I had, for the second time in a row yesterday, taken the light rail into work in an effort to do some work on the commute and to save on mileage and gasoline. As a result, I’d walked the equivalent of a couple miles to get to the station and made the mistake of wearing a pair of new shoes that weren’t broken in and causing my shins to burn.
It was on the trip home that my kids reminded me I had to head to hell, or as you probably call it, “Michaels”, and pick up a ton of crap for yet another school project and report. I was tired, physically sore, and just wandering the store looking for popsickle sticks, twine, glue, you name it. In the section where I found something called “raffia” for Sam’s project, a grass hut used by the Chumash Indian Tribe, I had to go through the section they’d set out filled with decorations for Valentine’s Day.
I forgot about Valentine’s Day. I really had.
It’s funny, I stood there looking at all the merchandise, not just the hearts and the bright red cards and flowers, but I saw all the symbols and the pieces and I started thinking about what it looked like and realized that it was kind of an apt situation.
The same week that Andrea died there was a big study that hit the news, something they’d worked for years and gone through tons of research, talked to people, all of it. The subject? Apparently they spent all this grant money, time and energy to tell the world that people who go through heartbreak actually suffer pain just like physical pain.
I could have told them that, saved them a ton of time and money.
Sure, there’s a pain. I have likened it to a tear, a rip of the skin. If you’ve ever done any kind or physical labor or remodeling and had a nail tear through your skin, needing stitches, the blood starting to bloom on your arm, the length of the tissue burning in pain . . . that’s sort of what I go through. When I first walked in and the doctors were working on Andrea I was in a panic. I was hopeful, scared, and panicked that she couldn’t possibly go. We all get sick, we’ve had pneumonia before, it doesn’t get THIS bad. I still remember the precise moment. The doctor says I have to make a decision, the nurses stop their CPR, the doctor puts his hand on her wrist, and I watched the blinking line on the heart monitor, the numbers that should read a diastolic and systolic number went immediately to zero. There was no dramatic moment, no slow-mo decline of the numbers or slowing to the beep, it all just went away.
At that precise moment, right after they stopped, I felt it. I felt the rip. I knew, immediately, no matter how many breakups or bad relationships I’d had before, nothing was like this. I knew what the phrase broken heart meant. I literally felt like someone or something had reached into my body and just tore a portion of it away. Violently, painfully, ripped out of me.
When you love someone, and I mean truly, deeply, soul-mate love someone, there is a sort of weaving of yourselves together. I looked at the hearts and realized that the arrow through the heart is actually an interesting and apt symbol. The arrow pierces your heart, but think about it. It’s not like a blade, it’s no knife. The cut isn’t clean, it’s not a simple wound, this is a triangular piece of stone or metal, spinning, tearing through you and pulling you together. Lose that person, take that arrow out, and there’s no simple, clean, surgical way of removing it. It tears, it pulls, and it . . . hurts. You are two halves of a whole up to then. You are together, so pull out that arrow and you’re bound to feel it.
I have never really liked Valentine’s Day, so to have the symbolism hit home now was a little odd for me. I always hated HAVING to buy something, or the push by advertisers and Hallmark to do something was just so rough on me. When I was dating Andrea we had an awful Valentine’s Day because her mother and friends had convinced her than not only should I ask her to marry me on that day I had to ask her. So when the day came and I had dinner at a restaurant I’d booked months before and I never got on one knee or opened the little velvet box, it didn’t sit well with her. Even though I had no idea why, I’d never said I was going to ask that day. In fact, the reason she thought about it was because I’d asked her father if I could marry her, very old-fashioned, and very uncomfortable. So obviously, after I asked them all not to say anything, she knew it was coming, just not when.
It was one of a string of bad nights. One year she’d called me angry because all the women at her work had gotten flowers and she hadn’t gotten any. Not a one. “Beth got them, the secretary got them, but I didn’t . . .” was the only half-joking call.
“You know, we’ve been together a while now,” was my reply. “Can you remember one Valentine’s Day where you got me something? I’ve never had flowers, candy, or even a card at work or at home.”
It was one of the only times I’d heard her speechless. I knew she’d called as a joke, as a way to poke fun at me and give me crap. I knew this because any time I’d gotten her flowers at work she got angry at me because she didn’t like the attention until the attention wasn’t there. Then she wanted to know why she hadn’t gotten them. But this . . . this was a bird of a different color.
“I had never even thought about that. Oh my God, Dave, I’ve never done anything, have I?”
And there’s your reason for disliking the holiday. I’m not a chauvinist, I wasn’t particularly grumpy about it, but if you were going to call me to ask about something I’d taken care of weeks ago and out of my hands now, why isn’t this a joint holiday? The arrow, the pierce, the pain is something very real. She’d never thought about it, and stuttered a bunch, apologizing.
“You don’t give flowers to a guy, though. What do you do?”
“Not my problem, I just want to know why I have to buy you stuff and I don’t get anything.”
I told her I was just giving her crap, but an hour later, the front desk called and told me I had a package. I took them back to my office, opened up, and inside was a bouquet . . . of cookies. Amazing, delicious and thoughtful.
Those little, funny memories are the ones that shoot back. It’s like tugging on the arrowhead a little bit more each time. The funny thing is, though, I wouldn’t take away the pain. I wouldn’t sew the wound shut. The thing studying “pain” from emotional loss doesn’t take into account is what the effect of that pain really is. I can see why, after being married to your best friend for 30-40 years if you lose them you might die soon after. It’s painful. It’s easy to succumb to the emotion and the pain and just ignore the fact that there’s a world moving around you. It isn’t something that goes away. You learn to live with it or you sink into it, those are your choices. I have these kids to take care of and where it’d be so easy to sink into despair and fall apart, I can’t.
Would I get rid of the pain? No. Never. Each twinge, every shot of adrenaline from the pain when I move the wrong way or stumble on a lost memory reminds me of her. If I took that away it would be too easy to live. I don’t think I could stand a day where I realized I’d gotten through without ever thinking about her. That pain, that tear/wound/cut is what reminds me of what I had and what I lost. I had it good and perfect for awhile. It’s like a bullet too close to your spine. You keep it there because the damage would be far worse if you removed it.
It’s also why, no matter how much it hurts, I think people move on and date again after breaking up. It hurts, but you go back for all those things you live through, the pieces of that other person ingrained in your DNA. Once you’ve weaved them into you totally, can you ever, truly, go back to take that risk? I don’t know.
I’m not there yet. I can’t take that risk, the wound is still too deep. It will never heal, it can’t. You learn to live with it.
But in affairs of the heart, I’ve learned never to make absolutes. I had said there was nobody for me and I was just going to go on with my life when Andrea barreled into it. For now, I take solace in knowing it hurts this much because she gave me so much.