Exquisite Reflection

My First Heartbreak, Then And Now

Photo by Tamyka Bell

Then: my heart is breaking

Oh God, no. Not now. Not over the phone. No.

I look down at the precious scrap of paper in my hand. It’s a note he wrote just six weeks ago, describing how his feelings for me had suddenly changed and how he didn’t understand it but he was okay with it. He’d misspelt ‘plummet’ and I’d found that cute.

‘I don’t really think it’s working,’ he says.

I blink to hold back my tears, but one escapes. It trickles down my nose and perches on the tip, threatening to drip. I quickly shove the note out of the way, so it won’t get wet. It’s all I have left.

I struggle for words. ‘Um…’

It’s hard to think. I feel a crushing pain in my chest, like someone has ripped out a piece of me and I’m caving in around it. Not someone: him. Michael.

‘I’m really sorry, it’s just…’

‘No, that’s okay.’

From the other end, silence.

Mum yells at me from the kitchen to come eat some KFC, but my stomach has flopped out and fled the room. In a happy voice, I yell back that I’ll be a minute. I’m in no state to join my family at the dinner table — they’ll know.

‘Um…is there someone else?’ It seems like the mature thing to ask. I remember a woman on Melrose Place asking her husband the same question. He’d answered, ‘No,’ but he was lying. At least Michael won’t lie to me. If he’s leaving me for Jen, he’ll say so.


It must be me.

‘Did I do something wrong?’

‘No! Tamyka, it’s not like that. I just — I don’t know. I’m sorry.’

It’s me.

I tell him I need to go have dinner. He hangs up, but I don’t; to my parents, it looks as though I’m still on the phone. They really like Michael, and they’ll be really disappointed in me if I tell them he’s dumped me. And Ash will just make fun of me. So I wait until I’m calm, put on a happy face, hang up the phone and head out for dinner.

Now: hearts broken; images shattered

When I was fifteen, my heart was broken in the most brutal way: my One True Love phoned on a Sunday night to say it wasn’t working. It was too urgent to wait until school the next day. Afterwards, I bravely fronted up to the dinner table and acted as if nothing had happened, a façade that continued into the next day, until someone at school asked what was going on.

As a teenager, I wasn’t prepared for dealing with this kind of trauma. He embodied the sum of my romantic experiences and he’d torn my heart out with a blunt instrument. I was sure that I’d keep pining after my One True Love until he came to his senses and proposed to me. Or that I’d come to some grief, some tragic accident, and he would come to his senses too late and suffer greatly.

His insistence that there was no other girl on his radar only increased my frustration and confusion. I could have taken solace in being ousted by some other, more glamorous schoolgirl. Instead, I was simply being rejected on the grounds of who I was. And who was that?

With age comes wisdom, or so we hope; I’ve learnt that romance can fade, that doubtful actions can drive someone away, that love comes in many guises, that the sum of romantic experiences grows over time. I’ve learnt that this whirlwind romance and heartbreak was not the definitive relationship of my life, but rather just one of many that have collectively sculpted the woman I am now — and the woman I will one day be.

Yet its individual role was not insignificant. Even now, a lovers’ quarrel is likely to result in me asking, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ I try to catch myself saying it, but it always manages to get away from me, slipping through my fingers like silk.

I believe it’s exactly that sort of self-doubtful questioning that sets a woman up to be walked all over later in life, or maybe even end up in an abusive relationship. At least, that’s how I make sense of it. And it’s a question we learn too early in life.

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