This is the beginning of BreakupBabe: ANovel (Ballantine Books, copyright 2006) wherein the narrator – Rachel – starts her blog and life is never the same again.
Sunday, August 11, 2002
12:58 PM Breakup Babe
Hello, my name is Breakup Babe. Tomorrow I get to go to my new job at a large Seattle software company, where my office is right down the hall from the man I thought I was going to marry, who just lied to me, cheated on me, and then dumped me on my f*cking a*s.
That was the paragraph that started it all. I had no idea that starting a free weblog called Breakup Babe would change my life. It was just something to do to keep me sane. But what I’ve learned in the last year is that things never turn out how you envision them. When your life cracks open, like mine did, you’re messed up at first, and because of that, you do stupid things, but you also grow and change in ways you couldn’t before. Then, suddenly, you’re a lot closer to “happiness” than you were–even though “happiness” looks different now from what it did when some creepy-crawly bastard broke your heart.
But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
When The Great Unpleasantness (as we shall henceforth call it) struck in June 2002, one of the first thoughts that hit me was I want to start a blog about this. A few friends of mine were bloggers, and articles predicting a “blogging revolution” had just begun to appear in places such as Newsweek. But I didn’t want to revolutionize anything. I just wanted a place to vent.
Why I chose the Internet rather than writing in the diaries I’d been sighing and moaning in since age thirteen, I’m not sure. I’d been writing in semi-obscurity for years, being paid to write bland freelance pieces and slaving away on a book that sucked, though I could not yet pinpoint the reason for its suckiness. So I think I was just ready to be heard in my own voice–to write something that was not a fluffy newspaper travel article or a trying-too-hard book that I was afraid to show people anyway.
It was a hot August day when I sat down to type the first entry in the upstairs bedroom of my friends Jane and Henry’s town house. I’d been “sleeping” there for the last month (if you could call my tortured, nightly, horizontal sessions sleeping), ever since my once-so-devoted boyfriend had kicked me–begging and pleading for mercy–out of his waterfront home (“Lake Washington lapping at your backyard!” the listing had said) onto the streets of Seattle.
A month before that unceremonious event, when The Great Unpleasantness actually began, I’d set up a site on Blogger.com and toyed with blog names like “Relationship Hell” or “Breakup Girl.” Eventually I’d settled on “Breakup Babe.” But, amid the emotional turmoil of The Great Unpleasantness, I couldn’t write about the actual breakup. I was too busy clinging to hope, even though my once-glorious relationship was pointing nose down into the water like the Titanic. So the blog remained empty. Now that the relationship had irrevocably sunk, however, writing seemed like my only means of survival. It was the life raft that would carry me away as grief tried to drown me.
But, as I sat down on that too-sunny Sunday, a dangerous wave of self-pity swept over me. If only Jane and Henry hadn’t had to be their adventuresome selves and fly off to Iceland that very morning with their two toddlers in tow! I thought it would be comforting to be at their town house, even without them, but the place felt deserted. The room was stifling, as usual, and smelled of baby and detergent. Their stuff was scattered everywhere–baby clothes, outdoor gear, toys–but without the four of them, the place was even lonelier than my new apartment with its unpacked boxes.
I stared at the computer screen, willing myself not to collapse on the hard futon next to it, where I’d spent the last month weeping. Maybe, just maybe, once I started writing, the loneliness that was stalking me, that was poised to put its sweaty hands around my neck and throttle me, would slink back to its hole.
That was my state of mind as I wrote my debut entry for Breakup Babe. I was unaware of the momentous occasion at hand. All I wanted was to get through the day, and putting words on the screen was a way to pass the time at least. That first entry went on forever. All my pent-up emotions spewed forth without a thought for the attention span of my poor audience–whoever that might end up being (though they got into the action soon enough).
So a month ago I started my new job, at a company we shall call “Empire Corporation,” in a godforsaken suburb of Seattle filled with strip malls and loathsome chain restaurants.
I hd to admit, the bennies rocked. I might be giving up my identity as a free-spirited artiste, but look what I got in return. Money. And lots of it.
Before I left her office on the day I accepted the job, the perky blond human resources person, “Wendii,” handed me an orange and green folder with the words “Welcome to Success!” splashed across the front. It described all my benefits and contained everything I needed to know to “succeed” at working for The Man (thirty-two-year-old Rodney Rolands, CEO and international playboy) and his great company. Except, of course, the truth. There should have been one more benefit entitled:
Build Your Character
Your adoring boyfriend of two years, whose group you just signed your life away to work in, will brutally dump you within one month of the time you start your job. You will therefore have the opportunity to work down the hall from the man who lied to you, cheated on you, and broke your heart. Look forward to being challenged both personally and careerwise in ways you never dreamed possible!
Even if it had been in the brochure, and Wendii had pointed it out to me, tapping on important words for emphasis with her pearly pink nails–”dump,” “cheated,” “challenged”– I wouldn’t have believed that retarded sorority-girl clone anyway. Who did she think she was? That was my man she was talking about, my almost-fiancé, my one true love! The one who told me, when we first started dating, that I brought “order to the universe”!
When I looked up from the screen and saw the time, I was shocked to see that forty-five minutes had passed. What a change from these last two months when every minute that passed threatened to crush me. I was writing, really writing, for the first time in months, and time was almost slipping away.
So, on my first day on the job, into Empire Corporation I marched, proud employee, to the office right down the hall from my beloved boyfriend’s (let’s call him Loser), who’d sworn to me that we would never part.
And what reason did I have to suspect him? We’d just returned from a stunning sojourn to Thailand. We’d spent two blissful weeks traveling together. After that, I’d spent two weeks traveling alone, resting easy in the knowledge that he would be waiting oh-so-devotedly for me at home.
Because Loser was, after all, devoted. Any of my friends could have told you that. His steady presence had even helped me to settle down and focus on my true life’s work, my raison d’être, writing the next Bridget Jones’s Diary. The book I’d been struggling with for three years would make me the darling of the publishing world, if I could ever get it finished. Now that I was swapping my unpredictable contractor’s lifestyle for a steady paycheck, now that I would have both a stable domestic and work life, I would finally be able to write something of quality.
When I returned from Thailand, he showered me with love. Attention. Flowers at the airport. Though always attentive, he became over-the-top adoring. I was in Deluded Girlfriend Heaven.
While sunning ourselves on the Thai beaches or trekking through the hill towns, I would make idle chitchat with Loser. “Is it really such a good idea that I took a job in your group? What if we break up?” But it was just a formality. I knew what his answer would be. “Baby,” he’d say in a sweet but slightly condescending tone, as if I were a five-year-old, “we’re not going to break up.”
Of course not, I would think smugly. WE are going to get MARRIED. Not that we were engaged. But we’d talked about marriage from the beginning. He was the One. Handsome. Jewish. Smart. (Loaded, too, but that was merely a pleasant perk.) We conversed about everything, laughed about lots of things, and best of all, he adored me. It was true that maybe we fought a bit too much, but conflict was a part of all relationships, right? He’d even broken up with his live-in girlfriend for me! And, God damn it, I was thirty-four years old! If we broke up . . . Hell, we weren’t going to break up and that was that.
So imagine my surprise when one sunny June day, a month after I’d started my new job, life as I knew it ended in an instant.
When I next stopped typing and read what I’d written, my euphoria slipped away. All I could think was God, how self-indulgent. This stuff wasn’t badly written. But wasn’t it incredibly narcissistic for me to put it online and think anyone else would want to read it?
I was dripping sweat now, despite my tank top and shorts. (Air conditioning does not exist in Seattle, because 95 percent of the time, we’re wrapped in a 52-degree shroud of gray. But we do pay for it, when the hell fires burn, as they were this summer. My God, it was hot and sunny and all I wanted to do was crawl back into the cave of winter!) As I stared at the black words dancing on the white background, I felt the bottom start to slip out of the day again. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t write worth shit. And why had I ever thought writing about Loser might make me feel better? But I had momentum, so I plunged back in, praying for this exorcism to work.
Besides, just because I was writing this crap, I didn’t have to post it. And what else was I going to do in that quiet, quiet town house on a summer day when the rest of Seattle was living out a sun-drenched Coke ad and I was a miserable, brokenhearted wretch?
We were out jogging around the well-manicured Empire grounds when it happened. We’d been jogging together since the early days of our friendship, when I was an Empire temp, he worked in the office across from me, and he was living with that psycho redheaded Scorpio I shall dub Astrology Chick.
We fell in love on those runs, and one May day, after I confessed my feelings to him, he broke up with Astrology Chick almost immediately (“F*cking Venus retrograde!” she’d cried out to the sky, before calling him every bad name she could think of and throwing his best pair of Kenneth Cole loafers in the hot tub).
“I can’t turn down this opportunity to be with you,” he’d said, looking at me over soggy pizza in the Building E23 cafeteria, his hazel eyes brimming with adoration. And instead of the big warning sign that should have been flashing in my head–”Danger! Danger! Don’t Trust Men Who Leave Their Girlfriends in a Snap!”–there were only the words “Destiny, destiny, destiny!” blinking like a neon sign at some roadside dive.
And here we were, two years later, more in love than ever. Or so I thought. Until he said, on this sunny June day, while we were jogging on Rolands Drive, “I can’t do this anymore.”
“Okay, we can slow down,” I said. We still had a mile left to go, and I didn’t want to cut my workout short. (My figure had gotten away from me a bit during the last two years of domestic bliss.) Underneath us, the cars on Highway 520–also known as Highway to Hell by Empire’s worker bees–were rushing east and west, not yet jammed together for the night.
“I want to break up.” He stopped jogging.
The world warped for just a second. The trees got taller. The squat office buildings along Rolands Drive stretched out, and I was acutely aware of sweat pouring down my back. Then things snapped back to normal. He could not mean it.
“Are you serious?” My voice sounded high and quavery. Loser stared intently at the ground for what was probably five seconds, but seemed like an hour. I had stopped running now too, and watched him with a sense of detached terror, as if I were about to see the heroine in a thriller get pulled underwater by an enormous squidlike monster. Finally, he turned to look at me.
“Yes,” he said. His hazel eyes looked wet. His sandy brown hair, normally moussed to a frothy peak above his forehead, lay flat and sweaty on his head. On his left cheek, a tiny scar glistened, the result of a freak childhood accident with his mother’s curling iron. “I’m sorry.”
I heard the cars rush by on 520, felt the sun on my back, and saw the Cascades gleaming in the distance. It was a beautiful summer day on the Puget Sound. There was no giant squid monster here. He was my beautiful boyfriend, the one I was going to marry. He couldn’t take that away from me. Could he?
He could take it away and he did. But it was nothing like the quick, merciful death the bikini-clad heroine would have had in the jaws of the squid monster. If only I had agreed, right there, on Rolands Drive, to make my exit, it could have been almost graceful. But how was I to know, when I asked him if there was another woman, that he was lying when he said no? And so I did what any self-respecting woman would do. I groveled.
Something unexpected happened when I wrote this line. I laughed.
I looked around the empty room in embarrassment. Had I really just laughed? About being dumped in this incredibly painful way? Now that was a novelty. I turned my eyes back to the screen before I could lose momentum.