Look, I’ll spare you the gory details, break-up stories are all the same − suffice it to say, after ticking along in a perfectly predictable, blissfully happy manner, a couple of months ago my relationship of 15 years went up like an unattended chip pan. Yes, that’s right. Reader, I did not marry him.
Thin (as thin as a short, curvy girl can get) and wretched, with a face like a dropped pie, I packed my tattered self-esteem into a tiny suitcase and flew to Rarotonga to spend two weeks with friends who run the island’s SPCA, reasoning they’d know what to do with a sick animal. I must have been giving off palpable rays of devastation on the flight over, because the man seated next to me was practically limbo-ing into the aisle. No man on earth wants to rub elbows with a sad lady.
Which is why turning to female friends in times of crisis is vital. I’d forgotten how lovely it can be to share a house with other women, if you’re not students and nobody’s washing their oversized dingy grey bras in the kitchen sink. We drank coffee in our nighties in the morning, drank wine in the evening, hugged freely and made frangipani flower crowns for our hair – simple, unchallenging, lady-time things. They’d both lived through it: that punched-in-the-stomach state of near-death hopelessness that follows the end of long relationship. They knew what it was like to be so lonely you turn the radio on just for company, so emotionally squished you weep until the pillow is soggy or dehydration sets in. So when they said, ‘things will get better,’ I tended to believe them.
Another great thing about female friends (apart from the fact that they let you ‘whaaaa’ all over them, leaving damp patches on their clothes, and never tell you how ugly you look when you cry) is that they provide clarity, sooth a tumultuous inner world, remind you who you really are and what you’re capable of. Rather than be overwhelmed by that terrible list: buy a car, find somewhere to live … and all the things you now don’t have: economic security (or an economist), a partner for rest home wheelchair races … they help you see the possibilities, the things you do have: aptitude, brains, courage. Taking each problem one at a time, they solve it, and come up with a way forward. “You’ve got a plan now,” said the SPCA ladies, using the special voice that calms anxious horses and distempered dogs. “You’re going to be fabulous.” I felt like I couldn’t find fabulous if it arrived on a Pride float and covered me in glitter, but at least I had a plan.
And, oh, how they fed me: ika mata (raw fish), pan fried mahi mahi, fresh albacore tuna, coconut, banana, papaya. Fact: it’s very hard to maintain a state of constant misery with your toes in the sand, the sun on your face and mango juice running down your arm. Tell you what doesn’t help, though, and that’s taro. Even adding things: salt, chilli flakes, chocolate, Bloody Mary sauce, couldn’t make this tasteless purple fibroid appetizing. Quite frankly taro, I don’t think you are food, I think you are a building material mistaken for provisions.
Speaking of provisioning, this is exactly what I felt I was doing during my tropical fortnight of respite from real life. Like the Maori canoeists on the their great migration to New Zealand, making the most of Rarotonga’s plenteous bounty before the great journey ahead, I too had a long, long, long way to go before I’d be somewhere I could call home.
And you know what? After years of self-prescribed regulations around food, eating whatever you want is nothing short of miraculously freeing, literally chicken soup for the soul, albeit in the form of fresh sashimi, lobster, “another glass of rose?” (Yes, please) and then a nap. While you can’t actually eat away the heartache, you can buy a dress a size up, which gives you a marvellous sense of having achieved something that day. Every night I went to bed full and slept dreamless, every morning I swam in the sea or snorkelled out to the reef, floating above the coral houses of silly little fish with long beaky noses. Round and brown after two weeks in the hands of animal welfare experts, sporting a lovely glossy coat, I was so tranquilised I completely forgot what day it was, and missed my flight home.