I spent the first three weeks in sleepwear.
Not cute, floral, sugar hued nighties; more like large, hole-y t-shirts with indeterminable stains. Large t-shirts were useful at this stage. They functioned as sleepwear, useful for tear wiping and as a nose blowing receptacle without my ever having to leave the bed. When seen with greasy matted hair, and a red, shiny cryface, I was reminded exactly why I was alone, and that I would be alone, from then on, forever.
Some of those large t-shirts also belonged to the much longed for ex, and so would be surreptitiously sprayed with his aftershave, offering a comforting – yet, ultimately soul destroying – reminder of what had been lost. For emergency supply runs to the shop next door (i.e lack of alcohol, cigarettes, or alcohol), I considered those long garments technically decent and so, acceptable for public appearances. Crying in front of fancy ale-filled fridges because the fancy ales reminded me of happier ale-filled, ex-filled times was probably considered less acceptable.
(Actually, I’d like to take this moment to thank the men in the shop next door for not moving me on at those points, for not batting an eyelid at my piles of Haribo and for pretending not to notice the consistent lack of bra under my ever changing wardrobe of skaggy, stained t-shirts.)
Like all trends, this one came and went. Eventually I regained the ability to shower, then to dress myself and, suddenly, to leave the house without immediately breaking down. Which leads to one of the most dangerous of break up stages – the ‘brand new me’ stage.
This is often the stage that leads to misjudged hair cuts and serious debt. I’d find myself in changing rooms on an alarmingly regular basis, trying on things that felt as far away from me as possible. Metallics, neons, animal print, neon animal print, metallic tropical print – anything my ex would have hated. That was sort of the point, after all. If he didn’t want me, I simply wouldn’t be me. I would be Katy Perry, or Rhianna, or some other kind of fabulous queen. If I could change how I looked, I could change how I felt.
I think the logic was that if I wore colours I’d brighten up, if I wore print, I’d feel fierce and so on. My endeavours were, on the whole, unsuccessful. I once cried in a dressing room wearing only neon pink cycling shorts. Then I came home with a single sad bag of grey t-shirts, grey t-shirt dresses, and other grey and baggy items.
But baggy is not a boy’s ideal, and as the weeks became a month, and then a month became almost two, I realised it was no longer myself I wanted to change. It was his decision. So began the ‘Oh, I’ll get him back/make him sorry/have him begging’ stage.
Out went the shapeless and in came the sexy. I was in sleek leather skirts, painted red lips with matching nails and a full trowel of make up from dusk till dawn. Every day. I looked amazing. I looked polished. Everyone told me so. I had also shrank to about half my normal size. A diet of cigarettes will do that to you, but that diet will also make you feel strangely chic.
At that point, being able to feel anything other then abject misery and self pity was a major achievement. So there I was, starting to teeter back out into the world. At one point, even strutting in my skinny jeans and flatforms, almost optimistic. Until I spotted his stroll, him coming towards me. It was as if he’d known. Like the fashion gods had summoned him to see what he was missing. To see how far I’d come.
But he didn’t see. Or acted like he didn’t see this shiny, slinky me. He gave the cursory nod and half smile, crossed the road, then off he sauntered, into the distance. I managed a few more steps, attempted to use my lighter, dropped said lighter, and broke down in public. You can be as chic as you like, but snotty sobbing will never be sexy.
I knew, as soon as it ended, that there would be never be a reconciliation. I denied to myself, months before it ended, that it ever would. I denied to myself for months afterwards, that it really had. In that aftermath I needed armour. I was shattered, and in costume I felt protected.
Fashion allows us to define ourselves to the world. At a time when I no longer knew how to define myself, it allowed me to at least carry on with a persona. I could decide when I wanted to be visible, and when I needed to retreat into the background. What I chose to wear allowed me that. I spent the next six months in mainly black jeans and a hoodie, the only hoodie I own.
All the while, baby steps were happening. I had begun to live in trainers. Ex had not been particularly keen on me in trainers, preferring my sweet little ankle boots. But in trainers I felt grounded and capable. I decided that trainers were for women who were going places, who were taking on the world, who were too busy to care what any silly man might think of them. I was not that woman yet, but I would be. I would no longer drink and dial. I would get over him. Eventually.
Then, one day, I spotted The Coat. The Coat was oversized and fuschia. Essentially, impossible to miss. Basically Beyonce in felt form. In it, I felt electric. I actually looked alive for a change. But was I really ready? In Dublin’s sea of slush tones, could I cope with being so vibrantly visible? It screamed, “Look at me” though I still felt a little, “Don’t touch me.”
I tried it on. Put it down. Tried it on in grey. Not the same.
So I bought it and felt terrified. Was I losing my mind? Would anyone in their right mind take me seriously? Would any man be want to seen with me? No, probably not. But I didn’t care. I didn’t need to be seen alongside any man. I wanted to wear my ugly trainers, wear mens shirts, wear neon jumpers that reminded people of traffic controllers. I wanted to wear that bright pink coat, still be a little wounded, still prone to weeping, but still choosing to be seen.