In the city and in my community, there were several groups of families I had been close to for many years. I felt guilty about the pain they were going to feel for me when I told them about the breakup, as if I was disappointing them somehow. At the same time, I knew they needed to know. So I crept from apartment to apartment, then from house to house, like a Typhoid Mary—a shunned woman, a woman that couldn’t keep a man. I was so afraid to tell anyone, especially those closest to me that I had failed.
After I delivered the news each time, some of my friends immediately looked terrible—wide eyes, altered color. Their shocked reactions, though, helped. I was over the illusion that if I remained quiet and polite maybe events could reverse themselves, but I was also still in denial. Visiting these close friends, telling them the truth, acknowledged that some kind of death had happened, the official breaking of my heart. It moved me forward, and the empathy that people showed me reminded that I was still loved. Because I felt I wasn’t loved at all.
Carry a Power Hankie
I’ve always carried a handkerchief—not lace ones, hankies that belonged to my Mom. My favorite is the soft linen and silk hankie with embroidered flowers that is many, many years old. And I have heaps of others, too, all that were owned and used by my mother and grandmother.
As a child, I saw hankies as tokens of womanly power, emotion and beauty. Mothers carried them, and grown-up older ladies who also wore stockings and gloves. Hankies seemed to imply good luck, too, and maybe magic. What might a magician draw out from under a hankie? Easter eggs? Babies?
I still think of them that way—as tokens of power. During any stressful time, I made sure to carry a few with me in my purse in a special silk pouch where my rosary is kept. Even now, I rely on them. When I go to a Rosary or a Funeral, when I went to the hospital for panic attacks, thinking I was having a heart attack, I have a hankie in my purse. I used to have a teacher that always had a hankie tucked up her sleeve. I remember once when one of the children in my 2nd grade class was hurt and crying, Mrs. Barton sat down on the curb next to her and pulled this magical hankie from her sleeve.
On gray, gloomy days, or when I’m calming myself, I pull out one of my Mom’s hankies and hold it in my hand….bring it up to my face as if I can still smell her perfume.
Write What You Really Think
I think that whenever we give our pen some free will, we may surprise ourselves. All that wanting to seem normal in regular life, all that fitting in falls away in the face of one’s own strange self on the page. From the day my love and I broke apart, I was writing—a lot. I wanted to make something of my altered life, to cry out on paper. Reminding myself that no one else would ever see what I wrote—with my ballpoint pen in my wide-ruled journal and on my keyboard it helped me be less censored and less afraid. Later, I could decide to show or not, because whether anyone ever read it was not the most important thing. To this day, no one has ever read my words…my heart break.
Writing or making anything—a poem, a bird feeder, a chocolate cake—has self-respect in it. You’re working. You’re trying. You’re not lying down on the ground, having given up. And one thing I love about writing is that we can speak to the absent, the dead, the estranged and the longed-for—all the people we’re separated from. We can see them again, understand them more, even say goodbye.
Seeing yourself as responsible for the quality of your relationships, as a prime mover in your life, I think is a bold, amazing step. How freeing, to know we too can act, and that our own choices have helped bring about the joy as well as sorrow in our own lives.