Several autumns ago, I was in the middle of one of my first major heartbreaks. I was 20 years old and I met someone I deeply connected with, talking to him for seven hours one night, and then realized, in the midst of sparks and chemistry and a blur of emotions, that he was not a good fit for me and that it would be wisest to end things. I spoke with an older, wiser mentor of mine and she confirmed that ending things seemed like the best idea.
At the time I lived in a tiny beach town on the coast of California in a house with my ten siblings. The house was a tight fit for our size, and privacy was a luxurious, foreign concept. One of the only places I could escape and have a good cry when I was feeling overwhelmed was outside in the backyard. We lived in a deep canyon on a hill overlooking the ocean and I spent many nights looking out into the distance, where the skyline blurred into the water’s edge.
On a November night, the heartbreak was fresh and tender. I sat out on the hill, lost in thought and a whirl of sadness, longing, and, if I’m being honest, a bit of self-pity. Every fall, the squid-fishing boats came out with their eerie lights to attract squids. The lights illuminated the sea, and the skyline was a heartachingly beautiful mix of indigo sea and sky. I clutched my knees to my chest, and felt a tangible sense of pain as I cried out to God and asked Him, “Why? Why bring me someone so beautiful only to take him away?”
Reaching out to my mentor later that night, I was despairing about the painfulness of the situation to her, and she shared something wise, something that still pops into my head during moments of similar heartache. She said, “Katherine, this pain you are feeling is beautiful. It’s part of what makes you human. Right now, you are so alive.”
Those last four words jolted me out of my sorrow, and I stood back to regard my situation in a whole new light. This jagged pain, when fully embraced and felt, could be something beautiful. For a moment I reflected on my fragility, my humanness. The heart beating in my chest, the blood in my veins.
Later that night, I wrote this poem as a reflection on my experience:
A girl sat alone
On a hill
On a cold, autumn night
Her face was wet with the tears of
A thousand and one long, lonely nights
No one came,
No one called,
No one cared
And yet- everything was alright
For she wrapped her hands around her knees
And faced herself in the reflection of the stars
She consoled herself,
Pressing her hands to her chest
And feeling her heart beat steadily
Three words rang out
Through her tears
through her chest
I am alive.
Cover photo credit: Mike Cimorelli