top of page

Save the Heart, Save the Girl

She only used Prismacolor pencils. I think she had the same twenty-four-count set as I did. She only drew women, too, though better than I did, even at my best. She left pencil outlines unfinished, but lifelike enough to captivate anyone who looked. What I’d given up years ago to pursue a more “realistic” vocation in writing, she’d kept at, planning on eventually working at a tattoo parlor. She was just getting the hang of the stick and poke. The first time I met Celine, she showed me photos of people she’d inked.

“See, the lines aren’t totally straight,” she started, pointing at a photo of her friend’s wrist. The ink had settled even and neat. Deep, unwavering lines held their own.

“Stop,” I replied. “It’s so good.” I paused, looked at her cautious eyes.

“It looks perfect."


Our bodies are always trying to protect us. Pain is a response to damage. When touching a hot frying pan, the skin sears and flares up. Neurons travel to the brain, telling the hand to let go. Most people heed their brains’ instincts.

The things humans remember, too, affect how they perceive pain. The brain recognizes familiar hurt; when a person has a chronic ailment, the brain anticipates a certain level of discomfort and warns the body accordingly. Scientists say it can work one of two ways: chronic pain can lead a patient to lose sensitivity and slowly build a tolerance, or it can prompt a patient to feel pain more intensely. For the latter, injuries that would normally go unnoticed become unbearable. Our brain develops a pattern. It knows what to expect.

Prisoners of war who are tortured have stated that, over time, their bodies become numb to being beaten. Long-distance runners collapse upon reaching the finish line. Boxers go down after taking as many hits as they can take. Their bodies shut off. They stop hurting. The body is resilient. It wants to live.


The Wednesday before Celine died, I’d gone to her place to pick up blow and ended up hanging around for a couple hours after. She’d put in extensions and dyed her platinum hair back to its natural black. Her almond eyes were ringed in liner, and she wore fishnets beneath a dark dress. She’d been getting ready for a concert. We sat on her frameless bed, portraits she was working on scattered around. Blankets were draped over the open windows. We talked about the ex-boyfriend who she still lived with and loved. He’d just told her that week that he was interested in seeing other people. Celine was visibly distressed. Her hands shook. She chain-smoked cigarettes.

We left and cruised up Willey Street, looking for an ATM so she could draw money out for the upcoming weekend. She and I both planned on getting lit. Routine bouts of drinking had made it harder for both of us to get there.

Her arms were covered in fresh cuts. Every time she shot a winning cup of beer pong or got up to show me a picture she was working on, I saw them. When we first met, I tried to be discreet. Whether or not she noticed my staring is impossible to tell. For a while, they seemed to slowly fade into scars. These looked recent.

She parked the car outside her house. “I can’t believe,” she told me, “I haven’t killed myself yet.” I paused. She couldn’t be this upset over a boy.

“It’ll get easier,” I tried.

I went to unbuckle my seatbelt. I hoped she was exaggerating. She was too young. Her plans were not coming to fruition in the time she’d expected, but she had time. I looked away, trying to come up with the right words that would get me out of there quickly without looking insensitive. I had plans for that evening. I didn’t have hours to spend nursing irrational thoughts. She, like me, was prone to theatrics, even though, in the moment, we both believed in our hysteria. Her hurt looked familiar—the advice I offered was more hope than attention.

“Think,” I continued. “Will this matter in a month? Will you even remember this conversation?” I reached for the car door handle. “Probably not. Promise.”

She smiled weakly. “I hope you’re right.”


Experts claim that loneliness has the same effect on a person as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. Celine already did that. Scientists haven’t figured out exactly how having a support system or social life can protect against heart problems, writer Ray Hainer states, but can assert that “people who are socially isolated are more likely to drink, smoke, and get less exercise.”

I remember: Celine, on the front porch, whiskey and smokes in both hands. Celine, holed up in her room, drawing all those beautiful, distant women. Celine, on the couch, gunning down digital characters on a screen who wanted her dead. Swivel the joystick. A to aim. X and release.

“The brains of lonely people are on high alert for social threats,” PhD John Cacioppo says. Lonely people have been shown to produce higher levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, than non-lonely subjects. This hormone, research has found, is persistently produced due to the ongoing state of stress lonely people endure. The constant onslaught of cortisol, in turn, wears down the cardiovascular system.

This is how a heart breaks.


Over Christmas break, before she moved up to Morgantown, Celine, myself, her boyfriend, and my friend barhopped around downtown Charleston. We were bored shitless after being home from school for a couple of days. We hit up The Copper Pint, a dive with an obnoxiously green bar and good deals on whiskey. She quickly challenged me to a game of darts, prepared to win as much as I was to lose. In the end, I outshot her. I was worried this would upset her, but I have an ugly competitive streak—once I’m on a roll, it’s hard to stop.

She smiled at me kindly. “You’re a shark,” she said.

The bouncing lights from the games lit up her face. I blushed and gave credit to the alcohol. Craft beer bottles lined the walls, and bad country mu