What Is A Word Worth: Heartbreak

by Sharon-Rose Piwang

Heartbreak—a compound term made of a noun and a verb. The first, ‘heart’, symbolizes the lump of muscle in our chests keeping our blood flooding through our bodies. The second ‘break’, is used for actions like cracking a bone, smashing a glass, or taming a horse. Put together, these two words describe the feeling of a stomach ache in your upper chest regions, the physiological reaction to the hurt caused by being a fragile human in an equally fragile world. Heartbreak is what happens when glass people crack against one another in our mission to just get close.

Millions of people around the world are using the word “heartbreak” at this moment. Some of these people are using it correctly, as in, “I didn’t think I would survive the heartbreak when Dan left me a few weeks after our fiftieth anniversary.”

Or, “After my mother died of cancer, I had insomnia for months. I would lie down at night and the heartbreak would not let me breathe.”

Or, “I didn’t understand heartbreak until after my third miscarriage.”

Or even, “Once a month I look at my daughter’s eyes through bulletproof glass. All I can think, while I sit there with my heart breaking, is that orange is not her color.”

Some of these people are tossing this word around instead of using the more accurate, “disappointment”, “sadness”, or “slight melancholy”.

As in, “You know that guy I met three days ago and who didn’t call? I need to stop talking to guys wearing black t-shirts in bars–instant heartbreak.”

A high school girl somewhere is probably listening to Taylor Swift ad sobbing melodramatically about the angular boy two houses over who is putting her through all this heartbreak.

Of course, a heart does not physically break. But anyone who has ever sat on their bed waiting for a call they know will never come has felt their chest being torn apart like Christmas wrapping paper on a toddler’s gift.

All day every day, people are analyzing heartbreak, researching it, guarding against it, trying to heal from it, or praying against it. There’s even a Wikipedia page for it. The long list of articles that come up in a Google search confirm that people are writing about it as well. Some of us sit on the third floor of the school library and try not to think of the boy with the beautiful eyes who taught us this word three years ago. And some of us have lived with heartbreak for so long it has become another skin cell, a scar that won’t fade, another layer we put on in the morning before we head out the door.

For people who do everything in degrees of desperation, the word heartbreak means lying curled on your side under a multicolored shawl, shivering and wanting to cut open your wrists just to stop the pain. For those of us who make rationality and logic our dearest friends, heartbreak means longer workouts, bleak silences, and a devotion to our safe, daily routines. For people whose worst battles are in their minds, this word means meeting all affection with a sarcastic quip and guarding all their painful memories with powerful locks.

Heartbreak is your mother sitting on the wicker couch with a mug of ginger root tea, listening to Chicago’s “Inspiration”, with that look on her face she gets when she’s thinking about your father. Heartbreak is practicing not flinching every time you see the profile picture a person you used to know as well as you know your own skin. Heartbreak makes you look away every time your married friends hold onto each other with their eyes, forgetting that you’re there. Heartbreak is the smell of old love poems you tried to justify writing. Heartbreak is the taste of dark cooking chocolate. Heartbreak is cupping your son’s warm face while he sleeps and hoping that he never meets a woman like his mother.

I write clumsy poems today because I thought I had my heart broken by a blue-eyed, curly-mouthed boy six years ago while I was a freshman in college. I tend to be more cautious now in using the word “friend” because I learned how heartbreak tastes at sixteen when my father left.

Heartbreak means bravery happened. You only become acquainted with heartbreak if you have opened yourself up to someone and watched them walk away closed. In people who practice beauty, the ugliness of witnessing that closedness can inspire art or music that goes right through the soul. Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” went right through my soul the first time I heard it and I kept restarting the YouTube video, silently vibrating with his voice and his pain. Cooke, a black musician who lived in the racism of sixties’ America, wrote this song describing the heartbreak of living in a land full of people that refused him dignity. Being black in America has always been heartbreaking. Sam couldn’t know that five decades after he made that prayer in a recording studio in a December in 1964, his sons and cousins would still be refused dignity, and this would be at the center of their own ache. That’s the worst of suffering heartbreak. It makes you hopeful even as it crushes your hope.

Heartbreak colors the fibers of your personality that people only see when the light hits you just right. Heartbreak makes you delve into your yesterdays, write all the things you’d rather not remember, tie them up neatly, and deliver them in an assignment to your professor. Because heartbreak is a terrible nightmare to sleep through, but apparently sometimes you can come up with a great story from the wreckage–and who doesn’t love stories?

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