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art by Esmé: link to purchase

It takes commitment to eat nothing but fried chicken for a week in a public space. It takes pluck to be so openly in public while nursing a broken heart.

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In late 2014 I saved an article about a 26-year-old who stayed in a KFC for a week after she was broken up with by her ex.

The story took place in China, in Chengdu of the Sichuan province. Photographs of the young woman show her with her head on her arms, looking every bit as miserable as someone who’s decided to get over a breakup by essentially living in a KFC is bound to feel.

I like the story. I think it demonstrates a sort of grit, which is why I saved the article. It takes commitment to eat nothing but fried chicken for a week in a public space. It takes pluck to be so openly in public while nursing a broken heart.

When I’m grieving, I want to be alone; I’m like the wounded animal who retreats to a hiding place in order to die. Sitting in public–at a fast food joint, no less–is the last thing I’d want. I imagine most people would agree with me. In cliche-speak: bring home a pint of Haagen Daaz (if you’re feeling fancy), put on the “Mad Men” reruns, and don’t pick up the phone until the clot of tears can no longer be heard in your voice.

But this is only one variety of the Broken-Hearts Big Show. Another is that of the walking wounded–those of us who carry around heartache and pain that don’t fully cripple us. It might be that we once grieved in the expected fashion, and are now expected to move on, both by others and by ourselves. It might be that we never grieved at all, and that the holes inside exhibit themselves in the way our bodies have no edges, in how we’re forever bumping into things, in nightmares, in how we avoid or are drawn to certain topics like moths to a lit window screen.

The pain may not always be in the forefront, but it’s there. We live with it. We breathe and love and eat with it sitting on our hearts, leadening our steps.

 

food coffee planner on a glass table

I know someone who stopped making art after he had his heart broken. Just plain stopped. It’s been years, and I can feel the discomfort in the air when I witness someone asking–politely–if he’s been painting lately, because the answer is always no.

One of my favorite mantras is, Write Through the Story, because I personally cling to the life raft of narrative and language when I’m lost in a fog of terror and doom, or malaise; I turn to writing about the broken-hearted when I feel my own wounds aching.

There are those who believe that they can’t write about something without a proper amount of distance between themselves and the disaster zone. I respect that, even as I’m curious about how they survive the disaster without words to pull them ashore. I’m the kind of woman who can endure a fair amount of pain, but I need some kind of anchor to prevent myself from losing the world completely. I imagine that such people have friends to keep them company, or rely on the somber tunes of The Cure to accompany their dirge-like spirits. Maybe they cook. We all have our ways of being hurt. Not of becoming hurt, because that is certainly true, but of being hurt.

 

I had a friend once who was phenomenal at compartmentalizing her feelings. She could have the craziest shit going on in her life, and it wouldn’t affect her work at all—she still wrote for four hours a day at the same time every day; she still went to parties and smiled and joked and made people see her as the glittering literary star that she was. There were some rooms in her life that she simply never entered. As someone whose emotions bleed into every corner of her life, I was forever floored by this. I wanted to learn how to do it, too, but ultimately believe that such things can’t be learned. The ways in which we hurt are, to some degree, innate.

 

I write this because I’m hurting, and instead of writing, I’m hurting, I’m hurting, the way that a person might write, I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m telling you about my observations regarding the way in which other people behave when they’re hurt. See, I’m doing it even now: writing through the story. The stories aren’t even mine. I started out with telling you about a Chinese 20-something who ate chicken wings for a week. This is how it starts: I am circling. I am talking about unseen agonies. I am asking you to pay attention to every human being you come across, and to consider how they, too, are carrying their pain.

 

Esmé

P.S. I teach a class about writing through the story via what I call “restorative journaling”—the class is called Rawness of Remembering, and though it’s been postponed a number of times this year, my intention is to have it in your hands by the end of the year. To find out more, or to be notified when it debuts, please hop over to the Rawness of Remembering page.