Motown singer Jimmy Ruffin turned a song by that name into an R&B hit one-half century ago, and musicians of other genres (Rod Stewart to Martina McBride) have spun their own versions since then.
The lyrical lament of love lost still feels universal, especially in February, when the month of valentines is not all roses for everyone.
At home and away – 5,000 miles away, in this case – hidden thorns of many forms tell tales of the one who got away. Think one black stiletto shoe. Four discs of music. Fuzzy pink handcuffs. Wooden clothespins. Barbed wire. A dunce cap.
Each precious artifact, some encased in glass, sits inside a baroque palace in Zagreb, the largest city and capital of Croatia. Open there since 2010 is the Museum of Broken Relationships, which quickly became the city’s most popular tourist attraction.
The museum was established by ex-lovers who decided to honor their relationship after it ended. Thousands of others have shared their stories anonymously since then; about 15 percent of the museum’s holdings are on display.
Behind each artifact is a story, some brutal, some funny. All are tender, most are wrenching, few are X-rated and there is a place to scrawl your own. “She died six weeks ago,” a visitor’s handwriting reveals. “There is nothing left of her. I don’t remember her laugh, her voice or the way her spaghetti tasted. She cooked the best pasta.”
Accompanying a sturdy ax, for example, are fragile circumstances. “In the 14 days of her holiday (with another woman), every day I axed one piece of her furniture,” a distraught lover writes. “I kept the remains there, as an expression of my inner condition. The more her room filled with chopped furniture acquiring the look of my soul, the better I felt.”
Elsewhere, a box of popcorn. “”She was a regional buyer for a grocer and that meant I got to try some great samples,” the Colorado writer explains. “I miss her, her dog and the samples, and can’t stand to have this fancy microwave popcorn in my house.”
Romance is a fragment of the repository. Losses because of illness, addiction, abuse and neglect matter here too.
Clothespins and clothes hung out to dry prompt poetry from a distraught daughter:
“It was a habit I thought
Old fashioned, unnecessary;
A housekeeper’s way.
“Now those whitened, worn pegs
Are as precious
As a touch of your fingertips.”
Barbed wire from a junk collector father tells a much different story:
“It was among the only objects he left behind. He had never acted like a father. He was never a caregiver or participant in my or my siblings’ lives.” The daughter hadn’t spoken to her father since her parents’ 2007 divorce and has no desire to reconnect but wants “to stop feeling like a poor, broken girl because I never had a relationship with my Dad.”
Some are grateful:
“I let him go not because I wanted the magic to end, but because it was the best ending for a relationship that was destined to end the day it began,” a Virginian writes, to go with a contribution of four discs of music.
“Mr. 34 put this music together and gave it to me because he wanted to give me something important. He wanted to give me something he loved. He gave me music. Giving these discs to you honors him and it honors a broken heart.”
And some share lessons learned: Claim and expand your own personal power, suggests a woman whose husband of 18 years left her for a much younger woman. She contributes a tile made in Tijuana.
“It served as a daily reminder that I was ‘better alone than in bad company,’ ” she wrote, and since the parting has raised two sons solo in addition to obtaining a master’s degree.
The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb is open daily, and a second location opened in 2016 in Los Angeles (Hollywood area). Roughly 15 percent of holdings are displayed at one time. Admission is $18 in L.A. and about $7 in Zagreb.
For details about how to add your own story, with or without an artifact to represent it, check out brokenships.com, which also is the virtual home for 500-plus break-up stories, which can be read online.
Newly published is “The Museum of Broken Relationships: Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects” (Grand Central Publishing, $27), a hardcover coffeetable book by Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic, the museum’s founders. The duo aims for a mix of humor and heartache in its selection of the thousands of stories and items they have received. hachettebookgroup.com
Before the Museum of Broken Relationships, tourists come to Zagreb to simply admire medieval architecture, shop and linger. Just uphill from the museum is the 13th century St. Mark’s Church, known for a colorful, tiled roof with coats of arms. Looming highest from the cityscape is a cathedral with two spires.
A funicular (cable car) on a 217-foot-long track connects Zagreb’s Upper Town and Lower Town. Or the hearty can walk a zigzag path into or out of the hills. Good for roaming is Tkalciceva Street, a pedestrian thoroughfare with many shops and cafes. “Our catwalk at night, to people watch,” a tour guide explained.
Best souvenir? A brandy-like liquor that is flavored with walnuts, plums, cherries or pears (the latter, kruskovac, for centuries has been sold with an uncut pear floating inside the bottle). croatia.hr, 212-279-8672