THE INHERITANCE OF HEARTBREAK
September 10, 2019
I lay on my bedroom floor sobbing, unable to find the strength to climb onto my bed. My eyes burned but I could not control the tears. I pressed my body to the floor, hoping that pressure would somehow alleviate the pain causing me to cry so hard and so much. Instead, it only intensified, and I began to scream.
“What did I do to deserve this? When will it end?”
I screamed trying to expel the pain. The dam had broken. My chest tightened and each howl left me gasping for air. I was not a stranger to pain but heartbreak was a burden I felt forced to carry and I wanted to know why. I needed answers to process another one. I needed answers to understand why I was experiencing this but I couldn’t call my friends because they were experiencing their own. I needed answers so I could stop blaming myself despite knowing better. I was aware enough to know I had done nothing wrong, that what was happening to me was not my fault. Yet I still could not shake the feeling that I was to blame for what I was experiencing, not the person who failed to honor their promises to me.
Heartbreak is inevitable. However, in the Black woman’s life, it is as if we are playing a game where we can only unlock the level of requited love if we amass enough heartbreak coins. We have been convinced that this is our portion, to suffer again and again to unlock the worth needed for love. We come into the game with the heartbreak of our mothers and our mother’s mothers weighing heavy in our banks already, their experiences of love — or lack thereof — etched in our memories and absorbed in our souls. Even in the best of circumstances, we saw our mothers cry over secrets and broken promises that threatened to destroy families they loved into existence. Our recent maternal ancestors may not have land or money to pass onto their daughters, but the heartbreak was plenty.
As part of the inheritance, we are raised to be thrice as good — and when we fall short, it is our fault, our blindness. We are to focus on being better yet are not allowed to acknowledge how heartbreak manifests in our bodies. We hide our tears, cover puffy eyes with concealer, pretend our chests aren’t tight, ignore that it hurts to breathe deeply, blame our stomach pains on a bad meal. We are faced with pain that comprises our immune system and makes us wonder if death is easier. However, our healing is not a priority because after all, we invited heartbreak into our beds with a smile. When our hearts are broken, we are instructed to turn inward but only to repair what allowed the heartbreak to happen.
“You attract what you are”
We internalize the message, then we go to seminars and therapy. We buy the self-help books and discuss with our friends who experience the same. We are challenged to make lists of how we can be a better partner. We talk about not asking for anything that we ourselves cannot bring to the table. With each abrupt break-up, we tell each other that we should have seen the signs and next time, pay better attention and manage your very real but somehow considered lofty expectations. Every heartbreak is an opportunity to fix our brokenness as a partner, not repair the pain caused to us. We assess and align and position, so that we can attract what we newly are. This is what we have to experience, so we can know what true love is. Pain is only a part of the deal. But then it happens again and we go back to the laboratory, convinced we didn’t do enough the last time, and determined to “do the work”.
There is an expectation that we are to be introspective, continuously doing that work, and remaining open despite past pain. The aforementioned is necessary for growth, but growth seems to only fall on the shoulders of one. Black women turn themselves inside out and bend themselves to fit into relationships with partners who have been socialized to believe it is the woman who deserves pain until she proves she is worthy of love. We carry the responsibility and the heartbreak. We have been blaming ourselves for the pain that we’ve been conditioned to accept as our portion, and it’s time we stop.
Stop collecting the game chips. This is not a game and we don’t need to amass “heartbreak coins” to reach the next level. What’s needed is a society that recognizes Black women as worthy of love, honesty, respect, desire, and stability. The onus is not on us to force the world to prove that — because there is nothing to prove. Simply being human gives us this right, and it is demanded.
That night I cried and screamed till I fell asleep. Eons later, I now know what I needed to then: I did nothing to deserve heartbreak and it hurts, but it is not my fault. My friends experience this because we live in a world that tells us pain is a prerequisite for love, yet wants to drown us in it before love meets us. Every generation, we do our best to keep our heads above the tide of pain until our bodies grow exhausted because our bags become too heavy. This heaviness lives on in hearts too tired to pump properly and backs that never seem to stop aching. We deserve to be light and not have such heaviness in our DNA. I hope we are the generation to leave the bag of coins to sink, and use our strength to swim to shore because pain is not our portion.
Heartbreak is not our inheritance. Love is.