I recently went to court to try to collect money owed to me by a former partner. There is nothing that could have prepared me for sitting across from a person that I love (present tense, because the love is still there)- separated by a few feet of distance, hurt, betrayal, lies, and this stretching silence where there is so much to say and yet none of it matters- while waiting for a judge to decide if he will be made to keep his promises. There’s nothing to make it hurt less that a relationship that seemed to have so much promise ended in broken ones or that the person who was my rock could become the rock I would break against. Winning a case didn’t feel like winning, and having my day in court still didn’t feel like closure.
So why do we do it? Why do we look for legal solutions to our problems? Sometimes that’s all we have left. It may be the only way we ever get anything even resembling justice for ourselves. I expected to be relieved when it was done, but all I felt was an ache for what might have been and pain for what it is now. I could see the curve of a shoulder I once rested my head on and felt safe, and it’s now just a shoulder of someone I don’t know anymore. He can speak, and the only thing I hear is all the promises that were never kept rather than his voice speaking to me now. Everything is distorted, and I am Alice in the looking glass wondering how the hell I got here when I started out in Wonderland.
There is little that can prepare us for the end. There is little solace to be taken from those final moments in the presence of someone we love but cannot keep. The words seem superfluous in that yawning ache of what was and what is and what might have been if only… So we don’t speak the words we would like to say, and then we wonder if we should have, and we know- finally- that we couldn’t have anyway, not over the lump in our throats that grew larger every moment we couldn’t hold their eyes because ours were filled to overflowing with loss. So we close them and let someone else do the talking, and we hope that when it’s all over, we’ll have a sense of peace that we haven’t had since we knew the truth.
Then there is no peace so we look for it elsewhere, like in a still-warm bottle of wine at noon because it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, and this morning has lasted all day and into the night already. We try to sleep, but we have fragmented nightmare dreams of promises, lies, and eyes that always seemed sincere when they told us everything we wanted to hear. We break against the rock that once held us, and we wonder if they ever feel the pain of it when all we feel is the pain. We lose our tempers in traffic, cursing the one who would get in our way when life has already tripped us up so much. We won’t allow one more person to run us over and leave us bleeding out. We pour the glass until it spills over, but our cups are empty. We drink until we see the bottom, but the grief is bottomless.
Because no one tells you what I’m telling you now: there is no winning when we love and lose. Even when we walk away, the endings still strip us of our power. There is no changing someone else or making them be what we so desperately needed. All we can do is hold out our empty hands to the Universe and wait for them to be filled with something other than all this incredible love for someone who hurt us and then didn’t bother to apologize or make amends or try to right this wrong. No one tells us that, even in victory, we’ll be filled with love and grief and a sense that the world is skewed sideways. Any other satisfaction is cold comfort.
But we do what we have to do because there is nothing else left. We dust ourselves off after it’s done, and we move on. We feel broken, but everything truly beautiful seems to have been broken before. The same hearts that are strong enough to love someone who has hurt us will also be strong enough to let go and move on. Not today. Probably not tomorrow or even the day after that. But soon.
No one will tell you that seeking justice will hurt. No one will tell you how your voice will shake or your eyes will fill with tears or your knees will buckle. Or how even getting what you want is heavy with sorrow. But you’ll get plenty of platitudes. Just remember that a heart strong enough to do this, even when everything inside us is hurting, is resilient enough to do anything. Bottomless love and grief can transform into infinite possibility.
But all we have to do right now is get through today.