I’ve had my heart broken twice in Spain. Once when I was eight, our parents took my brother and I on a ‘last ditch attempt to save their marriage’ trip, otherwise known as a European family holiday. By the time we’d driven three hours to Madrid at my father’s insistence, bought a Mars bar and my parents had had their fifty zillionth screaming match (I counted), it was clear that their love was over. Sitting in the back seat of the hire car I knew with absolute certainty that life as I knew it was going to change forever, and felt the splintering ache in my chest as my heart broke for the first time. But instead of feeling sad and terrified during that horrible divorce, numbness pervaded over me, like armour fortifying my walls. I didn’t cry once and instead threw myself into the chocolate tin like any self-respecting emotional eater in the making would do.
Fast-forward 25 years and I have more feelings than I know what to do with and sometimes wonder if the reason I AM so sensitive is because of that terrible time. Tis no matter now, but how I wish my younger self had the foresight to pack away a few sheaths of metal for the future, to steel my precious heart for the pain to come.
Two mornings ago I sat on a balcony in sunny Valencia bathed in delicious sunlight, my face upturned to greet its warmth, with tears flowing down my cheeks and onto the ancient tiles at my feet. As they splashed into the flower pots I was reminded of a time in my 20s when my friend was going through a particularly shitty breakup and would pace around our flat chanting: sex is not love, I am worthy of love, as her mobile phone shrilled with the sound of her devastating ex making a booty call. I used to giggle at this demonstration of self-help and scoffed at anyone needing to be reminded of their worth. Until my own heart was shattered into a million pieces and I took up arms next to her. It made me smile because I acknowledged the strength I gained from surviving that implosion, and the lessons I learned about love. And yet as I sipped my coffee and gorged on the finest oranges of my life, this most recent experience revealed that there is still work to do and my belief that I am enough to be loved just as I am, is yet to be mastered. For what should have been an enjoyable afternoon with a friend loomed ominously in front of me and tainted the pure joy of those oranges with salty tears.
This friend is of course an old lover. A wandering soul who is as sweet, juicy and unique as the fruit of his adopted city. And judging by my reaction to his inevitable rejection, someone who I loved a little bit more than expected. Problem is he’s always been a bit vague about his feelings for me and our relationship has had a choppy fluidity to it. And unfortunately because he has never, until recently, behaved badly or ever waved a placard in my face with the word NO spelled out in thick black marker pen, my needy brain translated that vagueness into hope. And for a long time I did not even realise that I was hoping. But I was.
Even when he told me 18 months ago that he was moving to another country (not because of me- I checked). Even when I was having other, lovely relationships and a casual message from him would occupy my mind for just a little too long. Even when my friend warned me about going out to see him and I battered her comments away with a laugh and protests of ‘we’re just friends’. Even on a night out in Spain with his friends, when his perky 24 year-old house mate turned up and I felt his attention move away from me. Even when he danced close to her, showing no hint of sensitivity to my presence and the dull ache of sadness snaked its way through my insides. Even when he walked me home after the club and I was powerless to stop my dignity spilling out onto the streets as the words ‘It doesn’t have to mean anything’ tumbled from my mouth. And he gently reminded me that it does mean something with us, and it always has. Even when my heart slipped further down my sleeve and I confessed that I feel safe and whole with him. And he kissed me and said good night. Only then did my hope fade and hot, angry tears begin to fall.
The next day we managed to salvage something of our friendship between hangover food and safe discussions on books and history. And oddly I felt my strength start to rise again and the energy that once existed between us slowly fade, with the realisation that he is just another lesson and the best of my life is yet to come.
Back home in Blighty now, I still feel sad and am even more convinced that the ice queen bitches who never show an ounce of emotion to a man have got it right. But that will never be me, and as I sit at my computer looking out on the comforting sheets of rain and cold wind whipping around the hills outside my kitchen, I am reminded of a philosopher who suggests that hearts are meant to break as that is their journey. And I reckon they can be mended again, piece by painful piece.