Vodka Yonic features a rotating cast of women and nonbinary writers from around the world sharing stories that are alternately humorous, sobering, intellectual, erotic, religious or painfully personal. You never know what you’ll find in this column, but we hope this potent mix of stories encourages conversation.
My search for someone began in earnest when I was a child, before I could even properly comb my own hair. I once cringed at the thought of my 5-year-old self in search of a boyfriend. I now see her as resourceful. She identified a need for affirmation and reassurance that she couldn’t otherwise fill. Being alone was scary, so it makes sense that when she met a boy who also liked Ninja Turtles and wanted to hang out on the playground before and after school, she got hooked on the comfort of feeling chosen. That’s how it began. I’ve been chasing that high ever since.
There has been true, meaningful love in the decades since, but mostly there was compromise. I made myself small and easy, and I rarely walked away when things were bad. I suspect this made me appealing to the toxic, abusive man who would become my husband. Once the love-bombing faded and he revealed his true self, I stayed for 12 more years. It took a pandemic and a months-long quarantine to make me think that being alone wasn’t the worst thing I could be. I started to daydream about what life might look like without him. I visualized myself driving with the windows down in a car he didn’t own. Sitting on a porch with my dad’s old records to keep me company. Drinking coffee in a small, sunny kitchen. For the first time ever, I was alone in my fantasy life.
By the time I signed the divorce papers, I was detoxing. Between the symptoms of complex PTSD and the withdrawals that came with being truly alone for the first time in almost 40 years, I was a mess. I would wake up shaking every night in my cocoon, a duplex filled with vintage furniture and other trappings of my former life. The Instagram version of my transition from abused wife to bachelorette starting anew garnered lots of likes. The reality was quite different.
As kids we’re taught there’s magic in transformation. We think of what happens to the caterpillar in a chrysalis as extraordinarily beautiful. One moment you are not what you’re supposed to be, and the next you are. But no one talks about the pain of that transition, the utter panic that must come as you burst into bits and become something new. Do you know what really happens to a caterpillar inside a cocoon? It consumes itself, disintegrates. It becomes soup. We romanticize this metamorphosis. Perhaps that’s because if we considered what it really entailed — and what it must feel like to the caterpillar — we’d realize it sounds a lot like death.
I spent most of those first months not sleeping, so I started doing odd things like reading about caterpillars at 3 a.m. and asking the internet whether a butterfly could remember the pain of her transformation. Does she know she’ll live through it? When it’s over, does she remember the time she turned into soup? I wondered if there might be relief in dissolving into nothingness and surrendering to that change — like closing your eyes and sinking into a hot bath. In time, I relaxed into my own transition. I began to float through my days, letting the waves of grief and the mundanity of a quiet life carry me along. When the dogs stirred, I got out of bed. When the mail arrived, I checked it. When the sun went down, I closed the curtains.
Most days it felt like I only existed in sounds. I walked through the backyard as the fall leaves, and then the first snowfall, crunched beneath my feet. I hummed in the garden as I cut daffodils with yolky centers. I put on records and let the music waft through my windows on the first day of summer. I began to feel as if I’d just woken up. I had experienced fleeting glimpses of that sensation before, like when I swam in the Indian Ocean or stood on a hill overlooking the French countryside as the breeze made my dress dance around my ankles. But this was different. I felt it in my everyday life: when I walked the dogs on a July night, as the heat of the day rose from the asphalt like warm breath and the humidity held me like a pair of loving arms. With my hand out the window on my daily drives as my playlist mingled with the hum of lawn mowers. At dusk as I watched fireflies as they floated into the darkness, regardless of who was there to witness their glow.
In those moments it hit me. This was how I was meant to feel — safe, present, loved. This was the feeling I was looking for in relationships all along. While that little girl waiting to be chosen on the playground was still a part of me, she no longer needed to be rescued. For the first time, I was there for her, and we could grieve and soften to all we had been through together. I was still very much me, but I had also become something entirely new simply by existing in my own sludge.