Today one of my students gave me a poem built in part on questioning something I apparently said about heartbreak.
When I first got home from my mission I was suffering from what I would eventually come to call religious despair. On my mission I was suicidally depressed, though I lacked the initiative and the energy to do anything about my grief. I could not eat or sleep. I wept uncontrollably for nine weeks, so bereft that I could not stop my tears even in public.
And then I finished my mission, went home, and went back to work on my undergraduate degree. I was young and pretty and from a middle-class family. I liked wearing bright blue mascara and clean clothes. I still attended church. My suffering did not involve addiction or physical violence.
And so no one believed me when I talked about my unhappiness. God forbid I try to write a poem about the despair I had experienced! I remember a middle-aged gay male bartender responding with undisguised loathing to a poem I submitted in class attempting to describe the young, chaste, female trauma I'd endured. How dare I, he proclaimed! How dare I believe I knew anything of heartbreak!
And now that I am middle-aged, a young man is saying basically the same thing, because.... I can pay my own mortgage? Because there's still no addiction and physical violence in my life?
OK, I don't know a thing about heartbreak. I know nothing of it. I relinquish any claim to so dignified a word. What I know--all I know--is grief's assault on the rest of the body. If you want to talk about suffering rooted in and expressed through phlegm and bile and blood and bowels, then hey, I have something to say about that.