You draw the blinds, silence the phone, and curl up in the tightest, smallest ball your aching muscles will allow. You wrap yourself in a blanket cocoon and let your body heat build around you like a bear hug. You shut your eyes and submit to the darkness, allowing the dreadful images you’ve been blocking all day to project onto the back of your eyelids, letting the words you couldn’t, shouldn’t speak echo in your ears—I’m a failure, I’m unlovable, I deserved it, I don’t deserve it, I could’ve done better. And you sob.
You let the pain in your chest reach a crescendo until you’re wailing; pillow soaked, eyes swollen, lungs heaving. Your pain is poison coursing through your veins and extraction is the only antidote. So let it all out, you poor, precious darling. Let it ooze like an infected wound; let it stain like spilled wine; let it puddle on the floor amid the broken glass, what-ifs, and should-haves. I promise you this is the hardest part.
Maybe you stay here awhile. Maybe the pain comes in waves and, just as you might be steady enough to stand, the tide turns and crashes upon you with renewed intensity. Or maybe it’s just safer here for now, in your little cocoon that is both terrifyingly dark and comfortingly warm.
Eventually, however, you stand. You stand because you have no other choice, because the water has finally calmed, because it always does. With shaking legs and pounding heart you slide open the door of your dungeon and stretch your limbs like a blooming flower even though the world outside is still too menacing to bear. You strip naked, dropping pieces of clothing like a trail of breadcrumbs to the bathroom. The sudden removal of your only armor is jarring. You stand stationary in a scalding shower until your shoulders are raw and red, ruminating in the I’m-not-good-enoughs. I’m a failure, I’m unlovable, I deserved it, I don’t deserve it, I could’ve done better. You let your tears and pain mix with dirt and grime until the water turns tepid, watching the bitter concoction funnel anticlimactically down the drain. Maybe you dress afterwards, maybe you don’t.
In the days and weeks that follow, you do only what you must. Eat. Work. Sleep. Repeat. You do these things in a somnambulant haze, numb to criticism, questions, and sympathy. You see groups of people laughing on restaurant terraces, couples rubbing noses on the subway, friends posting pictures of themselves laughing and rubbing noses at parties you declined out of stubborn respect for your pain. You wonder how it’s possible to laugh and love in a world that can be so unfair. Worse, you feel anger and hatred toward the people who laugh and love, those with seemingly no understanding of your suffering.
You stew and you bark, condemn and complain. You marinate your memory of the tragedy in straight-ups and blood red wine poured with a heavy hand. You swap woes and lies with strangers at the bar. Maybe you go home with some of those strangers. Maybe you eat rich, hearty soul food in heaping portions until your belly aches. Maybe you watch hours of mindless television to stall sleep and evade silence. Whatever you do, indulge you poor, precious darling. Gather all your ammunition. You need your sustenance for what’s to come.
Because one day–in the middle of a week of sobbing, ruminating, and indulgence–you’ll wake to find a tiny flutter of hope where the pain usually resides; a little bluebird made of change waiting to take flight. Maybe you’ll take that glimmer of hope and use it to gather the trail of clothing and deconstruct the blanket cocoon in your dungeon. Maybe you won’t. Maybe some days you’ll feed your little bluebird with running or writing or painting or whatever outlet you had before the pain. And maybe some nights you’ll throw a blanket over his cage and beg him to quiet down.
You’ll do all of these things. You’ll do them until the good days outnumber the bad, until the should-haves and what-ifs turn into I-wills and I-ams. You’ll do them until you’re laughing and rubbing noses again. You’ll do them until your little bluebird is strong enough to fly; until you’re strong enough to let him. You’ll feel the hatred and anger dissipate, and maybe you’ll exercise a little more kindness toward those who snap and push, those whose suffering you don’t quite understand.
And when the next test of life presents itself, maybe you’ll fall a little softer, fight a little harder, and indulge a little less; fortified by the pain, strengthened by the struggle; scars visible yet undeniably healed.