“I see him sometimes and the look in his eyes
Is one of a man who’s lost treasures untold,
But my heart is gold, I took back my soul”
-Lauryn Hill, I Used To Love Him
I remember my first heartbreak like it was yesterday. I fell in love for the first time at the age of 16. Naive, vulnerable, tender. I fell hard and handed my heart over to a boy two years older than me. This was not the love of my life, but it was my first love. And it brought me to my knees.
Boy (as he shall be called for the purposes of this writing), sucked me in to his world. He made me feel pretty for the first time in my life. He made me feel smart, made me feel important. He would write me poems. He would play me songs that made him think of me. He would look at me in wonderment, always finding different ways to express his feelings for me. It was quite the ego stroke for a young girl.
I put him up on a pedestal. Young love tends to overdramatize and place importance where it is not deserved. It’s not a healthy thing, this love of the young. But it is all encompassing. It rules the world of star crossed lovers.
He would pick me up for school in the morning, his old Chevy Nova covered in black primer rumbling loudly in my the driveway of my childhood home. It was a “work in progress” he said. Then he would grab my hand, squeeze it tightly, exuberant and excited to be with me. His buoyancy was believable, it was contagious. Then one morning he didn’t show up. Didn’t call. Just didn’t show. No warning. Yesterday, on top of the world to call me his. Today, nothing.
I got a ride to school with a friend. I walked, each step heavier than the last, into the open courtyard where students congregated before class. I was immediately surrounded by my girlfriends. They informed me that Boy had showed up with his ex-girlfriend and she was proudly carrying with her a bouquet of roses. I felt like all the air had been sucked out of me. Vision blurry, I made my way to a pay phone as the first bell rang for class. Grateful that everyone was headed indoors, I shakily punched the buttons to call home. My mom picked up and before she could finish saying hello I dissolved. Sobbing uncontrollably. Words broken by the intake of air as I tried to tell her what happened.
She came immediately to pick me up. I will forever be grateful for her understanding. She didn’t minimize the pain I was feeling. She didn’t brush it off as a silly little romance. She didn’t insist that I stay at school. She knew I needed to talk to her and she would never let me down when I needed her.
She comforted me while I cried, she said all the appropriate things. She waited until I calmed down and started breathing normally before giving me the talk. She looked at me with determination, trying to give me strength with her words, willing me to absorb what she was about to say. She told me that I would not sulk, I wouldn’t wallow. She told me that I was strong, stronger than I knew. She told me that I would walk into school the next day and every day after with a smile on my face, laughter on my lips. She told me that I would show him, show myself, that I deserved better. Because I did. She told me that I was destined for great things. That this hurt but that I would get through it. She told me that I was destined for a great love one day. The kind of love that is written about, the stuff of the great songs. And I believed her. I always believed her.
I grieved for the next few days. I woke up from a deep exhausted sleep, the realization hitting me anew each morning, the reminder that my heart had been crushed. But I walked into school every day with a smile. I laughed with my friends. I hid my pain and loneliness behind a smile and a breezy walk. I could do this. I was almost a professional at hiding my true feelings. The whole school was abuzz with the drama of it all. I shrugged it off. I couldn’t be bothered with talk of it. Whatever. But inside, I’m dying.
He came back. He wanted me back. Against my mother’s advice, my sister’s advice- everyone’s advice- I took him back. But I never gave myself, my heart, over to him again. We dated for a few years, through his early years in the Marines. A long distance love fueled by passionate letters and quick visits on his brief leaves. This suited me. I could write about love. But I could never truly give it to him again. Eventually the intense burn of the long distance romance flickered. We were on again, off again. I was having fun with friends, I was planning for college. Then it was over. And I broke his heart.
At sixteen I learned what it was to have loved and lost. I learned to guard my feelings. I learned that I can be forgiving but my heart can’t. I can’t un-ring the bell of hurt and pain. I can go on, I can be strong, but I can never go back. Once forsaken, my heart is done. Never to be reclaimed by the one who tore it asunder. Self preservation? Cold? Smart? I truly don’t know. I just know that it is. It’s how I’m built. I know my limitations, if you want to call it that. But this heart is mine. I’ll do with it what I wish. And I wish to protect it. I will never let it be broken again.