I set out to write about heartbreak. Not knowing where it would take me I’d come to find myself in many places, some stranger than others. I wanted to explore what it means and how we experience it. If I’m being honest, I wanted to write about it because I’m wondering how to survive my own. Heartbreak is such a…unique thing to me. It exists in many forms and in many words. Every language has it’s own expression. In Boro there’s “onsra” which is a kind of love you know can’t last and must go. In Portuguese there’s “saudade” which is a deep yearning or pining for the thing or person you’ve lost. And there are thousands more. Some specific. Some vague. All stretching and reaching to wrap themselves around a feeling we can hardly begin to define yet that we know so very well.
So I’m wondering why we go through the feelings we do and what they say about the lives we lead. I wanted to write about it because we all have gone through it, may go through it again, and my hope is that some of us might find the togetherness we seek in the shared joy and pain of love and loss.
But the thing is I have no idea where to begin. I didn’t know what angle to take and so over the last week every time I sit down something different comes out. At first I thought I’d talk about heartbreak in the digital age. How different it is these days that seems almost impossible to escaped the coded and uploaded ghosts of our past. We can’t just lock those love letters in a forgotten drawer, instead we’re treated, or tortured, with “on this day” or “Memories” features on our social media accounts. And so on days I think I’ve made at strides a picture pops up or a reminder of something I wrote at the peak of my happiness and..it fuckin hurts. It hurts because, at once, that happiness seems now, to be so far away I can barely touch it, but that still, I can remember exactly how I felt as the words poured from my fingertips on that day, in that moment. That happiness that now feels like such an unwanted yet desperately missed embrace. It hurts to put our fingers back on the pulse of that moments heartbeat. It was so strong then and now, with the sorrow still spilling from your wrists, there are nights when only the cold halo of your breath against the dark night air can remind you your chest still moves. Look at her in that picture…the smile your eyes traced a thousand times. The smile you noticed began visiting less often. The smile that was no longer a smile at all now but a “goodbye” choked with tears. The smile you weren’t sure you could ever see again but here it is blaring back at you in high definition and I’ve yet to figure out if being repeatedly forced to confront the past in this way is healthy or harmful for us. I don’t want to be terrified of scrolling through my life. I don’t want to live in fear of the next click.
But computers and phones seemed to stop short of what I wanted to get at. So I thought about heartbreak and it’s relation to art. My own art specifically. Some of the best thing I’ve written have come from a place of pain whether in life or love. At times I’ve wondered have I ever intentionally sought out situations that I knew could hurt. Had I set out paths I already knew would end in a place full of my own pages and this language of longing. What is it about the hardest moments that inspire our greatest creativity. Poets, painters, movie makers, inventors, all of them writing their own version of their best love letter often with their back against a wall made solely of their own undoing. I think of how many times I’ve deconstructed my love. How many times I’ve danced with my own demons only to write about the dresses they wore and the music I found in their eyes. But I think it’s bigger than art. I think whether I wrote or not this sense of comfort and familiarity in the wailing and wallowing of heart pain would be there all the same. And I think this is because, ultimately, rarely do we feel more alive than at our lowest lows. In our heads and in the stories we’d rather tell, it’s the highs we’ll say we live for and I don’t think that’s untrue but…who can you really be… how can you know who you really are unless you combed the depths of loss. What have you learned until you’ve walked through your own valleys. I have never felt more than in the moments I found myself weeping next to the winding rivers within me. The rivers that equally meander towards nowhere and swell rage across vast and empty plains, leaving the fine layer of silt for my bare feet to walk through and my hands to draw in. The stories that dry in place only to be swept away again. I can’t say living in that place, or wanting to visit, is healthy. To be true I often find the seeds of my own self sabotage in that longing. There are other ways to feel and I want to know them.
I sat to write a third time and what came out was one of the most embarrasing things I’d put a voice to. I mean that literally. See, in the last few months, I’ve caught myself, in moments alone, saying, repeating, the phrase “you know I loved you, right?” I don’t know what it is or where it comes from. Some kind of simple refrain I’ve settled on in the chorus of my life. So I started with the phrase and this is what came next as I tried to understand it:
“…Sometimes I say it as a statement. Forceful and confident and sure of if it’s meaning and intention. Other times it’s a question. Tentative and tiptoeing just past my lips before I can catch it and bring it back. Before I can think better of it. Before I can make it sound more beautiful and less lonely. I can’t tell who I’m talking to. Maybe it’s to you. Maybe it’s to someone from years past or perhaps someone I’ve yet to meet. Sometimes, more often than I’d like to admit, it’s simply meant for me. I’m talking to a person I was – a former self who didn’t feel as though they were loved. Maybe worse, they didn’t feel as though they were deserving of such a thing in the first place. When I speak them, the words leave my chest, and I hope they’ll find that version of me, the one who needs to be reminded. And sometimes I perk my ears to the silence in case those words are coming back around. You know I loved you.”
I stopped there because I didn’t know what could follow. It felt as honest as I could be and reading it back now I’m not sure if it’s extremely sad or extremely good or a combination of both or none. It is what it is and I leave it standing on its own.
I remember the first time I saw heartbreak. It was streaming down my mother’s face as she sat on her bed holding flowers my father had sent to make up for something he’d done again. In my head they were tears of forgiveness but as I grew older I wondered if they weren’t tears that knew nothing would change. In that moment I saw that my mother had given a piece of herself to someone that she likely would never get back. And it’s this piece of ourself, this offering, that is the most terrifying thing of all. We live in a society that preaches no one should have control over you and that you are in charge of yourself. You are a person of your own choosing and destiny. But in fact and in practice we find this to be less than true and that perhaps no one has more control over us than the one we love and we are constantly grappling with what it means to cede this power to another. What piece of ourselves are we handing over? Is it the bright and shining light of hope? Or do we sometimes hand over our darkest, most fragile piece. The one we thought we’d never show another living soul. The one we’ve kept hidden even from ourselves. What does our loved one do with this piece. Have they put in their pocket with the loose change of yesterday or are they wearing it around their neck. And maybe more importantly, what have you done with the piece they’ve handed you? Have you forgotten it somewhere? Do you still hold it with the care with which you received it? Do you trace it’s jagged edges until they’re worn smooth. Do you make it fit into the picture of your life. When no one else is around do you find yourself leaning over it, gently whispering “you know I love you, right?”
Im still not sure I’m where I want to be in the exploration of heartbreak but I think I’ve come to a break in the journey for now. But I did find something along the way. What I found is that heartbreak can be difficult but it is, in the end, beautiful, because it reminds us that we have loved and it reminds us that we are capable of love. And this love is the bravest act. The handing over of our most vulnerable pieces, the holding of another’s, this is the most courageous thing we can do. There will be times we drop them. There will be times when we watch our intentions shatter across cold floors of regret and there will be times when love drags us “giggling with forgiveness from the same cellar it locked us in” but that we took this risk, that we dared to believe in this thing greater than ourselves is what makes us…us. So even when we find ourselves saying “this is the last time” we know that it won’t be. It can’t be. Because we always carry that hope of something better. And the truth is not everybody is that brave. Not everyone can push past the fear of love. Not everyone can handle another’s with integrity and honesty. Heartbreak, we find, in it’s emptiness, isn’t empty at all but is in fact just a part of being whole.
Happy Valentines to all the couples out there and a happy heart day to everyone else working on themselves and finding what’s important and meaningful to you. You all have all of my love.