A Tale of Two Hearts: How Doctor Who Helped Me Get Over a Breakup

My last relationship ended two years ago.  I was totally heartbroken and in dire financial straits, two things which greatly contributed to my nightly cry-sessions and horrible depression.  I felt pretty trapped by the circumstances of my life, and I wanted to escape by almost any means.  It’s a desperation I hope I never experience again, even though it forced me to examine a lot of parts of myself I had been surreptitiously avoiding that were in need of fixing.

And that’s when the Doctor came into my life.

I wasn’t the most fun person to be around for the first couple months of 2014, so I would often come straight home from work, cry, and watch movies or TV to soothe myself until I fell asleep.  I had been catching up on another of my favorite BBC shows, Sherlock, and I wanted something different; a little more escapist.  My brother and various friends had been begging me for a long time to start new Who, believing (rightly) that I would be hooked if I actually gave it a shot.  My main excuse for not watching had been a combination of stubbornness, lack of time, and too many other shows to keep up with.  But considering I was an emotional wreck with quite a bit of time on my hands, I figured that was as good a time as any to start my travels with the Doctor.

The Ninth Doctor is totally underrated.

And like most of the companions, the Doctor arrived when I needed him most.  Within minutes of starting the first episode, “Rose,” I was swept up by this Madman With a Box into a universe full of aliens and amazing planets and historical figures.   I felt the same rush of adrenaline the Doctor’s companions feel stepping into the TARDIS for the first time; eyes large with wonder and disbelief.   For the first time in months, I felt hopeful instead of dejected, like my life really counted for something.

I know this probably sounds silly to say about a television show, but when someone and/or something has crushed you so completely you feel like you’re nothing, like you’re worthless, to have something constantly remind you of the sheer wonder of being alive is not silly at all.

As a companion, I'm some hybrid of Donna & Amy

As a companion, I’m some hybrid of Donna & Amy

To be inundated in episode after episode with the message that even the smallest, seemingly insignificant person is actually deeply valuable and worthwhile and capable of extraordinary things just because they are human and alive and full of feelings and thoughts can work wonders on a heart and soul that have been battered and beaten to think otherwise. This is what the Doctor does to everyone and everything he encounters in his travels: he saves them by showing them how those “weaknesses” are strengths, how their ability to feel things deeply makes them stronger and more capable than they’d ever imagined.  How they always have a choice between light and dark, right and wrong, war and peace, hope or despondency.  He even says at one point, “I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important before.”  And boy oh boy did THAT one hit me like a ton of bricks when I heard that for the first time.

I became addicted to the Doctor, which tends to happen to his companions and fans alike.  I couldn’t wait to get home from work and watch hours and hours of Doctor Who until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

"Vincent & the Doctor" is one of DW finest hours

“Vincent & the Doctor” is one of DW’s finest hours

And then I’d dream of adventures with the Doctor in all corners of time and space.  And the longer I spent with him, the more my broken heart started to heal and get stronger.  And I realized the Doctor is no stranger to heartbreak eitherHe’s lost so much, but yet, he keeps going.  He keeps fighting for those he loves.  He never gives up on them even when they’ve given up on themselves.  He looks for the hope even when it’s just a sliver…that’s all he needs to keep going.

The Doctor is lucky enough to have two hearts to keep him alive.  But in reality, ALL of us have two hearts: one that breaks and one that keeps  beating.  You mourn the one that’s broken while you ignore the one that’s beating and full of hope for a future you cannot see until eventually through time and healing, that becomes reversed.  Eventually, you allow yourself to focus on the hopeful heart instead of the broken one, but you always carry both with you, because one cannot truly exist without the other.  To ignore the pain is to forget what makes you so beautifully human.  The Doctor would agree with me on that.

YES!

YES!

I’ll fully admit to having become a full-fledged, cosplaying Whovian these days.  I own two Sonic Screwdrivers (and I guess I’m gonna have to get a pair of Ray-Bans now too).  I have a Pinterest board full of quotes and gifs and behind-the-scenes videos.  I read fan theories and follow DW writers on Twitter.  I’ve gone to multiple early preview screenings and been to the Pandorica Restaurant in Beacon, NY.  I re-watched the entire series over the summer to prepare for the current one.  The Doctor is an old friend now; someone I rely on to show me a good time, encourage me to never give up, and occasionally give me some tough love.  But I need him a little less than I did when I first met him.  This happens with many of his companions too;  they grow enough to not always need him around.  They learn to fend for themselves and others without constantly relying on him for help.  I’m always up for an adventure, but I don’t need him to be everything for me anymore.  My heart is healed.  My spirits are high.  I have, thanks to the Doctor, learned to navigate my life as well as he navigates his TARDIS: competently, enthusiastically, and  with the occasional malfunction every once in awhile.   It doesn’t always take me where I WANT to go, but it always takes me where I NEED to go.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events

You know how celebrities/famous people always seem to die in threes?  And some murders inspire subsequent copycat murders?  That whole “when it rains, it pours” thing?  What I’m trying to say is misfortune often breeds misfortune.

And I should know.  The last three months have probably been the worst of my entire life.  I know that’s a bold statement to make, but in thinking about the last twenty-five years, I cannot remember another time in my life when so much shit was flung my way in such a brief space of time.  Blow after blow after blow.  Three months of near-ceaseless gut punches.  My life literally imploded in my face.  BOOM!  There it goes in a mushroom cloud and rubble like a scene out of a doomsday movie.

There goes my life

There goes my life

(Maybe I’m being a TAD dramatic, but you get the point.)

I had a great summer, one of my very best, truly.  Lots of travel and fun times with friends and family.  After a year and a half, my best guy friend finally asked me out, and we started dating.  As my second year in New York came to its close, I finally felt settled; everything was in a good place.  I felt prosperous in nearly every area of my life from my bank account to my relationships.  I bicycled through the streets in a haze of contentment, peace, joy, and love.  I reveled in it all.  I felt seriously happy for the first time in a very long time, and even though not everything was perfect, I felt like I was FINALLY on track.  My life was slowly but surely piecing itself together.

And let me tell you, after a boyfriend drought of about six years (we’re talking committed relationship here, not random dating, which I HAVE done on and off since 2007), having one again was awesome (let alone this guy who is funny and smart and respectful).  Not that I was ever miserable because I DIDN’T have a boyfriend for a long time, it’s just you forget how great it can be.  And being in a relationship and/or love in New York City is especially great.  And since I’ve grown up by leaps and bounds since my last real relationship (considering I’m 25 now and was just 18 back then…eek), this one was VASTLY different.  It felt real and adult.

Maybe if I had invested in better floaties and a baby modeling career, I wouldn't be sinking...

Maybe if I had invested in better floaties and a baby modeling career, I wouldn’t be sinking…

So things were going swimmingly until the beginning of September when my floating turned to sinking.  It felt like someone pushed my head underwater all of a sudden.  My roommates wanted to have a conversation about apartment business, and what I thought was going to be a routine discussion of what we could all do to keep improving the place turned into them accusing me of basically being the worst roommate on the planet (which, having asked my other former roommates to confirm this, all answered with a resounding, “WHAT?!  You’re probably the BEST roommate in the world!”).  I couldn’t speak because I had no idea anyone felt this way.  Now, I’m a highly intuitive person, but I’m not a mind-reader, so if you don’t expressly tell me something is bothering you, I might not be able to pick up on it.  My roommates both avoid confrontation whereas I like to deal with things head on in a civil way, so a personality conflict was bound to arise.  All this came completely out of the blue, but here I was being asked to move out.  Two against one.  They’d discussed the whole thing behind my back and already decided the best solution was to force me out without any input from me or even attempting to fix the situation.  So here I was, a relatively impoverished twenty-something in one of the most expensive cities in the world and had about a MONTH to not only find an apartment I could afford but also move into it.

Things quieted down a bit in October, though I was furiously on the hunt for an apartment.  I lucked into one almost immediately and began planning out my moving strategy.  If you’ve never lived in New York, I can tell you that moving here is a major, MAJOR pain in the ass.  Worse than anywhere else because like no one has cars.  ANYWAY, I made it through October relatively unscathed and managed to get all my possessions schlepped from one neighborhood in Queens to another adjacent one thanks to a dear friend of mine and his sturdy little car (Tim, you are an angel!).  I let myself think the worst was over and breathed a sigh of relief that the apartment scenario from hell had been vanquished.  New apartment, new roommates, fresh start.

But the worst was not over.  Five days into November (and a little under a week to go to my 25th birthday), my boyfriend and I broke up.  Even HE admitted the timing was horrible considering everything I had just been through (because in spite of everything, he’s a really good guy).  The breakup is both sharp and blurred: parts I remember so clearly and others I can only remember the feel of them.  When you love a person, that doesn’t just go away overnight.  Love never really dies; it just transforms itself over time into different kinds of love.  What makes this particular breakup hard is that it’s not because there isn’t great care, affection, and love there for each other; it’s timing.  It’s emotional preparedness.  It’s other things that are between us right now.  And these are things people have to work out for themselves.  I’m not putting it all on him either, because I have my own set of issues to work through.  My intuition tells me that he and I have more to our story, but we both have some life to live on our own first, and for whatever reason, we can’t do it together right now. 

So I was awaiting the third event (because like celebrity deaths, these things always happen in threes), and finally it came on Sunday.  My dear friend was in town for a few days and invited me to the Brooklyn Museum to look at the Jean Paul Gaultier Retrospective (which, for the record, is amazing).  On the way to the admission desk, I slipped in some water and tumbled to the floor only to be followed by my bankcard being declined.  Overdrawn.  AGAIN.  Trying not to panic and maintain some semblance of composure (despite having just fallen to the floor like an idiot), I pulled out my bankcard from home, paid, and entered the exhibit where I put the best smile I could for my friend.

As I made my way to my church afterwards for that evening’s Vespers concert/service, hot tears crept into my eyes, thinking about having to make yet ANOTHER phone call to my parents asking for help.  I’m 25 years old and can’t seem to get it together despite numerous attempts.  While church was reliably soothing for an hour or two, once I left, the hot tears came again.  On the walk home from the train, I lost it.  Angry sobs.  I called my mother from my bed, curled up in the fetal position.  Ever the voice of love and understanding, she eased my fears, but couldn’t quash my anger at myself for yet another financial failure or at the universe taking another massive dump on me.  “WHEN IS ENOUGH ENOUGH?!?!” I yelled into my phone in anguish, my mother silent on the other side.  And it’s a question that is yet to be answered and may not be anytime soon.

I'd give anything to get lost in Middle Earth right now...or just maybe New Zealand

I’d give anything to get lost in Middle Earth right now…or just maybe New Zealand

To combat my heartbreak, anger, and sadness, I’ve been spending a lot of time in libraries and my church looking for answers, peace, distractions, etc.  I’ve planned out trips to places halfway across the world to try to escape my life here.  I’ve gone on two-hour bike rides.  My friends have done their best to keep me busy.  And sometimes, I can manage to forget all that has befallen me these last few months for a little bit.  I can even almost muster some real happiness if only for a minute or two, but somehow or other, it all comes back.  There is no magic salve to cure me of it all, no quick-fix.  I am, quite simply, a broken down human being desperate for a break, some goodness, some light.  A reprieve.

BUT I haven’t lost all hope.  I have to believe on the other side of this destruction and desolation there is something big and great waiting for me if I have the courage to push through all rubble.  Yes, I am angry, vehement even, but what good does it accomplish?  It’s obvious everything is out of my control right now, so being angry isn’t going to change that, but maybe channeling that energy into something else will.  Maybe forcing myself to work harder and create will produce something good.  Maybe I was too much like Icarus, arrogantly flying too close to the sun just because I could only to have my wings catch fire and plummet to the ground.  I don’t know.  At this point, I feel like I can go nowhere but up…even if it means crawling.jk rowling

Tears for Fears (and Anger, Heartbreak, etc)

I’ve been spending inordinate amounts of time crying the last few months.  In fact, my daily goal – my “super objective” for all you actor/theatre types – is to get from when I wake up to when I climb back into bed without shedding a single tear.  Some days I achieve this goal, but many days I do not.

For those of you who perhaps do not know me as well, I would not label myself as a weepy person by any means; never the girl who cried at every sad movie, scraped knee, unrequited crush.  I’m not prone to tears, never have been even when I was a little girl.  Oh sure, I had my moments, but I cannot remember a time in my life when I cried buckets of tears the way I have been as of late.  Whatever dammed up those tears in the past has obviously been demolished: the Hoover Dam of my eyes is gone and the water is flowing freely.

I’m not sure if what I’m going through right now can be described as a “quarter-life crisis” or simply a series of unfortunate events (more on THAT later), but one thing is certain: whatever it’s called, it totally SUCKS.  It’s like getting gut-punched over and over again from all sides.  Just when I think I’ve blocked it, I get attacked from the side or behind or above; it’s inescapable.  I keep trying to outthink or outrun it, and I can’t.  I have resigned myself to its destruction, hoping I can climb out from beneath the rubble and emerge better or wiser, if slightly worse for wear.  I’m a molting phoenix, waiting to become ashes so I can be reborn.

The only thing on my Christmas list this year

Kleenex: the only thing on my Christmas list this year besides figuring out my life, getting my finances in order, and tracking down a cronut

People always say crying is good for you, it’s healthy.  “Get it all out,” they say.  Trust me, I’d like nothing more than to stop all the crying, to make it end, cry out every last tear so I can just be done with it all.  But shit keeps happening, and more tears come without my consent.  Nobody likes a person who cries all the time; I should know, because I get annoyed when I see certain acquaintances who cry over every damn thing.  But for once, I understand what it’s like to try to stay composed every minute of the day when the weight of everything is pushing down on you and how that can be too much to bear.  I used to think tears were a sign of weakness, not for other people but for me.  I now know tears come because you’re fighting so hard to remain strong, and you can’t bear that weight anymore.

It’s not uncommon to see people sobbing on the subways or sidewalks here in New York or perhaps a park bench.  When you live in a city of nine million people, it’s hard to find a place you can be alone to scream, YAWP, and yes, cry.  And while you’re never truly alone, this place can still make you feel that way, that no one understands the struggles you have, everyone is doing better than you.  At least in Los Angeles, you have your car for these moments (and only eating salads and no carbs is reason enough to make any person with a spray tan cry).  But here in New York, you have no option, and oddly enough, people sympathize with you and lovingly ignore your bleary-eyed sobfests.  I’ve cried many tears on crowded and not-so-crowded trains.  I’ve held them in until my walk home from the subway where my sobs grew increasingly more pronounced with every step closer to my apartment.  I’ve tried to hide them behind my giant sunglasses as I sat on a bench in Central Park.  And you’d think my bed was actually a waterbed because of all the tears shed there.  I’ve done all of these things in the last few days, weeks, and yes, months.

My heart has been beaten and broken, my spirit shaken, my strength tested.  These last few months have been the worst of my life, and I have never felt smaller and humbler; almost serf-like.  I cry because I do not understand whether I am being punished for something or being taught a lesson.  I cry because I don’t know if I’m being tested and for what purpose.  I don’t understand any of what has happened.  Am I meant to?  I don’t know.

But crying feels good.  It’s the only thing that does, so if you see me bawling my eyes out, please know I am struggling, hand me a Kleenex, throw me a sympathetic glance, and let me alone.  It’s going to be a while before I stop.

On Love in New York

Sheep Meadow, Central Park, AUTUMNNo man is an island, but in New York, every man (and woman) is an island…on an island.  Your routine is your own; your independence your crowning achievement.  After all, you moved here for your independence, your freedom, your art.  You take solace in the anonymity the City offers but yet you dream of having everyone know your name.  You can be social when you want to be social or you can go to a movie by yourself and no one thinks you’re weird.  Self-sufficiency is a necessity; the most valued of all traits New Yorkers can (and should) acquire.  Eight million little islands, all self-sustaining and floating around the avenues and city blocks without thought of anything else.

But then you fall in love.

You don’t know how it happens, but suddenly, the island of you crashes up against the island of another person and the impact creates an earthquake and your islands converge into a bigger island containing the both of you.  So then it becomes the island of “Us” versus New York: the island of “Them.”  And the city that once felt so vast is now dwarfed by “Us.”  You wonder how you lived any other way here and think how everyone else, all of “Them,” are oblivious to your great discovery that love is the key to it all.  Love makes New York greater, turning its usual monochrome streets and buildings into glorious Technicolor; it’s like seeing the City through new eyes.

Intimate moments feel more intimate here.  It’s easier to disappear into one of the city’s corners without anyone noticing.  Being in love in New York City makes even the most horribly mundane activities seem intimate and romantic when you’re holding the hand of another person.  Routine ceases being routine.  And all at once, you feel as though the sunset over the City is just for the two of you as you tenderly kiss on the Williamsburg Bridge, its graffiti blossoming into a thing of urban beauty as he cups your face in his hands.  Love in New York is having a shoulder to purposely fall asleep on when you’re riding the subway, his arm around your waist and head resting on top of yours as the train gently (or sometimes not so gently) slides into each subsequent station.  It’s slipping into the shadows outside of Carnegie Hall, your back pressed against the sienna-colored bricks while he messes up your lipstick after taking you out to dinner.  Love is a bike ride around the Central Park loop at the beginning of fall, pulling off to the side to hold hands on a park bench dedicated to someone else’s love.  It’s having someone else who walks as fast as you do through the crowds, your strides and grumbles at tourists harmoniously in sync.  Every second feels more exuberant and achingly beautiful than Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”  You feel as though you’re floating through the steel and concrete, nothing holding the two of you down.  You’ve built your world — your New York — around each other, and there is no turning back.  You couldn’t if you tried.  And once you’ve been in love in New York, there’s nothing else like it (except maybe love in Paris, though I can’t speak to that experience…yet).  It is a magic unto its own.  It’s better than a drug, more intoxicating than liquor; all-consuming and wondrous.  

Ralph Demarco Park, Astoria

Ralph Demarco Park, Astoria

Truly, being in love in New York transforms you and him and the City itself.  And if that love falls apart as it sometimes can, the City, like a chameleon, instantly changes itself again.  The once glorious Technicolor dulls or drains completely, replaced by cold, dark hues.  That island of “Us,” so carefully and lovingly created, is abandoned, desolate, and overrun with ghosts.  You built it together, but even so it remains after you and he has been swallowed back up into all of “Them.”  The memory of him haunts all the nooks and crannies you once occupied together: the street corner outside Baruch College where you first kissed, the spot of grass along the East River where you picnicked and laid discussing your dreams, the bench where he ended it all as traffic rushed past drowning out the sounds of your heartbroken sobs.  These places still hold the Technicolor, vibrant with emotion and memory though slightly ghostly.  Walking around the City after your heart breaks can feel like walking through the biggest graveyard in the world, your grief increasingly overwhelming you at each marker of your former love and happiness.  In losing him, you’ve lost yourself for you were each other’s compass to navigate these now mean streets.  Now you try to lose yourself in other places: the stacks of the Strand Bookstore, the darkened mega movie-plexes on 42nd Street, the hallowed walls of your church on 65th and Central Park West.  But none of it works; the hurt is still raw, the crushing sadness ever so palpable each minute of the day.  You’ve forgotten how to be anonymous as you once were, and the self-sufficiency you mastered before him now seems cruel and mocking.  You are back to being your own little island, but you yearn for “Us,” you weep for “Us,” you dream of “Us.”  You cannot imagine New York City without him for better or worse.

Ghostly New York fog

ghost town

And as you both “drown in love’s debris” like that old Carly Simon lyric, you know you’ll always remember him because of New York City, because it is the one place in the world where anything is possible…love, joy, heartbreak, sadness.  Because you risked your freedom, your independence, your art, all of it, everything you had for love, and even if you lost it, you have never felt so alive.  New York City elevates love to the highest heights and plunges it to the lowest depths, and you can’t prepare your heart for it.  But you will also never forget it.

Love in New York is like the famous Frank Sinatra recording: if your heart can make it here, it can make it anywhere.