I started becoming a fitness enthusiast (not exactly junkie level, but not exactly ignorant either) last summer, when I joined the cast of an indie martial arts film, quite by accident. I learned a lot about fighting and filming and relational drama (definitely learned about that), but most of all I learned about muscles.
This is how muscles work: to make them stronger, you’ve got to tear them apart.
Every time you work out, you are actually ripping your muscles, bit by bit. When they scream and burn, it’s because you are actually, in a way, destroying them. Exercise, at least for your muscles, is actually injuring yourself on purpose. When you look at it that way, it makes no sense. Why would you do such a thing?
Because the body heals. Having experienced the brutal agony of being ripped and torn, your muscles rebuild themselves tighter and tougher, to deal with the strain. As a result, you become strong, but to get there, you have to hurt first.
The heart, if I recall correctly, is a muscle.
Well, actually, it’s an organ, part of which is the cardiac muscle, but being biologically accurate isn’t the point. The point is that, like any muscle, the heart has to hurt in order to get stronger. It has to get ripped and torn and broken, in order that it can heal, becoming tougher and more capable of surviving in a world that will, time and time again, push it to its very limits.
And this is why I don’t regret you.
Sure, you hurt me. Sure, the memories that flash before my eyes when I see your face make me feel as if someone was pouring wet cement into my chest cavity. Sure, the doubts and questions and desperate hopes that I had to navigate when it came to loving you made me feel, many times, like I was eroding from the inside. Sure, every time I saw you and you ignored me, or greeted me with a perfunctory smile and a wave, or (the very worst) came up to me and hugged me but then disappeared again, I felt as if I’d been tied to a stake and was roasting alive (now I know why they say loving is a burning)…
But that’s how it works. That’s how it feels like, when you rip a muscle apart, when you stretch it to breaking point, when you tear it at the seams. It feels like hell. You want to give up. You feel as if you could curl up and die…and then it heals. It bounces back. You recover. Because muscles are resilient. And the heart, as one big muscle, is resilient too.
It always comes back swinging, stronger than it started.
That’s why we’re such survivors, humans. It’s why we’ve made it through the bleakest periods of human history–famines, plagues, pestilences, wars, genocides, holocausts, nuclear horrors, financial meltdowns–without going extinct. Our hearts are conditioned to grow stronger, not weaker, with each onslaught. Each cut and tear heals not into a scar, but newer, sturdier tissue.
It would be cruel to compare you to a holocaust or a war, but loving you was my own personal battlefield, and like any battlefield, I did not emerge unscathed. Most of the time, I endured months of agony in exchange for moments of bliss–an hour or two of casual conversation; an embrace in a darkened room; a few minutes walking with you; a connection, however tenuous or momentary. And if I’m honest with myself, I’d probably do it all over again, because it was worth it. You blew hot and cold, hurt me with how cavalier you could be, but you also made me feel beautiful and special and adored, even if it was only for a second or two in the grand scheme of things.
Most of all, you made me strong.
There were moments where I felt as if any second I would fly apart, give in to the emptiness that clawed at me, the hunger to have my affections returned. I could have, very easily, surrendered to the urge and imploded, shattering, flinging shrapnel and dirty laundry out on the world. Unrequited love is absolute agony, but it’s never a waste, because it builds the muscle; it makes the heart tougher. It shows it just how much someone can give without receiving anything in return. You think you are running on empty, but somehow, when called for, there always manages to be a bit more you can spare.
You showed me just how much I could spare, how much I could survive. I know I’ve lost you. You have drifted away, to other circles and prettier girls who weren’t as needy or broken as I was, and in the aftermath I’ve had to cope with crushing insecurity, self-loathing, with missing you and what little friendship we once had. I’ve cried myself to sleep, avoided you at school, and written emo poetry in my bathroom at two in the morning. I’ve been a fool and a freak, and I’m probably still a fool and a freak, but I regret nothing. I don’t regret the year I spent falling in and out of love with you, the year where I gained you and lost you just as quickly. I don’t regret getting to know you, watching the rose-colored vision I fell for dissolve into the colder reality.
I don’t regret you at all. Whatever I went through with you is now a part of me I will carry, but it won’t be a scar–it will be new muscle. I have loved you and survived. I have come out stronger than before.
And for that, and for the sweet that was there, mixed in among the bitter, I am grateful.