My heart still hurt. A lot. All the time. It was like one of those mouth ulcers that you can’t stop worrying with your tongue, throbbing just beneath my left breast. I had contemplated Googling if getting dumped could lead to actual cardiovascular problems because goddamn the pain was relentless. I’d wake up in the morning with a heart that felt like it was hungover and hungover of the epic kind, the drank-a-bottle-of-whiskey-and-punched-a-bouncer hungover.
That night in the tacky bar, listening to my co-worker who was equal parts annoying and tragic, drinking my third overpriced IPA and wishing I had just gone home to Google mitral valve prolapse for the third time, I heard her laugh.
It went on for so long that people turned and looked. It wasn’t a polite laugh, not a laugh that raised its hand in class and said excuse me after a burp. It was a snotty nosed, skinned-kneed, filthy from top to bottom, laugh. A laugh that could show you the best place to make out behind the cafeteria and teach you how to smoke your first cigarette. Raunchy, dirty, bass-toned and so ripe I swear I could smell it.
I heard the laugh in the middle of my co-worker’s sentence about the boyfriend that swore he wasn’t sleeping with her roommate (he probably was), and I pivoted on the spot and followed that laugh back to its source, like a dowser searching for ground water.
She was tall, broad shouldered, and a blonde so icy I wouldn’t have believed she could laugh like that unless I’d heard it for myself. She was surrounded by people whose faces muddied into oblivion from their proximity to her. When I got up next to her, I couldn’t catch my breath and I tried to remember if this was one of the symptoms of aortic rupture.
She looked me up and down with eyes that I swear to god I could feel on my skin, like a sunburn all tingling and tight. When she reached out and took my hand, I felt the roughness of it, like a cat’s tongue, and it lit up my gut. And then she laughed again, softer this time, and led me outside into the hot, dark night.
She pushed me up against the brick wall of the alley and it was such a cliché that it was painful, but not as painful as the grip of her fingers on my elbow, my throat, my breast. Not as painful as the clench of her mouth on mine.
And that was all it was. One kiss. Then she dropped me and turned away, out of the alley, away from the bar. She didn’t look back.
But my heart.
That inscrutable bastard of torment, who had been tightening the screws for months, was shipwreck limp and finally, devastatingly quiet.
It felt like a gaping vacuum in my chest.