our winter break. My childhood friend coached me, sent me up to her bedroom, and waited for me to return to the kitchen table as a single woman.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Fine, really.”
Her chin dipped. “Are you sure?”
I analyzed the situation. I knew Carl and I weren’t meant to be together. I was confident the Lord had someone else for me. And emotionally, I felt rather numb.
I didn’t realize then that I’d spend the next year reaching out to her when the waves overwhelmed me.
“Marisa,” I would text her later. “I don’t think that I’m fine at all.”
Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, and Rachel McAdams all taught me that the recipe for a heartbreak was chocolate, take-out, and an organized sleepover. In the movies, the girl cuts her hair, cries a few Friday nights, and ends up with the best friend she hadn’t seen the whole time.
That wasn’t my story.
Missing Carl felt like I was in physical therapy from a broken leg. There had been the loud, impeding smack and immediate suffering. After some surgery and prescribed medications, all that was left was the healing. Nobody ever told me, however, that sometimes the recovery is more painful than the break.
I missed the way I traced his arm tattoo and stood on my tiptoes to hug him. I missed the way his smile would pull to one side when I blabbered about my day. He said that I was easy to love, that my beauty had made him catch his breath.
So, when his name sank to the bottom of my messages inbox, I did all the things I swore I’d never do. I put on makeup in hopes of running into him. I stalked his social media and poured over my old journals. I attempted to bring him up organically in conversations, forcing my facial features to appear neutral and my tone to sound uninterested. It was pathetic, pretending Carl had never mattered to me when deep down I clutched onto every fossil of our relationship.
Grieving Carl was like having this howl, this steady toothache at the bottom of my chest. I’d pray and pray and pray, trying to wipe away his tattooed fingerprints from my heart. But as more time passed and as Carl dated someone new, the more I felt that confusion had drugged me. The words he’d once spoken in assurance now felt like food that had rotted in the fridge.
Had he really loved me? Was he trying to get over me? Was he just as good at faking apathy as I was? “I love you, Rachael,” he said. “I’ll never stop.”
The waves consumed me spontaneously and then systematically, the way a hiccup comes back to function like it never left. Looking back now, I realized God was gracious to not overwhelm me with my grief. He let me rest in between healing sessions, placing an ice pack on the heart to minimize swelling. But at the time I felt as frustrated as a 20-year-old who woke up to pimples after months of clear skin.
One night I found something written in the margin of an old journal entry. It was a copy of a text Carl had sent as I drove back home over winter break.
“Drive safely,” he’d written. “I can’t have anything happening to you, My Dear.”
My breath froze as the next wave descended.
I had forgotten “My, Dear.”
Ending Up with the Best Friend
Weeks following our breakup, my friends gave me permission to fall apart. They lent a sympathetic ear, prayed in moments of pain, and sent me supportive Scripture. But after you’ve cried to the same person about the same splinter—seven, eight, nine times—you feel limited in the number of grief coupons you have left.
The Father quickly stepped forward. “You’re never annoying to me,” He said. “I never get tired of your pain.”
In that semester of throbbing heartache, God held me intimately. He repeated His love and the plans He had for me over and over and over again. He brought me worship music when I felt unseen, and He affirmed my body when no one said, “You’re beautiful.” He even had me physically exhale to release the ashes of Carl’s love.
“Blow them away,” He said. “And I will plant new life in its place.”
Eventually, I healed from Carl. I stopped crying and listening to Adele. I went on dates and learned to crush again. I started praying for a better love. Years passed since I called him in my best friend’s bedroom. And now when I think of him, the memory is so faded it’s like finding an old, wrinkled t-shirt I haven’t worn in years.
I don’t think time healed all my wounds. I think it was just one of God’s medical tools, utilized in physical therapy sessions when I was convinced I would never walk normally again.
Two months before I graduated, I drove down the main road of our university. Since I was student teaching that semester and my seminar class would meet off campus, I rarely passed the academic buildings. I was headed to the dining hall to eat with friends when my car crawled over a speed bump, and I noticed something to my right.
Our parking lot was under construction. The same parking lot located by the chapel across from the English department. The same parking lot in which our relationship had budded and blossomed and left a trail of breadcrumbs. Several bulldozers stood around like military tanks, tearing up asphalt like it was a skin scab. The old was being stripped at its core, intended to be replaced with something new.
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