“Notes on Heartbreak” by Madeline Kay Sneed

I felt too old the first time I kissed someone, just like I felt too old the first time I had sex, but the first time I had my heart broken, when she broke my heart, it felt right in time, like that Lucinda Williams song my dad sent me after everything, letting me know that love was really just music and there were all kinds of it: the fast kind, the slow kind, the kind with words that cracked you open. Love could be country, love could be hip hop, love could be alt-indie-dream pop.

Maybe that’s why I can only catalogue my loss of her in measures, beats, rhythms. Vignettes in Boston scored by Lorde and Phoebe Bridgers and Beyoncé. The inheritance of my heartbreak was my capacity to finally understand the music I had heard all of my life.

When I heard Lorde sing, “Please could you be tender, and I will sit close to you,” I couldn’t breathe. I’d longed for tenderness. Longed–the word stretched out, sunk down deep, swirling around my tongue before I could choke it out. Tenderness, I used to think, was a weakness born from wanting. But now I know it’s just another word for love. The way I saw her: a dream encased in gold, summer days in summer cities, deep inhales of thick ocean air; soft lips, flickering eyes, words like yes, no, maybe, I don’t know. I was so ashamed of my surety, of my capacity to love someone who could not love me back. It’s strange that a song called “Hard Feelings” is all about tenderness. But I felt it. Those hard feelings that compelled me to ask, please, please, just once, could you be tender?

The perpetual question haunted me as I walked through the Boston Common during Christmas time with my headphones on to drown out the carols coming from the ice rink. I turned up the volume and Phoebe sang, “I have emotional motion sickness, somebody roll the windows down,” and my mind went to the summer, the warmer months, the smell of sunscreen and sweat and her. The way she looked in my eyes on the Fourth of July and told me that I was everything she ever wanted in a girl. She kissed me in front of everyone. Three days later, she handed me a note that read, “I love you too much to let myself like you.” There is no nausea like the kind born from waiting. For someone to love you. For you to be enough for them. It’s emotional motion sickness with the windows locked shut.

After thousands of hours of music, I don’t quite feel nothing for her. They are shadow feelings, the imprint of desire pressed deep into my heart. Like Armstrong’s boot on the face of the moon, the first steps of celestial exploration never go away. Healing is not always linear, just like love is not always reciprocated.

As I find myself writing about her once again, I listen to Beyoncé sing, “I found the truth beneath your lies,” and I wonder, did she lie? An unanswerable question. Irrelevant. A distraction from the truth beneath it, which is found in the excavation of memory. I fell in love with someone who didn’t love me back. But, after a decade in the closet, a decade of believing love was some far away dream I’d never get to touch, it is something like a miracle that I was able to have my heart so completely broken. “Baptize your tears and dry your eyes,” Beyoncé sings, and I obey, wondering if I’ll be born again when they open.

I feel my cracked heart start to beat.


Madeline Kay Sneed is an MFA candidate at Emerson College. She is from Houston, Texas, and is currently working on a novel about Texas, the LGBTQ community, faith, and family. Her work has appeared in The Salve, Tiferet Journal, and EthicsDaily. She strongly believed the Astros would win the 2019 World Series.

Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov.

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