Leaving Hawaii broke my heart. For years, it was all I could write about. The tropics and heartbreak. I couldn’t separate them in my head, in my relationships. I’d flinch if you touched me. Even my skin felt wrong. In the cold, saltless North.
And place can break your heart. I believe that. Hard luck, few opportunities, poverty, meanness. It feels like somewhere else will give you a proper chance. Somewhere else you can be the person you’re meant to be.
Except. Except. I went back to Hawaii in 2000, just before the elections. It wasn’t the place I’d mourned. And I wasn’t that girl in any case. The thing about heartbreak is that it’s internal. That’s what we mean when we use that metaphor. Something inside us hurts. Not our city. Our center. I hurt. I hurt when I breathe. I hurt when I walk past that restaurant where you laughed. I hurt remembering kissing you in that park. The sunset feels like it’s crushing me. This place is killing me!
But what hurts is inside you.
The sunset doesn’t recognize you. That restaurant. That park. They don’t remember. They don’t have anything to do with your suffering. The dog goes on with its doggy life. Sometimes, you’re the only witness. And that can feel so heavy. So lonely.
Leaving Hawaii was the best worst decision I ever made. It turns out, it didn’t have much to do with my heartbreak after all. I suckled my injuries for longer than I should have. Longer than I needed to. Until they seemed funny.
My silly old heart. Recovering despite my best attempts to hold it down and forcefeed it the past.
Place is just where you lived for a time. Where a part of the story was set. But you’re the story. And you can’t outrun your center. It’s there in peace and in famine. It’s there in heartbreak and joy.
Last week, I hung out with a cat dying of cancer. He had this feeding tube like an odd antenna, and medical tape wrapped around his neck. His belly was shaved and soft as tenderness. He was so happy you’d never know. You’d never know his situation.