Lost: a will to love // Found: El Museo de las Relaciones Rotas
(This series is cumulative and will make more sense if you’ve read the first one.)
Though I wanted to write back to all of them, the prompt—tell me what you’ve lost—seemed to have traced a boundary around the messages that felt difficult to cross. Maybe it was something about the imperative: tell me. On the page where those strangers had submitted their lost things, I hadn’t implied that anything would come back. Still—the shortest messages were often the most troubling.
Someone named Clément sent me a single line in June: I lost my will to love.
I had been thinking about the necessity of a will in the practice of loving someone. My will, at the time, was directed unilaterally at my friendships, which all felt as thrilling as romance, but as solid as gravity. I’d been in a few partnerships which had aspired toward permanence but were ultimately transient in comparison to all the platonic love that had remained the spine of my life.
I assumed Clément’s I lost my will to love was the consequence of a romance gone wrong. Someone had left. Someone had changed. Months passed, and I didn’t write back to Clément or any of the people who had lost things.
Then, this winter, I met a former teacher of mine for a drink in Mexico City, along with a friend who had also been his student years after me. We were talking about the smallest museums we’d ever been to, and I mentioned The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, which I had visited with Nell Zink one afternoon in 2018. Julia lit up—
Oh, I was just there!
It’s in Roma Norte, she said. In Mexico City.
In the moment it seemed totally bizarre that this museum had traveled six thousand miles to install itself in a city I was newly calling home. But in fact The Museum of Broken Relationships, though it originated in Zagreb, is often on tour. The exhibitions are always made of materials and stories that anyone can submit; the Mexico City installation comprised easily half or more locally sourced stories, alongside objects on loan from Zagreb’s permenant collection.
I went to El Museo de las Relaciones Rotas with two friends and we, like the rest of the visitors, looked at every single object and read nearly every word of text, all of us looking both hopeful and serious, as if we might find something quietly valuable in the residue of lost love.
Stuffed animals, a CD, a wedding veil, a single stiletto, a used cupcake wrapper— each object was displayed on a pedestal beside a placard describing, from the submitter’s perspective, what had happened. Some of the captions compacted years into a paragraph. Others were just a single line, a single image.
Like the messages in my inbox to which I’d still never written back, the shortest ones raised the most questions.
The caption for Un útero de peluche (“a uterus stuffed animal”) told a brief and ridiculous story:
When he gave me this as an anniversary gift, I told him I would name it after him. He immediately asked if I was sure— wouldn’t it be weird for my uterus to be named after him when we broke up?
So that was how someone in Boise, Idaho had spent four years of her life.
After the museum I started writing back to some of the people who’d written to me, including to Clément, who barely remembered having written in the first place—
Bright days make me think that this kind of will doesn't get erased so easily, dark days make me doubt it… Optimistic mood : “I want to love because I know I'm able to.” Pessimistic mood: “I'll never be able to love, so I can't even afford to wish for it.”
If you’d like to support my work you could pre-order my novel BIOGRAPHY OF X, which comes out March 21, 2023, from your independent bookseller (or one of mine) or maybe bookshop.org if you prefer the internet. It just got one, two, three starred pre-pub reviews which has never happened to any of my books and feels sort of special.
The narrator is cold. Why?