Head Over Heels - Hannah Orenstein


The flight attendant thrusts a box of snacks under my nose without hesitation. I dab at the half-dried tears on my cheeks with the crumpled-up tissue I’ve been clutching ever since we left Los Angeles an hour ago and peer at the options.

“Popchips, Sun Chips, Doritos, pretzels, or trail mix,” she recites, snapping her gum.

Everything is processed and full of salt, sugar, or both. “Thanks, but I’m all set,” I say.

“The beverage cart will be coming next,” she says, ignoring my sleeping neighbor and swiveling to the passenger on the other side of the aisle.

The thirty-something woman next to me, whose iPhone lock screen is a selfie of her in Minnie Mouse ears kissing a man wearing Mickey ones at Disneyland, took an Ambien the moment she sat down. I’m grateful, because I’m not up for a conversation right now. It’s been two days since Tyler broke up with me, and I don’t want to talk to anyone, much less a stranger.

There was no question that I’d leave the apartment we shared. The lease was in Tyler’s name, and even though I had always promised that I’d be able to pay half the rent someday, I’d never been able to afford my share of the luxury high-rise condo. I didn’t have any friends I felt comfortable crashing with while I waited out my two weeks’ notice at work, which they didn’t really need anyway. I coached a preteen girls’ recreational gymnastics team only a few afternoons a week, mostly to have something to do while waiting for Tyler to return from football practice and games.

Packing was simple because Tyler owned almost everything: the gleaming set of pots and pans in the kitchen, the oversized flat-screen TV he liked to watch SportsCenter on, the sprawling sectional he’d bought under the guidance of the decorator he hired the first time he cashed an obscenely fat check and thought he had an image to uphold. I threw the remnants of my old life—clubbing dresses and stilettos collecting dust in the closet—into the trash, then stuffed the remaining T-shirts, leggings, and sneakers into two suitcases. I left pieces of me behind: my favorite dog-eared cookbook, the heating pad I used when my back pain flared up, a pair of silver earrings he had given me. Anything else I needed would be waiting for me at home in Greenwood, Massachusetts.

I don’t know if “sad” is the right word to describe how I feel. Maybe more “dazed.” Or “lost.” Or What the fuck do I do now? I’m not devastated or even angry. I love Tyler—or loved him, I guess. At first, I loved learning his quirks: the way he’d look over his shoulder after running onto the field, searching for my face in the crowd; the goofy way he grinned after his third beer; the polite, Midwestern way he always called my parents Mr. and Mrs. Abrams instead of Bill and Michelle. I admired his ease and modesty in the spotlight, traits that came naturally to him but never felt within reach for me. But I don’t know if I necessarily love him. Not anymore.

To say that I didn’t see the breakup coming both is and isn’t a lie. I guess I didn’t want to look hard enough at what our relationship had become, not until he forced the issue and announced we were done. Because that would have required examining all of it—everything that’d happened since that day in San Jose, California, when I was nineteen—and admit that Tyler has a life to move on toward, and I don’t.

After what happened at the Olympic Trials seven years ago, it was too late for me to apply to any colleges for that fall. I spent a miserable “gap year” slumped on the couch in my parents’ basement, “exploring” and “studying” the way the TV could slide from morning talk shows to daytime soaps to the six o’clock news to prime-time sitcoms to the worst dregs of late-night movies.

I worried that twenty was too old to start college, but I had been recruited to one of the country’s top gymnastics programs at Los Angeles State University, and it seemed a waste not to go. I had assumed that my reputation would precede me, that I’d be the star of the team. But I had been out of practice for more than a year by that point, recovering from my injury. I was flabby and weak, soft both physically and mentally. The other girls kept