Heartstone

12 – What the Maple Syrup???

After his breakup, at first, Arwin tried to carry on with life. He tried to ‘be a man’ about it and just push on through, deny that this was going to hurt him. That lasted about a day and a half. Then the grief really sunk in and everything went to shit. He would have felt miserable anyway, but trying to deny your feelings instead of dealing with them is a horrible way to operate. It only makes things much, much worse. 

He completely fell apart.

While bravely substitute teaching a grade-eight English class on point of view for creative writing, he broke down and cried like a baby. The girl whose writing he was critiquing thought he was upset because her writing was just that terrible. Then she started crying, too, and wouldn’t stop, and her mom was called, and then the parents came to the school and then Arwin ended up sitting with the school councillor. It was all very messy. He went through a whole box of tissues. They did not ask him back the next day.

While riding his bike, he was so distracted with his dark thoughts that he failed to notice people coming towards him on the riverside bike path. He swerved at the last second and landed in the river. 

Unable to pull himself together, and without a partner to help with the bills, he was forced to give up the new apartment, losing his two-month deposit. Luckily, his kind and generous parents took him back in to their house in the suburbs. At his age, thirty, it was embarrassing, but, at the same time, he was thankful for their support and the fact that they didn’t look down on him for what he was going through. 

He tried to return the new car. The dealership took it back — at half what he had paid for it only a couple of weeks earlier. 

The dealer had put on a face so regretful that it had obviously been fake. “You know what they say: a car loses half its value the moment you drive it off the lot.”

“But I just bought it!” Arwin had protested. “It’s still brand new.”

“Almost new though. Almost. Not quite. Hafta sell it used now, don’t I? Sorry, pal. Take it or leave it. There’s nothing I can do.”

Unable to bring himself to argue the point or sell the car himself, he’d returned it, yet still owed a huge amount of money on it. That seemed wildly unfair, but what choice did he have?

While teaching soccer in an elementary gym class to a bunch of seven-year olds, he was so stressed out from thinking about Kelli that he lost his temper at the ball, then at the net and then got himself completely tangled in the nylon webbing. After much cursing, to the hilarity of the elementary kids, the unamused principal had to come and help bodily extricate Arwin. Arwin was very apologetic afterwards, but was still asked to go home early. And he was given a stern lecture about what kind of language is appropriate at a school. 

The school board, while sympathetic to his emotional health, took him off their sub list and would only reinstate him once he’d pulled himself together. They even asked for a psychological evaluation to prove it. It was highly embarrassing. 

From wild grief he fell into deep depression. 

It felt like his whole life was falling apart around him and each sad turn only made his feelings darker and deeper. One moment he’d been happy and looking forward to marriage and a future with the woman he loved. He’d been training for one of his favourite events with a good friend. The next moment, he was curled up in bed all day long, wanting to hide from the world, unemployed and feeling very much alone.

The more we love someone, the greater the void when they’re gone. How much we grieve after a loss reflects just how much we loved.

On one level, he understood that he was depressed. He knew that he needed to break out of it at some point. He knew that exercise could help, but the thought of it made him ill. 

He thought of nothing but his relationship with Kelli. His mind went over things, and then did it again, over and over. He became obsessed with trying to figure out what had gone wrong. Where had he screwed up and why? Why wasn’t he good enough for her anymore? 

He tried to hang out with other friends but all he wanted to do was talk about Kelli and there was only so much of that that anyone was willing to take. Plus, his friends only seemed sympathetic on a very superficial level, even though now was when he needed them most. That turned out to be even more depressing.

He hated it. He hated feeling this way. He hated the world. It made him immensely frustrated. 

He couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t take the pain, the unending misery and hopelessness and mounting frustration. He threw himself into every distraction. He binged on video games and movies, sitting for hours in front of the screen so that he wouldn’t have to use his brain. Because his brain only wanted to think about Kelli and how much he loved and missed her and how much it hurt not having her. But distractions didn’t work. They only delayed things until he was in bed, the lights out, and his brain had nothing to do but agonize over the breakup. Insomnia struck him every single night.

Finally, he sat down and came to a conclusion. He could not ignore his heart. He was still madly in love with her. He couldn’t live without her, didn’t want to. Things might be bad right now, but they could fix this. He had to fight for their love, fight for her. They could get through it and come out stronger on the other side. 

Some people might question his continued desire for someone who’d betrayed him so badly. For some, switching their feelings on and off was easily done. They would have no problem walking away from someone and never caring about them again. But for Arwin, his love ran deep. He also tried to believe in the best in people. What Kelli had done was wrong and it hurt. But perhaps it was just a mistake; we all screw up at some point or see something we want and go after it without thinking about the consequences. Some difficulties are bigger than others but that doesn’t mean you just give up on a great relationship the instant things go wrong, do you? 

She was his best friend. His time with her had been the happiest of his life. What would it say about him and the depth of his love if he was the type to just walk away without trying to fight for what really mattered?

He tried contacting Kelli numerous times, leaving messages, begging her to remember their love, to remember how many great years they’d shared, to come back, to fix their relationship. He texted her often. He wrote long, romantic emails. Sometimes, he’d feel proud of himself after, proud that he was fighting for her, that he really did love her. But sometimes, he hated himself for being so pathetic, and hated himself even more for the fact that she never replied, that she had no more desire for him or his love. No matter how hard he tried to fight for her, she never gave him the chance to do so. She just ignored him completely.

Why wasn’t she talking things over? Were there no regrets at all? Did she not feel bad for the way she’d ended it? Did she feel absolutely nothing for him? Was there no doubt in her heart at all?

If so, what did that mean? Had her feelings for him never been real? Had her love been fake the entire time they’d been together?

And so, increasingly miserable again, he dove back into unending hours of television and books and anything to keep him from thinking. Because if he stopped, all he thought about, was her. 

The more time that passed, the more he felt that he was wasting his life and he hated himself for that. 

At dinner one night, his always-kind father patted him sympathetically on the shoulder. “Don’t fight it, son. You’re grieving. It takes time to get through it. You were deeply, deeply in love with that girl. You can’t expect to feel better overnight. But you can’t just distract yourself forever. You must find ways to accept your grief and work through it while you slowly adjust to this new reality. The only way to truly make it through times like these is to grow as a person, and come out stronger and wiser for the experience. Trying to ignore your emotions will only make things worse, and leave you just as vulnerable the next time you have to go through this. Perhaps leave you even more vulnerable.”

“I don’t want there to be a next time,” Arwin stated sullenly over a plate of spaghetti he’d barely picked at. “I want her. I want to marry her. I want to spend the rest of my life with her.”

His father gave him a sad smile. “There will be other girls, Arwin.”

Arwin scowled. “Will there? Will she be capable of real love? Or do women only care about money and themselves?”

“That’s the depression, talking, Arwin,” his mother kindly scolded him. “Not all women are like that.”

“But many are!” he stubbornly retorted. “Shall we go down to the bookstore and see how big the so-called romance section on billionaire bad boys is?”

She reluctantly nodded. “Some people are materialistic. Especially in this day and age of selfish indulgence and soft living. But not all are,” his mother insisted, taking no offence. “Yes, there are plenty of shallow, selfish women who only see their husbands as sources of free money and attention. But there are also others who truly care about the man they’re with and want true partnership.”

Arwin snorted. “I’m not sure I can believe it anymore. This isn’t the first time one of my girlfriends has turned out to be selfish, is it? Remember Alicia? The constant mood swings and drama? The possessiveness and jealousy? How everything had to be her way, all the time? Guys get such a bad rap; we’re labeled cheaters and people say we’re not in touch with our feelings, that we only care about sex. Like women are all saints. But it’s not true, is it? They can be every bit as bad as men, or worse. I loved Kelli with everything I had. I did everything for her. I treated her like a queen, like the hero in some Hollywood movie would. And she stabbed me in the back like it was nothing.” He sagged in his chair. “Why the hell is it so hard to find someone who honestly loves you back just as much?”

“That,” Arwin’s father said softly, “is a tough question with complicated answers that few people want to hear. Many people are selfish, of both genders. But your mother is right, there are diamonds in the rough. Your mother herself is one.”

“As is your father,” Arwin’s mother pointed out. “Women sometimes feel the same way after a breakup like yours. You’re not alone there. Both genders have their weaknesses and faults. We all thought the world of Kelli, but I guess we never got to know the real her. People are good at hiding their true selves. Or, sometimes they don’t even know who they really are until they’re put to the test. I’m not defending her, but maybe Kelli herself didn’t realize she was the type of person to betray her partner for money until this other guy came along and presented the opportunity.”

Arwin scoffed. “That’s no excuse for treating me the way she did. I mean, how can she be so utterly cold about it? It’s like she’s an entirely different person.”

“I hate to say it,” his mother admitted, “but maybe she never really loved you. Not that you don’t deserve to be loved; you do. You’re a wonderful person and your father and I are very, very proud of you. But perhaps she’s just not capable of feeling the same things, though that was never obvious to any of us. I guess it can be hard to tell the difference between someone who is just happy with you because they are enjoying themselves in the moment, and someone who truly loves you.” 

Arwin sighed. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone. I want to love someone and make them happy. But how can I ever trust anyone again?”

“You have to have faith that there are good people out there,” his mother told him, “and have faith in yourself.”

Arwin’s father gave his wife a warm smile before continuing. “Faith in people, once broken, can be hard to get back. But you have to try. I know it’s hard, but you’re going to have to take the initiative to pull yourself out of this hole. Time will help, but, ultimately, you will be far better off if your own initiative leads you to a better place.”

“Everything I do just makes things worse,” Arwin grumbled. “Nothing helps.”

His mother smiled and reached out to grab his hand. “Keep a journal of your thoughts. Work through things that way. Get it out of your head and onto paper. I’ve always found that to be very therapeutic. Sometimes, it’s better than trying to talk to friends.”

Keeping a journal turned out to be a great idea. He filled pages and pages. It really helped him think through things and brought clarity to his feelings. To his surprise, he’d finish an entry and feel almost like himself again for a good couple of hours afterwards. 

Time passed. It generally does that. Usually in a relentless fashion regardless of our own wishes or needs. Rarely does it bother to stop and ask us if we’re all right and ready to continue. Time is a heartless bastard.

But, in time, he did gradually feel better. Or, at least, not as bad as before. The chemical imbalance in his brain began to even out. It helped to be around loving parents. The journal writing, once he forced himself to do it again, helped. The darkness in his mind lightened to a grayness and the pain dulled. 

He wasn’t dwelling on the past quite as much, but now he had no idea what to do with his future. He felt lost.

One Saturday, in a bit of a blue funk, Arwin tried to distract himself with chores but quickly grew restless and put them aside. “Would you mind if I borrowed the car?” he asked his father, feeling blah. “I just, I dunno, want to go for a drive and get some air or something.”

“Sure.” His supportive father handed him the keys, no questions asked. 

Arwin got in the car, started it, backed out of the driveway and headed towards the main road. Without even really planning to, he found himself leaving the suburbs and aiming towards the highway out of town. Beyond was the vast and quiet countryside, nature everywhere. It was completely opposite to the crowded and busy city that housed the agents of his misery. Escape was just what he needed. Leaving the buildings behind, he felt his mood lighten. 

He drove down the open highway and a limitless stretch of straight road stretched out as far as the eye could see under a sunny sky that stretched from one horizon to another. It was all very stretchy. With each passing kilometre he began to feel a little better. On either side of the road lay vast fields of golden wheat and bright yellow canola, punctuated with tractors and irrigation systems. And there were cows, of course. 

On impulse, he took a quiet, little-used exit, intending to park and simply sit for a while and enjoy the quiet and solitude. He drove down a gravel road. On one side of him was a wheat field and a forest beyond. On the other was a muddy cattle ranch full of lazy cows. Ok, that wasn’t fair. Surely, only a few of them were lazy. Others were probably very productive at…whatever it was cows did. Make cow pies? 

He turned a corner, making his way past a small copse of trees and found that he was speeding towards a giant pink dragon that was laying across the road, not far from a large pile of fresh-cut flowers, the kind you see as tributes at a place where people have recently died. The dragon was monstrously large, as big as a house at least, with darker pink scales on its back and on its bat-like wings, fading to light pink and then white on its underbelly and throat. The beast was munching on a freshly charred cow, smoke still wafting from blackened beef. The dragon raised its great head and gave Arwin a stern look with large, white, reptilian eyes.

Arwin’s eyes went wide. “What the maple syrup?” he gasped.

A little pink baby dragon waddled out of the tall grass next to the road. Arwin saw it at the last second and swerved. Desperate to avoid the creature, he shot right off the road and towards the copse of trees. The air in front of him shimmered.

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