The first time I felt my heart break I was in high school.
One afternoon in August I decided to break up with my boyfriend. More honestly, he broke up with me after I insisted we take a "break". We had been together for two years (an eternity in teenage time) and after an otherwise mellow argument I insisted that we needed our space. I should note that I said this only partially because my feelings were hurt, and only mostly because I was an incredibly high maintenance sixteen year old, around whom his world should have revolved.
I remember driving to his house a week later, my hands trembling. He met me at the front door, a door he'd opened for me many, many times only this time I didn't enter. We sat on the flimsy wooden bench near the doorstep and he placed his hand atop mine. I was wearing my Britney Spears perfume and my blue argyle sweater, and I was absolutely confident that our break was about to end.
I asked him how he'd been, as if we hadn't seen each other in years, and he looked at me and that's when everything changed. "Actually," he said, "I've been...great."
My teenage heart shattered on the porch. Somehow I stumbled through something resembling "yeah, me too" while I tried not to cry, nodding along when he suggested we were better off as friends. And when I learned that he'd kissed a cheerleader from the neighboring high school the following weekend (via a three-way phone call, no less) my heart broke again. I remember feeling like my world had ended. I wanted to spontaneously combust and return as a blonde member of the cheerleading squad. I wanted to move a thousand miles away. But mostly I just wanted him to say he'd been wrong, and that he was sorry, and that he couldn't bear the thought of living life without me, and to drive his Dad's neon hatchback to my house with tears and roses and an Iggy's peanut butter concrete. It didn't happen.
Everyone has their version of this story. The first heartbreak. Puppy love turned rabid. Or maybe for some it was college, I have my version of that too. It equally as momentous, equally as defining. And now that my heart has not only been broken and stomped on and stabbed and chewed up and spit out and lit on fire, I have to admit that it's funny how many times I thought the hardest thing would be the hardest thing forever.
What I'd give now for that sixteen year old's definition of heartache, for her description of what devastated meant. Back when Beyoncé could help, when trips to the mall with big sisters offered hope; back when"you're better off without" might be true. Someday.
All my life I've written stories, spiral notebooks in my parents' basement filled with magicians and poetry and magical math papers. Broken hearts found solace on white pages, and how they'd fill and how they'd save, and now there are words I cannot use. People declare their families "complete" but I could never. People say they would die if their children did, and my every breath proves what no one wants to believe. No.
Last week I met two women for dinner. Both of these women have recently lost children, which is to say that recently, both of these women have learned what heartbreak really is.
Over tears and fresh guacamole we spoke of many things, anger and solitude, hope and depression and resentment. We spoke a pain so raw that it craters the mind. Gaps of what once made sense spanning a desolate space, only we aren't alone there, and we never were.
Something happens when you find the like-minded; those who carry the same burden, whose backs break with every step as yours does. Among these people there is no need for explanation or excuse or description. There is no shame or obligation, there is only a shared experience and understanding. So intense that you'd swear you see parts of yourself in her eyes across the table, the same parts that died in that hospital room. It's as if there are pieces of you now, that reside within someone else.
At dinner we spoke our children's names and we looked each other in the eyes. When it was time to leave we embraced, and then we laughed as we ran to our cars in the rain. Try as I might, I can think of no word that could ever do her justice. The mother who buried her child twelve weeks and six months and fourteen years ago, the mother whose heart isn't whole, with her manicured nails and her pea coat , who laughs at the rain on her cheeks, and who sings as she drives herself home.