I Only Want to Be with You
Cormac McCarthy mended my biggest broken heart.
You know that love, the kind that makes you feel the tingling of a sneeze and the heat of sunburn at the same time?
The kind of love that slows down your sprint across a room with that swelling power only we women know?
It’s the kind of love doomed to fail because of its intensity.
In my case, both of us were twenty-something, neither one of us interested in commitment.
Until one of us was.
Shocked, for sure, I found it was I who wanted more.
Where Do Broken Hearts Go?
We tried to break up for months. But the smallest disappointment or victory flung us back to each other. When it finally dawned on me that it was over — or it never would be — I crumpled quietly on the floor of my bathroom.
It was winter in New York City. The heat in the apartment never touched the floor. Those tiles cooled my swollen, hot face, reminding me that heartbreak is temporary — just like a cold floor, just like winter.
And so I turned to my best method to cure heartbreak on the quick: reading the saddest book I’ve ever read.
Just Like Fire
A few years ago, I heard Luis Alberto Urrea talk about how books are fires that light the way along our journey through life.
When I read books, I often judge them based on how tall the flames are, on whether or not the heat penetrates through the stupor of ordinary existence all the way to bone.
Does it illuminate backward through time? Does it flood the path forward, helping me understand what is yet to come?
If the book is excellent, there is always hope inside me when I turn the last page.
Time after Time
Back on that sad night, I picked up my favorite sad book — McCarthy’s The Road, got into bed, and, for the umpteenth time, read it all the way through to the end.
In this post-apocalyptic world, where humans have become cannibals, the scene where father and son, in a crazed journey for their survival, find an underground bunker filled with food is unbearable. Father and son feast and marvel at their luck. Then, in one of the most tender moments in American literature, the father grooms his young son for the tragedy that we, as readers, anticipate.
When I woke up the next morning, I called out sick to work and stayed in my bed reading the book again, crying at the sad parts and the happy parts, and feeling sorry for the characters and for myself because all of life is suffering. Suffering!
Throughout my life, throughout all the heartaches and the triumphs, books have been the one constant for me.
Reading — and expanding my taste in books purposefully — reminds me that, even when things aren’t all right, things can get better.
Reading reminds me that to make our troubled world more empathic, we need to pick up the next book, read it, and, if it moves us, get another person to read it, too.
And just like our young protagonist at the end of the saddest book I have ever read, who gazes upon a blanket as a sign that even strangers can be trusted and who we come to understand is the symbol of hope in building a new world out of ashes, we have to commit ourselves to the idea that reading is the most critical way we have to connect with each other. Reading allows us to see beyond our worlds and our feelings, to learn from people who neither think nor look like us, and to allow ourselves to grow and to heal.
Perhaps there are other means out there to accomplish all of this, but I can’t think of one quite as pleasurable. From the front cover to the back cover, through all the pages in between, books, and the act of reading, provide a space for us to lose ourselves, then to find ourselves.
After my pity-party weekend, I decided to go to work on Monday morning. With only a few pages left in the final go through McCarthy’s The Road, I got on the subway.
An available seat on the train appeared to be a clear sign that all would be right with the world.
But still, I sobbed. I sobbed in the way only one who is truly unaware of the strangers surrounding them can do, and I used the back of my hand to wipe off my snot.
The man next to me handed me some tissues.
“Must be a heck of a book,” he said, a smile in his voice.
I shrugged my shoulders and closed the cover.
I took in his handsome face.
I was bruised but revived.
Ready for my next book . . . and my next heartbreak.
Cleyvis Natera (WNBA-NYC) was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in Harlem, New York City. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Skidmore College and an MFA in Fiction from NYU. She recently completed her first novel, Neruda on the Park and is seeking representation. She lives in Montclair, NJ, with her husband and two young children.
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