It was August third, 2001. A Friday. It was hotter than Hell outside, and it had been a long week. We’d talked about what we should do that night, and going out to a movie seemed like a good idea. I made dinner. We ate. You went upstairs to take a quick shower: “to wash off the day,” you said. I lay on the couch under the ceiling fan, dozing, and waiting for you.

When you came downstairs, I stirred. You smelled clean, ready to go. You sat on the loveseat across from me and said, “I need to tell you something.”

The rest is a blur, really.

I remember hearing the words, “I’ve been thinking about leaving” come out of your mouth and hit my ears like boiling lead.

I remember simultaneously wanting to vomit, hit you and run away.

I remember screaming, “NO! This isn’t high school! You can’t just ‘break up’ with me!! We took vows! In front of our friends! In front of our parents!”

I remember having a hard time catching my breath and my top lip swelling like it does when I cry really hard.

You were cold, despite the August heat. Firm. Unswayable. I wonder now how many times you’d practiced telling me that you were done. I wonder if you rehearsed in the shower and in the bathroom mirror just before you came down the stairs: “I’m leaving. No, I’m thinking about leaving. Yeah, that sounds better.”

I ended up begging you desperately: “Anything. I’ll do anything you want, just please don’t leave me,” I said. But your heart was closed. You were already gone.

The rest of the month was almost unbearable. The heat. The shame of explaining what was going on. The feeling of utter abandonment and failure. Hearing you move around upstairs in our bedroom while I tried unsuccessfully to sleep in the guest room below. Moving through the days numb, dreading my return home from work to see your things slowly leaving in boxes, headed for your new apartment. Crying on the phone to my mother and my friends about how you’d changed my chemistry and how there was no fucking way I was going to be able to go on without you.

And then it was September, and—just like that—you and the dog were gone.

I moved into a shitty eighties town-home that I loathed. My last living grandparent died, and I felt nothing. The Twin Towers fell, and I began to fall apart. I had one-night stands. I drank alone—something I’d never done before. And when I’d start to get disgusted with myself, I’d blame you. If you just hadn’t left me, none of this horrible shit would be happening to me. I’d be at home with you and the cats and the dog, hanging out. Being your wife. But you didn’t want that, and everything had turned to shit.

Somehow, I woke up each day and lived my life. By April, I’d lost forty pounds, dyed my hair aubergine and pink, and gotten a promotion at work. I began dating. Then one day I looked at the calendar, and more than a year had passed.

I was still alive.

Life was still happening, even though you weren’t a part of it anymore. Big, important shit was going on, and it was no longer my first impulse to pick up the phone, call you to tell you about it. And one day, I woke up, and loneliness and abandonment were not the first things I felt.

Letting go of my anger toward you was a like digging to China with a teaspoon in the desert sun. I hated you and wanted bad things to happen to you. I don’t anymore. I survived you, and I want to thank you. You leaving taught me how strong I am. You showed me how deeply I am loved and supported by my friends and family. I’d always suspected as much, but when you left, I became more confident of that strength and love than ever before, which set the foundation for the biggest challenges, the most terrifying and thrilling adventures and deepest love of my life.