Hannah Messinger: Love and Heartbread

Jumpsuit by   Ola Mai  ,

Jumpsuit by Ola Mai,

In the space of a month, my heat broke in 11 degree weather, my zipper failed at work while I was going commando, I woke up with a cockroach on my head, my husband definitively left me for the great city of LA, my parents closed our family restaurant of 63 years without telling me. And most surprising of all- l was laid off. 

Halfway through January, at the culmination of all these events, I start to wonder when my white lady breakdown is going to come. When am I going to sit on the floor of the bathroom praying for the first time, or refuse to take a balloon from a child on the bus? When am I going to have the desire to buy an Italian chateau or walk across the desert alone? 


Because to have a breakdown, I'd first have to be heartbroken. And I'm not heartbroken, not even a little. Sure, in the past I've had my share of pain in every shade of the rainbow, but these days my main qualifier is "relieved." 

Shortly before Christmas, I write to my friend Marlee and am surprised to find that I am so decidedly not heartbroken I title the email "heartbread." Because sourdough takes up more space in my mind and soul than most anything else. 

Hannah Messinger Love and Divorce

On the last day of 2017, she writes back:

It can get so incredibly dark and sad
the grief circles back in the most unexpected corners
and you just have to meet it
and let it in
and then usher it out

She's right. The very next day I'm at an engagement party and a woman tells a story about my friend and her fiancee. My friend was throwing a party and she forgot something, so her fiancee went to the store to get it. She called him a dozen different times- she forgot this, she forgot that, oh, he left the store? Can he please go back to get one more thing? And each time he said yes, I'm here to help you. That is where grief met me, in the middle of a room full people raising glasses of champagne to the happy couple. Grief said, remember that day last summer when you asked your husband to pick up a box of peaches from the farmer's market and he looked at you and said, why is that my problem? 


That night, lying in bed, I start to consider how very fortunate I am to not have to answer questions like that anymore. I sleep soundly through the night for the first time in three years. 

Please don't think that the beginning of my year was easy or painless. Please don't think that I am some kind of superwoman who is "OMG SO BRAVE." Please don't think that I am callous or cold, that I do not mourn the loss of hope I had put into my work and my marriage. Most of all, please don't confuse my lack of brokenness with a lack of exhaustion. Shit hitting the fan will wear out the calmest among us, if only from explaining said shit to everyone you know until blue in the face. Me? I've been sitting in a room with a cow shitting into a tennis ball machine pointed at a cyclone for the better part of two years. At the end I had nothing to show for enduring the shit storm, so I began to clean up after it. And that wore me out too. 

Wendell Berry says there are three kinds of solutions. The first kind is one that addresses only one facet of a problem and causes a domino effect of other problems. The second kind- the one that creates an ever-growing symbiosis between problem and solution- is even worse in the sense that it's a difficult cycle to break. Suffice it to say that I am not satisfied with the results of either strategy.

It's hard to know what a good solution is in theory. Solutions must be practiced to be proved and I suppose that's why I haven't tried a more diverse array of them. The things that ultimately work often sound like they are the most extreme and unachievable and the pain of failing at them seems unbearable. The only kind of enduring solution, Wendell Berry says, is one that uses health (in the most comprehensive sense of the word) as the baseline. 


Halfway through January, at the culmination of all these events, blue as the moon at the start of the year, I think, I need a real solution. I decide not to drink or smoke or work for all of February; to sit with my thoughts and pain and desires; to look Grief directly in the eye. Immediately I am uncomfortable with the idea, not only because my bank account and all of society and history are staunchly opposed, but because what lies on the other side of it is so foreign to me. I notice myself seeking out other numbing quick fixes- my phone, TV, neurotically cleaning my house- often. I try to remind myself that noticing is where stopping starts. 


Here I am at the end of the month and I am frustrated to report that Grief is a demon who never dies and healing is a process that shows no signs of an end point. Oddly enough, embracing both of these facts has been as good of a baseline for comprehensive health as any. The more times I look Grief in the eye, the more worn down his path to the door becomes. 

Hannah Messinger is a Tenneesee based food writer, photographer, stylist, and cook.

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