I was already in a mixed state when he dumped me over Thanksgiving weekend of 1999. Looking back, I’d been in a mixed state for a few months. Of course, I didn’t know I was bipolar.
I’d gone up to his college town a couple of weeks beforehand to celebrate our three-year anniversary. It didn’t go well. We both knew it was over—him more so than me.
I remember feeling bad when I got off the train. I remember a dozen red roses in a plastic dollar store pitcher, watching Velvet Goldmine and a whole lot of crying when he told me it was over. I cried enough to get him to take it back. To take me back.
The Turkey Dump was unceremonious and painful, but if I’m being honest with myself, it wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when.” I just didn’t expect it to be over the phone while he stayed back at college on Thanksgiving weekend instead of joining me in the small town where we’d met in high school. Maybe that should’ve been my second clue after he’d tried to break up with me only two weeks earlier.
I cried into an entire box of tissues the whole train ride back to Toronto. I can’t even remember if I listened to music—like I always have, and always will on transit.
What I do remember the most is the music I played in my dorm room. I couldn’t listen to Smashing Pumpkins—my favorite band as a teenager—because there were way too many memories attached. Like when he came over to listen to the premiere of the Adore album on the radio while we cuddled in my bedroom. Like when he accompanied me on guitar while I sang “In the Arms of Sleep” at the high school’s annual “Coffee Shop” showcase, even though he’d already graduated. Like that one September afternoon during Spirit Week when we ran into each other at the back of the school and had our first real conversation—about the Smashing Pumpkins concert we’d both gone to the weekend before. September 13, 1996. My first ever concert.
Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” was a key album in getting me through feeling my feelings of heartbreak, devastation, wrongdoing, longing and loneliness. “Mojo Pin,” “Last Goodbye” and “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” were particularly resonant with me.
My body turns and yearns for a sleep
That won't ever come
It's never over,
My kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder
It's never over, all my riches for her smiles
When I slept so soft against her
It's never over,
All my blood for the sweetness of her laughter
It's never over,
She is the tear that hangs inside my soul forever
But maybe I'm just too young,
To keep good love from going wrong
In my then-unknown mixed episode, I was not sleeping, or sleeping very little. I went for a couple of months subsisting on maybe a yogurt or a granola bar per day. The sleeplessness and lack of appetite are hallmark traits of hypomania. But I was so sad all the time. I cried every night. I got drunk for the first time, ever, and blacked out. I woke up to tales of me crying the night away. Queen of being the party pooper. God, I was a mess.
I can’t remember which new college galpal it was who lent me Fiona Apple’s Tidal CD. I didn’t think I liked her. I laughed at her “This world is bullshit” MTV VMAs speech and thought “Criminal” was corny and try-hard. The rest of the songs weren’t like “Criminal,” though.
“Never Is A Promise” caught me right away. It was like she’d written it for me. It helped me come out and see that I had my own strength and I could understand that feeling my feelings so deeply and so all-encompassingly was part of this strength.
As the scenery grows I see in different lights
The shades and shadows undulate in my perception
My feelings swell and stretch; I see from greater heights
I understand what I am still too proud to mention... to you
You’ll say you understand, you'll never understand
I'll say I'll never wake up knowing how or why
I don't know what to believe in; you don't know who I am
You'll say I'll need appeasing when I start to cry
It takes guts to be openly heartbroken. I guess, in a way, “Never Is A Promise” was my pre-Brene Brown lesson on daring to be vulnerable.
Fiona had songs that helped me recognize my anger, too, like “Sleep To Dream” and “Shadowboxer.”
But when I got the news that his female best friend had officially become his girlfriend, while I was still trying to pick up the pieces… Well…
It was a slap in the face
How quickly I was replaced
I heard Alanis’ “You Oughta Know” from the perspective of someone who’d actually been burned like that. Dave Coulier jokes aside, it was raw, and what I needed sometimes to let off steam.
On the other side of the spectrum, though, was Jagged Little Pill’s hidden track, “Your House.” Put that on and I was crying into my notebook again.
I went to your house
Walked up the stairs
Opened the door without ringing the bell
Walked down the hall
Into your room where I could smell you
And I shouldn't be here
Shouldn't be here
Would you forgive me love?
All of the things that I wanted to be able to hop on a train and do to prove my last chance at romance… but knew better than to actually do.
Sometimes I’d get to a place where I’d try to convince myself that I’d accepted the end. Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will” was my soundtrack for those moments.
If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will
I didn’t know that the song was more of a hymn or prayer, but it kind of worked for me in that way, too. It calmed me down. It helped heal me. It was like my very own Serenity Prayer long before I participated in any recovery programs.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
It took me much longer than I’d like to admit for me to accept that the breakup was a thing I could not change.
There are details that are too painful to type out. Stuff I did, stuff he said. The breakup, and its aftermath, was unceremonious at best. I’d been a bad girlfriend. I was a cheater and a liar. I became the “crazy” ex, still phoning him constantly and sending him a cryptic birthday card. He became mean. What other choice did he have?
Over the years, the anger and heartbreak subsided. I moved on to other boyfriends and girlfriends, until I fell in love… almost 15 years ago! My husband is actually up with my parents this weekend while I stayed back in Toronto. I watched movies, hung with friends, did crafts and enjoyed some me time. I’m working on a short story with Turkey Dump themes. But tonight, I needed the catharsis of listening to these songs that still break my heart to honor that heartbroken 18-year-old from twenty years ago.
I’ve seen him here and there in the past 20 years. I’ve forgiven him, but more importantly, I’ve forgiven myself. I don’t blame the way I behaved on my mental illness. Like I’ve said before, “Just because you’re bipolar doesn’t mean that you aren’t an asshole.” I was an asshole. An asshole with an undiagnosed mood disorder that would sometimes make me impulsive and rash and make terrible choices. A mood disorder that would sometimes make me either sad or irritable to the point of tears or just sad or plain numb.
So, my first love didn’t end up being my true love, and it ended really badly. But when it was good, it was electric. He taught me how to love, and how to be loved in return. He taught me to see myself as beautiful. He taught me that I was accepted.
He tried to teach me that I was talented and not to be so self-conscious of my writing. I wish I could have been in a position to learn that at the time. It took medication and therapy to get me there a few years ago. And here you are reading it today!
For Thanksgiving of 2019, I’d like to thank every song that’s been there for me. I’d like to look back and recognize and be thankful for the ways I’ve grown. I’m thankful for perspective. I’m thankful I had a first love. I’m thankful for my true love. And I’m thankful most of all for my own self-love.