He doesn’t want to break my heart.
I know this, because he told me. In fact, he tells me all the time, every time we see each other. I don’t want him to break my heart either, so I guess we have that in common. As I sit at the end of my couch watching him talk passionately about the prairie grasses of the Midwest and unexpected forget-me-nots, I want to make myself smaller. This is no easy task for a girl over six feet tall. But, if I could crawl into this moment, if I could shrink my too-big body so it would fit into the spaces between his words, he wouldn’t ever have the chance to break my heart. Because then, I could live forever in this single moment where he is a man and I am the woman he finds so interesting.
“I don’t want to break your heart,” he says. “I’m still in love with her.”
Because I am an adult who pretends to know how to handle these situations, I shrug my shoulders and nod my head a little woefully. Because I am an adult, I don’t let my hands fly up to my ears and block the offending words. I don’t shake my head with tears streaming down my cheeks chanting, “I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you.” Because I am lonely and a little greedy, I burrow closer to his chest. I hope he can feel the fear in my bones as I rub my cheek against his shoulder, a simple delight I was sure I’d never experience in this lifetime. I don’t want my heart to break anymore. He kisses me most chastely and then he’s gone.
After he leaves, I sit on the couch, in the exact spot he has recently vacated. I sit on the couch and knock on my chest to ask my heart if it’s all right, if it’s still broken. My heart beats back, like it always does. The rhythm only changes when he put his arms around me, then it tries to break loose. My heart tells me that I worry needlessly. It tells me that it knows how to take care of itself. That as long as I leave it buried deep inside my chest all will be fine. But too often, I take it out and use it to paint a shiny coating on myself. I fling it about freely trying to catch the eye of any man who finds shiny things interesting. My heart says that I doubt it too often, that I am too impatient. My heart, it is resilient and has an endless capacity. My heart tells me there’s nothing wrong with getting hurt, that we can recover from anything. My heart promises me that it will take care of everything.
“Don’t let me break your heart,” he says.
“I couldn’t stop you if I wanted to,” I say.
If the power resided in my hands, we wouldn’t even have this conversation. He wouldn’t see me as weak and wounded, a young girl with broken eyes. Occasionally the power lands in my hands and I can see in his eyes that he realizes the strong, independent woman with a career, who takes care of herself isn’t just a facade. Sadly, I am not all-powerful; I cannot make him see that the broken eyes belong to the independent woman. He worries that I am fragile.
“I only fail at two things, men and weight loss,” I say.
“I don’t want to be the one who sets you up to fail,” he says.
This sparks hope in my bones. He doesn’t want me to fail, which means he will stick around long enough to ensure that I don’t fail. This is progress. Perhaps he will forget about her. The bewitching blonde who made him move across the country, only to send him away nine months later.
“I don’t know what to do with you, I still love her, and I really don’t want to break your heart,” he says and pulls me to him and my heart races.
Because, that is the way with men and hearts, they do what they want. You don’t have any choice in the matter. I can control my hands from holding him tight to me. I can control the urge to run my palms over the planes of his face, and I can keep my fingers from tracing his spine through his shirt. I can control my lips from sighing and I can control my eyes from crying, but I cannot control my heart. It does what it wants without any input from me and the other parts.
“I don’t want to break your heart,” he says.
Because I cannot find the words, this time I say nothing. I let my heart tap out the code against his chest. If he could decipher it, he would know that my heart does not worry. My heart is braver, stronger, and more patient than the both of us. We both underestimate its strength. Even if he does break my heart, it doesn’t care, because now it soars.
He says it’s over.
I know this, because he told me. Only once. He said he had spent the night getting over her, thinking about everything, and wondering where it all went wrong.
“I was too old and too poor,” he said.
And my heart, it hurt for him. I blinked back tears and remembered the end of every relationship I had. How much it hurts, even when you know it’s on its way to being over. It’s the final acknowledgement that hurts the most. Those words that kill potential and any hope you might have had.
As he talks about their relationship I tune out, instead lost in the ends of relationships. All the things I did to stave off the end, how often I’d beg. I begged and I am not proud of that. Sometimes I begged for forgiveness, to be special again, to be the light in his eyes, for just one more chance. Sometimes, I just begged for him to say the word. For him to be honest with me and tell me that it’s over. I begged not to be strung along anymore. Most of the time, despite what you know in your heart, you need to hear it from his lips.
“At least we ended on a high note,” he said. “At least we have that.”
I closed my suddenly green eyes, breathed deeply, and tried to swallow the envy making my throat ache. It’s not fair, I railed in my head. She got a beginning and an end. I wasn’t even worthy of a beginning. All I got was the briefest flare of interest that was quickly stamped out by the memory of her. That’s not a beginning, that’s nothing. And if you don’t have a beginning how can you have an end? Things with no beginning don’t end, they just stop slowly, painfully, they just drift away.
I opened my mouth to speak and remembered that I am an adult. So I shut it again and just listened. I listened to how much he loves her and I cried quietly, so he wouldn’t notice. I kept the frustration to myself wondering what was wrong with him, what was wrong with me. Why didn’t he want my affection? Why was I so obviously unattractive to him?
As he talked I tried to figure out why he couldn’t see how much I had in me. I had so much to give, affection seeping from my skin. I was independent, self sufficient, and smart. I didn’t lack much in life, just someone to share it with. I wanted to ask him what was wrong with me, why not me, and my heart sank.
“It’s not your job to make me happy,” I said quoting him.
“I know,” he said. “It’s my pleasure to make you happy.”
And then, that damn heart of mine it soared. It took off of its own accord, leaving me and my doubts behind. Because my heart, it knows you can’t always have what you want and you need to take happiness where you can find it. My heart is braver, stronger, and more patient than I am. I underestimate its strength. Even if he does break my heart, it doesn’t care, because now it soars.
Sometimes I think I conjured him up. Perhaps, I tell myself now, he was the physical manifestation of my desire. Something my mind created to cope with loneliness. Sometimes I can convince myself I willed him into being by the sheer force of my want.
I know this isn’t true. I just like to pretend that it is. I pretend a lot. It’s easier that way. The truth, it’s not as easy.
I know I didn’t conjure him. I know he really existed and for a short time he made my heart soar. I know this is true because when I close my eyes I remember standing on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi with his arms around me, a cool July night when life couldn’t get any more. I remember how the air smelled of potential and hope lived in my bones.
If I had conjured him, it would have been different. I would have been enough. I would have been the manifestation of everything he had ever wanted. My conjuring would have been stronger. If I had worked the magic the phone would never have stopped ringing. My shine wouldn’t have faded.
He would have seen the salvation in my eyes, if my magic worked. He would have taken my bag of tricks and let his heart soar. It would have been magnificent, if he could have believed in my abilities as a savior.
Though I did not conjure him, it was magic. Even he cannot deny that, for a short time, there was magic. I know this because I felt it. I was the one transformed into the princess. I could see my reflection in his eyes, and I shined like I was beautiful. When he spoke my name this ugly duckling turned into a swan, the maid into the queen.
But there is no room for magic in reality. My shine faded faster than even I thought possible. None of my fairy dust could make the ghost of her disappear. I let the rabbit out of my hat and the hole landed him right back at her feet. I was the only one fooled by the illusion that I really mattered.
If he would have kissed me one more time, I could have slept for a hundred years, a sleep that would give my heart the time to recover. A silly heart that soared too close to the sun, and crashed back to earth a leaden hunk of cold wax.
But it did not break, my heart. My heart is braver, stronger, and more patient than I am. I underestimate its strength. Even though he almost broke my heart, it doesn’t care, because for a little while, it soared.