Happy Valentine’s Day! On this most love-filled day of the year, it seems appropriate to talk about the hard love and the love gone bad. Heartbreak, a collection of stories.
- 1 “It’s one that I liked, because the hollow bones of birds are what allow them to fly.” by Lola Arellani-Fryer
- 2 “You’re a muscle you can’t name, bigger than all of this grief.” by Jenna Fletcher
- 3 “I’m writing this sitting in the massive bed that was once ours.” by Kelsie Mcnair
- 4 “I am not hard to take care of.” by Nico B
- 5 “That was the last time he kissed me.” by Kelli Savill
- 6 “I sometimes like to take credit for his life falling apart.” by Joe Barchi
- 7 “But what I want you to know is that you are allowed to miss him.” by Kara Haupt
- 8 “We are all targets. We all want love and companionship. We all get lost in it too.” by Genna McAllister
“It’s one that I liked, because the hollow bones of birds are what allow them to fly.” by Lola Arellani-Fryer
1. This Valentine’s Day is my first as a married woman.
As a child, when I contemplated being married, I imagined it would be an entry into a completely different world of Grown Up. I felt certain that my adult self would arrive all at once, the way a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis. This, for some reason, was easier for me to imagine than the reality of growing up so slowly you don’t even noticing it happening.
2. I was diagnosed with depression at sixteen, a diagnosis that finally put a name to the hollow feeling in my bones so persistent that I had no memories prior to its existence.
“The hollow feeling in my bones” is a metaphor I wrote down in my sixteen-year-old journal. It’s one that I liked, because the hollow bones of birds are what allow them to fly.
3. At sixteen, I no longer believed that human beings mature like butterflies, but I clung to that hope that, with adulthood, something would change.
Depression, after all, was the realm of teenagers clutching copies of the Bell Jar. It wasn’t something that persisted forever.
Every person’s depression is different—at the time, mine muddied my experience of emotions, making happy and sad nearly indecipherable.
I tried to imagine being happy on my wedding day and no longer had the capacity.
4. Birds and butterflies.
I’m mixing metaphors intentionally, because we need better language to talk about depression. We rarely talk about it, and when we do we’re always using metaphors that fall short.
I’m going to keep trying different words until I find ones that feel like they fit best. If you also live with depression, I suggest you do the same.
Maybe together we can work at inventing a new language that has the capacity to fit what we need to say.
5. I didn’t read the Bell Jar until I was at Smith College, where I met my wife on my very first day.
I’d been afraid to read it, the same way I’d spent years of my life superstitiously afraid to look into mirrors. Sylvia Plath and I were both from outside of Boston; we spent summers in New York; we missed the fall of our Junior years to be treated at McLean.
We graduated from Smith and won Fulbrights and moved to London. Plath died on the same day my wife was born, 24 years apart. I believe that sometimes coincidences are meaningless. At least, I try to.
6. I fell in love many times while I was at Smith:
I fell in love with my wife; I fell in love with losing hours in the archives while reading Plath’s letters; I fell in love with the biting cold winter air that seemed to clear my mind of the muddy mix that was every emotion at the same time, which is to say it was no emotion at all.
7. Depression has always been a bodily experience for me, but recently it has shifted.
Now my hollow bones have been replaced by a more localized puncture, right around the place we describe as “the pit in our stomach.” This is an improvement.
8. My wife and I got married in October.
To my great relief, I was deliriously happy on my wedding day.
But that day was a pause, not an end point. Depression haunted me before the wedding and haunts me still, even as I fill these roles in which I’m supposed to be the happiest of my life: fiancee, newlywed.
Most brides will tell you that, despite what the glossy magazines want you to believe, planning a wedding is an awful time. Few brides are really carefree and happy in the months before their wedding.
9. But here, on the other side of the wedding—what’s supposed to be the good part—is where I feel let down by the promises of happily-ever-after.
And yet, having this person choose to suffer with me might be the most substantial proof of love I could imagine.
As newlyweds, we set the foundation of our lives together on the memories we make now. Here is one of them: finding myself, one evening, crying myself to sleep for no reason at all, but for once not being alone.
Realizing as my wife holds me close that this sadness might be the most real emotion I’ve ever felt, realer than the happiness I felt when I kissed her at the altar. My depression persists, but for once the mud has cleared.
10. We equate love with happiness, but in truth it is more complex and far better than that.
It’s the thing that fills the place where my bones were hollow. It’s the sticky stuff that makes the chrysalis from which I’m no longer in a rush to emerge.
“You’re a muscle you can’t name, bigger than all of this grief.” by Jenna Fletcher
At the sports bar, the game blaring on the big screen, the bartender will come to know you for your pendulum-shift split personality – either laughing too hard or on the verge of tears. It is spring. This is how you’ll spend your Sundays. Your Tuesdays. Your whateversdays. Anything as a distraction.
The volume of this compresses everything. Beer glasses clinking, an announcer explains something about stats that you don’t understand, a player gets fouled and a man seated at a table in the corner yells “FUCK YOU!” towards the ref on tv, his arms raised angry.
Make an ill-advised date with a stranger at a bar that houses the same name as the holiday and get stood up. Laugh about it, feeling stronger this time.
You’re a muscle you can’t name, bigger than all of this grief.
You make a detour, buy flowers for your best friend.
Spend the night watching Thelma and Louise in her living room thinking about how that car careening off into the canyon?
It feels a lot like you.
On a plane to god-knows-where, the next place you can ghost yourself into something that feels big, you find yourself wringing your hands in the eerie stillness. Confused at how fast the landscape passes and how you’d hardly be able to notice this acceleration with eyes closed.
You play the record, test yourself. Look an old photo in the eye. Rewrite old meaning. Let a hand wander on your thigh under the table and feel drunk off the power of the temporary.
The power of no, of yes.
It’s a pop song on the radio you keep repeating, a Thursday night where you can’t stop crying into J’s shoulder, the fire and the refusal. All the bridges will look different, maybe it’s a new green or maybe it’s the size—you’ll swear they once were a hell of a lot more looming. The music is up loud, some basement you’re testing your wits in, and the guy on the PA grasps your hand so tight you remember what it feels like to be in your own body again. It’s sweat and it’s tears and it’s barred teeth, spent breath.
You are a short skirt, combat boots, a handful of peonies you bought for yourself.
You are a tight fist.
You are messy and compelling.
This is how you cope.
“I’m writing this sitting in the massive bed that was once ours.” by Kelsie Mcnair
I liken this broken heart to a massive tree that has just suffered the removal of its largest and sturdiest branches –they grew too large and heavy for the tree to support.
The tree still stands tall, still weathers the seasons, and will continue to grow post branch-removal… but it’s going to look really awkward for a long time. It’s going to have to displace all of the energy that used to feed the branches into other parts of the tree…. making it stronger, more powerful and a better tree for the world.
We met in audio engineering school about 7 years ago this month. Our meeting/hanging/dating/loving progression was quick and effortless and latched to no physical calendar date but felt more like a gentle deep breath in. Funny, the ending has been very similar… a long lasting and slow breath out accompanied by a soft shoulder shrug to go along with it.
Finding him felt like the sitting with warm sunshine on my face during the coldest day. He was my best friend, my partner, the one who inspired me and the first full bodied, heart-molding love I had ever had. I had no uncertainty, had no doubts—he was for me and I was for him and he became my home. We coasted for a few years, growing up together and seeing each other change. We made big decisions, hard choices and sometimes went through deeply personal situations together. We bonded during deaths, we learned the best way to respond to each other and how to be what the other needed during trialling times. We laughed. We probably laughed for about an entire year collectively. It felt so fine and sure and safe for so long, until it just didn’t anymore.—
I’m writing this sitting in the massive bed that was once ours, in the home we spent three years creating with one another after leaving college together. We’ve been separated for about five months now. In wonderment, I think about how colorful and epic and wild our love story has been and it’s honestly so heartbreakingly difficult to even comprehend that our story just can’t continue on into forever.
Our separation was due to amassing situational complexities, not necessarily due to a lack of love or some sort of infidelity. We just grew to want and need specific things that the other could not provide. Restlessness and resentment played their own roles along with unrealistic expectations—disconnectedness from each other’s passions along with the relentless pressure of marital promises–we were left at a stalemate. We began to gradually misunderstand each other in the slowest and most painful ways. There became no option for us but to discontinue.—
The first few months I kept myself immersed in work and friends as I struggled to keep it together. I cried multiple times a day, not sleeping well and living in a state of constant confusion. I was meeting myself on my own for the first time, and seeing her weak and boneless has been really frightening.
I’ve known for a long time that she would eventually be the strongest and fiercest woman if I could just stick it out and deal with big, scary, hard things like leaving love and comfort–knew that I could become her and love myself enough to carry what I would leave behind. I need the support of my dreams, encouragement of my oddness and love for all of my quirks to eventually become her.
More recently, I spend time alone thinking about what has happened and how it’s going to affect the rest of my life. While brainstorming the past few years, I’ve learned four solid things.
ONE — I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Being open to love is such a strength in my eyes, I look forward to the day I’m not too exhausted or savagely irritated by it to want to experience it again.
TWO — Someday, I’m going to come out of these shadows stronger than ever and love myself more for suffering through it.
THREE — Making the choice to live for myself is one that will effectively put me in the exact path of the future I want. Even when the days are dark and long (and freaking lonely), it’s not in me to give up hope. I know the dread is temporary and that someday I’ll effectively live beside grief instead of in it. Then one day I won’t ache for what was because I will be filled with the satisfaction and love of what is.
FOUR — Until then, it’s okay to be a mess. It’s okay to not have one thing figured out, it’s okay that life is awkward and painful because this exact experience reminds me that I am alive and I have to suffer the bad with the good. I am that tree with wonky branches, patiently waiting for her canopy to come to fruition.
“I am not hard to take care of.” by Nico B
They’re the person that lets you slap them in the face with a pancake for a snapchat, repeatedly I might add. The first person you tell when you have gender feels and need to start going by they/them/their pronouns because otherwise your body feels like it’s going to explode into not-so glamourous fleshy glitter. Who you have sleepovers with because you’ve both binged too hard on Gilmore Girls and leaving your roommate’s bed to walk across the hall makes you as stubborn and annoying as Emily Gilmore. They are the person you can be so amazingly gay with, it is like an all-inclusive and non-capitalist version of our own PRIDE 2K4ever. It’s real and like, you can’t help but to love your best friend so profoundly, and also sometimes be in love with them too. Right? Right.
I learned very suddenly I loved my best friend. And while our friendship fumbled along as we navigated what was first a long-distance friendship, to later being in the same town and going to the same college, we added the supplemental variable of becoming physically intimate with each other too (from cuddles to uh, “How Does It Feel” by D’Angelo, if you catch my drift). Don’t get lost in a sultry, oily, and smoky scene just yet, because the background on where I was at emotionally is this: I was not a good friend to my best friend. I did not know how to proactively take care of myself or communicate my needs, and when something so good was happening to me amidst a bunch of pain that I had been experiencing, I got caught in its avalanche and maybe wasn’t too good at checking in with myself and saying, “What’s right here and what’s best for me?” My best friend, bless her, called me out on how shitty of a friend I was being to her and we agreed to put a possibly indefinite pause on our romantic potential and work on being friends. I was grateful and relieved: I could work on being a better friend; intimacy (clouded by my own trauma) and going into a relationship with someone post break-up of a six-year relationship was not in the cards for me.
Fast forward from the summer of 2012 to the night of November 16, 2014: my roommate knocked ever so gently on my bedroom door and told me that her and her close friend had feelings for each other. My eyes widened, my skin felt too tight on my body, and my heart all of a sudden felt too big to fit inside my ribcage. I’m sure I muttered something like, “Oh, heh, cool,” before they closed my door. I fell asleep listening to “Caught in a Flood With the Captain of the Cheerleading Squad” by I Hate Myself on repeat, just to give you a little sense for how much my world was crashing with me in tow.
I realized I had been carrying a heart-shaped box for my best friend, and this exchange of her having feelings for someone else fluttered it open. These untapped feelings overtook me, manifesting themselves in hurtful ways both physical and mental. I made a lot of quick decisions, or technically excisions, on how I was going to protect myself as I worked up to feeling okay again.I was on the defensive, very quickly feeling alone and abandoned. I unfollowed her on tumblr, blacklisted their partner, told my roommate that until I felt okay their girlfriend wouldn’t be able to come over to our apartment, and that I didn’t want to hear about her relationship whatsoever. Everyone was hurt and hurting. I knew this. We both knew this. Everything was so fucking unbelievably hard.
I started losing my best friend as they fell open-heartedly into their first full-on relationship. I started seeing her less and less, and felt like she wasn’t making any time to see me. I felt less-than while still trying to hold onto the practicality of knowing that she wasn’t intentionally trying to make me feel this way. I was your high school frog dissection– showing up and trying to act like I wasn’t hurting. That side of things didn’t really get better.
Fast forward through two months of personal-work and a few healthy conclusions. If you feel like someone is not showing up in the ways you need them to, they’re probably not. We can only ask so much of people. Taking care of myself is where I continued to turn back to, because I know and am learning the best ways to do that.
I can love and have learned to love in so many different ways. That is how I leave heartache. I become closer to loving myself, I love those around me more fully, and I practice love in a new way each day. Because what is love, if not fluid?
- Even when we’re taking care of ourselves our actions can still manifest into ways that hurt others. Make room to be mindful of this.
- Seriously get some space. God. Take all the space.
- Be intentional with the ways that your closest relationships can and should be honored. Rectify when it hasn’t been. Do the work (if you can).
- I am not hard to take care of.
“That was the last time he kissed me.” by Kelli Savill
Boys don’t want to kiss unless they’re laying down. It’s always felt like an arduous means to an end, not an enjoyable act with most of the people that I’ve been with. Kyle wanted to kiss me in every imaginable place: on the boat that took us to his shared apartment, in the car driving me around Victoria, at the airport as we await my inevitable departure.
“It’s not forever…” He gasped between kisses, “I love you, I’ll always love you, this will be forever soon!”
That was the last time he kissed me.
We sobbed and kissed salty tears and I dragged myself off to security as German tourists watched on. Loading my shoes into the airport X-ray tray a woman said to me, “is that your boy?” she asked. “Yes, he’s mine.” “He loves you. Canadian?” “Through and through.” “I hope you get to see him again soon, dear.”
I sobbed at my gate, as I ate mediocre poutine and texted him a million “forever”s. The words reverberated around my brain, “forever….soon…always…I love you”. It was my 24th birthday and I didn’t get anything. He’d made me a bowl of lucky charms before we left for the airport, and kissed me awake.
We had sat up all night beforehand—try to stretch out our last night together—trying to get every waking second out of each other. We fought against our bodies’ urge to have sex and kiss. Instead, we looked each other in the face and told ourselves that what we felt was real.
He gave in to sleep eventually and I wrote him a Christmas card–no gift, we’d had a million of those in our time together. I wrote him a letter and put it in his bag for him to find later. He found it early in the morning and read it in front of me. He cried.
497 days later, I got a text from him. It said, “if we were a story, it would be called ‘abandonment.’ ” —
Numbers were really important to our relationship: 4766 miles from my home to his, eight months of texting and Skype calls, twenty-one days of togetherness. And now? It has been seventy-one days since I sent him a message that he never even responded to.
In those twenty-one days I thought I was complete. I can still remember the exact moment that I knew it was love. Watching stand-up comedy on our mutual friend’s couch—I had a toothache and we were both very, very stoned. My head on his lap, he laid frozen peas on the side of my jaw that throbbed. The little peas rattled every time either of us laughed. It was a perfect moment.
It would be easy to blame the Atlantic Ocean for our failing–some distances are just too long. I don’t hold a grudge though, because without Kyle I wouldn’t have gone home. Stepping off the plane into the open spaces of Canada was the most electrifying experience: knowing there was only the imaginary line of border control between me and… everything else was the ultimate feeling. —
Hindsight is 20/20 and now I see that it wasn’t each other we were clinging to; it was our mental state. He was depressed and I was too, but didn’t know it. I thought I needed him but what we both just needed was a change. I pushed him to leave the small island of Victoria and be with our friends in Vancouver, he pushed me to get out of a stagnant relationship with a man I no longer loved. And then we didn’t need each other anymore, so we abandoned each other. Kyle wasn’t my home. Canada is.
Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Three weeks after our tearful goodbye, he had a new girlfriend. They live together now, have a cat. I can legitimately say she seems perfect for him.
I learned more about myself from heartbreak than I could have learned from any man. It’s been two years and I’ve moved to another beautiful city, with another beautiful man, and yes, we also have our own beautiful little cat.
“I sometimes like to take credit for his life falling apart.” by Joe Barchi
I find myself running my hands through my hair every time I try to write about him. It reminds me of the way he used to pull his fingers through my blonde hair, always tugging at the strands when we kissed.
The night I met Matt, he told me he was straight. Mostly straight, more of an opportunist. “I’m a slut, don’t get attached,” he whispered to me as we made out on the floor of a Long Island house show venue. Looking back, I should probably take responsibility for getting attached when he said not to, but part of me always rejects this. How was I supposed to not get attached to him when he would call me drunk at 3 AM and say things like “you’re the only good thing in my life. I had to call you and hear your voice, your voice just makes me feel so safe.” His words gnawed at my skin until it was raw and bloody.
We met when Mercury was in retrograde, at its peak. Matt’s life started to fall apart the night after we met, after kissing his first genderqueer person. He got into four car accidents in the span of two months, lost his job, the girl he loved dumped him. He was kicked out of the band he dropped out of college to be in—all after kissing me.
I sometimes like to take credit for his life falling apart, but I never held that power. I could never hurt him. That was one of our flaws. He held all the power to hurt me, and my feelings and words were never able to shatter him.
Our first kiss was magical, remains magical. I will hold onto the memory of how happy I felt at that moment for a long time. I will cling to the feeling of excitement, of a hot face slightly sweaty haired rushing in. He made me feel that way throughout our brief time together—this manic high was always brought back down with the words “don’t make this a big deal, it’s not.”
We kept talking after the night we met. I returned to Rhode Island and he stayed in Long Island. I longed for the aching feeling that grows in your chest when you feel yourself growing, when you are being kissed well. The day I left him an uneasiness began to nestle in my stomach. It stayed there for two months, it grew until it was so large it consumed every decision I made, and then, just as I was losing myself, it went away. Gloriously, slowly, painfully.
Before it ended—before I ended it—we had some good moments. Mostly there were bad moments though. On Thanksgiving I decided to abandon my family to go to New York and visit a friend in Brooklyn. Mainly it was to see Matt. I hadn’t seen him in a month, and that month had been torture for us both separately. We talked on the phone every time he got drunk enough to tell me how he actually felt about me. After our plans to see each other falling apart countless times, it finally looked like things were going to work out.
They didn’t. He didn’t show up and wasn’t answering his phone. I texted our mutual friends in a panic—this wasn’t like him. Disappearing wasn’t his game. Finally, the day after Thanksgiving, he called me. Our call was brief and painful. He was in a psych ward in Upstate New York on a psychiatric hold.
“Stop texting my friends its invasive and shitty. We are nothing so you have no right to be doing this.” He disparaged me for my worries. He never liked how anxious I got. That was our dance: I got anxious, he got mean.
We didn’t speak for a week and when we finally spoke he said it wasn’t a good idea for us to be together anymore. Five days later he drove to Rhode Island and we had sex for the first time. He slapped me in the face during this encounter. I sucked in the immediate fear and shame, repressing it, something I’d later come to understand. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why you are being hurt; sometimes you don’t need to understand. It’s not the job of the abused person to demand to not be abused, it’s the job of other’s to not abuse you.
Matt and I continued to see each other in a manic lusty haze for the following two weeks. I ended things on New Year’s Day.
My first love ended quietly in my best friend’s bedroom over the phone. I freed myself. I have returned to finding myself. I was his first boy, and I’m not even a boy. I will find myself in a genderless love, within self love. I will grow within my words and the words of others.
The thing about first love is its supposed finality. There is nothing final about this. It’s all just growth.
“But what I want you to know is that you are allowed to miss him.” by Kara Haupt
I know six things about heartbreak so far, and—I think—one about love.
One. At night you will Sad-Girl fight with yourself, and you will fight with him. By him, I mean The Man You Make Up—the one you romanticize and vilify all at once. Sometimes The Man You Make Up wins or the Sad-Girl wins, but you don’t win for a longass time. That’s okay. Normal. Boring even. But entirely fucking horrifyingly miserable.
But what I want you to know is that you are allowed to miss him.
Two. It, this, feels like weakness.
(You are allowed to miss him.)
Three. But that “weakness”? Use it. (And I hate this, because this shit can get so Evangelical so quick.) When it comes to what you make with this, ambiguity is only a generosity. I think maybe what we need to do more of is to fucking Taylor Swift this shit. Ambiguity is a generosity, one you don’t have to give, so leave behind hidden messages. It’s exciting and fun and petty, I think, for awhile, that’s perfectly fine.
Later, you will thank him for giving you all of his good, gracious parts along with his manipulative, careless, cruel ones because you, you will be the one making the masterpiece.
(You are allowed to miss him.)
Four. Don’t forget, by the way, he’s a fucking idiot.
(You are still allowed to miss him.)
Five. Your weak-ass, girl power, fake feminism will trick you into believing that because this feels like weakness, that it is. It’s a survival mechanism, but babygirl it’s not feminism. Show him his cruelty. It does not mean he wins.
(You are allowed to miss him.)
Six. You’ll make half of these mistakes again, but for the half you don’t? That’s the victory.
You are, as well, allowed to not miss him.–
One. Love should not make you miss yourself.
“We are all targets. We all want love and companionship. We all get lost in it too.” by Genna McAllister
Feeling lost and fatigued all week. I go back and forth between being completely lovesick and angry, to disappointed in myself—but at the same time, I feel vacant. I want to be with him so much it physically hurts me. All I want to do is hold him and help him. But he doesn’t understand that. I have become his enemy so he can heal. I hate him for the way he treated me, for how he changed me.
And he did. He got under my skin. I felt unintelligent, unattractive, dependent, dirty, incomplete. He got under my wardrobe, my hair color, even my scent. I didn’t want to dress modestly because I wanted him to find me beautiful and sexy and confident. But I was unable to show pride in my curves by dressing in a way that complimented me because then he would call me a whore. He wanted my hair a certain way, he was particular with my smell. I didn’t want to show love to wonderful people because he thought I wanted to fuck even my best friend. Everything was so black and white in his world.
He made shocking accusations that upset me beyond belief. They were so wrong, only a complete stranger would make the strange statements that he made regularly. When they upset me, he interpreted my reactions as defensive behavior. They showed him he was right. In reality, I get so flustered and upset because the person I gave my whole self to has no idea who I am and doesn’t trust a word I say. He would ask questions I didn’t understand and couldn’t answer, trapping me in them. He would not love me; he was incapable. He was afraid, so he hurt me. His delusions made me paranoid for the first time in my life. Sex was always on his mind. He used it to convey his power. Jordan cannot hear me. He cannot see me. He cannot receive love.
I never had an issue with trust and positive thinking until he climbed into my head. I frighten myself now. How can I continue to love someone who hurts me so deeply? Why can’t I stop?
I figured it out. The man I fell in love with is not real. He was a character in a mask that drew me in, triggered me in all the right ways. He figured out what it was that I wanted and painted his face in a way that looked right to me. The first person I ever allowed myself to open up to—give my all to, experience new things with—never existed.
That realization took some serious reflection to understand and come to terms with. Until Jordan came along, I was so cautious and guarded in regards to relationships. I was raised by two intelligent, reasonable, thoughtful, communicative parents. I thought I knew everything. I learned life lessons through the failures of others.
Possibly the most important lesson I got out of this experience is this: anyone can get trapped in an abusive relationship. Targets are not people who lack self-awareness, logic, or support. We are all targets. We all want love and companionship. We all get lost in it too.
We use people as mirrors. In my story of heartbreak, I was led in by romance. Jordan showed me my reflection—bringing my every insecurity and character flaw right to the surface. He made me talk about these weaknesses every day and made my entire existence revolve around them. I spent every day getting to know the parts of me I never wanted to know. Now that I’ve seen these demons, I can look at myself in the mirror on my worst day and be prepared to face whatever darkness is looking back at me. I can look into my own eyes and be completely honest. I can keep moving forward as one whole person.