with bravado

one man's 28-year-old quest to live and share a worthy story

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 it 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.

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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.

the year of, part ii.

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the year of the beginning again, of how many times can somebody shed his skin before finding himself free of scars, of showing up with shaking hands, of repurposing the love flowing out of cracks in my sternum, of working to rip the stitches loose. the year of the purposing, of running before i’m ready, maybe, of the hard-won wisdom that feeling ready is a poor measure of being ready, of refusing to pay mind to a ticking clock working to pick seconds from our pockets. the year of unlearning to second-guess my softness, why was it so easy to do the opposite, of sharing the art of making tapestries from our frayed and hanging threads. the year of the here, now, on the eve of everything, of erring on the side of love, on the side of courage, of leaving no ‘i love you’ left unspoken. the year of making a mark by preparing the hands that will remain, of taking jewels mined from my deepest cuts and letting them loose with reckless goodwill.

part ii: the heart and the mind.

user's manual

All right, this takes a little bit of explaining: Within you are two entities, your Heart and your Mind, that work together to move you through the process of life.

Your Heart (which is particularly dominant in its governance of you, by the way) prefers to make decisions based on feelings and abstract notions such as compassion and the transformative power of love and the greater good of humanity. Your Heart concerns itself with the well being of others, especially those you love.

Your Mind (which is often quite tired of taking orders from the Heart) prefers to make decisions based on what it’s observed before and what it sees as the logical end result of behavior. The Mind is also particularly insistent upon scraping past memories and showing your Heart where it missed specific inconsistencies and signals, which your Heart does not appreciate. The Mind is focused on your preservation through strategy.

As you might guess, being dominated by the Heart can present occasional problems during a healing process. Healing is, by nature of its purpose, a selfish process. It will require you to take up space, say ‘no’ when your instinct to please others arises, and generally do whatever it is that the Mind has found to be nurturing to your greatest welfare.

While it’s not terribly pleasant, we are pleased to say that the pain your Heart is experiencing does enable your Mind to take charge a bit more than usual. And, given the rarity with which the Mind gets the driver’s seat, it is a minor understatement to say that the Mind ‘makes itself at home.’ You will be rational, calculated, and direct about what it is that you need to heal, and your Heart will often be relieved at the results.

The Mind without the Heart, however, can be a bit ruthless in these times. Scouring memories of the past for the aforementioned inconsistencies and signals, it can become forgetful of the Heart’s commitment to empathy. The Mind will want to ask questions, demand answers, and express its anger.

Because you are ruled by the Heart, you will not be able to allow the Mind to reign without belaboring your Heart further with remorse. As such, you will need to remind your Mind to proceed with kindness. At times, your Heart may overdo it, but your Mind will begrudgingly accept this is as a lesser risk to your well being than cruelty.

As time moves on, and as you approach the finish line of ‘normalcy,’ you will find the Heart gradually gaining strength. The Mind, having surveyed you for any cracks or vulnerabilities, will then sigh, satisfied with itself, and give over the wheel. Your Heart will return to its station, able once more to feel and give love openly.

It is in this state that you will feel most strong, most certain, and – as you might imagine – most yourself.

part i: introduction to a broken heart.

user's manual

Listen, and listen well: The end goal, the finish line to this process, is for you to feel ‘normal’ again. The challenge –– think of it, if you will, as a series of hurdles –– is that life with him has become your normal. You will need to take steps to establish new routines, new supports, new things to look ahead to.

We know –– seems pretty far off. But we wanted to start you off with an idea of where we are headed. No, there’s not a way to rush through the process. No, we can’t speed the time. Yes, sir, we know that you’re usually the one coaching others through this, and ––

Sir. If you’d just listen, that’s ––

Sir. Please take a seat. Yes, it’s okay if you cry. No, don’t look in the mirror while you’re doing it. It is a universally strange experience to see one’s puffy, crying face. As I was saying, you brought us to an important point: The people you love are going to rescue you. Yes, that means you’ll have to be sad with them. Yes, they want to. No, they don’t think it’s a burden. Yes, really.

Recently, you came in possession of a broken heart. We know this is no call for congratulations, and we know you’re tired of hearing people say they’re sorry. So allow us to state the facts: The heart you possess is broken. You summoned your courage, held it out, and the one you gave it to left. Now it’s broken, it’s crying out, and –– well –– it’s yours.

The purpose of this manual, as you might imagine, is to help you find your way back. Though the walk ahead has many names, and these journeys are a bit nuanced, we have done our best to prepare to assist you in your walk.

Now, as far as establishing a new normal, let’s use some things you already know from past difficulties: First, running helps you process the pain. Yes, you can listen to the Last Five Years soundtrack. You will cry sometimes, as you run, but that makes it hard to breathe, so you will inevitably learn to breathe through the pain instead. This is therapeutic, and you will need to find time to do so.

The people who love you will reach out in the ways they know best. Many will tell you really wonderful things about yourself, and you are likely to argue with them inside your head. Try to resist this. Accept all the love you are given, and do your best to go along with the ones who are working to get you out of wallowing.

Sleep will take a while to resume. Night is when you are most prone to make sense of your day, and even the brightest of days gives way to the contemplative shadows of night. Stay on friends’ couches as long as you like, provided they are willing. You do your best sleeping surrounded by people who believe in you, and that is necessary during this time.

Every broken heart is different, despite what the clichés of contemporary music would have you believe. The path to the end goal – a reminder, this a sense of normalcy – is different for everyone.

Your friends will see through your bravado when the pangs of heartbreak break the surface. Your eyes will go to a different place during a group conversation, or they will catch you taking a long pause and surveying the world. You can choose whether or not to explain to them that what you’re doing is watching the world move forward, or – more abstractly – watching time beckon you onward.

And here’s where you’re going to struggle, if what we’ve seen so far is any indication: You’ve got to take time. You are going to have to feel it, all of it. You will need to feel the embarrassment of giving over so much love only to find you aren’t loved. You will need to feel the sadness of remembering him. You will need to feel the anger, the apathy, the jealousy, the false hope for what was. It is important to remember the falseness of the hope, we’ll warn you. Convincing though it may be, it is statistically not a positive indicator.

One clerical note, and we know this doesn’t speak all that much to you, but Alison from liability says we have to cover it: Alcohol may seem like a shortcut through, but it generally becomes a stumbling block. You are likely to see this in the first night you feel bold enough to ‘go out’ again, but it’s just going to drop you right into the worst of it. It is okay, we should mention, to be messy once in a while.

But don’t forget the writing. Words are the tools with which you restore your world. Find your pain, write it into meaning, and set it free. Share it with others and allow them to affirm for you that, as it turns out, you’re experiencing something deeply human. Pain is a wellspring of honest writing, and honesty will pave your path.

And the crying. Well, that’s part of it, we’re afraid. No, you’re not going to be able to predict it. We know you prefer some control or forewarning, but roll with it. Lie back, when you feel it, and let the heartbreak ripple through you. You may feel like you’re going to break, but – when it subsides – you’ll sit up stronger.

The purpose of this manual, reader, is to help you find your way back to yourself.

book club: ‘your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live forever?’

This past summer, I took a trip to New York with one of my best friends. It was his first time in the city, and we, a pair of writers who happen to direct residence halls, were searching for meaning in every direction. This translated, of course, to spending a graciously brief amount of time in our AirBnB and scouring the city for bookstores, coffee shops, and rocks on which to read.

In Brooklyn, on Fulton Street, there’s a bookstore called the Greenlight Bookstore. Unlike The Strand, the Greenlight is approachably small, with texts adorning tables and shelves as though curated by the tastes of the employees. There, I stumbled upon a book with an interesting cover and title: ‘Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?’

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27: the year of the unfurling.

A year ago, I sat down to make meaning of just what 26 meant for me. Having been ‘my golden year,’ 26 brought me a host of good memories and lessons learned. As it winded down into 27, however, 26 found me spilling onto the ground, my pieces around me. Heart broken, hands shaking, I found myself asking ––

What good is being brave
if love can still fail?

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