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My boyfriend cheated on me in June, I found out in July, and by August I had watched all of The X-Files by myself and had gained ten pounds.
When you’re in your twenties and you lose the person you were playing house with, your life suddenly feels like a bleak expanse of free time. You think, “well, I guess that wasn’t it after all,” and you feel fine for an hour, until something minor occurs, like your hair dyer blowing a fuse in your apartment, and you think, “no, it’s me, it’s always been me,” and then you curl up in a ball on the floor. You can’t remember what you used to do with the hours between doing your day job and going to sleep next to your partner. You find yourself standing in your bathroom staring at your toothbrush, wondering what the point of dental hygiene is if your mouth isn’t good enough to be the only mouth another person wants on his mouth.
Your therapist will say to fill the space left with time, and with a hobby. Like journaling.
I do not understand journals, because I crave affirmation from an audience. One night, after I walked up to the mic and whined about being alone at The Moth, a man approached me and asked if I wanted to join him, his wife and several of his coworkers in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. I said yes.
Choosing a character wasn’t difficult. I didn’t feel like an elf, or even a human. I didn’t feel hungry anymore, ever. I had developed something I called "grief acne," angry pustules that bubbled under the skin on my face as if to say, “Hey, wow, didn’t think we’d be back after you turned seventeen, huh?” I wasn’t washing my hair anymore. For these reasons, I decided a half-orc was best.
For good measure, I made him six and a half feet tall and bought him a tower shield and full scale mail the first time the roaming party stopped off at the market. When a fellow player said, “Wow, you’re a tank,” I felt a surge of pride, of blood to my face. I was untouchable. Half orcs did not get cheated on, because they have an armor class of at least 21.
I wrote journal entries from the point of view of my half-orc, and my therapist used the kinds of phrases people use when they’re afraid negative feedback will be the last little push you need before teetering over the edge. She said I was “obviously getting something out of it” and that grief is a unique process for everyone.
I told her that was true, and then I imagined my half-orc crawling out from between the couch cushions and crashing through the wall where she has a big decal of a willow tree.
The thing about Dungeons & Dragons is, the people who play it just want to get to the good stuff. They don’t have time to wonder why you look like you just woke up, when it’s 4pm on a Saturday. They don’t want to know why you’re free to play a board game for eight hours every week. If you have a good Dungeon Master, like I do, your adventures have a little bit of preamble in the beginning, but they’re mostly just dark corridors and monsters that pop out and explode into gold pieces when you’ve defeated them.
The monsters in Dungeons & Dragons look like monsters as soon as you spot them. They don’t come up to you at a bar and say things like, “Wow, you were really great in that show. I’m impressed.” They are not nice to your mother while waiting for another girl to call back. They don’t tell other girls they can’t stop thinking about them, like it’s a an addiction. They’re just ghouls. They go down easy when you’re a half-orc, because you can cleave right through them.
My therapist thinks working with a team, albeit an imaginary one, is helping me recover from rejection, by giving me evidence of my independence and emotional resilience. I think deciding between a bolas and caltrops for a secondary weapon is just a nice way to distract myself. I will admit that when my Dungeon Master allows me one re-roll a game for roleplaying my half-orc well (the trick is altering your voice – my half-orc speaks in the third person), the recognition, the confirmation that I am still good at something, feels so pleasant that it’s just about all I can bear.
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