Heart-Break

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Can you die of a broken heart?
Did you ever think you would?
Is the hurt forever or does it heal?

One day they’ll have a machine that shows a broken heart – an EKG of love gone astray. The printout will show the tear and the doctor will say to the man or woman on the examining table, “Ah, I see your heart was broken at about 17 or 18 years of age.” And you’ll say simply, “Yes.”

Last weekend I ran into a kid I knew slightly from around town – sweet faced and earnest. We seemed to arrive at the local Starbucks at the same time, many times. I asked him about his beautiful girlfriend. She was the kind of local girl who has movie-star looks without even trying. I used to see him with her, staring over their frappé straws looking deeply into each other’s eyes. Sweet love. Young love. Evoking in me a kind of aching memory for never-again.

“Where’s your girlfriend?” I asked. “Oh,” he said, “Britney? We don’t go out anymore.” “Ouch” I said, “Why not?” (The inevitable line at Starbucks was scarcely moving.) “Well,” he answered, “she went off to college and fell for some guy the first week.” “How awful,” I said, “I’m so sorry.” “Yeah,” he replied, “She dumped me!” (He ordered a venti-caramel-mocha-latte.) I had figured these two for the inevitable small-town dance from high-school sweethearts to side-by-side gravesites. “Howdya find out?” I asked the bereaved man-boy. “Her girlfriend.” “You mean she never told you herself?” (I ordered a decaf-misto with skim milk). “Nope she never told me.” “How long were you together?” “From soph year to graduation – two and a half years.” “Did you try to call her and get her to explain?” “I tried,” he said, “but she never answered my calls. She even returned the heart necklace and the belt buckle. No note. Nothing.” “That happened to me once,” I said. “You get over it?” he asked. “Sure.” I lied, “It takes a while.”

You see, this is what I knew. I knew this boy would never ever get over this girl. Never, ever. Years later, marriage, kids, job travails and success, family losses and triumphs, because a certain strain of music or a starlit night, or a waft of a familiar aroma – these uninvited moments would bring back the pain of his broken heart so it would never heal. Unrequited love forever causes a nick in whatever pretend-armor you wear. A broken heart can pierce the strongest of protective devices.

Poor kid, I thought. He started to pay at the pick-up counter. I said, “Hey let me pay for your venti-caramel-mocha-latte. “No thanks,” he smiled sadly.”Please,” I said, “It’s the least I can do.” He nodded “no” sweetly, paying himself for this overpriced variation on a coffee theme. Yes, Science will one day discover this permanent now-invisible scar. They’ll see it on some new kind of machine and point it out to the patient. It will be an incidental finding.

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