The Broken Heart

by: Michael Shields

The relentless pursuit of that warm and tingly feeling we call Love….

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The doctor’s all agreed. The disease was real and incurable.

“I don’t know how to tell you this,” the first doctor said, a quiver in his voice as he tensely adjusted his spectacles. Clayton’s attention, however, was elsewhere. His eyes were focused on the doctor’s flagrantly mis-matched socks. Who can trust a man who must dress himself in the dark, he thought. Or someone who doesn’t care enough to coordinate his wardrobe. Honestly, it’s the least you can do as you prepare for the day. And as a doctor, there is no easier way to bolster the confidence of your patients than to look presentable. He could understand the mistake somewhat, as both socks were navy blue, but the left sock was dotted with anchors, and the other one had skull and crossbones strewn about. Sure, the anchors and the skull with the crossbones were about equal in size, but attention to detail, for someone in this man’s profession, was absolutely critical. This was unacceptable to Clayton, and whatever this quack had to sell he decided he wasn’t buying it. But he steered his gaze upwards to hear the absent-minded doctor out anyways.

“….and the levels barely register,” the doctor was in the midst of explaining.

“Wait, I’m sorry. What was that?” Clayton asked, finally offering the doctor his undivided attention.

“What I was saying is, we ran all the tests that we were discussing earlier, and I have some troubling news. It says here that you visited us today because,” he paused slightly to read the direct quote from his timeworn clipboard, “…you can’t fall in love and need to know why…but I must tell you we have far bigger problems. The levels of testosterone in your body are nearly nil, and the levels of dopamine…”

Clayton suddenly had heard enough. He quickly inched himself off the examination table and began to remove the blue patient gown.

“No worries doc, I’m fit as a fiddle,” he hurriedly spat as he threw his tee-shirt over his head and hastily pulled on his jeans. “Just something off in the love department, and I had to make sure it wasn’t something physical. I appreciate your help doc.”

“Thats what I’m telling you,” the doctor interjected with a newfound sense of urgency, appalled by his patient’s apparent lack of interest. “This is physical, and very ser…..” the doctor attempted as Clayton brushed past him and down the hall, his rushed footsteps echoing throughout the hallway as the doctor’s concerned words chased fruitlessly after him.

The second doctor had more of the same news. The tests all had came back indicating a similar phenomenon. The levels of certain chemicals, those crucial for one to “feel,” were entirely absent from Clayton’s body. This second opinion began to register with Clayton, opening his eyes to a truly alarming problem, as unlike the first doctor, this second doctor’s socks matched perfectly, and were even conscientiously pulled to their full upright and taut position. This doctor could be trusted.

“So,” Clayton asked, finally conceding, somewhat, to the precarious news. “Will I ever be able to love doc?”

“Clayton,” the second doctor began, deliberately and prudently, in the same manner that Clayton imagined he pulled tight his socks, “I hope you are not missing the point here. And the point being that you are very sick. I have never seen results like this in all my years practicing medicine, and the fact that you are not constrained to a bed, or worse, is something that I just don’t understand. There is more to life than love Clayton, there is living, and I truly do not understand how you are alive.”

“Spoken like someone who has indeed felt love’s embrace,” Clayton added in a poetic whisper, staring off into space for effect. “What’s more important in life than love doc?”

“Clayton, I think you might not be taking this situation as serious as you should.”

“I’m taking it dead serious. You see doc, there’s this girl…..”

The doctor took a moment to take Clayton in. He was a peculiar young man, but there was something in him the doctor respected. The glimmer in his eye, and the spirit in his smile, was that of a obstinate dreamer. His enthusiasm was disarming, his lust for that which had eluded him, inspiring. The doctor, knowing better, decided to indulge the boy.

“A girl you say?” the doctor said after a pause, flashing Clayton a warm, inviting smile.

“A girl. An incredibly smart and witty girl. And I know that something is wrong with me doc. I’ve tried so many times to fall in love, to care for someone with the type of depth I see all around me. In movies. In the park. Everywhere. And I just can’t. But I can tell which ones would be perfect for me though doc, the ones that I would be with if I wasn’t so sick. I can become…..I guess enamored is the right word.”

Clayton paused in thought, habitually trying to assess and understand his situation. It was a difficult predicament, to lust for someone but lacking the ability to see it through. Days would whisk by as Clayton sat in deliberation. So many failed relationships, so much promise squandered. The doctor noticed Clayton drifting, his mind far from the moment at hand, and he felt the need to bring Clayton back.

“Well Clayton, enamored is certainly not love. That’s for sure. But it is a start.”

“But I am sick of starts,” Clayton aggressively hissed. “I want the real thing. I want it all. I want a love so deep that I forget what day it is when I am with her. I want the butterflies. I want a connection so powerful that when we are apart, something just clicks in us and we both start driving towards each other, not knowing the other is doing the same thing, and we pass each other on the road without even noticing as we are so fixated on being together. I want to join a different religion for her, or revoke mine in full. I want to love so deeply that when it ends, however that may be, I’m shattered. Fully broken. Done with this world. I want it so badly I can taste it! I need to fix what’s wrong doc, so that I can have what so many others take for granted.”

“I truly hope we can Clayton,” the doctor said, fatigued of his patient’s fervor, while resolutely returning his gaze to the open manilla folder in his hand, cleansing his face of any and all emotion. “Now, listen for a moment so that we can go over my findings….”

In time Clayton threw his arms fully around the reality of his problem. But, like all things in his life, he wanted to get to the bottom of this dilemma himself. And it was then that the research began. Days replete with library visits. Sleepless nights with the glow of the computer whitening his attentive, analytical brow. He wanted answers. He found more than he bargained for.

He found that love can be explained away by science, something the romantic in him could never fully come to grips with. With an intoxicating brew of chemicals, our brain entices us to fall in love. It begins, Clayton learned, with lust, driven by the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. This point is still far from love, but desire is crucial in its breeding. This part, the lust, is something that Clayton was actually capable of. Lust was never the problem.

What follows lust, he found, is that deep-seeded attraction. The type they say that is borne of hours of cuddling, of staring deeply into each other’s eyes. Three main neurotransmitters are involved in this stage; adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin. The initial stages of falling for someone, he was discovering, supposedly affects your stress response, increasing your blood levels of adrenalin and cortisol. This rush, along with the increased levels of dopamine in your system, are the chemical make-ups of what many know as love. But Clayton, the doctor’s told him, receives no increase in the rate of these neurotransmitters. The chemicals that trigger this intense rush of pleasure to the brain were devoid from Clayton’s system. He was a freak.

“This will kill you one day, you know,” the last doctor he would ever visit told him. “Parkinson’s will set in, or worse. No no one really knows why the nerve cells that produce dopamine get damaged and die, and I have no idea how you have managed to live and function without a trace of it. This whole thing doesn’t make any sense, but I can only assume that will change, and soon,” the doctor said without a hint of sympathy. He had given bad news before. And Clayton had heard his share.

The doctor’s all offered him shots. Something called L-DOPA, a drug that they said converts in the brain to dopamine. The idea was never to cure his condition, an all but hopeless proposition, but to help relieve its symptoms. Clayton didn’t understand this. In his mind he had only one symptom to cure, his inability to love.

Still, Clayton never stopped going to The Coffee Mug.

Clayton had always had an inkling that Abby had a crush on him. And he was certainly enamored with her. Her brunette hair was cut short with bangs that landed squarely above her eyebrows. She always wore black skirts and black tights with a pair of leather black vans. The same pair that he owned and that he would never wear to The Coffee Mug, believing it was a sure-fire way to give off that creepy stalker vibe. Every time he was in there she struck-up pleasant conversation, no matter how mundane the topic. “Did you see The Orwells on Letterman last night?” she would ask. Or “Tell me you’ve seen Frank at Sunshine. It’s weird and awesome.” Clayton, of course, hadn’t seen anything of the sort. He was busy, trying to rid himself of a disease that was keeping him from what he desired most: to ask Abby out. To accompany her to one of these indie bands or off-beat movies she held so dear. And to eventually, fall deeply in love with her.

But by no means would Clayton risk it. Because of his affliction he knew he wouldn’t be able to see the relationship through, so asking Abby out just wasn’t an option. What if she fell in love with him? Could he reciprocate that love? And what if he couldn’t and he hurt her? It wasn’t worth the risk to Clayton. He knew deep down that the moment things started going wrong he would split. No, the only answer was to find a cure.

But again, Clayton never stopped going to The Coffee Mug. He just couldn’t help himself. He had to see her. On his most recent visit she saddled up to him with an affectionate smile and a new pair of dark black Lisa Loeb eyeglasses. Caught off guard, Clayton felt a sensation novel to him. A feeling of apprehension, or awkwardness, that he knew nothing about. Was this shyness?

“What do you think?” Abby asked, blinking enthusiastically to call attention to her new eyewear.

Clayton looked down at his hands in which he held a To-Do list, collecting himself before he spoke. He chuckled to himself briefly as the list, scribbled on a yellow post-it note pad, had become increasingly simplified. The problem had become that the pad, and the list upon it, had manifested itself as a source of frustration, a reminder of failure. Nothing, on any regular basis, was being crossed off. A solution was instituted in the form of lessening the challenge of each task on the list. For instance, “Get Coffee” sat atop today’s list, a regular entry. He had even thought to add “Wake Up” to the list, an immediate cross-off to start the day. Beneath “Get Coffee” was another standard, “Try A New Doctor.” With newfound composure he looked back up at Abby, still blinking and smiling.

“Think about what?” he asked with a wry smile. Then added, “I’m kidding. They’re perfect for you.”

“Hey, can I sit down for a second?” Abby asked, her tone altering from flirtation to thoughtful, a startling about face that reinvigorated the newfound sensation within Clayton. Was this anxiety?

Although tense, Clayton smoothly kicked out the chair adjacent to him, watching as it skidded to a stop in front of Abby.

“Slick!” Abby exclaimed as she took a seat and gazed deep into Clayton’s eyes. Clayton felt her eyes penetrating deep within him. The very core of his being seemed to come aflame, commencing at his stomach with a radiating numbness that felt like pins and needles were rocketing throughout his body. Were these….butterflies?

“So what’s on your mind?” Clayton managed.

“Well Clayton, since you are too afraid, or too shy, or too whatever to say it….I’m just going to. Because I don’t want to wait any longer. And I’m convinced we both want the same thing.”

“Oh yeah….what’s…uh…that?” he stuttered. Abby’s straight-forward approach, her unhinged guile, startled Clayton. He was impressed. He was dumbfounded.

“I think we should be together. Not like friends. Not like we should hang-out. But we should be like, together. Me and you. You and me. I know you like me Clayton. And I like you. So we shouldn’t wait any longer. Let’s make this happen.”

Clayton shifted nervously in his chair, the weight of his vacillating body causing the wooden chair beneath him to creak and crack. He was searching for the right words. Endeavoring to find the appropriate way to explain his desire to be with her, but also to describe his condition that would make it impossible.

“I really don’t know how to say this. But, I can’t love. I don’t know how to be more blunt about it. I’ve seen doctors and I’ve been down roads like this before. I’m incapable of feelings really, especially that one.”

“Sure you can. Everyone can love.”

“Not me. I’m not kidding.”

“But you want to be with me?” Abby sheepishly asked.

“Badly. I just can’t offer you much.”

“I don’t care. Just help me.”

“Help you with what?”

“With life. With this,” Abbey said as she motioned to the world about. “With loneliness. With whatever. Just help me. Be with me.”

“I may not have much time.”

“I don’t care.”

“The doctor’s say I will get sick, that I will need drugs.”

“I love drugs,” Abbey said with a smile.

“Not those kind of drugs,” he said momentarily sharing in her simper. “They say it will get bad, really bad, and soon.”

“I said, I don’t care. And I mean it. Let’s be together. No matter what’s next.”

“Then, yes. Yes, absolutely. Let’s give it a go. I would love nothing more than to be with you.”

“You just said love.”

“I guess I did,” Clayton said as a heartfelt smile swept across his face. “How about that.”

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