Maybe it happens when you give him a kiss on the cheek on a January morning, after you’ve spent all weekend eating Chinese takeout and studying biology and you go to class with a feeling in the back of your stomach of maybe this is it, maybe we’re more than friends, maybe when we both watched Usual Suspects in our pajamas Sunday morning and fell into each other’s arms and it felt strange and sparkly – maybe that’s because this is it. And then he’s leaning back in his chair and gazing at that lovely girl with strawberry hair in the corner, and he texts her and she smiles and he nudges you from his seat, mouthing I’m pretty sure my Friday is booked now, with a wink. You smile back and tell him he loves sex too much, and he laughs at you and nudges you again just because he can, and you’re back to looking at your biology notes, and you’re still only friends. But the worst part is after he sleeps with her, when he comes over to your flat and slumps across your counter and asks you if you’ll make him ginger tea and brownies for his hangover, and you’ll both watch Seinfeld on the couch again because you can’t refuse him. You just can’t.
Maybe it happens when you’ve just lost your third job in two years, and you’re barely able to keep up with your rent and survive at the same time, and the last thing you need at the dinner table as you’re slicing into your half-eaten herb chicken is your mother reminding you that you’re worthless, how this is just like you, always messing things up and causing others problems and my god this is just like you. I mean, for god’s sake, you’re twenty-five years old! Aunt Marin’s daughter is working at Goldman Sachs, and she just graduated from Cornell three months ago! And then the words come out: those nasty words that make you feel sixteen all over again, the words that cut like hot bleeding knives, for fuck’s sake, and you’re tipping again into that horrible blackness, and your nails are curling into your skin and you’re practically aching for a cigarette or maybe a blade and it’s all the horrible destructive feelings coming back and all you know is you’re holding your breath until you slam the house’s door and sink into the concrete and feel all the worthlessness shatter your heart into a thousand fragments.
Or maybe it happens when you’re buttoning your baby’s jacket and pinning her little shoes on before she leaves for the fall formal (she’s a corn cob) and you’re lugging her into the car and you call him and ask him if he’s left work; the performance starts in less than an hour. And his voice is crackly and apologetic as he insists he’s going to be there if it costs him his left eye, and you laugh, driving up to the school. Minutes are blurring and he finally shows up, wrapping his arms around you and pressing his lips into your hair and your aching bones are drowning and sinking into him and his familiar smell and it’s like the world finally has its axis again. But halfway through, you remember that your mother had called about something ‘urgent’ and you ask him if you can use his phone and he haphazardly sighs yes, smiling at you, while trying to manage the camera’s zoom function. And you’re turning on the phone and a text shows up from some woman, filled with words like ‘dirty’ and ‘tongue’ and you know you’re spilling over the weighing machine, even though your little girl was born two years ago, but it’s just been so difficult and busy and none of it matters because there’s someone else, and that’s the end.
You’re going to have to raise your little girl all alone, with nothing but you and a peach house on Pimlico Drive, and it’s like it’s always been, with your world tumbling down in half a minute of opening eyes. And so, you walk back to the tiny auditorium, your eyes stained rose pink and your tongue licking the blood off the inside of your lips, and you’re gazing into his lovely blue eyes and his lit-up smile as you sit back down and stare at your bloated ankles, and baby, is something wrong, and there was a woman texting you, and the sun leaves his eyes and his smile and your life.
This is heartbreak. This is how it curves its way into your veins and twists its teeth into your neck and it isn’t anything like self-pity or weak but it’s the hollowness in your eyelids and that emptiness in your throat and someone’s always going to tell you that you shouldn’t hurt like this, but it’s okay.
This is the one thing no one teaches you.