Museums of Broken Relationships

A new Museum of Broken Relationships has opened on – of all places – Hollywood Boulevard (surely already more the Boulevard of Broken Dreams than anything else, at least for those who have not been so lucky as to be immortalised with their own star). It is a franchise version of the original travelling exhibit and museum, which opened its permanent doors in Zagreb in 2010, the year you and I first met.

The museums’ exhibits are exotic in their variety and unpredictability. Besides a pair of fake breasts, a frisbee and a toaster, there is belly button fluff:

‘D’s stomach had a particular arrangement of body hair that made his belly button prone to collecting lint. Occasionally, he’d extract a piece and stick it to my body, sweaty after sex. One day… I met his oddity with my own; I put the lint in a small bag and concealed it away in the drawer of my bedside table.’

The museums bring to mind the things that you wrote about discarding last year, in a determined act of survival – the bracelet, the stone I turned into a poem, notes and letters in my hand. I wondered then as I wonder now whether you kept the various books I gave you. I hope so, that they can in some way stand apart from me, and yet still bring me to mind when your eye lands on their spines. But equally, I wouldn’t be surprised if you have sold them, finding yourself curious to see which of your customers might offer those tokens of love a new lease of life.

Inevitably I find myself considering what I might contribute to such a museum, if one opened in this country and I felt moved to pack it up a parcel, including the requisite short text explaining the enclosed object’s significance. The most obvious thing would be the coin you gave me, for luck, for remembrance, for love. But it continues to form a ritual part of my days, and I cannot bear to part with it. I still feel it has fortune to support, and neither do I wish to forget.

What about the lingerie you deliberately left behind; mementos of what I took from you, of what you were happy to give to me? Again I feel the same reluctance. Besides, perhaps they would be too obvious, too stereotypical a contribution. After all, the LA museum is opening on the site of a lingerie shop that went bankrupt.

Then perhaps one of the notes in your lovely, loopy hand, relics which I keep in an envelope at work (though soon I will have to find a new hiding place for them). But which? Inscribed on the back of a faded black and white photograph of a swan, are the words ‘For my favourite story-teller and spinner of words…’, followed by a declaration of love, and a short PS: ‘Hope it works!’ – this having been the note accompanying the aforementioned coin.

Or another similarly faded black and white photo, of a skyful of birds. It’s hard to make out which species; perhaps they are murmurating starlings or skeining geese, or possibly they’re windblown rooks. On its back you wrote a six line poem, surrounding the words with tendrils from which hearts grew. Soon after sending it to me, you went on to write a beautifully quizzical piece castigating yourself for your choice of one particular word in its last line; and as with every new part of you that you gifted me, I only loved you all the more for it.

I wonder if you remember now the shopkeeper’s tag that you attached to the smallest, sweetest slither of a crepe-wrapped present, that having been the fragile token depicting two love-birds which I used to keep in my pocket before the coin replaced it. Its string intact, the tag has the smallest, sweetest slither of a note written on both sides of it.

Finally, and most recently, there are a few words on a scrap of paper torn from a notebook, which you had folded into a small square and inserted into the pages of a late Christmas present, a book I later returned to you so that you yourself could read it. On the uppermost folded square, you had written this haiku:

we found each other
and whatever happens now
the world is brighter

Perhaps, if I could bear to part with it, this haiku note, together with the ones I sent back to you and the book within which they were all hidden, which set in motion our call-and-response writing of haiku and tanka, might most suitably form our joint contribution.

But the truth is, I do not want to think of our relationship as broken. It happened, and despite circumstances, went on happening, in the most beautiful ways imaginable. And then it stopped happening (over and over again, as it turned out). It may finally have ended once and for all, but the days and the memories of them linger, they will not be banished no matter how hard you or I try. Perhaps I am kidding myself, but there is a sense in which our love will live forever, or at least, for as long as each of us are able to remember it. My love is unbroken – will not be broken – and so I cannot see myself ever contributing any of those precious relics to either of the existing Museums of Broken Relationships, nor to one that might in future open here.