There are a hundred other things I would rather devote a love letter to—the woods, the mountains, good music, Chick-fil-a, Tom Hiddleston, my girlfriends, my books, my socks—and the list goes on. As the years speed on, though, I realize more and more the importance of the role you play in my life. At the end of a season filled with heart-shaped chocolates and empty love notes, for some wonderfully perplexing reason, writing this letter felt right somehow.
One warm February morning, you emerged for the first time. Waking up to discover that a grandfather who played an active role in my life, who had always been there, was suddenly gone tore my eleven-year-old heart in two. Pain, it seemed, was a concept I was only beginning to grasp.
You materialized in small spurts as I grew, in temporary stings that faded with time. The empty gaps left in my heart by friends who faded out of my life. A middle-school crush who laughed in my face for daring to show interest in him. Witnessing a woman use the strength remaining in her body to end her life.
Then you began to hit harder and deeper.
A person I looked up to all my life chose selfishness over the people who cared for them. A family shattered and scattered on the ground like a wine glass. And the awful, helpless feeling that swallowed me as a friend drifted further and further away because I didn't have the courage to swim after them.
I think the hardest lesson you ever taught me is that physical hurt is incomparable to you. You left me longing for the scraped knees and twisted ankles of my childhood, the hazy summer days when pain could be treated and healed in a couple of weeks with an ice pack and some Tylenol. I never imagined a greater wound until I felt it: a heavy knot of self-deprecation weighing me down, a conscious paralysis pressing stifled tears from my skin.
I hated you. You were brutal and cruel and merciless. What had I done to deserve your unwarranted presence in my life? A girl who wanted nothing more than to make people feel loved was the victim of some great cosmic joke that charged kindness with suffering.
Wrong, you said, this is not punishment. This is life. People let each other down over and over again because that is what people do. They are like me: imperfect, unquestionably flawed, and weighed down by insecurity. No matter who we are, we will ultimately choose ourselves first. Human nature is not easily beaten; in the very least, no one can fight it alone. That, I realized, was my mistake. I broke my own heart and the hearts of others by believing I could take precautions against you.
I think I suffocated people in trying to love them. I think I let my own ideas of what love should look like place unfair expectations on those I truly cared for. I expected them to give as I gave and, in doing so, set myself up for inevitable disappointment. It didn't matter if I was doing the right thing and it didn't matter if I was being treated wrongly. If love is expected in return—if love is not a choice—it is not love.
As I lay in bed, galaxies and planets spin overhead and the world continues in its usual rhythm. I remember the times my heart spilled open before, and how all of it seemed some faraway dream now. It no longer mattered, and one day this pain I was feeling would melt away into my bones, adding to the strengthened core you've quietly built for me. The same force that knocked me down will set me on my feet again.
And you have given me so much.
Because of you, the words flow out in waterfalls. I have never written anything so exquisite that was not drawn out by you. You taught me how to blend tears into letters, how to release the poisonous thoughts swirling around in my mind and transform them into a safe haven. After all, isn't that how beauty must come about? Through tedious work and, quite often, pain.
Thank you for the people you brought into my life: the ones who chose to stay and the ones who left without hesitation when you said it was time to show them the door. But most of all, thank you for not changing who I am. My mindset has changed, yes, but I have not strayed from myself. Many times I was tempted to, to use you as an excuse to become a bitter shell bent on petty revenge and self-pity. It's an amusing thought now, for how would it have solved anything?
Thank you, heartbreak, because only by breaking could I see where I needed to heal.