The simple answer? You don’t, not really. Sorry, probably not the answer you wanted.
It’s the sort of mind numbing shock, followed by an increasingly crippling pain in your chest that you will never quite be able to forget. It’ll creep up on you from time to time. Make your legs tremble and weaken your resolve when you need it most; it will drain a little of the color out of every milestone you reach until you learn to ignore it, until you learn to stubbornly turn a blind eye. It will seem like some sort of sick cosmic joke at first. You’ll mutter something along the lines of, ‘I get that life isn’t fair, Mr. Universe, but doesn’t this seem like a little much all at once? Cut me some slack, maybe?”
But when your now ex-boyfriend says The Words, halting but cold, the ones that will echo back to you in the darkness for months, and months, and months, you’ll know it’s true. It might actually be the truest thing you’ve ever heard or felt. They’ll be devastatingly true.
“I’m sorry Bri, I just can’t do this. Not anymore.”
Do what, exactly? You’ll wonder. You haven’t even asked for anything yet, all you did was dial a phone number and watch his contact picture light up your phone screen like a lighthouse through thick sea fog. God help you, you just needed something solid to hold onto for a second, something to stop the room from spinning and your teeth from chattering. In fact, as you listen to the phone ring, you’ll promise yourself you won’t ask for anything at all. You’re strong, after all, and you can do this. But as you whisper goodbye –because what else is there to say?- and you listen to the strange, empty hum of your silent cell phone pressed against your tear dampened cheek, you’ll know it’s a lie. You were asking for a great deal even if you didn’t realize it, even if you didn’t mean to, even if you didn’t really want it.
Afterwards, you’ll be left wondering over your pain in a suddenly foreign living room, sitting in the dark, oddly afraid to turn the lights on. You’ll examine your agony in awed fascination, presented with the difficult task of deciding which hurts more; your impending death, or the abandonment of your best and closest friend in light of your impending death. It will be quite the conundrum. Even years later, you’ll still be relatively undecided; left wondering from time to time what that says about you, if it says anything at all. Copious amounts of whiskey will not help, but they are still nice anyway.
When the dust finally clears, when you awake at last from self-pity ridden dreams and step jarringly back into reality, you’ll be furious. You’ll want to hate him, and for a little bit you really will. You’ll hate him like you’ve never hated anyone before, in such a way as you’ll probably never hate anyone ever again. With the passion of a thousand fiery, super angry and jilted (dying) suns. You’ll want to shatter him as thoroughly as he walked up and shattered you at your weakest, most fragile moment. You’ll want to scream at him for answers. For answers as to why, after three years, he hasn’t sent a single text or made even one call while you sit there dying literal bits at a time on the couch you used to cuddle up on while watching really shitty kungfu movies.
Asshole won’t seem like a strong enough word for what he is. You might try to create a word to emulate how awful he is, and it still won’t seem like enough. Maybe you’ll test out every awful word you can think of and still, you will be left unsatisfied. The anger will quell, eventually, which will leave you dangerously introverted.
You’ll wonder if any of those quiet, intimate moments ever meant anything at all. If you ever meant anything at all. It will suddenly become very clear that, despite all our best efforts and intentions, none of us will ever truly know another person. That you can feel as close as your own flesh to another human being and still be continents away from them. You can say ‘I love you’ to someone and still be the emotionally equivalent distance of Russia from them. And, as every historian knows, nobody fucks with Russia.
You’ll question everyone you’ve ever loved or trusted as you lay naked and alone on a cold examination table. As you lie there feeling strangely dehumanized, doctors poking and prodding at you, speaking at you but somehow able to avoid ever speaking to you, you’ll wonder if your heart was broken or simply removed. Removed from your body with the same precise expertise as the nameless faces removing bits of your body as if they hadn’t really belonged to you, anyway. “You’ll feel a little pressure,” is the most bullshit medical term you’ll ever hear. Pressure=a shit ton of pain that has been deemed unimportant enough as not to warrant numbing. ‘Pressure,’ is what the lack of his presence will feel like as you try and remember how to breathe.
You’ll notice, at some point during these ‘pressure’ inducted proceedings, that you’re missing a key piece of yourself. Your ‘give a shit’ piece that he (the evil ex) must have removed along with your hope and dignity. You’ll sit in characterless hospitals and wonder what the point of all this is – insert all encompassing arm wave –while you frown at your chipped nail polish and realize you’ve worn the same pair of yoga pants three days in row. But fuck it, right? You’re dying, you can wear the same clothes everyday till the end if you want, and it’s your god damned right as the venerable walking dead. Wondering if you had even showered that day, your consider that, if the one person you cared about more than pretty much anyone else doesn’t give a shit that you’re dying sooner rather than later, than why should you? Right?
Then, after way too much wine, while you lie sprawled out on your back porch with rain drops stinging your eye balls, you tell yourself to man the fuck up. Nut up, or shut up, you’ll mutter into the building desert storm. You’re being really, really pathetic and it’s not your style. You are not the person to wear the same yoga pants an entire week anymore than you’re the girl who can’t remember if she showered in the past few days or not. It’s gross and you’re not dead yet. You’ll then dramatically pick yourself up off the splintery wood of your porch, drain the last of your cheap, sickly sweet wine, and tell yourself you’re not done just yet. The story isn’t going to end with you giving up, not over some guy, even if you’re pretty sure you loved him. You’ll realize that you don’t need his help, support or permission to be alive, to keep on living. You can do it on your own, damnit.
And then, as the weeks and months go by and not only are you still alive, but it looks like you’ll get to remain alive at least for another decade, if not more, you grow the fuck up and forgive him. Was it a fairly shitty person move to totally abandon you under such circumstances? Yeah, totally. A damn shit move. But would you have wanted the presence of someone who pretty obviously didn’t love you, anyway? Probably not, not after everything you’ve been through. Not after seeing the emotional toll it took on those people who did stick it out. Who held your sweaty hand until you inevitably got over your needle fears, or joked with you before they wheeled you away to be operated on by some stranger that you could only hope was like Turk from Scrubs. Instead of killing yourself over the one person who couldn’t be there for you, who didn’t love you, you decide to appreciate all the people who remained steadfastly at your side, never wavering, never turning away from the ugly truth that cancer is.
You get over your boyfriend dumping you the day you find out you have cancer by deciding your life is too precious to waste on someone who never loved you in the first place. It might still sting from time to time, but you can half-smile about it over a mug of hot tea with your fiancé sleeping on the couch beside you, and simply be grateful for the winding paths life has led you down. Because fuck it, you’re still alive, and that’s really all that matters.