"Nothing is better for self-esteem than survival." —Martha Gellhorn, Travels with Myself & Another
A life's significance can be measured in many ways. But for a life to be fully realized, all of those many ways must be considered. One's life and the life one shares with another cannot be assessed or regarded in a single moment, a single space in time or
excitement or the late
reflective years of a relationship. But instead must be evaluated through the
lens of its the
early —the good,
the bad, the mundane, the tragic, measured by what comes before it, wholeness the
heart of it, in the edges, and after it is lost. on
This is the center of Shirley Melis' memoir Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss from Terra Nova Books, a journey through the deaths of those we love and how life can find a way to give us light when the dark appears to be winning the battle. Banged-Up Heart is a heartfelt personal story of finding the love of your life, losing him to the ravages of disease, and steadying oneself enough to accept that life is not what happens to you but how you deal with what happens to you.
There are moments in this book where the reader will anticipate what is coming. You can feel it in the writing. But suspense is not the narrative's purpose. Instead, Banged-Up Heart is about the particulars, the lovely moments, the hard and sometimes debilitating struggle of a life turned on its head. Melis allows us into her heart with insight and detail, and in simple language allows the reader to know how she feels in a deep and exact way, helping us understand how we might face our own tragedies and the beauty of something new.
In the chapter entitled "Epiphany," Melis writes of the moment her new relationship shifts from casual to serious.
moment with grace rather than through an overwrought scene one might view in a
gushy Lifetime movie. Instead, the telling here is real. It's honest. Melis
clearly explains this
"Crossing the Potomac back into Virginia, I was overcome by an intense desire not just to be with John but to be married to him. If anything should happen to him, I thought, I would want to be able to speak not as the girlfriend or significant other but as his wife."
In a later scene, Melis reveals her concerns about how a wedding band may not fit over her knuckle and confesses to a friend that the solution is Windex, a subtle metaphor for clearing the sight lines to a new relationship.
When the book turns more tragic, Melis remains in this mode. Rather than employing overly sentimentalized prose, she writes with conviction and precision, saying much about a loving relationship.
“I was no longer in denial, but John’s acceptance was more complete than mine. Understanding this, he was firm yet gentle with my faltering grasp on the reality that I would soon lose him.”
Be certain, Banged-Up Heart is not morbid, overly sad, or a book soaked in tragedy. Through all the difficult times in this story, and there are several, Melis carries with her buckets of hope. She's "banged-up" but she is not knocked out. It is not
that the book employs a simple formula—girl
has tragedy, finds a way out, girl girl has
a happy ending. No, there are still unanswered questions here, bows that still
must be tied and knotted. But that's exactly what life is, right? Our lives are
never neatly presented and neither is the narrative of this book.
Banged-Up Heart is a brave story of navigating love, loss, health care, fate, the fragility of life, aloneness, togetherness, strength, heartbreak, and survival—all relevant and shared elements of our collective lives. Banged-Up Heart works as a memoir not because of its unique
because—in so many ways—it is
universal. It is the story of all of us. story but