Covid-19 couldn’t stop hard rubbish scavengers – they were still out scouring for fortune. I’d just dragged our old gold-painted bed frame on to the curb. A masked treasure hunter emerged from a ute.
“Morning mate,” he chirped, grabbing it.
He was so casual. Like I’d placed it there just for him. Like he wasn’t ripping my heart out of my chest. Like he wasn’t taking away part of the bed where Holly and I had shared a life together. I put off dragging the mattress out – I had a sour taste in my mouth.
She left me at the end of June, after eight and a half years – living together for seven. Took the dog with her.
Pandemic life lead to pain points in our relationship intensifying. Despite our love for one another, our incompatibility became more apparent during Melbourne’s stages of lockdown. We spoke different love languages, relaxed in different ways, had different schedules. She wanted to live in the country; I’m a city boy.
At the end of May, while we were in stage two, she was moving back to rural Victoria to study. Maybe a year, maybe less. “This feels like a break up,” I said as we boxed up books.
After months of living on top of each other I was alone overnight.
That physical distance lead to an emotional distance. She was back thriving in the country. I was barely hanging on. I felt abandoned. Telling her that only pushed her away. The distance grew. We argued on the phone. She wanted to break up.
I didn’t want to end it, but I didn’t want to undignify either of us by begging her to stay. As much as it hurt to admit, we had grown apart the past few years, in our interests, our ideals, our plans.
“You’re resistant to change,” she’d said.
So I embraced it, poured myself into setting up my new bedroom. Dusted off old posters and framed them. Bought Michael Jordan and John Cena bobbleheads. Focused on what I had, rather than what I was losing.
At the start of July she came back to collect her things. We shared a tender goodbye. She choked back tears. I was ashamed I couldn’t join her, but it was probably the nicest breakup you could ask for. Our last words were: “I love you.”
In good news, Melbourne was opening back up. I drowned my sorrows with sweat at the gym. I focused on transformation. I wasn’t heartbroken. I was handling it.
In mid-July metropolitan Melbourne re-entered stage three restrictions. I shrugged and brushed off some old equipment in the shed. My yard became my gym.
The gift and the curse of lockdown during a breakup was I had no choice but to work on myself, go insular, rather than escape in adventure. It wasn’t a prison, it was spaceship me. At least I could go for three walks a day …
Sunday 2 August. I was checking my phone after shooting hoops across the road. Melbourne was entering stage four. One hour max movement a day. Bye three walks. The lockdown was incrementally taking more away from me. I persevered, turned my backyard into a walking lap, a square of muddy trodden-down grass, like a suburban gulag. But it began to feel hollow. I began to feel hollow.
“Just work on yourself,” was the resounding advice. I’d done that. I was down to 76kg of lean muscle. When not working or working out I was practising self-care: reading, listening to vinyl, cooking. I was rediscovering myself, extracting me from us. I was moving on. But with each week of stage four I felt like Sonic the Hedgehog stuck on the loading screen, feet racing in place.
“I’m not heartbroken,” I was saying the first month after the breakup. “I’m angry.” At her for leaving. For taking the dog. For leaving me behind.
When we hit stage four, I was angry at her for not being here with me. That anger would immediately become missing her desperately. I’d bounce between the two. I was burying myself in metamorphosis because I couldn’t handle the stillness. Memories of her haunted the house.
I was sifting through those memories all hard rubbish morning. Putting the bed frame out was more monumental than I’d appreciated. It being immediately carted off was like vultures picking over my corpse. Covid had taken away my relationship; now it was stripping its bones. They’re not getting the mattress, I decided.
I went for a walk. I did the one thing I hadn’t done yet. I let myself be sad.
All Night by Beyonce was playing in my headphones. The words “my torturer became my remedy” shattered my armour.
I realised, subconsciously, I’d been investing in my metamorphosis for Holly, hoping this was a giant misstep. But she’s not coming back. I understand why. I accept my flaws. It’s over.
Beyonce’s voice whispered: “How I missed you, my love.” I remembered where I’d first heard that song. I’d bought Holly the album one Christmas.
I was heartbroken. I finally admitted it with a big, heaving, ugly cry. My first time shedding a tear since our first dog died. At first it was pain. Then it was relief. I’d finally let the waves of grief crash over me.
Beyonce helped me realise they weren’t waves. They were lemons. They’d been falling at my feet the past three months. Each day I’d been forcing myself to make lemonade, washing the bitter sourness down my throat but saying it was fine.
But now I can admit that lemons are what they are. I can start perfecting the recipe. It’s not right just yet, but every day the brew tastes a little sweeter.
I dried my tears and made for the shed. To the mattress we’d shared.
“You sure? What if it’s too big?” my new flatmate asked.
“Then, I’ll get rid of it another time.”
We dragged it to the kerb together.
“Okay, what you wanna do now?” he asked.
“Make some lemonade,” I said.
The mattress was gone the next morning.