When Rosann and I separated in July of 2004, I thought I would die of a broken heart. As it turns out, I should have been more concerned with starvation.Broken hearts don’t actually kill you, even if that’s what it feels like. It had never been lost on me that Rosann had probably cooked 99% of our meals over a 13-year period. The day I left she asked if she should bring over some meals that I could freeze for the week until I got my arms around all of this. I guess this fact was not lost on her either. While I considered this extremely kind, I said no, I am fine. I had my staples already in hand, a bag of pistachios, pop tarts, and tuna in a pouch. I somehow had the illusion that all this and some garlic would come together into a happy meal my first night in my new apartment. Rosann seemed to always create incredible meals out of nothing. I would swear all we had was ketchup in the fridge and, viola, a meal for six. No matter how I lined up my stuff, nothing miraculous was happening there. I convinced myself it was because I had no useful cooking utensils in my kitchen for one. The key to my success was the right spatula or spoon or something. As is true for many of life’s traumas, shopping seemed to be the answer. I went to the most expensive cooking store in St. Paul, because I wanted the nicest spatula or spoon made in Italy or France or somewhere else exotic. I was ready to drop a ton of money. I stood there facing a wall of cooking tools. I realized I had no idea what any of them did. A few reminded me of tools my dentist jammed in my mouth. Others were totally unrecognizable to any cooking experience I had ever had. OK, this was not hard as my culinary talents usually involved two eggs and a simple fork.After the third time muttering under my breath and cocking my head to the side, “what the hell is that?” I ran out the back door and drove quickly back to the apartment. I kept telling myself not to panic. It had been a bad day, I had spent most of it crying, and surely this would not be a harbinger of things to come. Wrong again. By day three, standing in my new little kitchen eating the last of the nuts, I was struck by the gravity of many of the implications of my new life. I remember thinking, that if I ever opened a restaurant it would be for single people. It would just be a bunch of sinks around a room. Nicer areas of the restaurant would have sinks looking out over windows. The crappy section would be sinks facing walls with ugly 1970s wallpaper as I was now doing. While not ascetically pleasing, clean up was easy. Note to self, “turn life failure into business opportunity.”Rosann referred to my place as the monastery, as it was a bit minimalist. I told her it’s called Grief Feng Shui. I was living simply, a couch in the living room, a bed, dresser, pictures of my friends and family, three forks, four plates, two glasses, three pairs of shoes, and nine pairs of tweezers. One can be a minimalist in most areas, except in those where peri menopause is alive and well. There you must be prepared at all times. Either my chin hair was increasing, or I just had more time to think about it. With one quick scan I could see where everything was. There was no mystery to my environment. I needed certainty in at least one place in my life.Whooping cranes mate for life. (Apparently, it’s hard to find a good whooping crane divorce attorney.) So do a lot of lesbians it turns out, me included. What the hell had happened to me? I wasn’t sure how to approach this separated single life. Rosann seemed to be doing OK. It occurred to me to Google all of my ex-girlfriends to see if they too were doing fine without me. I decided it seemed best not to know at this juncture. After the kitchen store debacle, I needed some down time from more bad news. I was truly immobilized, a lesbian in the headlights as it were. Had Kevorkian not been in jail, I may have called to see if I could get in. I was suddenly too thin, too tired, and too pained to be with most people. I preferred strangers for company, as I could not contain my grief with friends or family. I may as well have been in the Witness Protection Program. Actually, those folks probably had more social contact than I did.I remember one night glancing at the personals of a local lesbian newspaper, wondering who else was out there looking for love. I had no interest in really dating, more like misery loves company. The ad that caught my eye was that of a Wiccan priestess. I imagined her concocting love spells in the moonlight. Hmm, interesting. Dating a Wiccan priestess, now that would be a new one even for me. Do pagans like Catholics? Could I bring her home to meet my Italian mother? It couldn’t be any worse than dating a vegetarian, could it? They can get a little kooky too. I was really crazy about a particular vegetarian until she accused me of sneaking some meat product into her risotto. A Wiccan priestess would be at least a great distraction from all of this gut wrenching stuff. Then I thought, what if it didn’t work out, would she cast an evil spell on me? Would I suddenly develop adult onset acne or something equally distressing like a chocolate mousse allergy? Would I have to say to every future lover, “here’s the deal, I tend to eat too many pop tarts, I get constipated on vacations, I love Barry Manilow, and if the priestess ever sees us out it may not bode well for you.” Perhaps the priestess should be left alone. Looking at the personals was always a showstopper. I wondered what my personal ad would say. Should I be truthful? Single 45-year-old lesbian, heartbroken, hungry, can’t cook, likes to watch a lot of TV, seeking bright, sexy, rich, ambitious, funny lesbian, ages 39 – 46 please send picture and note.
“I will grow on you I’m sure.Rosann and I were raw emotionally, though, her tenacity and anxiety drove her forward. So, while I cried a lot, Rosann went out and danced, a lot. It was so striking to both of us how differently we were managing this difficult period in our lives. But most interesting at times, was the effect our difficulties were having on our friends. They were nearly as inconsolable as we were. They were upset, mad, and terribly anxious. Our circle of friends consisted of other lesbian couples who had also been together for an average of 10-15 years. They were asking themselves the same question: If it could happen to us could it happen to them? As a trained psychologist I know about defenses. I have some very nice ones that I have proudly developed. But this was something else. I sat with a friend early on, cried my eyes out, talked for an hour straight, and her response was, “so essentially this is about career issues?” I started to laugh hysterically through my puffy eyes and said, “Come again?” I hadn’t remembered even mentioning my job or Rosann’s in my wailing. And so it began. It’s called projection. Very well intentioned loving friends were thrown into their own relationship hell by our break up.When your relationship is in trouble and your world seems to be crumbling you have great humility. You move more slowly, you listen more intently, you easily tear up. People seem more comfortable telling you their secrets. Affairs, sadness, anger, lack of sex, disconnection, regret. More than one friend said, “I would do anything to have my own apartment and come together a couple times a week.” I often thought I just may be in better shape than they are. How could that be? Our personal hell had opened some Pandora’s boxes. Things are not always as they seem apparently. Bombay duck is actually dried fish. See, just saying. How about that there is no word for headache in Albania? People there just think their heads hurt. People just think that all is well in their relationships until it isn’t anymore. Change, or go the way of the lesbian dinosaur, or something like that.Rosann said communicating with me was like communicating with an adolescent boy. That is fundamentally untrue. All I said once was, I didn’t want to talk about it until I got back from shooting some hoops. Would it have been more adult to say “let’s chat after I down this bottle of Chardonnay?” She wanted to go to couple’s therapy. I myself had thoughts to encase myself in a hyperbaric chamber. I would just sweat the anguish out of my system. At the very least I could take an inch off my ass.I moved out in July, and Rosann began looking for condos in November. She wanted this over quickly, sort of like pulling the Band-Aid off the burn. I felt a good day involved opening my mail. Rosann makes things happen when she is freaked out, I prefer the fetal position until my leg cramps up or something.I of course wanted to go with her to look at the condos. I was still so uncertain of everything, neither of us really convinced we were done, but acting as if we were done. And, it seemed like a good idea at the time. She was still my best friend; I cared about where she lived, and I was sure I could bring something of value to the table. I think it was approximately 47 seconds upon entering the first condo that I burst into tears. The realtor was quite gracious. By the 5th condo, I was weeping walking up the front walk. The realtor inquired, “do you think you two are ready to be doing this?” “Yeah, of course, Rosann said, we’re fine, Donna is just a bit emotional today.” Let’s continue. And so it went. After a period of time (20 loft/condos later) the crying stopped, and I got to some meatier issues. I believed that every condo was too small. Where would my stuff go? Rosann would gently say, “Donna you won’t be living here. There will be no Donna stuff.” I was so insulted. “Well, I countered, I’ll be visiting, I’ll come for dinner, we’ll watch movies, and I may need to stay over now and then if it the roads are unsafe due to inclement weather. So, then I would have stuff here, wouldn’t I?” I couldn’t believe her insensitivity. Rosann said, “I am not sure if down the road my new mate would like you staying over so much.” “What do you mean? What kind of witch would you be with that wouldn’t welcome me into your home, and perhaps to your couch?” OK, so endings aren’t my thing. Especially, uncertain endings.The poor realtor. She was so very relieved when we called in late November to say, “Perhaps we’re not ready to make this move.” I would stay in the apartment, Rosann in the house, and we would figure out what the hell was happening. Perhaps things weren’t as over as we thought. Couples therapy helped, individual therapy helped, being alone helped, dancing into the wee hours of the night with other people helped, praying helped, reading helped, thinking differently helped, letting go of other notions helped, grieving helped, coffee dates with close friends helped, traveling alone helped, digging deep helped. There is no one moment, no one conversation, nor one intimate exchange that made a difference for us. It was thousands of talks, tears, painful exchanges and even laughs that came together in some perfect storm that brought the pieces back together. Perhaps we had another 13 years in us. It is hard to say, but the odds look pretty good.Epilogue: Still together 4/1/2013