michael king

stack of stained pages, redacted love letters, spilling ink, pressing it into tomorrow

part v: the miraculous better.

user's manual

Well, hello there. No need for apology, by the way. We knew it would take you some time to get to this section of the manual. You have a tendency to read closely at the beginnings of things, then to lift off, as though you’ve got a good grip on where things were headed. Very ‘I’ll take it from here!’ of you.

Oh, no need to huff. We don’t mean to make light of what’s going on with you. It’s just that we knew we’d find ourselves here, or –– more accurately ­­ –– that you’d find yourself here. What you’ve just experienced, reader, and the reason you’re staring these words in the face, is what we’d like to term ‘the miraculous better.’

After the initial shock of a broken heart wears off, you may note, and the stubborn-ass steps become a bit less heavy, it is common for the possessor of a broken heart to break into a sprint. ‘I’m ready to date,’ they might tell themselves, venturing into the online dating world with a fetching new profile picture, or ‘that’s quite enough wallowing.’ The phase that follows, marked by a kind of euphoric joy, is the miraculous better.

You had time to sit with your pain, reader, and you made meaning. You sorted through it, pulled it apart until you comprehended its edges, and you reassembled it into meaning. You found the lesson, as it were, amidst the parable. Using your words, you felt your feelings unfurl. And so, like a mud-caked child rinsed by an ocean wave, you felt cleansed. ‘Why continue to dwell?’ you asked yourself, and so you embarked.

And now you’re back. As it turns out, there is a marked difference between feeling ready and being ready.

You have learned, much to your chagrin, that you can’t really control the tempo of a healing process. There’s no number of ‘hell-yeah-I’m-fine’ playlists, you have discovered, that will erase the tear you feel within whenever you remember his laugh. You’re wounded, flightless, and you’re going to have to move through all chapters of this journey.

Resist feeling foolish. This is a time, if you haven’t gathered already, to be gracious to yourself. The road to healing will be lined with missteps, and this isn’t really a time to berate yourself for that. (There are very few, if any, times to berate yourself, by the way. This warrants mentioning, though it is a much larger lesson requiring a manual of its own.)

So, if you will, work to unravel. Work to stop bunching in the bundles and pretending you’re weaving yourself together. Take the time to love each stitch, each suture, and run your fingers over the beauty of these new scars. You will not learn to love again, we suppose, until you’re certain you are worth loving, too.

Another thing: You can, and will, turn these scars into stars. Trust us. Or, maybe better: Trust yourself.

part iv: what words can / cannot do.

user's manual

Words are, for many, a means of injecting meaning into the world. They are a tool of human connection, of building understanding and empathy. Properly utilized, a person can use words as a tool for constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing the surrounding world. You are, as it turns out, one such person.

Whenever you fall in love, words swell from a spring deep within you, passionate and limitless, and you embark to build a world –– unique to you and your lover –– so beautiful that neither of you will ever want to leave it.

But we are here because you are holding a broken heart, because love has failed, and that world around you has crumbled. Throughout these times, you will find that words can bring you peace. Picking up a pen, making meaning from the mess, will empower you to suture the wounds within. Long after, you will search and find that they have dissolved, leaving behind stronger tissue.

You will, for example, endeavor one day to write him a letter. You’ll sit there for a moment, iced coffee bleeding water onto the tabletop, and stare at the empty document, and then you’ll begin: You’ll tell him where you are, why you’re writing, how you’re feeling, and the magic will overtake you.

Four pages later, eyes flooded with tears and heart thundering within you, you’ll finish, having written something honest and heartbreaking. You’ll send it to him, not certain you need, or even want, a response. Because you wrote it, you put all this pain into words, for you.

It is incumbent upon us, however, to let you know you will find that words have limitations. Try as you may, you will not be able to infuse beauty into every break in the road. Put simply, your grief can’t always be repurposed.

Remember the night he left? The way you lingered on the phone, fumbled for words, did your best to say something meaningful? The moment you realized you should hang up, if you don’t recall, is the moment you realized words weren’t tying any of you back together.

He will not respond to your letter. The disappointment you will find, the way it blends with the strength you’ve found in your own limbs, cannot be mistaken for beautiful.

The path to normalcy, you will find, will be marked by very few unblemished successes.

Limited though they may be to repair the broken world around you, you will employ words in every direction. Though words cannot transform your grief into joy, they will resonate with the grieving. When you write your pain into existence, when you unfurl it and let it writhe, raw and honest, you will discover you are not alone.

As we’ve stated, words are a tool of human connection. When we are hurting, holding our broken hearts in our hands and working our way forward, we rarely seek to believe our hearts have never been broken; we simply want to know that we are not alone.

So it is that, whether you intended it or not, a by-product of your pain will be reminding the grieving that they do not ache by themselves. There are many of us out here, sitting beneath the moon and waiting out the night.

part iii: stubborn-ass steps.

user's manual

It is highly probable that, by this time, you have discovered that possession of a broken heart has a unique impact on your way of life: All aspects of living have become conscious choices.

Consider your meals; have you ever given this much thought to eating? This applies, of course, to elements beyond the dinner table: waking up each day, choosing an outfit, showing up at work, laughing at your co-workers’ jokes. At the present time, these are all likely concerted efforts on your part.

In the earliest days of possessing a broken heart, your way forward is through a series of conscious decisions, which we like to term stubborn-ass steps. During this phase, the days seem a bit longer, as do the weeks and months, but rest assured: You can and will tread through this terrain.

When you learned to run, you learned to understand it as an exercise of discipline, of drowning out the voice telling you to slow to a walk. When the urge to stop reached you before the finish line, you found the combination of taking a deep breath and counting one hundred strides to be enough to get you through. As it turns out, guiding a broken heart through the obstacles isn’t that different.

When, for example, you hear a song that pulls your mind to a memory of the two of you dancing together, wild and free, you will do well to take a deep breath, feel yourself exhale, and let the song play through.

When you come upon a calendar date you once earmarked as significant, you will benefit from building plans outside of the walls of your apartment. Some dates, especially in the first lap around the sun, simply requiring a committed breathing through.

You get the picture.

The steps you take to normalcy will make themselves apparent to you. Calling yourself ‘single’ on your social media. Referring to your relationship in the past tense. Collecting his things, already taken down and stored away, and letting them go. Putting your pain into words, sharing them, healing. Deciding on the role he gets to hold in your life; letting him know where to reside in the meantime.

You won’t do these all at once, and that’s good, because it’s not advisable. The key to successfully harnessing the broken heart is allowing time the space to do its work. Like water, it erodes slowly the uneven edges, moving rhythmically as it washes, purifies, carries away what you can no longer hold.

A broken heart has a tendency to cause the mind to shift into overdrive. One afternoon, perhaps over coffee, you may begin to wonder what he’s doing and how he’s feeling. How’s it possible that he hasn’t called, you might ask, that he doesn’t care. It’s unfair that he’s not hurting too, and he’s probably found something better, or someone better, and they’re building new memories and he’s using your old jokes, and you just want him to care, and you shouldn’t, but you do, not enough to love you forever but enough to make you believe he ever loved you at all, and he doesn’t, and he didn’t, and he won’t, and you know it, and ––

A deep inhale and exhale, and taking a minute to notice the way your fingertips fit perfectly over your kneecaps, will help carry the noise away. These days are for stitching yourself up and getting to safety, not untangling the sutures from your skin.

Stubborn-ass steps, you will find, will mark many of the days ahead. The decision to laugh, to make new memories, to embrace the sun as you’re running and to whisk your hands over grass blades afterwards. They occur when you encounter new kinds of pain, inner wounds you didn’t know you’d been hiding from, when you allow yourself to feel it and then decide to move through.

Recovering from a fall, carrying a broken heart, is one of the only times that everything takes so much try. Deciding to try, again and again, is stubbornness in practice.