“Ode to the Heartbreakers” by Alexis Sears

It all started with James, so he’s to blame.
At a slumber party with the other
sixth-graders, I had recently discovered
what I would later call infatuation
with every quintessential rom-com. This one:
a tall, radiant blonde who couldn’t find
a man to pop the question. Oh no, she
was always always always a bridesmaid. . . till 
my James arrived. A real embittered cynic,
but exceptionally charming, he said marriage
was comparable to Santa Clause: not real.
Of course, he fell in love with Radiant Blonde.
Eventually, they married at the beach.
It wasn’t till I graduated high school
that it occurred to me that I was pretty,
but that sure didn’t matter when I watched
the film over and over with my mother,
brother, friends— hell, anyone who was willing.
James was mine, so I was free to kiss
his shapely dimples, tousle his dark, dark
hair in daydreams during social studies.
The years went by, and other heartthrobs came:
the high school musical kid, the pasty vampire.
But even as we moved onto the next,
he changed me, for the better and the worse.

Then, things got— sorry, readers—pretty steamy.
The TV doctor. It was cruel how tantalizing
he was. Forget the sweaty boys in gym
with Oreos in their braces. Doctor was
a man—even his name was sexy! Chase!
He had an accent, hair that he would push
back with his sturdy hands before procedures. 
I had no choice: I had to post his pictures 
(more than one), inside my locker, blue
eyes gazing back, seductively, when I 
reached for my textbooks or my sandwich. I
don’t know what became of him. I think,
that as my crushes go, he was the safest.
No overdoses, fatal accidents.
A heartbreaker, he kept my heart intact. 

Oh, rest in peace, my lovely Aussie lad.
I know I’m not alone in this one. Sliding
down a high school flagpole, singing You’re
just too good to be true. Can’t take my eyes. . . .
Need I say more? But shortly after, I 
read of the time he cried when paparazzi 
shot him with water guns at a premiere.
And his final role was just too much, consuming
his every hour, open-eyed in bed.
(Sometimes, he would give up on sleeping, move
his furniture around his flat over 
and over again.) I’d never say he lost
his shine. It isn’t true. But God, he was
so tired. Now, I have to ask myself
if he sacrificed his youth to give me mine.
One January night, after an Ambien,
diazepam. . . . who knows what else? . . . his lids
slammed shut at last. They never opened again.

Who could ever forget the tall Norwegian
comedian, former collegiate swimmer
(sprint freestyle, baby!)? When I was 19,
I’d grab a bag of Lay’s (some things don’t change)
and lie beneath a yellow blanket while,
with his two endearing but misguided friends,
he donned a dorky tie and went to work
as a telemarketer—sort of an Ed,
Edd, n Eddy thing. My favorite show!
It’s funny, isn’t it: amidst the tales
of his infidelity and meandering eyes
(and hands), I still imagine all six feet
and two and a half inches of him, diving
from a pier to get the doll our wailing daughter 
dropped into the sea. Is it bizarre 
that as I take a yearly birthday shot,
my fantasies remain PG-13?

Perhaps my purest love was tortured John—
his bony limbs, his eyes down-turned and sunken—
who told us in those grainy YouTube clips
to never let the world’s hideousness 
corrupt your soul. It’s true; he almost died!—
his teeth fell out, he scarred his arms from using,
a martyr of heroin. I choked
back tears even though I was pretty sure
that he was clean now, needle nights now through.
(John’s changed, we know. We’ve seen the interviews.
We watch him stutter, grope the air for words.)
You know, one of his 90s rock contemporaries
roared, on a now-revered double-disc album,
that love is suicide. But yes, I get
that art is melodrama. It’s hyperbole.
Besides, most 20-somethings would just scoff,
that’s love to you? You ever been in love?”

But this is not a God, I’m lonely spiel.
No, this is not an I’m so lonely spiel!
Think of it as an ode: to those who smash 
our hearts but also glue them shut; whose phrases
we’ve memorized (despite the fact that they
were meant for every sucker just like us, 
dribbled like honey in our open ears);
who never seem to age with us, then suddenly;
who pluck at Fender Strats or cheekily stare 
at cameras to—if only for a second—
say, through smiles wide as a red carpet
or blurry LA sidewalks, Yes, I see you.

Alexis Sears‘s first book, Out of Order, won the 2021 Donald Justice Poetry Prize and was published by Autumn House Press in 2022. Her work has been anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2022 and has appeared in Hopkins Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Cortland Review, Cimarron Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. She earned her M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her bachelor’s from Johns Hopkins University.

Image: “The receiving line awaits” from Saint Rose Archives.

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