Hi, broken hearted people.
The capital of Croatia stays in the shadow of the country’s more famous cities. Not for a good reason, though; Zagreb is funky, artsy and welcoming, beautiful and inspiring, not at all what I expected.
One of the biggest draws in the city is the original Museum of Broken Relationships. It curates a collection of items that people have sent in, accompanied by a story of a failed relationship that the item reminds them of. These admission range from funny to weird to heart-wrenchingly tragic.
As I was wandering around the museum, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would send in myself.
I didn’t take a lot of physical souvenirs from my last relationship: just the photographs and memories that sometimes sting. He was different. He had a little box in his desk drawer, no bigger than a pencil case, where he guarded the letters and the poems that I sent him, even keeping the yellow maple leaf I had slipped in an envelope during our first autumn out of spontaneous but rather embarrassing sentimentality. I wonder what he did with all those little keepsakes. That night when he called his mother crying and asking her to take down all the pictures of us before he got home, did she also take that box and hide it in a safe place where memories couldn’t hurt him? Or did he throw it out?
Or did he keep it? Does he sometimes take out the little souvenirs I left in my wake and pick out the lucky coin, the leaf, the champagne cork from Paris?
If I was to send anything to the Museum of Broken Relationships, that’s what I think I would send them. The cork.
It was our first New Year’s together. Paris was chilly but bright, crisp blue skies hanging above us as we bought fresh baguettes for breakfast or stood in line for the catacombs for six hours, playing hangman on a loose leaf of paper. And whenever I’d get cold, he’d put his arm around me.
We got out of the metro near the foot of the hill and followed the crowd up to Sacre Coeur. The two bottles we’d bought earlier clinked together in his backpack. I was wearing the gloves his mum had got me for Christmas: bright yellow, with little green bows at the wrist.
The area around the basilica slowly filled up with people. The crowd huddled together for warmth, toasting and laughing amongst themselves. For us, it was just the two of us. We popped open the second bottle right before the lights of Eiffel Tower started to flash, and people around us begun to count down from ten. A group behind us were singing Auld Lang Syne.
I didn’t know it then, but he’d kept the wine cork.
When I met him, I was a mess. He found me broken and wild, and he loved me in a way that I didn’t even know I deserved to be loved. When the fireworks went off, I started crying. He hugged me and kissed me, not questioning it because he knew I wasn’t crying out of sadness. I remember looking up at him, vision blurred though the champagne but seeing him all the same, and I’ve never felt so much love.
Of course in due time we broke up. I guess most relationships have to end. And it is hard, you can’t deny it, to let go of someone that you once swore you’d grow old with. We were two people fumbling through each other, trying to love each other the best we could, but in the end it wasn’t enough.
Someone might call ours a failed relationship just because it didn’t last. I don’t see it that way. Every person we love teaches us something. They leave an invisible imprint on our skin, like a tattoo, sometimes like a scar. And with that, we grow better.
When I think back on us, I don’t want to remember how it crumbled. I don’t want to remember the fights and the pain and the fact the uncertainties. Instead, I choose to cherish it like a scene in a snow globe, sealed in that one moment on top of the city of lovers as fireworks went off in the background, wine drunk and ecstatically happy.
A poem by Mary Oliver is written on the wall in the Museum of Broken Relationships. It reads:
“to live in this world you must be able to do three things to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go”