I’ve been thinking about heartbreak.
At 57, it would not have been possible to have escaped the experience. And at 57, it would have been foolish not to have recovered, given all my good fortune.
What then does recovery feel like? Very physical. I think they call it heartbreak for a reason. Some linkage we haven’t yet named must break. Rupture. Bleed or tear.
Remember? Remember waking up in the morning, that brief minute before the new reality hits? Remember driving and you miss the turn and a motorcycle policeman pulls you over and you want to say, “But I couldn’t pay attention to the lane. Your ticket is water on a drowning woman?” Remember the endless attempts of your mind to rework the puzzle, to forcibly and logically unpick the sadness?
Maybe that’s only me. There are so many possible responses.
And then remember what it feels like as you get better. Over is the wrong word. You can’t get over it, it’s too high. Nor under, too deep. All the Motown songs apply. So you put one painful foot in front of the next, and then the day comes when you think to yourself, “Wait. That didn’t hurt so much.” And you wonder how you missed the beginning of better.
I find it’s also true that the real hurt never disappears altogether. Like the ankle ligaments I tore at 25, the blond rugby player from New Zealand still owns a small sore place inside me. If I could put a finger onto the realm of past loves, I’d feel a little crackle.
I saw him at my 25th college reunion. He told me I looked happy. I wasn’t, in the way he thought, as I was on the way to the end of my marriage. I was just happy to see him and not mind. And, as you can imagine, the New Zealand rugby player who became a cardiologist was not the worst pain. He’s just an avatar of the experience.
Heartbreak, once you move through, is like a video of fireworks. It’s in front of you, recognized, but you feel from a distance. When your heart first breaks, it hurts like a toothache, right up close to where you know what you are. As you get better, something comes between your locus of self and the pain.
I wonder what it is. I wonder what that layer of salvation is made of? Felt. Honey. Other substances of comfort and solace. Something smooth but not slick, very thin but not narrow. Like breath.
So what to do, if it’s going to get better, but you can’t snap your fingers? Slog along?
Just try to avoid more harm.
If your heart is broken, watch out for traffic cops. Be careful when you back up your car. Send all the thank you notes, invite anyone who might be offended by exclusion, keep your feet warm. Kiss only the right boys — I could have saved myself months of anxiety if I’d avoided subsequent athletes.
Do yourself no more harm. And then the sorrow you now feel will become something you cuddle up to. Because it will be a sign that you let yourself be vulnerable, that you weren’t the jerk, that you invested. There should be no shame in having been foolish, only in having been cruel.
Maybe that imagined substance that eventually sheaths the tracks of sorrow is our real silver lining. Nothing at all to do with clouds.