Heartbreak

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When I was younger, my heart would hurt. Not in a melodramatic way, not because I saw dead baby sparrows or had crushed romantic dreams or any other junk like that. The younger I’m talking about is before any of that really had an impact. The beautiful age of three or four, where death doesn’t really exist and love is something that doesn’t need to be found, analyzed, explained or expressed. I remember my heart hurting sometimes like a stabbing pain, and it would ache afterwards with every deep breath.

I know I never talked about it. Why bother? I never heard any one else complain about chest pains in my family or on the TV, so it seemed natural to me. Something like blinking - it just happens, no one thinks about it and people would look at you funny if you brought it up in conversation. There were just times where it felt like I’d gotten shot (not really. Keep in mind that I was three, and getting shot was limited to Loony Toons - you could take it in stride and walk it off), and I’d have to stop running around like a moron for a moment.

I was one of those sickly active kids. The ones that run everywhere and jump, are tan even in winter, and hate standing still. Most little kids seem to be like that, though. Or at least in my street we all were. There was a big playground right across the street from me in the middle of a smallish park filled with wide, age scarred trees. It was one of the old playgrounds: made of splinters, jagged metal, heights, bits that’s always been broke, holes more than able to trip and twist an ankle, odd edges to clamber across. Wood and metal and hard plastic, with nothing but half rotting wood chips hiding God knows what underneath to land on when you jumped barefooted off the highest point (my knees want to kill me for it now, I assure you). In other words, it was the embodiment of fun and blood and tears that go into any reasonable childhood. Not like the small, low playgrounds that rest on molded plastic, never rising more that eight feet off the ground, no sharp edges, and soft pastel colors belonging to babyhood, not childhood.

When my heart gave a twinge, I would rest back on my heels, or just grip the edge tighter while I waited for it to pass. I took it in stride - if no one else was going to complain, neither was I. Never was one to want to stand out. Don’t rock the boat because the sane-minded ones that don’t want to tip might just throw you off. As I got older, the feelings went away. Or at least they stopped showing up so often. Then, when I was about ten, I realized that the pains hadn’t shot across my body in about a year. I hardly gave them a passing thought at that point, just the glancing recollections that are caused but the oddest things, such as the sound of metal on skin, or the smell of fresh cut wood. Dim memories triggered by senses that don’t remember too much too accurately.

I mentioned it to a friend after a long hard day at the pool, swimming until our lungs hurt. She’d looked at me like I was a bit mad, and said that that didn’t sound too healthy. That’s when I started to wonder if it was all that normal. Later that day I asked my parents about it. They called up the doctor’s office to see if that was something too be worried about; the doctor said it was probably just growing pains. If he remember correctly, after all, when I was younger I’d grown at an inordinate rate, never slowing down, inches in a single night like boys at puberty. And it hadn’t hurt in a while right? I lied. Good, he said. Nothing at all.

It happened again when I was fourteen, that time like my heart was going to be ripped in half. I was asleep, then found that I couldn’t breath. My eyes snapped open to a wet pillow capturing the soft injured-puppy whimpers I was letting out. I curled into the fetal position, afraid to move or make a sound. Our house was small, so my parents heard me eventually. They came in, trying to help, trying to figure out what was wrong. I blamed a horrible stomach ache. By morning, there was a dull feeling inside of me. I don’t really remember exactly what I was feeling, just that the sound of my heart was wrong. It took twenty minutes of listening to realize that I could hear my heart thumping like the backbone of a song - slow and steady and hypnotic if that’s all you can hear - and I could also hear another heart beating. It was erratic and fast, like a marathon sprinter who was retching because he collapsed to the ground right before the finish line.

I recognized the tempo, though. It was one played in my body often enough. Fear and tears. My father had anger management problems when drunk and hated life when he was sober, while my mother was spineless against him. They both loved me, but it was the kind of relationship that was together for the child, despite the fact that they could hear every little part of the relationship shattering on concrete.

I panicked. Wouldn’t you? There was another heartbeat in my body. As I heard mine start thumping louder, I heard the other one beat even more frantically. It was quickly becoming too frantic, getting to the point of no return, to the final exhausted beat that would cause a twitch at the end as it halted itself. Realizing that, I started to breath slowly and evenly, trying to get mine to slow down. Listen to mine I thought. I thought it on every exhale and inhale. Thankfully, the other one seemed to at least be able to hear the steady rhythm I was forcing myself to pound out. Maybe they heard my thoughts too. I didn’t know. After a half hour, their beat and mine matched like we were now playing the same song out. Okay? I thought to no one, then feel asleep, my mind spent by that little work.





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