On Valentine’s Day, my friend and I were walking along the waterfront at Lincoln Park. We came across a large stone on which someone had assembled a bunch of shells to spell out “LOVE” in large, capital letters. My friend stared at the word for a moment, then looked me square in the eyes as she swiped her arm across the stone, scattering the shells to the ground. I gave her a half-smile and we walked away.
Looking back on the latter half of my twenties, I can’t help but notice how much romance has characterized these years. Romance in my own life and romance in the lives of my peers. Many of my friends have been getting married, one after another, a wedding every few months. The first of my three sisters is getting married this November. This is both great (I love Love!) and unsurprising. Millennials are tending to get married in our late twenties; our parents and grandparents tended to get married in their early twenties. It’s a notable difference, but it’s no cultural revolution. Just like so many generations before us, we’re excited to celebrate and officialize our most important adult decision: life partner.
It’s partly because I am myself also swept up in the momentum of these especially love-laden late twenties that I feel dumbstruck as I try to support my friend through her sudden separation from her husband. She’s not my first friend to get a divorce, but hers is the first that is involuntary, and the first that I’m witnessing up close. To console her, I can’t really draw from my experience of breaking up with a boyfriend, or even breaking off an engagement. It’s not the same as the breaking up of a marriage. The crisis is more existential. Your life partner, by definition, is the last person you’d expect to suddenly decide to abandon you without warning. That sudden fracture feels as confounding and viscerally terrifying as if reality itself had ruptured.
In the past week, I’ve clutched my friend’s limp hand as she stared blankly out the window. I watched her write and rewrite and rewrite her texts, muttering furiously under her breath. I’ve admired how another friend managed to get her to eat by making hilariously lewd gestures with a pair of churros. And I’ve embraced her helplessly as she dissolved into hysterical fits of crying and hyperventilating and dry-heaving as she was forced to say goodbye to the life she loved.
As a friend, I can do two things to help. The first is to remind her that life goes on. She will love again. She is not as alone as she feels. We, her people, love her. This requires being present and especially engaged. The second is a variation of the first—to bear witness, to respect her grief and loss by acknowledging it, by feeling its weight with her, by taking an echo of it into my own heart and mind. And as a result, be struck dumb.
Published by the West Seattle Herald 02/27/2017.