Anyone who has suddenly found themselves single in NYC has learned how to play Breakup Monopoly. You divide the city up, get dibs on everything -- 'your' dry cleaner, delis, dog parks and bars. This is designed to keep both parties safe. Once the lines are drawn, those are your new city limits.
You leave with what you brought in, and it goes without saying that you keep your own neighborhood -- the entire thing. This was the way it had always gone for me until I started dating someone who was in law school in California.
We had met in college, but never pursued anything romantic. Years later in March of 2009, a few errant Facebook clicks led me back to him, and what felt like an old-school romance began. I looked forward to his messages and wrote responses that, I hoped, came across witty in a relaxed way, as if I'd just dashed them off instead of painstakingly choosing words. But this wasn't some Nigerian prince scam. We were damn good at email, but we had to figure out if the
relationship held up in person.
As it turned out, he had plans to spend that summer in Brooklyn while interning. He let his single status go on our very first day in May, and left me behind at the end of August. We decided that, distance be damned, we'd make it work. Besides, he only had a year left in school, and then he'd come to work at a firm in Manhattan. It sounded doable. What was 365 days in the scheme of things, really?
I became very well acquainted with Virgin America airlines over the next 9 months. For Thanksgiving, he came to my house on Long Island. My sister got a kick out of him, and my mom made him a blanket. We visited his family at Christmas, and I fell in love with his grandma. She didn't even mention that I was the first Jew she'd met up close. At the end of each break, he'd return to his side of the country.
And so the city was mine for the duration of the relationship. When our year together abruptly ended in a startling blaze of cancelled plane tickets and plans, the 2,461 miles between us became a blessing. We hadn't really made many memories on my turf, and two months after the breakup, I moved into a co-op that he'd never stepped foot in. If I owned New York wholly, I had Gramercy specifically.
Eventually, like we'd looked forward to in better times, he moved to New York. I didn't know he was here until I got the requisite "Hi, how are you" text. The thought of him building a life in the place where I'd already established mine made me queasy. There are roughly 1,635,000 people in the city, but anyone who lives here knows the #1 rule of Manhattan: You will see the one person you're trying to avoid.
Suddenly I was a ball of sadness dipped in panic, on high alert wherever I went. Which ended up being useless, because he came to me.
I got a text a few months shy of what would have been our 2 year anniversary.
Need to tell you something.
Of course being a rational 20-something, I decided he was going to profess his love. He had obviously made a mistake, couldn't live without me, saw the error of his ways, etc.
[Now, standing outside my apartment building]
"So, my roommates and I can't stay in our apartment. I'm moving ... there."
He pointed to a building across from mine. I'm talking 20 feet away, maybe fewer if you've got a long stride. Instead of having the vast United States between us, we were now curb to curb. The contested property wasn't a restaurant or store -- it was my very own street.
What do you do during an invasion? You stand your ground! You don't go down without a fight! Or you completely cede your territory to the enemy and start using your building's back entrance. You do the walk of shame from your own apartment, when the only thing you have to be ashamed of is how much you still care about someone who no longer cares about you.
Not what Jesus or Gloria Steinem would do? I know. Still, I couldn't bear a run-in with my ex. Lobbing a perfect one-liner on your very best hair day only happens in the movies. In real life, it's all, "So, when is your lease up?" or the ever attractive "YOU TORE MY HEART OUT, HAVE I MENTIONED THAT LATELY?"
I had already pushed pathetically hard to make the relationship work. Proximity wasn't making his heart grow fonder. I didn't have any fight left in me.
So while I licked my wounds, yes, I used another entrance. To my own building. When a fragile heart's involved, you sometimes need to take the road less traveled.
Taking the back door would be a quick fix, I figured. But I soon realized it was the opposite. Each time my feet beat another unnecessary step, my heart pounded. Because even if I hadn't thought about him for a moment, going out of my way was a self-inflicted reminder. I could avoid him physically, but that's only half the battle. And it's the easy half.
Everyone wondered how I ultimately moved on without moving away. Self-help books? Self-medication? I'm sure that works, but the honest answer is -- it just happened.
I mourned my loss for far longer than I should have, but ultimately work took over. I'd get busy and an hour of ex-free thoughts would fly by. Then a day. A handful of days.
Of course a song or a flash of blue eyes on the subway could pull me back down, but I was getting better at digging myself out.
I firmly believe that at some point, when you've hurt for too long, your body steps in to save you. Kind of like a coma for you heart and head. A little forced sleep so you can heal. Memories file themselves away so you have room for new ones.
One day you're the walking wounded. The next, you're dashing home with a million bags, your cell phone wedged between your shoulder and ear, thinking about everything except that guy across the street and you realize ... you went in the front door.