I remember the first time I broke up with a boy. It was over the phone, but before you judge me for that, let me tell you that it was a long distance relationship. And I don’t think it would have been any kinder to fly up to Rochester only to tell him it’s over, right? Not to his heart and not to my bank account, either.
So, I took a deep breath and said the words over the phone. I waited for something–anything–to happen. For him to tell me a lot. For him to tell me a little. For him to tell me he’ll miss me. For him to say something that validated the gravity of the moment. For his response to be the kind of scale that revealed the conversation to be weighty.
Instead, he said, “Well, have a nice life,” and hung up.
Just like that.
It was the last thing he said to me.
He emailed me a few months later, but I didn’t respond with my usual, I’ll-write-you-a-book-every-day-if-you-don’t-mind-reading! kind of email, so he wrote back, asking if I was okay, commenting that I didn’t seem myself.
I said I was fine. What I didn’t say is that I was guarded. That it was shocking to me how people can become so close and then become nothing. How I didn’t realize that not being his girlfriend would mean not being anything. That I wasn’t regretting my decision–there were reasons–good reasons!–leading up to it–but still, the way he so easily just stopped everything was strange. Shocking.
I mean, Have a nice life?!
I wrote a song about it and I still play that song today. Life is not the way I always imagined it to be, was the beginning of the chorus, and it’s a chorus that resonates with me. I’m a little further down the path now, though. I understand that sometimes people can’t be friends and it’s not always an angry distance they put between you. I get that now. But still, the long hushed conversations every night. The feelings of love articulated and exchanged. Exchanged in no less powerful ways than when people give over large amounts of money to a bank and then walk out owning a house. The way you see each other! The way you get each other! Those are large sums–how, when they are added up, can they possibly amount to nothing? Math was never my strong suit, but come on! Where does it all go? One hundred billion plus one hundred billion should never just equal zero.
“I should earn some kind of award,” my friend tells me, “for all the heartache I’ve had these past years.”
And I thought about it.
I thought about the way my heart looks and feels now.
After the big heartache.
After the other heartache.
I thought about my friend who lost his baby. How he spoke angry and honest words with God. How he learned to trust again–a different trust, though, then the happy-go-lucky American trust he was born into. The trust that comes after you’ve lived in the shadows and now understand how the shadows have a way of blotting out the very sun. And yet, you still believe that there is a sun. You still believe you will wake up and see it someday. That is a trust that is earned in sorrow and sadness. That is a trust that costs more than we want to give, usually.
I thought about how, during my heartache, that same friend could speak to me in a way that most couldn’t. He spoke the language of pain. He sat in silence, too. He didn’t speak damning words of comfort when there just weren’t any. He was a gift. I hate what he went through to be that gift, but there it is, anyway: he was a gift to me in that time, especially.
“I think,” I told my friend, “that the reward is there. I think it’s all those scars in your heart that heal and then make you an even greater compassionate, kind, and beautiful person than you already are. It’s like how a broken bone heals stronger; that’s how our hearts are made, too, I think, if we choose it.”
I still don’t understand a lot of it. The way I can talk to one friend yesterday while she’s crying over the phone and talk to another friend today while she’s telling me how beautiful life is. It’s not fair. Not the painful parts–and not the perfect parts, either. Somehow, a lot of it is not quite what we deserve. Both more than we deserve and less than we deserve, it seems.
But I do know now that all the great big sums of feelings and sharing ourselves and loving another and hoping for togetherness and working towards intimacy–that doesn’t just poof! disappear. It adds up in your heart.
It hurts and it heals.
And both of those result in something that makes a heart bigger.
And I am not sure that we will ever have the sophistication of measuring a heart a la, Dr. Suess’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas:
But, trust, my friends.
All the stuff that keeps you up at night–both the joy and the pain–it can grow a heart.
Which is probably a better reward than the kind you get from American Express.