Back in college I had the big breakup. You know the one. The one that brings you to your knees, where you can’t speak for days, where the anguish is so crushing you don’t know if you’ll ever recover. It was a love at first sight kind of thing — spotted each other in a coffee shop and three espressos later we were shacked up for the next two years. If there is such a thing as past lives, I’m sure we must have known each other in many. It has taken nearly twenty years to exorcise this guy from my psyche, still making cameo appearances in my dreams all this time later.
Anyway, this is the kind of breakup I was recovering from and it was not pretty. I was crushed, crying every day, in such deep grief I didn’t know if I would survive. Right around this time I met Dan. He was funny and adorable and loved to take photos as much as I did. I agreed to go out with him because he made me laugh and forget my troubles. We played, went on photo safaris, did road trips and cracked each other up. And then, just as quickly as he had waltzed in, he left. Stood me up for a movie, had lots of good excuses, and a few days later fessed up and told me that the ex-girlfriend had come back into town and he was “really confused.”
I was just “really angry.” We broke up and I was furious that I had dared to open my heart again. Even just a little bit. I felt duped, both by him and by the universe, and I was overwhelmed that all of my wounds that had begun to scab over were being ripped open again.
I remember flopping on the couch in total exasperation and anger, tears pouring down my face, and asking god, the room, whoever was listening, WHY DID THAT ASSHOLE HAVE TO COME INTO MY LIFE? (I think I actually asked this at full volume to the empty house) And because I sometimes played a game where I asked the dictionary a question and opened randomly to get my answer, that’s what I did in this moment. I grabbed the dictionary and asked again through my blinding tears, Why did Dan come into my life?
The word I got was nepenthe: A grief banishing drug; something that eases sorrow or pain.
My breath caught in my throat. Oh my god, I thought. Dan was my nepenthe. He had gifted me six glorious weeks of healing laughter. He had pulled me out of one of the darkest places I had ever gone. He wasn’t supposed to stick around. He was supposed to be a simple gift.
And in that moment, perhaps for the first time in my life, my heart was awash in forgiveness. All I had was total gratitude for this boy and to the universe for bringing him when I needed him most. I still think of him with so much appreciation.
Yesterday I had coffee with the incredible Romney Steele. Her grandparents opened the restaurant (the phenomenon really) called Nepenthe in Big Sur. I’ve just started reading her beautiful book about growing up there and I highly recommend it.
And of course I love the title. It’s called My Nepenthe.