Finnian Burnett


Heartbreak Beat

“I’m a heartbreak beat, yeah, all night long. And nobody don’t dance on the edge of the dark, we got the radio on. And it feels like love, but it don’t mean a lot.” -Psychedelic Furs

I threw up again today. I have to admit, in a weird way, I’m a little relieved. See, I’m a bit overweight. Oh, not hugely overweight, but enough. I always figured if I suffered a terrible heartbreak, I would be the one sitting on the couch in my pajamas, eating ice cream right out of the container in front of old Laverne & Shirley reruns. Why Laverne and Shirley, I have no idea, but somehow it always seemed to fit.

Instead, it turns out that at the end of my ten year relationship, which was gone in the blink of an eye, I can’t actually eat anything at all. Trust me, I’ve tried. I ate a muffin one morning and threw that up. Tried to eat a salad later, that was soon coming up, too. Sandwich, ice cream, some chicken noodle soup. It doesn’t seem to matter what I eat, I just keep throwing it up. For the record, coffee is the worst thing to puke. It burns as it comes back. But this could turn out to be one of those hidden bonuses. You know, on the one hand, my heart has been torn out of my chest and ripped into shreds, but on the plus side, I’ve already lost seven pounds. Hey, look at the silver lining, right?

I don’t know if it has to do with this terrible headache I seem to have developed the day after she left. I can barely move for the pain. It has taken over my entire life. When I wake up in the morning, it’s there to greet me. When I go to sleep in the middle of the afternoon, it lies down with me. It grows in response to the sun. It doesn’t like music. It really hates when I spend several hours at the computer. It seems to pulse. It ebbs and flows like the tide. It has become an entity in it’s own right, it has shifted and taken form. It pounds when I take a step, it moves back and rests when I close my eyes. Sometimes, I can feel it moving into my heart and the headache pounds in the same rhythm as my heartbeats. It’s alive, it has started to question it’s own existence. I’ve named it the Heartbreak Beat after that old Psychedelic Furs song. “I’m a heartbreak beat, yeah, all night long.” It seems appropriate since that song keeps playing in my head over and over. Maybe because that was the song I listened to over and over back in high school when I had my only other real heartbreak. See, I kind of went through life dating people, but not really being into them. I mean, not that I was a jerk or anything. I felt. I know I felt. It’s just I never seemed to feel as much as anyone else. Until T. Somehow she kind of just came into my life and stayed. Our relationship didn’t really start with a sonic boom the way my first, high school love did, but with an Anne Tyler novel kind of comfortableness; we just sort of met and fell in love without a lot of fanfare. Not that there wasn’t some drama, there always is when someone who is single for so long finally finds love. Friends reacted strongly, old alliances broke, new ones were formed. Things just kind of fell into place, though.

I really can’t think through this headache. This heartbreak beat. It’s throbbing in my temples right now, I don’t think it wants me to tell this story. It goes away when I stop thinking about all of this. Well, not exactly, no. It never really goes away. It gets less…. angry, I guess when I block the memories from my mind, when I stop thinking about the time that T watched me put a life jacket on our dog, and when he looked up at her, pleading silently for its removal, she laughingly told him, “Hey Buddy. I choose my battles. I’m sorry to say that this isn’t one of them.” It doesn’t like me to talk about these things. It doesn’t want me to think about them or write about them. It likes it better when I think about the bad times, when I think about the times she would drink until she started shaking, or when she would have road rage, or when she would be so drunk I was afraid she was going to kill us on the way home. It’s perfectly fine with me talking about that. It doesn’t seem to mind when I talk about this last trip to Ohio, how she was so angry, so bitter, how she blamed me for us being here.

It was my fault, though. See, my family kind of needed me in Ohio. And I kind of needed my family. I thought I could live without them, but I really couldn’t. And there we were on a beautiful tropical island, thousands of miles, and an extremely expensive and uncomfortable plane ride away from them. So, I started petitioning to move. I wanted to leave paradise and come back here. I… this hurts so much. The heartbreak beat sometimes moves into my ears. There’s this part of me that knows it isn’t real, that it is just a headache, but it is so persistent. I can hear it in my ears, like a drum, or maybe the pounding of the waves. Maybe the way the waves pounded that night that T took me to the Sunset Grill for my birthday and secretly asked the singer to do a Frank Sinatra song. The way they pounded when she took me out onto the beach and slow danced with me to The Way You Look Tonight. The way they pounded when I was trying to learn how to kayak and I kept flipping over and she kept reaching down and pulling me up before I could breathe in the salt water and start choking. I can’t hear over the pounding. I can see my fingers moving on the keyboard, but I can’t hear the clicking. All I can hear is now is that incessant pounding.

I just threw up again. I threw up in the garbage can under my desk because I didn’t think I would make it to the bathroom. I felt my stomach churning, but I thought I could hold it down. I haven’t eaten anything for several hours, but I took an aspirin a while ago and I’m pretty sure the heartbreak beat doesn’t want me to take any medicine. I think it’s trying to protect itself. Aspirin probably couldn’t hurt it anyway, but it’s not taking any chances. It has to stay alive until it realizes its purpose, whatever that is.

So I moved to Ohio. We were set to come together in March. Maybe if we had done that, everything would have been fine. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Anyway, I came home early, a whole month early. On a side note, did you catch what I said there? I came home. I came home, T left home. There’s a big difference. But anyway, see, my grandmother had died and my mom needed me. My family needed me. And I needed them. I needed to grieve with them. I needed to go to my grandmother’s funeral. I went a month early. And I spent a month without her. I spent a month relearning my old hometown. I spent a month connecting with my family, going out with my mother, looking for work. I was able to truly quit drinking. Oh, the heartbreak beat will let me talk about this. See, T drinks. A lot. And it has been a problem between us for a while. It wasn’t a problem when we got together, which is why this is kind of my fault, too. See, I liked to drink, too. I liked to go out on weekends and get trashed with my friends. But you reach a point when you have gotten too old to party like a college kid and your friends are growing up and having kids and you start to wonder if this is really all there is to life and you start trying to cut back on your drinking, but every time you do, your alcoholic partner gets irritated that you aren’t drinking with her. After a couple of weeks, you give in and have a few weeks and she yells, “Yes! She’s back!” which pisses you off to no end. Then, you quit for a while, and every time she goes to the freezer and takes a shot of vodka, by herself, you get mad, and then she starts calling the neighbor and asking the neighbor to come down and have a shot with her because of course, even the raging alcoholic knows that it isn’t right to drink alone, and then she’s going out several times a week with her friends because you’re no fun anymore since you don’t drink and you no longer enjoy spending your time sitting in a bar for several hours at a time.

The heartbreak beat doesn’t like when I get upset. It’s moving down my throat now. I think it’s trying to wrap around my lungs. I can feel it throbbing in a vein in the side of my neck, pulse, pulse, pulse, and when I put my fingers on it, I can feel it moving around under them, alive, warm, changing. It’s alive and it’s eating me and the best I can do is keep it happy so it doesn’t destroy me completely.

If I could just keep my eyesight for a while longer, I could talk about the rest of it. How she finally got to Ohio and hated everything. How she complained about the kind of food my mother kept in the house, or the people we hung out with, or how I didn’t spend any time with her because I was doing my school work and obsessively applying for jobs. How the one evening I spent working on my novel pissed her off, so I just didn’t write again while she was here. How she was mad at the weather, mad that Ohio is not an island paradise. I could turn it around, though. I could talk about how I didn’t try to ease her into it. I could mention that I was so bothered by her not loving my home that I pulled myself away from her and left her to herself. I ignored her. I turned away from her in bed, I didn’t look at her in the mornings. I didn’t speak to her, or hug her, or kiss her, or tell her that I had missed her. I didn’t touch her. I glared and I nagged and I accused her of being negative. I countered her negativity by being so negative that she broke down in tears, twice, and all I ever said was, “You complain about everything.” And I could say that at the last minute, when she was getting ready to leave, there was a part of me screaming, absolutely screaming that you can’t let a ten year relationship go after one week of not talking to each other. Part of me wanted to reach out and grab her before she left and ask her what the hell she thought she was doing by walking out. Part of me wanted to slap both of us and rail about the idiocy of letting this all go to shit without even giving it a chance to work. Instead, when she looked at me and asked me if this was really the end, I said, “Yes.” I said yes. I still don’t know if it was the right thing to do. In between the beats of the headache, I have moments of clarity and I wonder why I didn’t try to make things easier for her. I wonder if we could have made it if we moved somewhere other than Ohio. I wonder if she would quit drinking if I offered to move somewhere warmer. I argue with myself about calling her or writing a letter. I send resumes to companies in Southern states, in some odd attempt to work things out without any idea of what I’m really doing.

I’m a heartbreak beat. Yeah, all night long. I don’t think I really ever understood that song before now. Despite my obsession with it back in 1989, during the winter of my teenage discontent. I might have listened to it a million times without really understanding the song. I get it now. Yeah, I have become the heartbreak beat. It’s pounding in my ears, it’s making my vision blurry. It’s squeezing my heart and my lungs. It’s getting hard to breathe, to think, to talk. I’m a heartbreak beat… and it feels like love. I guess I should just sleep. Somehow, it always lets me sleep.

One thought on “Heartbreak – Short Story

  1. debbiespark says:

    Words escape me…

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