Something So Good It Hurt


By Sheetal R. Modi

“We are Siamese if you please, we are Siamese if you don’t please,” Gabe squeaks in perfect rendition of the not so politically correct cats in Lady and the Tramp. The juxtaposition of his astrophysicist defining demeanor and the daffy Disney song are too much for me—I am not sure how the conversation has taken this turn, but I can barely breathe because I am so overcome with laughter. We walk arm in arm home on a brisk fall evening after eating too much good pizza. How did I land into this perfect happiness? 

Fast forward four weeks later, and now Gabe’s words of “I think we should break up” bring me unrelenting tears distilled with sadness, not laughter, this time. My perfect happiness now also makes perfect sense with its finite shelf life. 

Gabe was everything. He was deeply kind, intelligent peppered with just the right amount of confidence, selfless (and thus obviously great) in bed—all around spectacular. His sweetness molded into the corners of my awkwardly shaped persona, beveling my rough edges into a better being. 

I, like many people, have my closet of sprites that any novice psychoanalyst would conclude erodes at my ability to be a completely healthy and functional partner: watching my mother battle cancer throughout my adolescence and eventually fail; my surviving Indian-American father’s desperation for grandchildren of the purebred kind; a smattering of men left behind me, some of whom were degrading and unkind; and a deep introversion that puts up unintentionally offending walls. 

And here was someone who loved me for who I was, who held me at night in a way that made me feel whole and who evoked in me a joy for life that I had never experienced before. I am not a romantic, but I’ll confess my favorite moments were possibly the ones where I waited on the doorstep of Gabe’s Oakland apartment—suffused with the realization that right here was a portal into a world with Gabe and my appreciation to be at its ingress. Sometimes I would pause before knocking to enjoy that thought for a few more seconds.  

And now there is more than a door between us. There is an end. There are verbs in the past tense. I suppose that my sprites revealed themselves and cracked that perfect mold he set.   

Deep, searing pain resonates throughout my body. I won’t hurt myself, but I suddenly understand why depression makes some do. Having a place to localize the source of this subsuming current seems like it would make the pain more manageable. 

With my unsutured wounds, I seem to forget simple daily tasks like brushing my teeth before bed and even showering. The nights are probably the hardest. I wake up in the middle of most of them and for a few seconds I stir in that naive state which eludes reality; with no knowledge of my world without Gabe, it is momentarily at peace. In the following seconds, reality dawns and panic and I together awaken in the darkness. The opposite of awakening from a nightmare—I awake into one.    

My nickname for Gabe was Homeslice, occasionally written out in What’sApp emojis, because that’s just what he was to me, a slice of home. He would do all the selfless niceties like peel my carrots, knowing I was too lazy to expend the effort for the better taste, or pick me up in his car with the passenger seat warmer already on, or deposit stowaway little gifts in my backpack when I wasn’t looking. 

On evenings when I came home tired and beaten from the workday, he would listen to stories about my day whilst I showered; upon my turning the faucet off, he would gently nudge my towel against the crack of the curtain, knowing I’d be shy about my naked, wet body in the lurid bathroom light. But more than anything, Gabe exuded a warmth that drew me with a magnetic pull. He’s the first person I couldn’t get enough of, and even now, beyond our 475 days of dating, I wish I had more of.  

My friends and the acquaintances who for some reason I can’t help but divulge this story to tell me “in time you’ll realize you are better off;” “breakups are times when we learn the most about ourselves;” and of course, “it’s okay, you can start talking shit about him.” I have been going through the seven stages of grief, with a few more tacked on (e.g. chagrin, over-analysis, and guilt), and these words of purported consolation don’t seem to help. 

To be able to look forward with clarity, sometimes we look back and color our perception of the past, telling ourselves that things happened for the best. That’s just it—it’s a story that we use as a foundation to build back the broken pieces, to construct a world that makes more sense so that we can move comfortably on. Life, however, doesn’t actually make sense. 

If Gabe had said yes to our relationship, I honestly don’t know where that path would have led—opening new doors and affording unparalleled buoyancies or a miring me in a lifetime of mediocrity. This is one path of life that I didn’t get to explore. Every life move we are confronted with, either as the object or the subject, changes our course in an unpredictable way, whether it be the trivial choice of what route to take to work or something much more poignant. Like a choose-your-own-adventure book, they produce different ends, and unless we find ourselves in the middle of a Black Mirror episode, we can’t say that we traverse to the optimum.  

However, what we can definitively say is these intersections shape us into who we are and where we’d like the next intersection to take us. Emotion drowns over any fragment of my logical brain but on infrequent occasions, it comes up for a breath of air. When it does, I recognize with some healthy amount of realism that this world gives us many wonderful things, and many of them are transient and unpredictably taken away. 

My relationship with Gabe was one of those, an experience with an amazing person, which I was fortunate for during our relationship; our break up shouldn’t change that. So instead, I want to acknowledge my experience as it was and not make sense of it. 

While everyone’s heartbreak is unique, in the abstract it is a prosaic emotion. We, as a species, are unified in our experience of romantic loss—it is repeated, and even trite. On an aggregate basis, we rebound and continue, which is for the best of our evolution (lest we’d all have sworn off dating and population trends like Japan’s would be universal). 

This early in my journey, I haven’t yet identified the mending tools I’ll use but I realize that the one thing that stanches my wounds and gives me strength is that I did love. I loved with a love that was unalloyed and resolute. Gabe did not choose me, but for once in my life I chose someone to give my whole heart to and in my head and aloud I said “when” not “if.” (Yes, I was the girlfriend who would send Gabe calendar invites a year in advance for concert tickets I’d jumped the gun on). 

At my friend Liz’s house, we are making dinner. Really, Liz is, because I am still useless in my fumbling state of confusion. Even though her dad is there, an erudite British professor who I normally would be steeled by, I find myself not being able to suppress the tears as Liz asks me how I am while she chops carrots. 

As I excuse myself to go to the bathroom, she asks me if it’s okay to follow and there she holds me as I shake in her arms. “That it hurts so much means it was good,” she reminds me, letting my salty tears soak her blouse. It was. I know it wasn’t perfect for Gabe, but it feels like it was for me.  

Someday in the near or distant future maybe I can resolve my cognitive dissonance to make myself feel better and to move beyond the pieces strewn behind me of what felt like a perfect relationship. To be honest though, I hope I don’t. 

I don’t want to vilify Gabe just to console myself that he said no. He said it with clarity and that’s allowed in the rules of engagement that we sign implicit consent to at the outset of a relationship. It doesn’t take away the hurt—he left and I was rejected. However, I believe that being honest with myself provides the best opportunity for a healthy path forward. I hope I remember what I felt and had the fortune to experience and simply appreciate it for what it was. Something so good it hurt.

writer photo

Sheetal R. Modi

Sheetal is a scientist by profession and works at a biotech startup aimed at discovering drugs using computer science. In her free time, she enjoys sharing her musings on various life topics and sampling as much ice cream as possible from the San Francisco Bay Area's many establishments.