Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How to Mend a Broken Heart

I’ve always thought I had one of the worst breakup stories ever. My fiancé called me while I was visiting my grandparents and said he changed the locks. On MY house. It wasn’t our house. It was my house that I owned and he moved into. Later I found out he got another girl pregnant either before or shortly after he called to tell me my keys no longer worked. I had to take my return flight. I had to go home to somewhere, but I no longer had a home, so I had to really go home – to my parents’ house in Florida, which was fine for a ten day vacation, but absolutely horrible to contemplate permanent residence. I didn’t have a choice.

You can imagine how upset I was. Upset is a poor choice of words. I get upset when my pants are too tight or the cat barfs on the rug I just had steam cleaned. I wasn’t upset, I was devastated. An atomic bomb went off in my life, obliterating all traces of my former existence. He took my cats, my clothes, furniture, photo albums, books and everything. All I had was a suitcase and a one way ticket from Atlanta to Florida, and who went to Florida anymore? Had it been Spring Break in the early 60s I might have been thrilled, but it was the year 2000 and all I had to look forward to was a collection of strip malls, strip clubs, some straggly palm trees and a tired row of beachfront dive bars.

I had to quit my jobs. Being a workaholic I had two jobs that I loved equally, one in a pottery studio and the other as a kindergarten teacher’s aid in a progressive private school where all the children learned to knit and sing and ate edamame for lunch. Everything in Atlanta had been perfect. Now everything just completely sucked ass and all I wanted to do was sit in my parents’ guest room and feel sorry for myself because I had nothing but a suitcase of shorts and tee shirts and flip flops and I had to live in disgusting, miserable Florida. How could my life get any worse?

A week later the process server brought me a law suit. My Evil Ex decided to sue me for the house, which I, since I was barred from it anyway, had decided to put up for sale. It was my house after all. I could sell it. I know what you’re asking yourself. You want to know how in the hell Evil Ex could stay in the house. Why couldn’t I throw him out and go in and get all my stuff back? Things weren’t so easy.

Evil Ex worked for a fancy law firm in Atlanta. He plotted this for a while and knew he had an advantage over poor, ignorant me who was busy glazing cups and making potholders with five year olds. Evil Ex found an obscure law that made him a tenant and me the landlord and there are all sorts of rules protecting tenants from mean, scary landlords who want to put them out on the street. These laws weren’t intended to protect cheating, lying, thieving scoundrels, but Evil Ex worked the system to his own advantage. Second, Evil Ex had possession of the house and used another legal loophole to say I had abandoned the house while I was away visiting my grandparents, and the fact that I ran off to Florida, he believed, only proved his point further. Of course he left out the fact that he not only changed the locks so I couldn’t come in, but also threatened my very life if I did. He intimidated me with his threats. He was a big man armed with lawyers, knowledge and money. I was a small, thin girl with a dwindling bank account. Intimidation worked.

Evil Ex’s lawsuit stated that Evil Ex actually owned the house with me since he lived in it for the same amount of time that I did. He believed that in fact, the house was more his than mine and that he was entitled to the house or at least the money from its sale. I begged to differ.

So now, not only was I stuck in Florida, my most hated place on the planet, in my parents’ guest room, with no cats, no clothes, no jobs and no anything else, I also had to get lawyers involved and fight the lawsuit and listen to myself be called awful things like “common law wife” which is truly the most trailer trash thing you can ever be called as a woman. Whenever you hear of some crime spree it’s always some guy named Otis Lee Earl and his “common law wife” Tammy. As the trailer trash common law wife I had to basically go through all the horrors and miseries of a divorce without ever having experienced any of the fun of a wedding. There were no tiered cakes, no nosegays or sprays of tulle for me, but there were plenty of settlements, documents, court dates and disputes. I even cried in court. It was like the worst possible Lifetime movie you could ever imagine and by the end of that summer I was broke and gained 15 pounds because in my depths of depression I was somehow able to justify the eating of anything involving sugar or grease. Deep fried ice cream, I recall, was a particular favorite during that dark period. I’m not one of those people who lose weight from stress. If I get upset I feel that I deserve a meal of nachos and chicken wings washed down with a strawberry shake.

By November Evil Ex lost his lawsuit and went off to have his baby with his new girlfriend. The judge said if he wanted the house he had to buy it outright and if he wasn’t willing to do that, he had a week to leave. He begged, borrowed and probably stole to raise the money he needed to get the last word because he knew that nothing would break my heart more than the thought that he lived in my house with a new family. And guess what. He was right.

Evil Ex called that day to threaten me again. He wanted my engagement ring back because he wanted to give it to the pregnant girlfriend. I about died. What kind of woman was this pregnant girlfriend that she wanted some other girl’s ring? That would have been a deal breaker for me, but then again, I also wasn’t the sort of person who’d go and get knocked up by someone else’s fiancé either. Naturally I didn’t give those two assholes the ring and I kept it on principal, but what should I do with it? I hadn’t worn it since I left back in June. I couldn’t even open the box.

The ring represented my lost hopes for an idealistic version of a future which involved the little cottage over which we fought so bitterly. It symbolized my never tasted wedding cake, my unconceived children and anniversaries never celebrated. I took the ring to a jeweler who looked it over.

“This ring is so brittle, how did you wear it? Another day or two and it would have broken and fallen off.” He said of the antique setting.

“I want you to trade in the diamond.” I said. “I want a heart shaped diamond of equal value on a necklace.”

In two weeks I had exactly that. It was my unbreakable heart, made from the hardest substance on earth and it would serve as my reminder to guard my love carefully and not give myself away so easily again. The diamond heart symbolized my strength. The problem was, I wasn’t strong at all.

I tried online dating. I dated like it was my job, all the while wearing my unbreakable heart because dammit, I was strong and I wasn’t going to get my heart broken ever again!! I made sure to tell all my dates this, so they all thought I was insane. I let my breakup define me. I mentioned it over every new cup of coffee and first dinner. I was the poor girl whose fiancé got another girl pregnant and sued her for her house. My mother, with whom I regretfully still lived, called me Poor Pitiful Pearl, and oh my lord, was I pitiful. It’s no wonder the only second dates I got were from guys who were more pitiful than me. But I was determined that my heart would never be broken again. I was so determined that I sabotaged every potential new relationship I had just so I could keep on being the girl whose fiancé got another girl pregnant and sued her for her house.

I repeated it over and over again, clutching my heart shaped diamond – I am the girl whose fiancée got another girl pregnant and sued her for her house. I said it because I thought if people knew that, they would see I had been hurt and would feel guilty about hurting me themselves. What I really said was “Someone destroyed me. Please don’t make it worse. Don’t make me hurt again.” I think what they heard was “This girl is insane, needy and loves to play the victim. See you later Poor Pitiful Pearl.” I ended up creating the total opposite of what I intended because every guy I tried to date ran screaming in the opposite direction except for the guy who had the anorexic ex-wife, the guy who had three kids by three different women and was broke paying all that child support, and the two guys who just got out of rehab. Oh and also the guy who was experimenting with other men because he couldn’t decide if he was gay or not. I ran screaming in the opposite direction from him.

During the time I worked at a pottery shop, which I loved. The creative work and the physicality of it helped me heal, but I still wore my unbreakable heart. I was like the damned Tin Man with that thing, but it obviously wasn’t doing any good because I still didn’t have a boyfriend and the few guys who took me on second or third dates eventually got sick of my PPP routine and dumped me, leaving my heart still broken.

You probably remember from high school art class that sometimes things “blow up” in the kiln. It happens. Sometimes they don’t so much as blow up in the kiln as they get dropped by pottery shop employees who didn’t wash their hands well enough after eating a buttered bialy. We had a lot of broken pieces and many of them came from beautifully, brightly glazed dishes, tiles or vases. The interesting shapes fascinated me, and I couldn’t stand for them to go to waste, so I refused to toss them out. There had to be a use for all the broken pieces, I thought. And there was. I learned to make mosaics.

Now when you do mosaics you have to have some sort of a base to stick the broken pottery pieces onto, so I mosaiced everything from picture frames, to jewelry boxes to walls. I loved it. Making a mosaic is like doing a puzzle, except that you are in control of the final product, unlike in a puzzle where it has to be done a certain way and the only thing you can ever end up with at the end is a picture of a deer in the woods or some old mill by a river. When you mosaic you can make anything you want. Soon I got really industrious and started cutting shapes from plywood, which I then mosaiced over. I attached a wire and some beads and ended up with beautiful pieces of art to hang on the wall. People just about went crazy over them. You wouldn’t believe how many I sold.

And then it was stupid Valentine’s Day. And I still didn’t have a boyfriend. By this point I had added an extra P to the Poor Pitiful Pearl Routine. Now I was Pissed Poor Pitiful Pearl. It was Valentine’s Day. Evil Ex was probably buying roses for his stupid baby mama, although he never bought roses for me, that bastard. And here I was in miserable South Florida, 15 pounds heavier, without a relationship, doing arts and crafts. In order to make myself feel better on Valentines Day I decided I needed to spend some serious cash on something useless for myself. Except I didn’t have serious cash. To make extra money I sucked it up and started making a ton of mosaic heart shaped wall hangings, which I thought were totally cheesy and lame. I mean please, I was a serious artist!

I cut out about 30 little wooden hearts and started sticking on the broken pottery pieces. After about the third heart it suddenly occurred to me that these were broken hearts, except at the same time they were whole. Hmm. Broken… yet whole. I took it a step further. The hearts were made out of what essentially should have been garbage. I had taken all these shards of ruined art, things that resulted from a disaster and I had found a way for them to live on, still as art, still beautiful, just in a different and unexpected way. I was mending broken hearts!! Oh my God! I was mending broken hearts and in a tangible, visible, very real way. There it was, right in front of me.

I began to think of myself in the same way. Sometimes things get broken. They blow up randomly in the kiln and it’s no one’s fault. Other times we get clumsy and careless and drop them. Occasionally, we even get mad, have fits and smash every plate in the cabinet. These things happen. It’s life. Instead of sitting in the mess, no matter how the mess got made, or just giving up and throwing the broken bits in the trash, we have to learn to put them back together.

Mending a broken heart is a slow, deliberate process. It takes time and creativity. You must be patient. Sometimes you have to rearrange the pieces in a mosaic over and over until you get them right, but eventually they will fit, just not always how you expected. In the end your broken heart will become an intricate and interesting work of art, stronger for having been broken and reassembled and more beautiful with all of its cracks.

I realized I would rather be a thoughtfully considered mosaic than a hard, cold diamond that everything bounces of off. I wanted to be open and porous like pottery, even if that meant I could break. Now, I no longer fear breaking because I know that everything can be put back together.


Faithful Reader Guy said...

that is just so darned sweet that it takes a crusty old fart like me to the verge of tears...almost...well, ok, yes.

aw shucks ma'am.

Dave said...

Hey, I'm visiting for the first time...not sure how I got here exactly, but isn't that always the way?
I'm LOVING your posts. I'll be checking out your archives in the very near future.
Keep up the great writing.

NicoleinAZ said...

Awww SW that was lovely.

Sighs and Smiles....

Anonymous said...

hi sw - just wanted to let you know how awesome you are... and that *this* is your best story yet. it won't be your best ever, so keep up the good work, 'cause I can't wait to read the next one! bi virtual hugs, sunny

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful metaphor! I could really relate to "dating as a job" because that's exactly what I did for 6 years. I went on Hundreds of first dates. And truly, it's a numbers game. What makes the whole thing funny and a bit ironic is that I found my husband (of 9 years now) when I wasn't even looking for him!

This is really a great story. Waiting (im)patiently for the next installment.

GoingWiddershins said...

That was beautiful. Like most of us, I've had life realizations but I can't quite say they were as sweet and positive as your mosaic story is. It makes me feel better to hear yours.

I love mosaics too - I used to do it with glass, and one of my largest pieces (a space-themed chest) got about three different offers. I declined of course. How many spaced-themed glass mosaic chests are out there anyways? ^_^-

Anonymous said...

Oh my lord....I love this entry...brought me to tears.

You are such a great writer, woman!!!!

Cassandra said...


michelle said...

okay ... i am totally crying here! while my own traumatic breakup was no where near as bad as this, i felt much the same as you did ... and 3 years later i am coming to terms with the fact that building a 12 foot wall around my broken heart may not have been the best course of action. defining myself as the heartbroken girl who wasn't going to trust anyone with that heart again is just self destructive. thanks for the therapy. :)

Martha Kimes said...

Wow -- you're a fabulous writer. So glad I just found your blog!

Talula0658 said...


Anonymous said...

lovely post

Frankie said...

that was beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

JDogg said...

I'm honored to have some pieces from both your Atlanta and FL studios.

I know how hard these times were for you and and glad that you have written about them.

Jen & Rob said...

things are only getting better.... sweet and cheesy! I'm loving thing exsw and am totally sucked in. I want to know more....MORE!! ;)

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Your story was just what I needed - you are fabulous.

Elizabeth said...

And I thought I was going to be the first one to say, 'beautiful post' and 'it brought tears to my eyes' but I see this has already been covered!

Thank you, I was having a PPP moment and you completely cheered me up.

MP said...

I want to know about and dad...your grandparents. How can you write so that each character of your life has equal importance to your readers..Just awesome.

Hope the a-whole's baby mama found a new man! That poor baby.

Government Peon said...

Great post. I really love this site. I've been hooked since the days of the Basura gated community residents measuring each others' lawns and ratting each other out.

I have to say that you are a far more good natured person than I am with regards to the Evil-Ex. I would have let him think he won by selling the house to him for a heft price - But not before setting a bunch of fire ants, termites, and chihuaha-sized rats loose in the basement.

Tere said...

My favorite post by far. Hugs!

Anonymous said...

that was an absolutely beautiful piece of writing. I am going to share it with someone who needs it.

Bri said...

That was beautiful. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I am a common-law wife. We are both educated, bathed people, and our marriage is something private. We signed papers, we are legally bound, we are proud. Please rethink what you say before you offend faithful readers.

Subservient No More said...

Well I apologize. It was my understanding back when all this was happening that a common law marriage was one where there were no papers, no ceremonies and pretty much no anything except two people who had lived together for 6 years. So according to that definition, given to me by lawyers, a common law marriage happened when people lived together long enough whether they chose to think of themselves as married or not. It may vary from state to state. Who knows. By my definition you have an actual marriage. Additionally, I mean come on, I was making a joke. This is me and my dark sense of humor. Just laugh with me and at me. There are way more important things to get offended at besides a story intended to make people feel better about their lives. It's important to look at intent. I never intend to offend. A lot of people do, and they don't even offend me. If you go around getting offended all the time then you'll miss out on so many beautiful, loving, wonderful things and I would hate for that to happen to you, my dear faithful reader.

Anonymous said...

Great writing. Just wanted to reccommend the novel "Broken For You" in case you haven't already read it. Similar themes.

catherine said...

SW, that was freaking beautiful! You made me cry. You writing just keeps getting better and better.

Don't waste any energy on "offended" some people just look for shit to get their nighties in a knot over.
keep writing, you rock :D

Anonymous said...

The rules for common law marriage (or claiming one) vary from state to state. For instance, Texas made the length of time you live together before being able to claim one longer, but if you sign a deed for a house, that could be considered a common law marriage regardless of time period. (Some friends of mine broke up and had to go through this, as both of their names were on the house deed.)

The laws were originally intended to protect women and children who where either stuck in the middle of nowhere (frontier, small village), or who lacked legal documents. I'm pretty sure that common law marriage legal rules arose from before the time when there were "legal" or church recorded marriages. (Both religious and legal organizations (in the western world at least) started recording marriages because they realized they could charge fees for this service.)

I would have reported that guy to his state law board. Law boards tend to be concerned about behavior like his from their members. Or I would have replaced any stones in that ring with fakes, and then given it back. Either way, really. You're a better person than I am, obviously.


SunSpotBaby said...

Well, I think your Pitiful Pearl story topped my Pitiful Pearl story.... My ex left me for my best friend (we had been married for 20 years) AND got custody of all our friends because they were all drinkers and I wasn't!! But at least I got the house (and 50% of his pension), with which I bought a bigger and better house.

Your story also brought a tear to my eye.

ADW said...

You are such a kind and gracious person - or so it seems.

I have to say that I look forward to your posts more and more now and I can't wait for you to write a full length novel. If ever there was a person who SHOULD be writing, it is you. And your faithful readers can all say that they "knew" you back when.


Subservient No More said...

I do hope in real life that I'm kind and gracious and that I just don't seem that way in stories. And thank you.

Anonymous said...

You are, quite simply, a poet in prose. And wise beyond your years.

Congratulations on having such a wide readership. You deserve it.

misha said...

sorry that happened to you. evil is too nice a word for him. my best friend of many years once slept w/ my boyfriend. When I found out, I was shattered. Luckily I moved out of FL for a while. After a few years my heart was back together and stronger than ever. I understood much more that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

The_Ceiling said...

Aw, I love this post. Speaking of metaphors, I love artichokes and found a book in a used book store that compared eating an artichoke to getting to know a person in a relationship or friendship- you peel away the layers until you get to the heart. I found you through Violent Acres and I've been trying to read chronologically through the archives because I'm neurotic like that.

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