…but these rooms are filled with your heart.
There's a Museum of Broken Relationships in London.
Scorned lovers too sentimental to light everything on fire like they said they would, sentimental lovers too scorned and overcome with pain to hang on to everything, and, I'm guessing, people who are just decluttering have donated about 100 items so far to the museum in Covent Garden, including a piano. The owner of every piece displayed is kept anonymous, tagged only with the relationship's length, location and date of the breakup. It even won an award: the Kenneth Hudson Award for the most innovative museum in Europe.
With all due respect to the curators of this museum, which I've no doubt is a noble anthropological examination of global heartbreak in postmodern society…or…something… My apartment is a pretty impressive breakup museum in its own right. I could walk a visitor through each room like a docent, pointing out tiny artifacts, works of art, relics from relationships dating back to high school, if not before.
"Feel free to touch them, turn them over in your hands and dissect them with your eyes," I could tell them. "Can you figure out what it was I saw in him? How could this little thing hold any importance to me now, so many years later?"
Here, inside a glass display case of Staffordshire English enamel pillboxes — a collection my grandparents started for me when I was just a baby — sits a tiny red porcelain car with a hinged opening that reveals a pair of even tinier porcelain sunglasses, a gift from my high school sweetheart (for lack of a better phrase) on my 16th birthday. He always gave the best gifts. I know exactly what I saw in him and wonder, if given the chance, whether we might see anything in each other now. But too much has changed — he's a rock star now, after all. When he asked me to one of the first school dances we attended together, he did in the form of a Build-a-Bear, stuffed with a little recorded voicebox that said, "Paige, it would be bear-riffic if you would go to Homecoming with me." He was too embarrassed to do the recording himself, so it's not even his voice. Technically, a store employee had asked me to the dance.
Below that, nestled among the other books in the impossibly heavy cherry-wood enclosed bookcase that movers have transported from my parents' house to New York City, to three apartments in Chicago, is a book of Pablo Neruda's poetry. When I first started dating the man I fell in love with from Philadelphia, he read me Neruda's seventeenth sonnet:
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz; Or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off. I love you as certain dark things are to be loved: In secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms But carries in itself the light of hidden flowers; Thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance, Risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body. I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; So I love you because I know no other way Than this:
Where I does not exist, nor you, So close that your hand on my chest is my hand, So close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
I bought the book for myself — and that poem itself remains the embodiment of everything I want in love, as ungettable as it seems even on my most optimistic days — but it will always remind me of him.
Of course, my personal breakup museum's feature exhibit is and may always be the Knight in Shining Camry's art collection. In my kitchen, two square canvases with a red background, one painted with a strangely angular owl and the other with a rabbit. I was wearing a pair of rabbit ears in the first Facebook profile photo he ever saw, and the nickname stuck. A tall portrait of Athena with an owl on her shoulder hangs in my makeshift study; it was a Christmas gift he shouldn't even have given me because we'd already broken up. But he always prepared well in advance, stockpiling books, CDs and little trinkets until he couldn't keep them to himself any longer. In my bedroom, there's a canvas of a blue heron that he painted long before he met me; the blue perfectly matches the color of the sky. He insisted I have it when I moved out of the apartment we shared.
Then, the archives, the pieces that haven't made it into circulation for various reasons: I've joked with every boyfriend that after a breakup, each man I've loved is relegated to a single shoebox, and of course, I wasn't really joking. I think there are four of them now. They're filled with notes passed in the ninth grade, stubs from concerts I went to in 1997, a Pez dispenser with Piglet's head on it, prints from rolls of film taken the summer I was living in Philadelphia. The purple "Hooray, you lost your virginity!" novelty ribbon from the boy I eventually moved to Chicago for. Birthday cards, Christmas cards, anniversary cards, just-because cards. And, of course, the music. The Knight's shoebox rattles with stacks of hollow, brittle-plastic jewel cases that hold multicolored CDs, each with a little Sharpie drawing on it. One boyfriend, who's now married to the girl he started dating shortly after our breakup, made me a mix CD called, "Music to Listen to Once Then Bury in the Shoebox." I loved that CD and listened to it a lot more than once, but in the end, it didn't even make it to the shoebox. Poor CD.
Nothing in my apartment would ever make it into a curated collection of romantic relics like the Museum of Broken Relationships, but I'm not sure I'd want to part with those personal objets d'art, anyway. I guess I've been lucky to fill my life — and my walls, shelves and those boxes — with things that remind me of all the good things, not the heartbreak that came afterward.