The first time I had my heart broken was in 1980. The last time was yesterday. I've been sitting here trying to decide if they feel any different. They kind of don't.
I was 15 when I finally succumbed to Jeff's charms. One night at the grocery store, my mom and I were in the meat section. Do you remember how they'd divide the kinds of meat, and inexplicably decorated those dividers with something that looked like plastic parsley?
It's so strange, the things you remember. I was staring at the plastic parsley when it hit me hard and heavy that I was in love with Jeff. I borrowed a dime from mom, rushed to the front of the store and called him from a pay phone. This whole story is kind of ironic because he grew up to be a vegetarian.
Anyway, we had three weeks of bliss, Jeff and I. For the first time, I felt that astonishing giddiness of what it's like to love someone, and I couldn't stop sighing with happiness.
Until he stopped calling me.
When I finally got up my nerve and called him, he said I was a flake and he didn't like me anymore. It took more than 30 years for it to finally dawn on me that he was the flake.
Just as I'd been unprepared to feel as wonderful as I had, I had no idea how completely awful I could feel. Mornings were the worst. I'd wake up with the most crushing sense of doom. I couldn't eat, everything made me cry and I had no idea if I'd ever snap out of it. I both lived for and dreaded seeing him at school.
I'm sorry to tell you that there were also a lot of dramatic diary entries that started off with "Words can't express …" I was a regular Sylvia Plath back then.
And now here I am, 35 years later, and words can't express how awful I feel again, although you know I'm going to try. Long story short, heartbreak has no expiration date.
I wasn't shopping for meat when I fell in love with Ned, but fall in love I did—ridiculously so. I found myself gazing at him when he spoke. At the movies, I'd lean in close so I could smell him for the whole two hours. I knew I'd love him till the day I died.
Four years later, I've realized it's not going to work out.
As we all know, there are lots of things that feel bad in this life. Biting the inside of your mouth. Finding out you made a really dumb mistake at work. But those things pale in comparison to when someone has become your sun and your stars and the crickets and all the sweet blooms that scent the night, and then you discover that, to them, you were as disposable as a paper plate.
That's how I felt when Jeff called me a flake in 1980, and that's how I feel now with Ned. It's the same sense of doom, the familiar crushing sadness that greets me every morning and I still worry that I'll never snap out of it. But at least this time I know what to do.
I know to sit still, and let the rotten wash over me, and after I've felt every last moment of the exquisite agony of missing someone I loved, I know I'll start to feel better again.
When I was 15, I tried beer and playing Queen as loud as I could and kissing other boys to escape the feeling of heartbreak, and nothing worked. So this time, I'll wait. Ned can't be replaced by a cute stranger or a shot of tequila. And I don't want him to be. The pain of losing him is the price I'm willing to pay for the joy of having known him. I know that these feelings won't kill me. But running away from them might.
Whenever I've run from my feelings in the past, I met the wrong people, ate horrible food and drank really dumb things like Zima. The worst hair mistakes I've ever made were all in the name of running away.
So, yes, 15-year-old self, it's true that this feels horrible and that it's hard to imagine ever smiling again. But you will. And you will, too, 50-year-old self. If you stay present and honor each stupid, awful feeling you have, you'll enjoy all the sweet blooms of the night again.