The Museum of Heartbreak - Meg Leder

To Tom Geier, who taught me I could, and Michael Bourret, who told me I should

Present Day


I know I will forget them if they leave now.

I think about running down the 86 flights of stairs of the Empire State Building to the street so I can hold up my hands, block their way, scream, “Don’t go!”

But if I do, I’m certain one of them will eat me—probably the T. rex. It’ll lift my body with its furious hands, crunch my bones with its massive jaws, chew my tendons with its sharp incisors.

I can’t stop them: The dinosaurs are leaving New York City.

Hundreds and hundreds of them in all shapes and sizes, radiating out from the doors of the American Museum of Natural History, walking into the Holland Tunnel, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, wading through the Hudson River.

They are in groups and alone:

A family of triceratops, the mother nudging a young one with her nose, an impatient stomp of her front foot.

A T. rex angrily swiping its tiny arms at abandoned cars.

A pterodactyl swooping down Broadway.

I watch them from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, popping quarters into the tourist telescope so I can see them up close: the beautiful metallic green-gray glint of scales, the way their chests heave oxygen in and out, the casually powerful swat of a tail.

They take my breath away.

They bump cars and break windows.

Eph was right. They are real.

For a second, I wonder if I should tell my dad that the dinosaurs are leaving. But I can’t move, and even though there’s no way all those dinosaurs could come from one building, it makes perfect sense to me, and I know then that I’m dreaming.

I still don’t wake up.

They’re endless and unstoppable, piling up in awkward clumps, spilling against the museum doors in waves, pushing past one another, roaring ferociously, wings beating heavily in the air.

Some of them have luggage strapped around their middles—suitcases piled up in precariously wobbling towers. Others are beasts and beasts only, snarling at one another, at the cloudless sky.

A brontosaurus ducks its long neck, trying not to get caught in telephone cables.

A brachiosaurus splashes into the river, its head bobbing well above the water line.

A giganotosaurus ducks to fit into the Holland Tunnel, scrunching its head down.

They are caravanning on highways away from the city. They leave behind footprints in the melting asphalt, broken-down trees, smashed taxis. Their weight displaces the familiar world: Pylons snap on the Brooklyn Bridge. The Hudson River sloshes past its shoreline. The aforementioned giganotosaurus creates a bottleneck in the Holland Tunnel. (A stegosaurus screams at the delay.)

They fight and growl, plod and stomp, but they are leaving.

And in that moment, I wake with a jolt—a cold sweat in the backs of my knees, my sheets tangled around me, my pillow wet from crying—and feel the familiar empty ache around my heart.

It’s 4:13 a.m.

My hand flies to my neck. My necklace is just where it should be, rising and falling against my skin with each slowing breath.

Maybe in real life there aren’t happy endings.

Maybe that’s the point.

I breathe in and out.

I know what I need to do.

I hop up, click on a lamp. From the end of the bed my cat, Ford, squints unhappily at the introduction of light.

I dig through my desk for a notebook and pencil, then get back into bed, pulling up the covers, a fleece blanket around my shoulders. Ford closes his eyes contentedly, happy to go back to his cat dreams.

I chew on my pen cap, then start writing.

Welcome to the Museum of Heartbreak . . .

Welcome to the

Museum of Heartbreak

IN HER JUNIOR YEAR OF high school, Penelope Madeira marx, age sixteen going on seventeen, experienced for the first time in her young life the devastating, lonely-making, ass-kicking phenomenon known as heartbreak.

It happened like this:

She fell in love.

Everything changed.

And just like the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs, heartbreak came hurtling at Penelope Marx with the fury of one thousand meteors.

The Museum of Heartbreak (MoH) is the United States’ national institution for the documentation, study, and interpretation of that particular heartbreak. It also strives to identify and understand the phenomenon in general, in hopes of preventing and avoiding it in the future.

Founded in New York City, and through the leadership of its curator and staff (the eminent seventeen-year-old feline Ford the Cat), the MoH is committed to encouraging an even deeper understanding of a broken heart by establishing, preserving, and documenting a permanent collection