I remember the first person who broke my heart. I was six, sitting in the backseat of a volvo. It was the first time I realized that you can't make people feel what you feel. It was the first time that I realized that I feel a little harder than most. Her name was Maude Pinter**, and she was my best friend in the world. She had a pet rat that would sit on her shoulder, short curly hair, and she was the coolest person I had ever met. She had this magical confidence that only children have, and this quiet adventurousness that turned trees into nature expeditions. I'd tell strangers about her, starting multiple sentences with "My friend Maude…" which probably prompted a lot of Cat Stevens, and funeral jokes that I was not aware of at the time.
She had moved away a few months earlier, and was visiting our suburban neighborhood. We were driving back to my house where her parents would pick her up. I don't remember the pre-amble to the conversation, or if it came from nowhere. Most 'break ups' seem to come out of nowhere for one party. I do remember just staring at the door, at the button you press down to lock it, at the handle that let me out.
"You aren't my best friend" she said. "I have a new best friend. Her name is Jenn*."
In two sentences my identity was shattered. I had so many questions; what did I do to be replaced? How could she leave me? I was the one, I was her one. You don't leave your one, right?
My eyes filled up. I stared at the door handle as the car moved past my elementary school. It's funny, I don't always recall exact conversations but I always remember what I was looking at. My memories of emotional conversations are filled with snippets of looking at street corners, ceilings, chairs, dugouts, but rarely the person involved. I'll remember upholstery fabric but not someone's eyes. I remember the worn door handle and patch of grass in the school yard out the window. I remember wanting to open the door, and just roll out of the moving car, but I kept it together until she left. At six I was wise enough to not give her the satisfaction of losing my shit in front of her.
My mother recalls me throwing myself on the ground sobbing the entire night.
"MAUDE!!!!" I couldn't breathe. "MAAAUUUUUDDEEE!!!!"
I was choking on tears, a flailing pink, blonde, bony mess. I asked why it hurt this much, and when it would stop? She didn't have answers. I imagined this... Jenn. Who was this JENN? Was it 'Jenn' or 'Jen'? Who was this girl was who was better than me, who'd replaced me as the best? Was she seven I bet she was seven! Who was this person who was now the chosen friend of my chosen friend?
"I want to turn it off!" I said.
"You want to turn off what?" My mother asked.
"My heart. I want to turn it off."
"You can't turn off your heart Lissa."
"You can't, it's what makes you you."
"Then I don't wanna be me! I want to turn it off."
I cried the whole night, and went into the guidance counselor's office the next morning on my own accord. When asked what happened I replied "I lost my best friend." My mother got a call from the counselor asking if there was a death. No death, she just moved to Downingtown. This was the second time in first grade that I had pulled myself into the office. Months earlier I had snuck out of class, and inquired if there was 'a support group for children of divorce'. This time the counselor looked at my puffy pink blue eyes with pity.
"Well Melissa, perhaps you can make new friends too?"
Sure lady, and while I'm at it I'll get a new father and new nuclear family. Why don't you give me a pamphlet for that too?
Over twenty years later my mother brought up the 'Maude' incident after a recent break up with a guy. It was nowhere near as earth shattering, but then again I wasn't six.
"You just crumpled on the floor" she said. "You just couldn't understand, and there was nothing I could do to make it better. You cried until you threw up. You were just in it."
I pictured a small heaving child in a jumper screaming like Brando, and my mother waiting it out by her side. I asked her if she thought at the time that I was a lesbian; in love with Maude, or emotionally imbalanced?
"No, I just knew then and there that you were going to be incapable of not feeling with everything, and that that would be a scary thing for other people to reciprocate."
I looked at her and smiled, "Well I haven't thrown myself on the ground since, or vomited. So that's good."
*The girl's named was not actually Jenn. It was something stupid that I kept repeating to myself but now can't remember because I was 6. I do remember saying "Who names a kid ___?"
** Maude Pinter grew up to be a lawyer in Ohio, and is a pretty nice person.