In Case of Emergency, Please Contact…

Last month, my partner of 4 1/2 years let me know he was ready for us to break up. He told me while I was still half-asleep and in bed. It was a rare day off, and I’d been expecting a different trajectory to the day: one that might have brought rejuvenation and joy. We lived together for 2 1/2 years, and I was head-over-heels for him. He was ready, he said, to go find a partner with whom he could have children. This is the same man who thought taking care of a foster dog was too stressful; the same man who works a split shift from 10:30am until 11:30pm at a restaurant. Biologically, I suppose I could get away with having a child. I’m only 40 and I’ve known plenty of women who were as old (or older) when they had their first child. And for the first time in my working life, I have great health insurance benefits that are available to not just me, but to my spouse and children. Yet I did not feel safe enough, nor supported enough, to transition from an in-love companion to a co-parent. I realized that even if we were psychologically and financially ready to have a child, this relationship was over. And I was crushed. It was as if Life had asked us to bring all our cards to the table – and we’d been playing with completely different decks this whole time.

My grief was neither logical nor linear. I swung from trying to negotiate to being furious to implosive despair. The timing could not have been worse (but when it would have been “better” – I don’t know). I was a shaking mess who needed to: make a strong finish in my academic quarter at the electrical training center, stay focused, strong and alert during my 10 hour work days, and find a reasonable and comfortable place to live. The money I’d been squirreling away for a down payment on a house (it would have been *our* house) was re-allocated toward moving expenses and my first, last and deposit on an apartment.

My next day at work was a jittery mess. I felt raw and vulnerable and I couldn’t concentrate. My appetite was gone and even when I knew I had to eat, I had no taste for the food in my mouth. The grief hit in overwhelming waves. It was obvious that I was not myself. Since we spend so much time together as a crew and already know the significant points of each others’ lives, I thought it best to be honest. I expected ridicule, judgmental looks – or maybe some crude jokes or curse-laden opinions. I got none of these. Instead, my trade brothers and sisters gave me compassion and soothing words. They also agreed I would not be allowed to work at heights or in situations that required focus: not until I could get back on an even keel. One of my journeymen, who has been through a divorce himself, said calmly, “Well – it’s not like it was anybody’s *fault*.” And he was right. There was no malice or vindictiveness or fault in this break up: just incredible sadness and disappointment, mixed in with tornadoes of anger and bewilderment for me. Of the hundreds of other tradeswomen and men at our job site, how many of them are grieving so badly, they can’t focus?

Today, I removed the “In Case of Emergency, Please Contact…” notifications from both the inside of my hardhat and my wallet. I can now use the phrase “ex-partner” and “ex-boyfriend” without melting into tears. I made use of our union’s Employee Assistance Program and met several times with a therapist. I also made good use of my health insurance and sought acupuncture treatments. I suspect it will take more time for the unpredictable pangs of heartache to be manageable: running into cues of the inside jokes we shared or driving past a restaurant or movie theater that held extra great memories.

Meanwhile, I can serve as my own emergency contact and connect with my life desires. Will I ever live with a partner to whom I’m not married to or in a domestic partnership with? How do you know whether you truly understand another person? What about financial parity? As my wages increase, do I want to be in a situation where I am the primary breadwinner? Will I ever feel secure enough to have children? Deep down, I know the answers to most of these questions. I guess I just need to make peace with them while moving to life’s next adventure.

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