This Is How You Break Your Own Heart


I fell in love with you in the pauses between notes, in the silences between words, in the way you swig your beer when you think no one’s looking. I fell in love with the small infinities of our shared life, with the way you love your dog and the way you chew your lip when you’re writing lyrics. I’ve spent seven years falling in love with you and I think I love you in a way no one else does.

You’re talking to me on the couch, trying to make me understand what you want, but all I can process is the way your eyes are every color: a deep green flecked with brown that shines gold in the sunlight, but there’s blue there too; I’m dazzled by the idea that I might be the only person to ever get close enough to see the blue rim outlining those green irises.

Suddenly I hear what you’re saying and it sounds an awful lot like a serious commitment: Leave a city I like and go to a city I hate (for you), move in with you; maybe in a year we’ll get married. I want to ask for other options, I want more time, I want to make you see that I love you but I can’t be the girl that does that.

I know before I speak that I’m breaking your heart on that couch. I don’t mean to, I don’t want to, but it’s happening. I want to tell you all the things I’m feeling, that saying no to you now is like saying no to water in a desert. Your eyes shine with tears and I am sitting here feeling bereft and wanting to ask, “Do you know this is breaking my heart too?” 

My stomach is churning and there’s a very real pain behind my sternum, like my chest is caving in, or maybe that’s my heart. It seems to grow ten times in weight even as it caves in, forcing air out of my lungs and as if coming from someone else’s brain the thought occurs to me that this must be what stars feel when they become black holes. My heart is breaking; am I becoming a black hole? 

The silence between us drags on and on and on. The tears continue to fall. They stain the fabric of the couch. We can’t look each other in the eyes anymore; I miss the blue rings. Sitting with you now, I am sure I will die of our heartbreak. 

We’re done talking. The floor of the shower is where I retreat, where the scalding water burns away the salt of both our tears. There’s a weight in my stomach and a heavy sort of blankness in my head. Staring up at the patch of mold on the ceiling, I simultaneously loathe what I’ve said and am proud of myself for being honest about what I need. 

I want to crawl back to the couch and beg you to stay. I want to scream at you for asking me for things I can’t give you. I want to do as you asked: move across the country for you, across the world for you. I want to know whether you’d do that for me.

The next morning, I take you to the airport. We both know this is goodbye, for good this time. This is how seven years ends: An awkward hug and a ‘get home safe’ outside the Baltimore airport as the sun rises behind grey clouds. It doesn’t seem fair; doesn’t our story deserve better than this, this stale gas station coffee and cheap goodbyes surrounded by strangers? On the way home, I pull over and throw up. I cry the rest of the way, and for the next several days.

You have a new girlfriend a few weeks later and it doesn’t matter if she’s a rebound or not; I hate her and you and me. I feel pathetic for crying and loathe you for not missing me. Over a text message – I didn’t even have the guts to hear your voice – I scream and say terrible things and cut you out of my life. I only survive the next year by telling myself that you never loved me anyway. I was the fool that fell in love with the musician who loved his dog and laughed at my jokes; I was just another notch in your bedpost. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. It’s the only way I can get by.

By accident, by a cruel twist of a fate, we end up in the same city eighteen months later. I run into you at a party and your new, or current, or committed girlfriend is with you. You two laugh and regale the group with stories so well told they seem like performances perfected over time; I stand to the side and try to pretend that every beat of my heart doesn’t feel like a harsh thud against an empty metal drum.

I beg off; work in the morning, you know. I escape home and drink a bottle of wine or two (you would hate that). Eighteen months since that moment on the couch but it could have been two totally different people than us considering all the distance we now share. I stare at the wall, bottle of wine in hand – wine glass long forgotten by now – and I have to wonder, what if I’d moved then? Would we be together now or would I have ruined us some other way? 

Would this summer see me walking down an aisle that you waited at the end of, or would I have come to resent you for bringing me back here? If I had asked, would you have moved somewhere for me? Would I still be cradling these bottles of wine in bed? 

Today, I want to scream in your face. I want to show up on your porch and shake you, I want to make you understand, I want to ask: This broke my heart; did it break yours?