Broken, in Eleven Panes


  1. Bad Breaks

We’ve all suffered a broken heart of one sort or the other. Some that seem reparable and some, not so much. From the go-on-a-few-dates-with-a-hottie-who-dumps-you after the holidays kind of broken heart, to being dumped by the gem you dated for a few years who leaves you quite suddenly. And you find yourself withering on the couch in front of the TV watching reruns for weeks, or perhaps months.

And there is the broken heart caused by the dreamboat you married who went to the grocery store and never came back. And you’re alone but grateful you didn’t have any kids. And you ache in places you didn’t know you could.

And there is the heart break from when best friends, or sisters, or siblings discover that the few miles or countries that separate them is a far larger chasm than they could have ever imagined. And the anger and inability to forgive widens the chasm further. Daily. And that broken heart is a deep and slow healing sort of break.

Then there are the almost unspeakable broken hearts. Those breaks caused by losing a child, a parent, or a spouse too early and from an unforgiving death or disaster. Those are heartbreaks far deserving of narrative and poetry and even a post on a blog, but not here for me at this moment this morning. And I am not sure what led me to the page this morning to write about heart break and healing.

Perhaps it is having a new home, one that I bought and nestled into all on my own, all for me, and the girls, of course, when they happen to visit as they just did for a long wonderful holiday. When we experience all of our lifelong routines, some developed and evolved and solidified long before their father left, and some that developed afterwards (like Christmas shoe exchange — but that is for another blog post), and we fill our days and nights together.

We ate and walked and laughed and sang and played games and made tamales and argued and remembered and we were together easily, and sometimes with tension, but always just the three of us, together. Well, they arrived with boyfriends in tow. And that has just multiplied the fun by a thousand.

And their father does not know this love.

  1. The Break

Surprise and agony run parallel in a heartbreak caused by the end of a long wonderful marriage. When a family is suddenly decimated. Dissipated. Dissolved. Smashed. Crushed. Wrecked. Squished. Blown to smithereens. (What are smithereens anyway?) Like fine China and heirloom Waterford Crystal wiped off the dining room table in one fell swooping swoop – and in pretty much one afternoon. Or maybe it was a month of afternoons. Many moons ago.

When all the pieces of all that beautiful glass fell like snowflakes in an early snow, fell in slow motion, each piece apparently tethered to some sorry, bedraggled and final inkling of hope. They wavered and swayed as they hovered above the wood floor below. I seem to remember each shiny piece landing, maybe bouncing and falling again, or bouncing and then making one last airborne wobble before finally exploding.

Shredded by gravity and impact and spreading, thousands of prisms and points, tiny, tiny blades and daggers swam all about the floor. All those little pieces of the life we knew left now scattered about for the girls and I to sweep up or dance around or stare at and worry on and question into the long, long nights for months.

And to touch. And touch again. And cut our fingers. Again. And again and we went through boxes and boxes of bandages. And tissue. And, of course, we survived.

  1. Break Report

It is that kind of heartbreak that I write about. Hopefully with wisdom and a hope less disheveled. And I do not know why this first post of 2018 on leads me to write about this heartbreak. This time of life that changed me. Spun me around like a spinning top—while we watched the sad string hang limply from his back pocket as he closed the door behind himself.

But here I am today, watching only the gorgeous sunrise across the eastern skyline turning the red rocks of the horizon into a blazing hot pink for a few moments, with a gentle promise of rain. It is this pain that comes to mind.

  1. Comfort Food

I used to describe it this way. “He reached into my chest, pushed past my ribs, grabbed my heart with his angry fist, yanked it out, chopped it up, threw it in a frying pan, scrambled it with eggs and fed it to the other woman. And she ate it with a grin.”

  1. What Is This Exactly?

Those first few nights, after he left, and after I explained again to my youngest—who had asked, “So did Dad go on a vacation, or is this a separation?”—that yes this was a separation and I did not currently know its scope or depth. I simply didn’t. But those first few nights, actually weeks maybe, the girls, barely adolescents — and since I had a king size bed — crawled in with me. None of us wanted to sleep alone. And then, after a while, they took turns sleeping with me, and then, we all adjusted to sleeping alone without their dad in the house. Survival.

  1. Comfort Food, II

Years later it dawned on me that the only food I had fed them in those early months of new family was scrambled eggs with tortillas. I apologized to the girls about how awful that must have been, and they laughed. “We loved it!” they exclaimed. Little did I know that they were less akin to my gourmet soups and stews and casseroles and really just wanted to eat comfort food. To this day we have all acknowledged that scrambled eggs are simply one of our favorite go-to foods.

  1. Lunch Hours

Those early days I used my lunch hour to come home and wail. A few times a week. I did not want the girls to hear that kind of anguish. To this day, Romeo and Tilly, our pets, grow anxious when any of us cry or raise our voices. I fear I scared the hell out of them back then. I walked in at noon, dropped the keys and phone on the counter, sat by the cold woodstove, and just sobbed. Sobbed it all out. Sobbed and yelled and cursed. Cleaned my face. And went back to work.

This scheduled time of “feeling” was a result of wisdom from three most wonderful woman.

Jill Divine, exquisite poet and friend, told me, “I’ll give you one year. You can cry your head off for one year, but then you stop. And you get back on your feet.” I needed that year, and then asked for a couple more months, which she granted.

From Penni Patterson, counselor extraordinaire, who said, “Feel this. Feel this, Anne Marie. You fight your feelings. You argue with them. You can’t talk yourself out of them. Stop arguing and feel, rage and compasion must hold hands,” she said. And so feel I did.

And from Mary Poore, my dear friend and doctor. “You have to move the pain,” she told me. “It is stuck right here,” and she held her own hand to her own heart, and I moved my hand to my heart, and I could feel it. “Run, walk, dance, whatever it takes, but move it.”

  1. Graffiti

So I hiked. I walked and I walked and I walked. One day I walked into the forest, after a bright beautiful snow, and drew one hundred broken hearts on every fresh flat surface I could find. Purposefully destroying the beauty of perfectly flat shiny surfaces of freshly fallen snow with my angst and grief. That wasn’t very nice. But certainly, whomever else walked that trail and saw those broken hearts drawn with a stick may have grieved for the author of such public display of heartbreak. Or cursed me for spreading my sad graffiti about. But it would all melt. And go away. And that was the point. I knew, I knew I would survive and they would forgive the temporary defacing.

  1. Tired of Sad

For months I woke up at 2:13 am. Each night. I have no idea why that time. But like clockwork, I woke up at 2:13 and, of course, could not fall back asleep. Insomnia was new to me. As was that type of depression. I finally went to my doctor and begged. “Please, I am so tired of being so sad.” She recommended an herbal remedy that would help both the sleeping, and the sadness, without any heavy side effects, or any side effects at all. It worked. We survived. Sometimes you have to call in the big guns.

  1. The Five Frontiers of Heartbreak

I named the frontiers of loss. Five of them.

The first and most obvious one was The Lover. I had lost my lover. The betrayal was palpable, and the repairs were possible, although never attempted. It was the easiest of all the frontiers.

Then there was The Marriage. Everyone thought we were unbreakable. Surely we’d get back together in a new and stronger way. But that opportunity never arose from the rubble. Marriage is a legal matter, and like all legal matters, there is a form and a signature. Done.

Then the frontier of The Friendship. And this one still stings I guess. For losing a lover? It happens. Dissolving a marriage? Paperwork. But losing your best friend? It’s like rubbing your hand across a bunny ear cactus . . .

And then, oh sad days. The Partner Parent. I truly did not believe until I had no choice but to face the fact that I had lost the person with whom I had children, and who raised them with me, with so much love and care. As Bridget asked with tremendous anger, “We’re going to be one of those families now?”

Finally, and somewhat poignantly, the final frontier. The Friends and Family. I assumed, sadly now that I look back, our respective families of origin and all of our friends were resilient enough to receive the impact of the blow, bounce back, and continue to respect us as a team, albeit broken and remodeled, but still the great people we always were. Some were. Folks, colleagues, friends who would see me on the street, men and women alike, in the early days, and hug me with tears in their eyes. Call. Check in. To this day. Others weren’t. Others who averted eye contact. Or calls. Ties unknotted. Ripples spread. Collateral damage. Dang.

  1. The Ripples and Repairs

Ah, where am I going with this? I don’t know but enough now. Enough.

Perhaps I should attempt some sort of great wisdom, or at least a poem? And certainly a shout out and thank you to all of those who helped us mend. And great love for all those we lost, and forgiveness.

For eventually, yes, we swept up the damn shards, walked barefoot again across the wood floors, and got on with our new life. Just the three of us.

When Rage and Compassion Hold Hands

Ice preys on boulders and slips down, landing
with grimace on rock that cannot
remember the taste of water, the sound
of winter when it tumbles off

the mountain. Anger refuses moisture
or melt. The wind slaps tomorrow
from beneath the icicles. The chin points
to yesterday, will never trust

compassion’s promise to embrace the pond
that reflects February’s Snow-
Moon–predicting a feast for the hungry;
splash rain on the pool where the doe

and the coyote could share a drink. Eyes
meet across the surface, revel
in the demise of the drought’s persistence–
Thirst ending, ice nudged to the edge.

Image from Nate Bell at

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