Your Heart

Here is how you do it: Crawling Hands and Knees, Through A Break-Up

By February 7, 2016 0

You’re in bed, and the silence of your room is deafening. You close your eyes, then open them again before the reel starts up. This exact moment has happened before, countless variations told in countless stories, poems, screenplays. Even your exhaustion feels counterfeit, your misery artificial. You close your eyes again: a deep clearing of a throat, knuckles that are not your own placed uncomfortably in your lap. You can’t remember what he said, or what your reply was to make him touch you. Amazing how the words fall away so quickly, but the weight of his hand before he left is still there, pressing into you. He is gone, and you threw up last night after a long string of bars with best friends yelling slurred repetitions of how much better off you are.

You turn to your side, and pray to the higher powers in your bedroom (where were they when his hand left your lap?) to stop this nausea, to wake up and be clean and good like you were before.

Here is how you actually do it:

Cut your hair.

Let it fall to the ground in ribboning pools. Bonus points if you do it in the cramped space of your apartment bathroom, rusty scissors crunching in the dim light as your fingers grab and separate, grab and separate. Ignore your roommate’s passing shadow by the doorway. Pay no attention her shocked gasp as the first strand falls in a feathered arc to the ground.  Keep cutting. Every inch that falls to the floor is one less inch of you that he has touched. Cut your hair, and then watch a movie where he says it was always you, it was always going to be you, and then fall asleep before your cheeks dry. Heartache is better experienced in the wings of a cliche.

Gain Weight.

Or lose it. It doesn’t matter, really. All that matters is that the body you slip into every day is unrecognizable to the one that walked beneath streetlights at night with him.

If you feel about to drown under the weight of his absence, lighten your load. Press your lips tight and concentrate on that deep growl emanating from your center, until your cheekbones sharpen and your shoulder blades are poised to rip through your paper skin.

If you’re feeling empty, eat. Add layers, rounding out every curve until the silhouette that his hand used to trace can no longer fit in the outline he carved. Give your grief physical properties. Draw it out, so that you don’t have to waste time explaining it with hollowed out phrases like “I’m fine.”

Start smoking cigarettes.

Burn through cartons. Smoke on fire escapes and rooftops, on the stoop by your building door. Hold the gaze of the bright-eyed woman who used to say hello on her morning walk, but now hurries by your apartment, pushing her stroller just a little bit faster than she used to. Practice the delicate tap of fore and middle finger that scatters ash onto concrete, as you call after her, good morning, and let a threat linger in your tone. Try to spread your misery without a single word. Let the amber glow creep dangerously close to your lips as you drag the last wisps into your battered lungs.

Smoke a lot. Spray perfume onto your clothing, but not enough.  Layer your mouth with tar and nicotine until you can no longer taste the memory of his lips.  When your mother finds the empty cartons in the backseat of your car, purse your mouth in a circled of feigned surprise, the same haloed “oh” as when you push polluted breath back out into the night air. When you feel like he is killing you, smoke. It helps to find something that kills you faster.


Or, if you haven’t finished your cigarette, walk. Let your thoughts run, too, even if they want to run backwards, backpedaling to the first moment you noticed the way his forehead creased when he smiled. That’s fine. Just keep moving forward. Run or jog or walk or crawl—just do it until it aches, until the muscle fibers in your legs scream louder than the poking memory of his whispered laugh. Move constantly. It’s the only safe time to think. When your breath becomes ragged-and only then-you may comb through each laminated moment in your mind. Think about him until you have smoothed the wrinkled corners of each memory with scientific precision, dipping them in formaldehyde and filing them away one by one.  Think about him only when your heart is already pounding, so you don’t feel the chemical hold he still has on you. Train your body to only wander in these moments. Exhaust yourself so thoroughly each day that you only need to see through closed eyelids for a moment before sleep takes you.

Choose your words wisely.

He wasn’t “bad to you.” You were not a puppy and he was not a rolled newspaper.

He was bad for you.  You consumed and indulged, and your stomach went sour.  

Make this change in your mind.  Dwarf him in your language. Your memories are yours to preserve and define, and he is not allowed to have a bigger role than you. You are not a victim; you are not a direct object to be acted upon. Choose to be responsible for the poison that almost killed you. Repeat it to yourself until it almost sounds natural. He wasn’t bad to you. He was bad for you.

You are not “getting over him,” climbing some metaphorical mountain with a steep uphill that peaks to reveal some amazing sight, some smooth euphoric descent waiting for you.

You are getting through him, wading thickly in fog, each labored step taking you further away from something you can see, and closer towards another thing that you cannot. There is no descent, no peak, just the tentative hope that the visibility may clear enough for you to see where you are placing your foot with each step forward.

You are not “broken up.” It wasn’t clean. There was no single reverberating crack that you walked towards with a broom and pan.

You are broken apart. He took pieces of you with him and left pieces of himself behind, tiny crystallized particles from an atomic explosion, dirt under your fingernails, a strange taste in your mouth. It’s the same sum total of energy, just not the one you started with. You’re smudged.

Make these distinctions, even if only to yourself at first. Interrupt your friends every time they utter these fatal mistakes, with hands that flutter near you but never quite land on your shoulder. Correct them, remind them, until they begin to speak in the same language.

Answer the phone.

When he contacts you in three months, agree to see him.  Hold the phone away from your mouth so he can’t hear the shake, and has to ask you to repeat yourself. Don’t tell him that he is with you every waking moment, that he took painted glass shards of you that you haven’t seen since.

When he talks about the weather, agree that it’s been cold lately. Don’t bring up the rhetorical distinctions you’ve begun to demand of your friends, or that your mother cried in your arms last weekend when she smelled tobacco in her daughter’s hair. Don’t tell him you use food as a weapon now. Don’t tell him you’re learning every day how to damage yourself in far more permanent ways than he ever could, and don’t admit that you’re still afraid this is impossible.

Tell him you’ve taken up running. Smile, even though he can’t see you. You’ll have to cancel your plans to see him, of course, but you don’t have to tell him that right now. Just tell him you’re running now, and you have a new haircut, and you’re doing fine, and thank him for asking.