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The Inanimate Objects That Have Broken Our Hearts

From a pair of boobs to a magazine, not all heartbreakers are humans

John McDermott: I will never love any home (not even my childhood home) as fondly as the first apartment I ever rented. Ever watch a TV show or movie about a gaggle of 20-somethings, and remark on how ridiculously extravagant their apartments are considering they’re all making $35,000 a year? This was the real-world equivalent. The place was enormous — a 1,600-square foot, three-bedroom duplex in Chicago’s tony Lincoln Park neighborhood, renting for a criminally low $2,400 per month. (That was for all three of us, not per person.) The pieces of hand-me-down furniture we cobbled together somehow matched and fit the apartment perfectly, to the point that a female guest once accused us of using an interior decorator. It had exposed brick, high ceilings and two skylights, one of which was in the main bathroom, which made for the most delightful showering experience I’ve ever had. (I almost fell through it one night trying to impress a girl on the roof.) We bought a handmade bar off a guy whose wife made him sell it (classic) and outfitted it with a kegerator so we always had beer on tap. We put a dart board against the exposed brick wall, and had floor-standing speakers so powerful they could be heard around the block (literally) when we cranked them to 11 (which was often). Naturally, we threw parties all the time, much to our neighbors’ chagrin.

I didn’t even get to enjoy that party palace for a full year, as I abruptly moved to New York before my lease was up. I remember thinking when I moved out, I’m never going to live in a place this nice again. The apartment was objectively great, but much of my love for it was not the place itself but how unencumbered I was when I lived there. My second thought before leaving: my life is never going to be this carefree again. Both have proven true.

Josh Schollmeyer: Recently, my wife caught me staring at myself in the mirror. She thought it was out of vanity. In her defense, I have been known to flash my own personal Blue Steel in most everything that provides my reflection — windows, screens, and of course, mirrors. But in this case, she was wrong. It was actually the exact opposite. Two thin strands of blond hair hung from the stubble on my chin, and I was attempting to remove them before anyone else saw them — me most of all.

They were from my head, a fact that has ruined the last several years of my life. Or at least, the last two, which is when I could first admit to myself that my gorgeous blond locks were indeed falling from my scalp and onto my chin, computer, towels and pretty much everywhere else I went (a trail of tears with them). There were probably another good two years of denial: My stylist cut my hair too short on top. My nephew was a misguided toddler when he said that my scalp felt like Grandpa’s. (My dad is bald.) The glare of the sun too powerful in photos and therefore capable of cutting through even the thickest mane, which no doubt whatsoever, mine was. THE SUN WAS JUST TOO GODDAMN STRONG.

Acceptance might be healthier, but it’s still a daily hellscape. I could give a fuck about getting older; my hair, however, was my thing. It was the physical attribute I loved most about myself, and the differentiator in what was otherwise a sea of regularness. Case in point: The woman who cut my hair for the better part of a decade would tell me every time I sat before her, without fail or prompting, that people paid her good money to reasonably approximate my hair color for them. Now, it’s gone. But in the most painful way possible — at the back of my head, meaning I only notice it in pictures (which, if I can, I never allow from certain angles) and when those stray strands dangle from my clothes or face. And that’s just fucking cruel — often out of sight, but never out of mind.

Tracy Moore: They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, but sometimes you know exactly what you’ve got, and you watch in horror and heartbreak as something wonderful, giving and loyal slips away right in front of you, lost forever into the deep, dark expanse of the ocean. That is the story of Leonardo DiCaprio in the film Titanic and my boobs, a glorious pair of genetic jackpots I took for granted for most of my life. They were big, but not too big. They had lift-off, but you wouldn’t know it from their humility. They never sought the spotlight, but they knew what to do when they got it. Then they were cut down tragically in their prime, when they still had so much work left to do.

It’s not that I didn’t appreciate them in their heyday — they are responsible for more free drinks, paid apartments and general goodwill than I can ever repay to their admirers. Then, pregnancy happened, and for nine months they were all business, cantaloupe-like objects of useful horror, only to deflate post-nursing into something I’d still call perfectly adequate had I not known them before the war. The upside, I guess, is now they are proud veterans of maternal utility. That is wonderful and everything, but I still get flashes of the old days from time to time — me and my old boobs bounding across a sun-dappled field, me and my old boobs watching a moving Merchant Ivory film. I don’t know that I’ll ever really get over the loss, but for now, I can at least say thanks for the mammaries.

Alana Levinson: It’s a rule of moving across the country that everything you love will show up broken, but that one shitty tiki mug you got for five bucks—that will make it. I recently arrived in Los Angeles to find most of my things intact, except for the only heirloom my family has. Growing up I was always envious of the WASPs I knew who had rings and lockets passed down from generation to generation. We had… nothing like that. Or so I thought. It wasn’t until I moved to the East Coast that I discovered one such treasure, a set of my grandmother’s china, made even better by the fact that she was a notoriously terrible cook. When I unpacked my kitchen box, I found the top plate was fine, but it revealed a mountain of broken bits below it. The surprise made it worse, and I sobbed sitting on the floor of my kitchen like a baby.

Andrew Fiouzi: When we moved out of my childhood home, amongst other things we lost in the fire — my parents divorce, our fishy light too, disappeared. It was a small, single bulb desk light that sat by the window on the left corner of mine and my brother’s bedroom. Its base was made of sculpted clay that was meant to look like a coral reef with tiny clay fish swimming around it.

When the light was switched on, the room would be flooded with a perfect orange hue similar to magic hour. But on nights that we refused to go to sleep — kept up by stories from the playground — our parents, who knew what it took to get us out of bed, would take turns playing good cop-bad cop until the light was extinguished.

For some reason, that light wasn’t boxed up or if it was we never saw it again. And it was probably for the best because although fear of darkness might be considered cute when you’re 11 years old. When you’re 26, it’s just the sort of thing that screams, “I’m a virgin!”

Nick Leftley: When I was 16, I could drink like a champ. No booze fazed me (at least, not outside of Pernod, Ouzo or anything else tasting of aniseed, which is the default flavor setting of Hell itself). I could easily put down a bottle of vodka and drink whiskey for breakfast. I didn’t even understand people who got hangovers: I would wake up early the day after a party, a beer open and a cigarette lit before other people had even crawled, groaning, from under whatever furniture they’d passed out under. I never (okay, rarely) threw up, never blacked out and could remember every moment of the night before with perfect clarity, to be regaled in hideous detail to mortified friends who remembered nothing. My liver was an Arthurian legend, my kidneys ironclad.

And slowly, that started to change. At 17, I passed out and woke up for the first time with a hangover: It stunned me with its ferocity. I worked an eight-hour shift at KFC that day, and it may be the closest I’ve ever come to death. At 19, I blacked out and woke up for the first time with no recollection of the night before, wearing a bizarre, torn, homemade Superman costume from a party I didn’t even remember going to, let alone leaving. I hid in my room for two days. By my mid-20s, I would feel buzzed after three beers. By my late 20s, I would discover hangovers that lasted two days. By my early 30s, a fairly innocuous night out would leave me tired and struggling to recuperate for half a week. I’m an embarrassing lightweight now: I have two very small children, and on the rare occasions I get to go out, a glass of white wine may as well be a vial of half-decent crack.

I miss being able to drink properly. It was a point of pride to be able to chug whatever was put in front of me without batting an eyelid. It was a comfort to know that it didn’t matter if I had no way of getting home that night, because I could just drink till sunrise, go to school the next day and feel perfectly fine. But somewhere along the way, my body decided enough was enough, and that it was time I had the hangovers and tolerance of a normal person. It still feels like I’ve been kicked out of the VIP lounge. I’ll always remember you, indestructible teenage me: You were a fucking idiot, but goddamn you could hold your drink.

Zak Stone: When the first magazine I worked at decide to fire most of our writers and editors, I cried with my face in my hands when we found out it was happening — ironically enough, at a launch party for our latest print issue. When I looked up and wiped away the tears, some of my more seasoned colleagues were staring back at me, rather blank-faced. They had already been through the hiring and firing cycles of other media brands, which were so common in the financial crisis-era media landscape. This was the proper attitude to adopt, I realized. To care, but to stay detached. It was business. The corporate world creates a framework to be mean, to not give a fuck about feelings.

But still, it hurt. As I attended meetings in the office the next week, I did not laugh when a replacement editor pointed at ChartBeat to show how the media “scandal” surrounding the layoffs had actually been great for traffic. “We should lay people off all the time!” he joked. I glared back, stone-faced. Too soon? Too soon. I’d never let a job break my heart again, I vowed. I took the buyout package and left the next week.

I brought this hardened attitude to my next full-time media job, after years of freelancing. Cuz it was surely doomed, too, right? Why get attached? I made little effort to get to know my colleagues at the weekly “Thirsty Thursday” happy hours or the holiday party or in line for lunch at the office complex cafe. “You should smile more,” a seemingly ageless woman who’d been with the company for decades started to tell me when I’d catch her taking her cigarette breaks.

Not so long after, I was let go again. The HR person who escorted me out of the office offered some fake sympathetic apology on our way down the elevator, like “I’m sorry, it’ll be okay.” I wanted to tell her, I know; I never really cared to begin with. Instead I just smiled.

Serena Golden: I had a week off between the end of my last job and the start of this one, so my boyfriend and I took a quick trip to Europe. On our last night before going home we were in London. We both love tiki bars, so we were excited to go to Trader Vic’s, which was conveniently near our hotel. We arrived early and got seats at the bar. Soon we’d made fast friends with our bartender, Attila, a Hungarian who sang in a heavy metal band. (He even played us some of his music. It was awful.)

As we worked our way through the drinks menu, I knew I had to order the Potted Parrot. “When it is time to go home,” the menu read, “the Parrot goes with you.” Tiki drinks often come with elaborate accessories — that’s one of the reasons I love tiki bars so much — but I’d never seen anything like these parrots. A pitcher of them sat on the bar, and I could see that they were made of colorful ceramic, with real feathers on their heads and tails. I couldn’t wait to get my own. But when I ordered a Potted Parrot, Attila frowned. “Is it not good?” I asked him. “…It’s not my favorite,” he admitted.

I explained that I wasn’t that enthused about the drink’s description, but I had to have a parrot, so I would just drink it anyway. “Oh, you can just have a parrot!” he replied, and immediately brought one over. He play-acted with it for a while, making the parrot dance, sing and hop along the bar. I was enchanted. Finally he presented it to me, and I promptly spent 20 minutes taking selfies with the thing. I don’t know that I’ve ever been more delighted — with a bar, a bartender, a vacation, myself for being the kind of person a bartender would want to give a free parrot to.

Eventually, of course, we had to leave. For one thing we had an early flight back in the morning; for another, we’d racked up a truly alarming bar tab, and this was in the pre-Brexit era, when every pound was worth a solid buck-sixty. We said an affectionate goodbye to Attila and headed back to our hotel in the cold, wet night. Did I mention it was wet? I was carrying an umbrella as well as a heavy coat and a bag, and as I shuffled my things into one hand to push open the door to the hotel with the other, the parrot flew out of my hand and hit the sidewalk with an audible thwack. I rushed to pick it up and discovered my beloved parrot had broken in two, right through its little ceramic face.

I was inconsolable. The last night of a trip is always tough, and I’d had a fair few drinks besides; I wept bitterly, unable to believe that my free-parrot luck had turned so quickly. My boyfriend tried to comfort me and failed utterly. I wrapped the broken parrot pieces in a soft sock and went to bed still crying.

When we arrived home, my boyfriend got out the superglue and did his best to put the parrot back together (or, if you will… reparrot). He did a pretty respectable job, and I stuck the parrot in a jar of change on top of my chest of drawers — I would never exile it for being damaged at my own hands. But every time I see the line of superglue down its little parrot face I’m suffused with guilt and shame, and the memory of a night that was perfect in every way until it wasn’t.