I experienced my first heartbreak when I was 8 years old.
It was September of third grade. Her name was Stacy and I loved her in more ways than my 8-year-old brain could have elaborated back then. I loved that she was a tomboy through and through; she had no shame in sporting a bowl cut and wardrobe of nothing but baggy t-shirts and flannel. I loved her zany sense of humor, I loved her brazen and outgoing personality in contrast to my own shrinking violet self. I loved that we went on adventures together in the woods behind her house-adventures I would have never thought up on my own. I loved that her large, loud, and chaotic family informally adopted me as one of their own- a family so different from my quiet, single child, household. But most of all, I loved the feeling of closeness and belonging I had with her- the feeling that this one person understood me, and I her, more than anyone else in the world. I loved that I felt loved by her and sheltered by our clandestine world of inside jokes and shared memories and disclosed secrets.
Of course this was not, in any sense, a romantic love. I can assure you that it was entirely platonic. But the soulful connection akin to that of a romantic partner was very real. And so, after spending an entire summer side by side, day after day, building our own world together, I felt my heart rip to shreds when I walked on the playground and she introduced me to two girls I had never heard of as her “best friends, Kim and Amber.”
I was devastated, betrayed and confused. I thought we had an understanding of best-friendship. I thought knew her. I thought she loved me. I thought it meant something that we had matching bracelets proclaiming our superior friendship title of ‘best’. It was a gut wrenching feeling that I had no name for at the time but it has come to live with me several times since, and is now well recognized as heartbreak.
Naturally, there have been other best friends as time marched on and many times these relationships also ended in heartbreak. Some left me behind as their popularity surpassed my own, some became consumed with boys or other friends and other times we simply grew into different lives and different people. Sometimes physical proximity became an issue and several just ghosted me out of the blue.
Of course, I’ve experienced my fair share of heartbreak of the non-platonic category, as well. I’ve spent entire weekends in bed, in the fetal position, listening to the saddest songs I can find on repeat after being dumped by a boy. I have cried more than I ever thought capable of crying. I have drowned my heartache in vodka, tried running away from the pain by keeping busy and tried covering it up with sex and rebound boyfriends. I have felt the whole range of emotions from numbness to sadness to anger back to numbness in mere hours. I have fixated, I have obsessed, I have screamed, I have sent angry letters and texts. Those heartbreaks- the romantic ones- were always the most raw, but also the more quick to heal. I still maintain that platonic heartbreak, the loss of a best friend is the worst of all. You don’t expect a friend to break your heart like a lover or boyfriend. You find yourself with someone you feel is your kindred spirit or a sibling and they become like an appendage that you don’t know how to live without. They become family and we are always taught that family is forever; a bond that surpasses everything, and all this makes their loss harder to accept.
Nonetheless, with of all these heartbreaks, no matter if platonic or romantic, it always circled back to the idea that people always leave. For a long time, I was solidly fixated on this. And so, I have lived most of my life with notion that people inevitably leave, and therefore I could not-should not- trust anyone. If nothing is permanent,why should I put myself out there? Why have my heart on the line? Trust people with my secrets? Try and put effort into a relationship that will only likely see a demise?
For a long time I tried to become completely numb to love in both romantic and platonic situations, and when that inevitably failed, I tried doing everything I could to prevent their abandonment which often led me to put their needs above my own. But what I have learned, and come to really accept, is that it’s a universal law: no matter what you do, people will leave. People leave all the time in this life. People leave to live their own lives. People leave because they grow up; they become a different person with new wants and needs. People leave because they don’t know how to be honest about their feelings. People leave because of mistakes either you or they (or both of you) made. People leave even when they don’t mean to- day to day responsibilities of life can overtake them, other priorities take hold, people face addictions that consume them. People leave because they die or get sick or take a new job. Relationships can wax and wane and wax again or fizzle out for good. Paths diverge and sometimes it is mutual and sometimes it is not. Sometimes relationships can be fixed, solved and salvaged but other times, there is just too much damage done by the burnt bridge. I’ve also learned that sometimes I will be the person who walks away and that can result in just as much emotional angst and hurt as when you are left. Your heart will break whichever way you slice it. it’s inevitability of life; your heart will be broken a thousand times over and in ways you never could have guessed.
I used to see all this heartbreak as a negative thing, as most people tend to do. Often in the wake of heartbreak, we can feel like we lose pieces of ourselves; that it chips away at us, leaving chinks in the proverbial armor so that you are broken, damaged, or in some way less than whole. But maybe we don’t want those pieces back. Maybe heartbreak is weakness leaving the body. Maybe after the initial grief passes, it leaves us raw, but healing. And when we heal, we have the ability to heal into better selves than we were before. If we let ourselves, we can become softer, yet stronger in wisdom and empathy . Under each emotional scar, the memories become muted but nonetheless live on beneath them, housing moments of joy and happiness; times we learned about ourselves or the world; stolen moments in time where we were content and carefree and in love- moments to cherish even if the end result wasn’t what we had ultimately hoped for. These moments make up who we are and who we become. Maybe at the end of the day, all we are is a mosaic of old emotional scab wounds- pink and raw flesh cobbled together into a brilliant picture of love and loss, ultimately making us into something that is nothing short of a work of art.
Sometimes I wonder about all the people who were once so significant to me- and not in any way that social media could assist with. I could look them up and see their latest profile picture or learn they now have a two-year-old, but what I really want to know is who they are today. I want to know if her favorite movie is still Dirty Dancing or if sometimes they still listen to Fine Young Cannibals on blast or if he still plays Eric Clapton when he wants to get laid. I would love to ask all these nagging questions: Do you still obsess over the movie Goodfellas and do you still dream of becoming a psychiatrist? If I were to get in your car would I still leave smelling of you? Do you smell the same? Does your family still vacation on The Cape every summer? Do you still secretly write rap lyrics and send money to your family in Colorado? How is your relationship with your brother doing? How about you with your dad’s wife? Are you still really self-conscious about your teeth- your acne-your weight? Are you happy now? Is your life all that we imagined it would be when plotted it all out when we were young? Do you ever get reminded of me in that haunting, unavoidable, way like I do when I see The Notebook or catch Rick Astley on the radio or talk about traveling throughout Asia?
And I would like to tell them that that it’s ok. I have accepted the fact that they left – or I am sorry that I had to leave- our coveted relationship and our subsequent life together came to an end. I now know it is not personal, just a part of life and I hope that they can accept that too. I would hope they know that even with the nastiest bits of the past, there is still some part of me that holds love for them. It may have hurt like hell then, and it can still hurt now- to give up on love often feels unnatural and wrong and painful and sometimes I miss the life I lived with them- but I know we are both where we need to be. I would say, “I hope you know I still think you are beautiful- inside and out. I truly hope you are happy. ” And most of all I would say: thank you for any and all moments of love and happiness you gifted to me. Thank you for helping me build this beautiful mosaic of a person who I have turned out to be. My mosaic would never be the same without you in my life. And for that I owe you. I hope you have healed into someone better than before, too. Your mosaic can be just as beautiful and bright, if you only let it.
I wish you bluebirds in the spring
To give your heart a song to sing
And then a kiss, but more than this
I wish you love
And in July a lemonade
To cool you in some leafy glade
I wish you health
But more than wealth
I wish you love