The lingerie. It continued to stare at me.
No one told me when I bought it that they were actually two types of lingerie: the kind you buy when you’re in a relationship, and the anticipation is justified; and the kind that remains after that relationship is over, and acts as a constant, painful reminder of not only your brokenness, but your idiocy. How did you think it wasn’t going to end up like this?
This is the strange ballet I enacted over the next week that followed my breakup. One moment would be a sweeping, gleeful swell of movement, thrilled over my newfound freedom. While the next would be the reminder that she was gone, and in her place, I now had a glaringly pink bag of lingerie that slowly made its way from the top of my dresser to the back of my closet.
The simple thing to do would have been to return it. But I found myself unable to pull the trigger, as that would mean admitting it was really over. Holding onto the lingerie was my not-so-subtle way of leaving the door cracked, just in case she wanted to slide back into my life. Perhaps this would come in the form of a phone call, or a text message, or in my wildest dream, showing up on my doorstep in the rain. As far as I knew, she did still have that plane ticket. So why not? Anything was possible.
The other side of not returning the lingerie was the terror of actually going into the store to do it. It’d taken every ounce of courage I possessed to go in there and buy the set in the first place, and that hadn’t required me to stand in front of a cash-wrap employee and basically admit, “I FOOLISHLY BOUGHT THIS LINGERIE WHILE I WAS IN A FIGHT WITH MY GIRLFRIEND, AND THEN SHE DUMPED ME, AND NOW I’M SINGLE AF. COOL?”
I failed, it ultimately would say, which I’d been doing too much of recently. Not just in my relationship, but at life in general. For the past year I’d been telling people that I wanted to be a doctor, and then when I realized that I’d never pass the Medical College Admission Test, it became, “I want to be an oral maxillofacial surgeon.” The Dental Admission Test didn’t require physics, and had a fun, little perceptual ability section that apparently revealed your aptitude for filling molars. I can do this, I told myself. I shadowed oral surgeons, even went to Haiti where I was allowed to assist in surgeries; but the entire time I couldn’t escape the voice in the back of my head, This is a cop-out.
In reality, oral surgery was a cop-out of a cop-out of a cop-out. After giving up on my dreams of becoming Tim McGraw, I began considering a career in writing. It happened by accident, the result of writing a blog post for a study abroad trip and having my professors and family members say, “Forget music! You need to consider being a writer.”
So that’s exactly what I did. I considered it hard for a semester, before I took a job at J.Crew and found that almost everyone who worked there, including my managers, had been English majors–specifically English majors at my university. These are not good odds, I told myself. I didn’t want to work retail for the rest of my life, even if writing was something that, for the first time, felt right. It was something I could actually do, and with practice, might actually excel at.
But, no. Medicine was the better option.
Then dentistry became the better option.
It’s hard to separate which came first: my emotional unhealth, or my lack of direction in life. Was I emotionally unhealthy because I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted, and thus relied on people for self-worth? Or did I lack direction because I was more focused on acceptance from everyone else?
It’s something I ask my female friends or relatives when they bring a new boyfriend into the fold. What does he do? What does he want to do? What is he? If you had asked it of me at the time, the honest answer would have been, “Who knows?” Because I didn’t. An ex-girlfriend once told me I’d never be successful at anything. This, after listening to me say I wanted to be a travel writer, and if that didn’t work out, a motivational speaker. It hurt to hear her say it; I am, too, going to be successful! I thought. But she knew something I didn’t: That to be successful, especially in relationships, you have to be focused. And I wasn’t. I was all over the place.
I thought of this as I laid in my room, looking at the spot in my closet where I’d hidden the lingerie. You’re never going to be successful at anything. I thought. Fuck. I didn’t yet know that the breakup would change all of that. How could I? It was still too overwhelming to process, especially in light of my upcoming midterms and the conference where I’d be presenting my salamander research.
There was also the other thing I didn’t yet know:
That it was about to get a lot worse before it got better.