“Well, the break up takes place in parts. The brain, the heart, the body, mutual things, shared things. The mind leaves but the heart is still there. The heart has left but the body wants to stay. The body leaves but the things are still at the apartment. You must come back. You move everything out of the apartment. You must come back. You move everything out of the apartment but the mind stays behind. Memory lingers in the place. Seven years later, perhaps seven years later, it doesn’t matter anymore. Perhaps it takes longer. Perhaps it never ends.”
- Paula from Fefu and her Friends by Maria Irene Fornes
One of the most interesting plays I ever performed in was Fefu and her Friends. It’s a feminist play that’s pretty prickly around the edges. The characters (all female) muse on different topics: relationships, evil, genitals, charity skits, etc. I found it confusing, yet exhilarating at the same time, with poetic passages that have stuck with me long after the performance.
The quote above is given by the character, Paula, speaking of human connections and the process of breaking up. It’s a convoluted monologue, but the statements resonate. I’ve never had a clean break up—the separation occurs in stages, often erratically, with one part of the psyche alternately hanging on, and then letting go when another part kicks in.
Interpreted one way, the passage sounds bleak. Perhaps it takes longer. Perhaps it never ends. A never-ending break up? Ridiculous. And, if possible, horribly tragic. Surely, though, marriage is the cure, right? Find the one true love you’re destined to be with and everything works out. You leave all the past in the past and proceed into a glorious future.
As a five-month veteran of marriage, I hardly qualify as an expert. While human, my husband is a good man and challenges me to be better woman. However, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that the past isn’t just memory—it’s the motion that carves you. The water that beats on you and smoothes you into a unique form. My marriage is molding me into a more complete and understanding person, but it’s only building upon what was started years ago with other individuals. My past relationships broadened my mind and stretched my capacity.
And maybe they still linger. Some remnants, at least. One helped me understand my personality better, and why I interacted with others a certain way. Another challenged my opinions, but taught me to defend them better at the same time. One in particular didn’t ask much—only that I join him in Doctor Who marathons. Different people who were there for me at the proper time, but then left when I no longer needed them.
Honestly, I’d rather take the messiness, the gradual separations and heartaches that follow than to opt for clean slates and no lessons learned. A garden metaphor comes to mind. You have to put up with a lot of crap in order to cultivate a fertile plot. One that’s primed for the right relationship at the right time. And even if that relationship is still waiting, at least your garden is better for the fertilizer.
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How have past relationships enriched your life? Do you find yourself still working through a break up long after the fact? What crap has fertilized your garden?