Kendra Fortmeyer_Operating Instructions

Operating Instructions for Your Broken Heart

These are the things you may not do:

  1. You may not hide in or under your bed without speaking for weeks, time stretching cobweb-damp as the bright world rushes by outside.
  2. You may not be unseemly in public.
  3. You may not develop a drug problem.
  4. You may not drive thirteen hundred miles and beg to be taken back while the neighbor, curious, stops watering the lawn and lets the hose droop to his feet, drowning his wife’s prize orchid.
  5. You may not make demands.
  6. You may not self-mutilate.
  7. You may not cry when you see couples pushing their shared carts of groceries down the frozen foods aisle.
  8. You may not stop showering.
  9. You may not let this affect your performance at work.
  10. You may not make a scene at your roommate’s sister’s wedding, even when the groom gets choked up giving a toast about how Kelli brings light to his life every moment and you think not for long, buck-o, and swallow your champagne so hard it burns, hours later, in your chest.
  11. You may not “be friends.”
  12. You may not mail your ex piles of his toenail clippings that you swept out of the bathroom, even though you “meant it to be funny.”
  13. You may not let this immutably alter your definition of yourself.
  14. You may not think about this in terms of winning and losing, but also
  15. You cannot win, and
  16. You have nothing left to lose.

You may:

  1. Cry, either
    • a. yourself to sleep
    • b. on the phone to your mother.
  2. You may rate every flavor of Ben & Jerry’s, for Science, or
  3. Stop eating entirely (but only for a week – do not be “dramatic”).
  4. You may get a drastic hair cut in an attempt to define the “new you,” and you may
  5. Become vegan in pursuit of the same.
  6. You may sit in bars across from girlfriends and say, “Men are stupid,” because it is easier to say, and to hear than “I am unloved, and unlovable.”
  7. You may watch Dirty Dancing, and eat cake alone, and cry. (And then call your sister to tell her you that you are eating cake alone and crying, and try to say, bitterly, that you are having “the time of your life” and start laughing instead.)
  8. You may start to feel good about yourself again.
  9. You may go to the gym and get super hot.
  10. You may:
    • a. Try dating other men.
    • b. Try dating women.
    • c. Have rebound sex.
    • d. Have rebound-rebound sex.
    • e. After a reasonable amount of time, meet someone else who is a Someone, and not just an Else.
  11. You may eventually talk about your ex again, in a normal tone of voice, without your lips weighing down at the edges. Talk about him lightly. Say vague and untrue things like, “It was mostly mutual,” and “It just didn’t work out.” Say vague and true things like, “It was really for the best.”
  12. You may invite him to your wedding, though it isn’t required (and you are certainly allowed to feel relief when he’s going to be in New York that weekend, and can’t make it).
  13. You may put him on your Christmas card list. And when you get his card, tell him his children are adorable, and mean it.
  14. You may get together one day and let your children and his children, young and unsuspecting, play together in the yard. Pour coffee from the yellow enameled pot with the rooster on it; look at his hands as they cup the mug. They are fat hands now, not like you remembered. There is a scattering of black hair across the knuckles. On his left, a wedding ring that you didn’t pick out. It is unattractive, but you may be okay with it, because his taste is not your problem anymore.
  15. You may, when he says, “You look great,” thank him, and when he says, “You haven’t changed a bit,” correct him.
  16. You may smile when he says, “I really miss what we had.” And when he apologizes, you may forgive him.
  17. You may, with your grass-stained children tumbling past your ankles, with the smell of tea cake in the air, with the sun slanting low in the west, raise your hand in answer as he backs out of the driveway in his minivan, nearly hitting the mailbox and looks back at you, abashed. You may laugh. You may watch him, for one lingering moment, as he turns to listen to the child in the backseat; you may wonder at his profile, at the strange mixture of the boy you once loved and the totally irrelevant man he has become. 
  18. And you may quietly close the door behind you and turn back to your own bright life.

Kendra Fortmeyer is a Pushcart Prize-winning writer whose fiction has appeared in LeVar Burton Reads, Best American Nonrequired Reading, One Story, The Toast, Lightspeed, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop and New Writers Project MFA program at UT Austin. Her debut young adult novel, Hole in the Middle, has been published in the US, UK, and Germany. Currently, she is the Visiting Fiction Writer at the University of Texas at Austin. She drinks too much tea, probably.

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