Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute (Kingston, Ontario)
You sigh, rolling over onto your side and curling into yourself, one arm wrapped tightly around your waist, holding yourself tight. You rest your other hand over your heart, breathing deeply - in and out and again - focusing the quick, hard lub dub of the small beating, living thing inside of you.
This beautiful, brave, brilliant living thing inside of you.
"You can learn almost anything about a person by looking at their heart."
You close your eyes, holding on to the words, playing them over and over again in your head, remembering just how her voice sounded, how she would look at you when she would speak and what her touch felt like too – the gentle hands smoothing through your hair, arms wrapping around you securing around you.
You take another breath before you open your eyes, staring up at the ceiling. Your vision is blurry and your face warm and sticky with dry tears.
“How can you see a heart? It’s inside.”
You close you eyes again and you can call up the image of it, the diagrams that you learned off of in school. The vena cava, the atriums, the ventricles, the valves and aorta, arteries running away from it all and the veins coming back.
“You have to look, to really look.”
“The same way you look in a drawer or a toy box.”
You close your eyes tighter, scrunching them up as if that will make any difference, and you look in – inwards into yourself – really look, sifting around inside of yourself, pushing past all the junk – past all the flesh and blood and bone – to find what you’re looking for.
“And what do you see?”
It takes a bit of time for even you to navigate your way through the tangled mess of defenses that you’ve built up over the years, protecting your heart – yourself – as best as you can. Unspoken words, bitter and angry thoughts, of wrongs and rights that you don’t quite understand all woven together to form spiraling, circling brambles and tall, tall walls. Tests and challenges that you have set, waiting at any holes in them. Precious, beautiful words wrapping like vines around it all, reminding you of the little things that you should never forget. You move carefully, ducking and weaving between them all, never stopping. What you’re looking for isn’t here.
The first chamber you walk into, once you’ve made your way through your own walls, is warm, pulsing, full. It’s crowded and cluttered, piled high with boxes and baskets and strange small odds and ends. You pause for just a moment – just a heart beat – glancing around at it all before you keep going. There is nothing here that can help you.
“A lot of things. I see a so many things.”
She laughs, “Go on, take your time. Explore a little bit.”
You don’t rush. It’s been such a long time since you’ve taken a proper look at your heart and though you don’t linger, you do make note of little things; small cracks and crevices that are just starting to bleed and odds and ends that are out of place – just little things that will need to be looked after. But not now.
Now, there’s somewhere else you need to be – something else you need.
“What does my heart say about me?”
“All sorts of things.”
The chamber you’re looking for is tucked away in the deepest, more secret, more secure part of yourself.
“Like what though?”
“It says a lot about the people you love.”
Every person you’ve loved, who’s truly meant something to you occupies their own chamber in your heart; they become intrinsically part of you.
“Are you in my heart?”
And, finally, finally, you are in her chamber. If you wanted, you could just pull out what you came here for and be done. Get back to filling cracks and crevices, returning odds and ends to where they belong, stitching yourself back up. But you don’t want to quite yet…
“Of course, I’ll always be in your heart.”
You move slowly around the space, pulling out boxes and opening them up, taking down photos from the walls and unfreezing them one by one, laying out everything for you to see and sift through.
The whole space trembles, and more little cracks spider their way up the walls, bit by bit as you follow the broken map of memories to their inevitable end. Just before you reach it though, you stop, letting the moments before the end play out again.
“Can you see my heart?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“You’re going to break it…I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“You’ll be okay.
“I’ll always be in your heart, remember?”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I’ll always love you. Nothing can change that.”
“For love- For everything, just – everything.”
And it hurts. The pain all comes rushing back, the scabs reopened and your heart bleeds.
You’ve learnt not to fight the pain, though. You don’t mind it so much anymore…you think it would be worse if it didn’t hurt, even after all this time.
And after the pain passes, even though your heart is wreck, even more a mess than it was when you first came, you have what you came for. The reminder that you are brave, beautiful and brilliant, just like that precious little living thing beating inside you.
You blink your eyes open, and your face is wet again. You can feel the gentler, softer beating of your heart against you hand and you breathe more easily. You roll back around to face your bedside table, the corners of your lips curling up just a bit when your eyes land on the drawing there.
You remember finding it, a few weeks into Without. It’s beautiful, all in pencil, painfully complex in only the way that the truth can be.
You unwrap your other arm from around yourself and reach out, plucking it off the table and flipping it over to read the words again.
You will be always in my heart.