I’ve been living alone for over two years now. I started out in this apartment with a stripped-down version of everything: six white dishes; four white sheets; one white jar of sea salt. I wanted lots of space between each white thing. I wanted to start clean and spare, like a Carmelite nun. As the months went by and the heartbreak receded, I started adding color — crazy Marimekko prints; cobalts and indigos; carmine and pumpkin. All your basic gay-man shades.

I’m moving out now and the place looks pretty good, given that my parents chose it while I was on my way back from Toronto. The first thing I thought upon seeing the faux-wood wall paneling was, “Oh, THANKS for renting me the apartment of someone who NEVER GETS LAID AT ALL.”

I did, though. And each woman helped put me back together again — D., the tireless hiker/physician’s assistant with whom I argued about the ethics of porn; T., who’d been dumped after a 14-year relationship; C., who weighed 250 pounds, had a laugh like pigeons cooing in the roof, and reduced me to hysterical laugh-crying as we made a show of dry-humping on the hood of my car in the feminist bookstore parking lot; and more and more. One after another they came, so I forgot to watch the pot of my own grief until I realized it had boiled down to nothing and I was far away from this Craigslist post I wrote in 2007:


Looking for the perfect post-breakup apartment

I thought I was done renting forever, but hey! Not so much! Surprise! Happy mid-30s to me!

So. Here’s what will help me re-join the human race, living-sitch-wise:

– Tininess. The ex is taking most of our stuff, and the last thing I need is a big, empty apartment to remind me.

– Funkiness. Nothing too institutional or “unit”-looking. I’d love a miniature guest house or small, informal complex. A row of tan-colored doors with identical, increasing numbers is going to make me more suicidal than I am right now, and I’m already listening to Leonard Cohen to cheer up.

– Darkness. The sun, she mocks me. Also, I have reverse seasonal-affective disorder, so I need a place that doesn’t have BRIGHT! HEAT! POUNDING! EVERYWHERE! Shadows are good. I’d like to wake up and have no idea what time it is. I guess I could always do the windows in foil and duct tape, if you’re cool with that. Or curtains or whatever.

– Liberalness of cat policy. I have three, but one of them is dying of progressive heart disease. He’ll probably kick it within a few weeks of moving in (thus delaying my emotional recovery for months) plus he’s hairless, so no problem there. The other two are traditional cats. They’ve never damaged anything, unless you count the time they absconded with a box of tampons and used them to make little nests all over the house. I owned a house. Did I say?

-Northwesterliness or U of A-ness. Proximity to family or to cool student types? Cannot decide, so either is good.

-Month-to-monthiness. I plan on staying a year, but what if she decides she can’t live without me and wants me back? This is most likely wishful thinking. But. Still.

What else…I don’t play loud music — any music, really, since everything reminds me of her — and I won’t throwing any loud parties. Mostly, I just cry and shop for replacement kitchen items. I’ll pay you on time and won’t get crazy with interior paint.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

P.S. On-site laundry would be nice.


I started lifting weights the week my my ex-partner had sex-reassignment surgery. We were in Trinidad — a red, cachexic desert town of blue-collar families, pre-operative transsexuals, and feral cats — and I already knew things were going to end badly.

Usually, I hung out at the hospital or the bed n’ breakfast. But there was also this gym, one with more iron than cardio.* I paid $40 for a week-long pass and went from one sheared-off metal thing to another, testing and trying and dropping plates on my toes.

You have to understand: Until then, I’d spent my life trying to be smaller. I was a 103-pound woman doing 20 shy bicep curlettes at LA Fitness, trying to get “toned.”** Suddenly, in Trinidad, I was OK with getting bigger if it meant I was made of stronger stuff. If it meant that I was stronger. It happened when my lover was able to get out of bed for the first time, and I helped walk her, slowly and carefully, to the shower. Her powerful, athletic body looked shriveled; vulnerable; not just because of the draining and bruising between her legs, but because she couldn’t really move. Under the warm spray, I realized that physical movement is a gift. It can be taken from us, so best to do what we can while we’re able.

Also, I knew I was going to need the strength. I knew that she would leave me. That when she could walk again, she would walk away.

I don’t have to try to make a metaphor out of this.

Do you know when muscles grow? After you lift. You’ve broken down your muscle fibers — done real albeit minor damage — and your body handles the trauma by building itself up again. But stronger this time, because it knows more damage is possible. Probable. It doesn’t trust you anymore.

It’s ready for the next hurt.

When I see strong, trained female muscle, I see healed pain. Muscles are scars that can do things — lift, push, pull, carry — unlike scars from a razor blade, a needle, or the ground-in half moons you get from scraping front teeth against fingers. Stop starving and shrinking me, the body says, and I’ll carry you. Stop fighting me, and I’ll help you fight for yourself.

That was five years ago. I’m bigger now, and smaller. I have more scars that can do things; fewer scars that show I tore myself up. It still hurts that she walked away, and I still don’t really understand, but I am covered in ripples and dents that show I can choose productive pain over waste-of-time pain. And I am grateful.

*Most cardio machines are more pointless than decaf coffee and dental-dam sex. Elliptical machines = the Sisyphus of gym equipment.

**THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “TONED.” There is only “muscle” and “fat.” You cannot “tone” a muscle without making it bigger and stronger. You don’t like it; take it up with science. Or the deity of your choice.