Deep in the Heart

Broken Heart Syndrome

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Living with, and without

Jeff Kramer/Flickr

By Dennis Covington

November 24, 2017


 

Years ago, I had a ventricular ablation to treat cardiac arrhythmia. Now my cardiologist says the arrhythmia has come back even stronger.

“How’s your health otherwise?”

I told him I was undergoing radiation treatment for a recurrence of prostate cancer.

“That won’t kill you. But this will.”

So I got online and noticed an unusual diagnosis—broken heart syndrome.

The Mayo Clinic website said it was “temporary…treatable…and usually reverses itself in days or weeks.”

I thought about my own broken heart.

My wife and I had gotten married in the seventies. There was no “until death do us part” in the vows. Instead, we promised to stay together “for as long as we both desired.”

Twenty years later, we met other people, and the marriage began to unravel itself.

The man my wife met was in law enforcement.

My girlfriend was a former student of mine.

She was the most principled woman I’d ever known, the most inquisitive, brave, funny, tender, and generous.

I knew she was the love of my life.

So when my wife fell prey to opioids, my girlfriend couldn’t understand why I didn’t move out and file for divorce. But she stood with me after prostate cancer surgery, and when I finally did move out, she made a surprise visit to my apartment one night and lay down on the bed.

I knelt on the floor beside her, and we held each other’s hand and kissed it before she saw a photograph of my wife and daughters on the far wall and left.

I rarely heard from her after that.

Heart broken, I filed for divorce, declared bankruptcy, and moved a thousand miles away.

Then I got a surprise email. My girlfriend wanted to give it another try, so she came out to Texas for a visit. Except for the days my daughters were born, it was the happiest of my life.

“I am your home,” she said.

Everything looked fine after that. We communicated by email and phone. She said she didn’t care that the divorce hadn’t come through yet.

And one night she called while she was looking at the moon’s reflection on a lake.

“If you were here, how long do you think our kiss would last?”

“Forever?” I said.

But during another phone call, I asked her for a loan.

“For what?”

I told her I needed to wire the money to my wife, who was in dire straits back in Birmingham.

That did it.

I had given my girlfriend nothing over the years, and she had offered me everything in return.

By the time the divorce came through, she was engaged to a very fine man. They’re married now and have a wonderful life.

Years later, I brought my ex-wife out to Texas in order to help her get clean. She did. We don’t live together, but our grandkids are here.

I still have a broken heart, though. Untreatable. I’ll carry it to my grave.


Dennis Covington is the author of six books, including Salvation on Sand Mountain, a finalist for the National Book Award. His most recent book is Revelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World.

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