Apparently Julie and I went through a particular stage in my Phoenix Process, one that Lesser referred to as "the great loneliness." "It seems we too must go through a time when life as we know it is over," she writes, "when being a caterpillar feels somehow false and yet we don't know who we are supposed to become…. And though we must make the journey alone and even if suffering is our only companion, soon enough we will become a butterfly, soon enough we will taste the rapture of being alive." Lesser acknowledges that the Phoenix Process is different experience for everyone and there is no set timetable for how long it will last. The trick is to embrace the difficulty and trust that it will somehow rejuvenate you in unexpected ways.
For the most part, I got over the fear and loneliness by creating small rituals involving friends and family. My best friend and I began a Sunday walking tradition, to try to discover as much of the city as possible. It was a way for me to walk off my angst. I wrote my parents a letter each week to let them know what was going on in my life. I kept a journal, reminding myself of my master plan and why leaving Nathan, my ex, was necessary. I read as much as I could, an activity whose first lesson, as author Jonathan Franzen put it, teaches one how to be alone.
But it wasn't until I redecorated my apartment that things changed for the better. I had struggled to keep the space tidy, so not as to be bombarded with clutter. But even in its most immaculate space, my apartment still depressed me and left me foggy-headed about me, my future, and my place in the world. What I needed was wholesale change and lots more space. But my plan was put off for some time because I simply couldn't afford to get a new, downsized bed, a smaller sofa, perhaps a coffee table. I settled on getting nice curtains and new bedding instead. My most dramatic decision? To paint the walls a bright cranberry color.
I spent months deciding the new color, and on the day I was to go to Home Depot to purchase the paint, I balked. If I were to bring a guy home with me, wouldn't the cumulative effect of red walls in a small cave of a place be similar to announcing "Welcome to my vagina"? I nixed the color and decided to just move the furniture around. In doing so, I opened up the room and created a faux living area, with the sofa and my reading chair set across from the other. There was even room for a small coffee table when the time comes to buy one, no hurry. I put up pictures I wanted, and stowed the ones I never cared for. When I was done, I sat in my room awestruck at the overall effect—a difference that was made simply by moving things around. I no longer felt cramped. I was alone, yes, but not lonely. I felt comfortable and happy to be exactly where I was.
That night, January 21, 2008, I was much more specific when it came to capturing my feelings on the new change. "I've arrived," I wrote. "Didn't feel it six months ago when I first moved in but now, at this moment, my heart is full, my head is clear, and I can't wait to see what happens next."
This is the final essay in Pilar Anderson's three-part breaking up series.