Nadine could barely roll out of bed in the morning and had to brace herself against the wall to push her shoulders back and straighten her spine.
What it felt like: carrying a backpack full of stones, but the weight was inside of her, threatening to crush her liver, her pancreas, her stomach. She crossed her arms under her breasts to keep her leaden heart in place. “Fuck Jonathan,” she said. “Fucking asshole.” But it didn’t seem to help much.
Her mother told her once to stop wearing her heart on her sleeve. She was fifteen then, heartbroken when her best friend asked out her crush. “How can I be friends with her now?” she’d wailed. “I hate them both.” Her mother shook her head. “You’ve got to stop wearing your heart on your sleeve, young lady.” Nadine began to walk around with her right hand covering her upper arm, just in case everyone could see it.
Hide your heart from prying eyes.
Protect yourself from faithless friends.
“Don’t go breaking my heart.” She’d actually sung that in his shower the first time she’d stayed at Jonathan’s place. And he’d joined in. Because it felt so good it hurt, falling in love. It felt so good she was scared. But she wasn’t really, and she should have been, because now her heart was so heavy she could barely stand up. She was choking on the words she didn’t say.
Protect yourself from faithless lovers.
What Nadine pretended not to see: Strands of blonde hair in the shower drain. An expensive new cereal in Jonathan’s cupboard. “Oaty and toasty, our good-for-your-heart cereal has a lightly sweet taste and the benefit of real nutrition.” A self-help book next to the bed. “Follow your heart,” the author counseled. Since when did Jonathan read?
On Valentine’s Day he gave her chocolates in a big red heart covered with red cellophane, the kind you can buy in the drug store. “Were they two for the price of one?” she asked, failing to keep her tone light. The question wasn’t really cute or funny and he grimaced. “What are you talking about?” She covered her upper left arm with her right hand, hoping he didn’t notice.
Don’t ask a question when you don’t want to hear the answer.
Weeks passed. Nadine had always avoided conflict. She found it easier to ignore her suspicions than to confront him. She got used to hauling that backpack of stones with her, even wondered if she was getting stronger as a result. She saw less of Jonathan. She signed up for an aerobics class. She started working on her novel again. She thought she could smell the other woman’s perfume when she stayed overnight in his apartment. She hated perfume. He’d told her that he did too. “Perfume reminds me of my grandmother. I couldn’t stand Gram.”
What Nadine sang in her shower: “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” turning the duet into a solo. “Why D’ya Do It?” She threw herself into her Marianne Faithful impersonation, her voice husky and guttural. “Are we out of love now?”
The novel was going well. Things with Jonathan weren’t. They’d become one of those couples in restaurants who don’t talk. She was trying to remember what had been so fascinating about him to begin with.
One day she just said it. “Let’s take a break. You’re busy with the chick with the perfume, I’m busy with my writing …”
“What chick? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He really was a lying prick.
She stood her ground, posture erect, arms folded under her breasts.
“If you mean …,” he said, “I mean it doesn’t mean anything. Nothing. It was a mistake. It’s over. Cross my heart.”
For a moment her treacherous heart beat a little faster before it hardened again. Could she imagine a new beginning with Jonathan? Not really. She slipped off the backpack of stones and dropped it on his couch.
“Have a heart. I’m begging you on my knees here.” Of course he wasn’t on his knees, the asshole.
“No thanks, Jonathan.”
“You’re a hard-hearted bitch,” he said. “You’re all hard-hearted bitches.”
She walked out the door, her step unexpectedly buoyant. For the first time in months, she felt light-hearted.
“The average woman’s heart weighs eight ounces.” That’s what her aerobics instructor told the class. “It’s a resilient muscle.” Nadine could feel her heart pumping, the rhythmic ebb and flow of her blood as it circulated through her body, passing through the four chambers of her heart, which contracted and relaxed, contracted and relaxed. The sun was warm on her shoulders. Everyone on the street looked happy today. Was it the weather? She decided to jog home.
Don’t believe what they say about broken hearts.