No One Ever Died of a Broken Heart

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No One Ever Died of a Broken Heart

By Judy Nickles


      No one ever really died of a broken heart; they just wanted to. Of this she was totally convinced, because she went on living with her broken heart day after day, year after year, whether she wanted to or not.

      She had long since given up dreaming, much less believing that dreams come true. She also thought that life would be easier if hope would die, too. The problem was, it kept popping up long after she thought it was dead and buried.

      The autumn morning that all of this became clear to her was overcast, much like her sunless soul. She sat on the edge of the bed, feet dangling, staring at the red numbers on the digital clock, hoping they were wrong. There is was again. Hope. However, the numbers weren’t wrong. It was indeed seven o’clock, time for her day to begin.

      Her ritual was the same every morning, the bed-making coming last. Back and forth around the four-poster, smoothing sheets, pulling up covers, arranging the five throw pillows that created the only spot of color on the ecru comforter. It was one of those mindless tasks that gave opportunity to think even when thinking wasn’t what she wanted to do.

      It came to her that morning, not as an “aha” moment or a sudden, unexpected insight, that her heart was broken and likely to remain unhealed, but that something might be salvaged of the rest of her life if she had the courage to take matters into her own hands for once.

      She had always believed that it was the young who took risks, they who had the most to lose. She, on the other hand, had nothing to lose, so why not take the risk at her age? Why not focus on herself and what she wanted for a change? Why not risk making the others angry? Where was it written that they knew what was best for her?

      The dog capered around her, begging for his morning walk. Even the dog made demands on her and seemed to take pride in deliberately making it difficult for her to meet them. “If you want to go out, sit down,” she ordered, reaching for the leash. Surprisingly, the dog obeyed and sat still long enough for her to snap the leash on his collar. 

      They stepped out into the misting rain. She reflected that the day was much like her life, shrouded in a fog that obscured the next step. She felt as helpless to change the day as she did to change her life.

      “A person finds a way to do what he wants to do,” Monty used to say. She hadn’t believed him then, and she didn’t believe him now, and yet. . .yet he had gone his own way, and in the end, left her behind.

      She had never gone her own way, not really. Her parents encouraged her to do what she wanted only if it was what they wanted her to do. Monty didn’t care what she did as long as it didn’t inconvenience him or conflict with what he thought she should do.

      Now her grown children said she had earned her retirement and should do what she wanted to do, but they had definite ideas about what that should be. And, of course, she should be available to them as she always had been.

      Where did that leave her? Not where she wanted to be certainly. Not anywhere actually.

      At the end of the road where the pavement melted into the woods, she stopped and let the dog run ahead of her. “All right, pick a spot, and be quick about it.” As if he recognized her mood, the dog obeyed.

      He turned and looked at her, silently begging for approval. “Good boy.” They started back toward the house. “So, Lucky, what do you think I should do?”

      She opened the door and unsnapped his leash. “Not that I need any more advice, you understand, but we’re a package deal, I guess. We’re stuck with each other.”

      He trotted off toward the utility room where he made short work of the remains last night’s dinner.

      “Thanks for understanding, you.” She turned on the coffeemaker and put a piece of bread in the toaster.

      “My father always said never make a decision on an empty stomach.” She grimaced. “I can’t make a decision on a full one either, Pop!”

      While she ate what passed for breakfast, she read her email and scrolled through a couple of blogs. A link at the end of the second one caught her eye. Full-time copy editor needed for small weekly newspaper in eastern New Mexico . Strong English skills a must. Salary commensurate with experience. Email

      She glanced up at the diploma on the wall. The MA in English had opened many doors for her in the past thirty years. Was there one more door left to open? New Mexico was hundreds of miles away, one of the few states she’d never visited. Closing her eyes, she thought of what she knew about its history and landscape. It took about ten seconds.

      Then with her eyes open and the mouse poised above the email address, she thought of what life might be like in a new environment. Before she changed her mind, she typed the message, well- phrased and to-the-point. Retired English teacher. . .graduate degree. . .willing to relocate and work for minimum salary and experience. . .The words flowed out of her fingers and came together with persuasive clarity. She didn’t hesitate over the send button.

      The reply came the next morning. You’ve got me convinced. When can you start? Shocked, she sat in silence for fifteen minutes before she got out a yellow legal pad and started making a list of everything she had to do before she moved to Cactus City , New Mexico .

      She turned Monty’s picture to the wall before she called the real estate agent. When she hung up, she turned the pictures of her children and grandchildren likewise.

      She expected opposition but not the barrage of words questioning her judgment and even her sanity.

      Her son suggested she see a doctor and be evaluated. Her daughter accused her of throwing her family away and hinted vaguely that she might not see her grandchildren again. She faced them in defiant silence. I will not die of a broken heart or boredom either.

      No one offered to help her pack, and their visits became fewer until all contact ceased.

      Sherryl Dowe emailed again about brand spanking new apartments just waiting for renters if she wanted to check them out. She talked to the manager by phone and sent a deposit the next day. The next-door neighbor, long attached to Lucky, agreed to take him until she got settled. Most of her things went to storage. The rest went into a U-Haul, which she hired one of her former students to drive.

      In the two days she spent driving to her new home, she never doubted that she made the right decision. No one had come to help her pack the car, to see her off, to say goodbye. Nobody ever died of a broken heart, she said as the town disappeared behind her.

      Cactus City was a sun-baked town forty miles from nowhere. A developer with optimistic insight built the apartments, an even dozen of them, square and squat but smelling of new paint and carpet, and installed his mother, Mae, as the manager.

      “You need anything, you just let me know, dear,” Mae said as she handed over the keys. “It’s not fancy, but you were the first one to send in a deposit, so I gave you the apartment next to the office here and close to the laundry room.”

      As soon as Joe Ed unloaded the truck, they drove to the local food-and-gas-U-Haul return-bus stop where she paid him and bought him a ticket home. Then she started unpacking. The local grocery store closed almost before she unloaded the basket of sacks into the trunk of the car. Driving through town on the way home, she noticed that everything else was closed, too, and it was only five o’clock.

      The next morning she drove to the newspaper office that she’d spotted on her way home from the grocery store. A plate glass window on either side of the door sported the painted logo of the The Cactus Sun Times. Tacky, she thought. I love it.

      Inside a middle-aged woman sat behind a wooden desk with a nameplate that read Ethel Cory, Receptionist. When she said she was here to work, Ethel pointed to a door on the left with Sherryl Dowe, Publisher-Editor painted in black on frosted glass. “Just go on in,” Ethel said.

      Sherryl Dowe showed her around.“Six months ago, I inherited this newspaper from my aunt, along with Ethel and a house over on Sixth Street .  I took it as a sign to change my way of living, get out of the big city, and come home.”

      They paused by a scarred table with one leg propped on a brick and helped themselves to coffee and a doughnut. “Aunt Myrt was still setting her own type six months before she died. I didn’t know how and didn’t want to learn, so I updated the place.”

      She drank her coffee and looked around. "It's. . .homey."

      “Yeah.Your office is up here by Ethel. You’ll figure out why soon enough.”

      She slid into a four-by-six cubicle with a battered desk and two wire trays, the top one full, and a set of empty bookshelves. “You said you had your own computer.”

      She patted the bag hanging from her shoulder. “Lenore goes everywhere with me.”


      “Every self-respecting lappy should have a name, don’t you think?”

      She liked her new boss’s ready smile. “Oh, definitely. Well, I hired you as a copy-editor, but that’s a fancy name for we-all-do-what-needs-doing around here. We print on Tuesday night and deliver on Wednesday morning. Mail subscribers get theirs a day late until I figure out how to change that. You can set up shop and go to work. Any questions, ask Ethel first. She knows everything about everybody.”

      By noon, she finished six stories from information in the basket. Sherryl came back, hooked up a new printer and invited her to the Kiwanis luncheon. On the way back, she got a tour of the town, all dozen streets of it. Then she wrote three more stories and let Ethel check them over for accuracy.

      “It’s Chaffee, Jr.,” Ethel said, circling a name with her red pencil. “Old man’s been dead forty years, but Sonny still goes by junior.”

      “I’ll remember that.”

      “Things don’t change much around here,” Ethel said, fixing her with a quizzical look.

      “That sounds nice. Too much change is bad for the digestion, as my daddy used to say.”

      Ethel let out a belly laugh, making her tightly-permed salt-and-pepper curls appear to vibrate slightly. “He’s right.”

      On Saturday, despite the fact that her cell phone remained ominously silent all week, she wrote a letter to each of her children. She might have emailed them, but a letter seemed more personal somehow.

      On Monday, she mailed the letters from the lone corner box outside the newspaper office. There was no reply. She wrote again the following Saturday with the same results. No one ever died of a broken heart, she told herself. The next week she just emailed everyone.

      On the first of December, she accepted Sherryl’s invitation to drive into Raton to do some Christmas shopping. No, she wasn’t going home for Christmas. No, she wouldn’t be lonely, not really. Why, yes, as a matter of fact, she’d love to be part of the Dowe family’s celebration. Big and noisy sounded good to her.

      The next week, she mailed a large box of Christmas gifts to her daughter’s house. Her youngest granddaughter sent her a card with a note asking when she was going to stop being an idiot and come home where she belonged. She felt sure the seven-year-old was simply parroting what she’d heard her parents say. 

      She went to church on Christmas Eve. The next morning, Sherryl picked her up for the hour’s drive to the Dowe ranch. On the way home, she reflected that she couldn’t remember when she’d had so much fun.

      By the first week in January, she knew that, though her heart remained broken on several fronts, not only was she not going to die, she didn’t even want to, not anymore. Pride in knowing she’d taken charge of her life for the first time in fifty-five years replaced the leaden feeling that once dogged her footsteps.

      Maybe her family would come around eventually. If not, that was their problem and their loss as well. She thought of them less now and always with sadness but not regret. I’m part of something again, a team, working toward a goal. I’m more than just a convenience. I’m my own person. I like myself.

      She glanced up from her computer. “Hey.” Sherryl leaned against the door. “Lunchtime.”

      “What is it today? Kiwanis? The Ladies Book Study Club?”

      “Us. Just us. I hear the blue plate special at Cassie’s is chicken tenders and cream gravy.”

      “I wish I knew what she put in her batter.”

      “She’ll take it to her grave.”

      “Uh-huh.” She put Lenore to sleep and picked up her purse. Sherryl reached for her coat and held it for her, then offered his arm. “Did I ever mention that my friends at school called me Sam after I bloodied a few noses over teasing me about my name? It was my mother’s maiden name.”

      “I like Sam.”

      “I like you.” 

      “That’s nice.”

      “Hear from home last week?”


      “Tell them about me?”


      They nodded to Chaffee Junior who was passing on the sidewalk. “Things don’t change much around here, do they?”

      She smiled. “Not much.”

      “You okay with that?”

      “Depends on what kind of a change.”

      “Could be I have one in mind if you want to discuss it.”

      She hoped he’d never change the way his jacket always smelled of cigar smoke or even the way his silvering hair usually needed trimming in the back. There it was again, hope, still alive and well. That was good, because there was so much to hope for these days.






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