Heart of Love

February 28, 2010
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My mother always told me that I had a big heart.
She told me that I was special, that I was full of love.

“Anna,” She would croon softly, holding me tightly to her chest. “Love is like sugar. You store it up, little by little all your life, until you finally give it to someone.”

It wasn’t the best analogy in the world, and I would look up to her, confused. “Mama, where does the sugar come from?”

But she never heard me. “I never had anyone to give my love to. No one was ever around long enough for me to do that. So I just stored it all up, little by little, until you came along. And then I just couldn’t stop giving you love. Everything I had, I gave to you, my darling.”

I knew it was true; she never really mentioned my grandparents, and she didn’t seem to have any sisters or brothers. Sometimes, when my mother wasn’t especially clear minded, she would seem to think that there was another child in the house.

“Go call your brother to dinner,” She would tell me kindly, as she prepared to set up fours places at the table. “He’s a growing boy now, and he needs his nutrients. After all, we wouldn’t want him under-deprived now do we?” She chuckled and looked at me fleetingly, but I knew she didn’t see anything. Her eyes were blank during these times, her mind stuck in the past. And then quite suddenly, her eyes would glaze over and she would be back, tears welling up in her eyes as she silently cleared the extra plate away.
My own father was rarely home, and I knew that it was simply the legal bond of marriage that held my shattered family together.

I used to have a small dog. It was snow white, and the prettiest thing I had ever seen. My mother told me that it was a Pekingese and Spaniel mix, but I didn’t know what that meant. I named her Sophie, and I was extra careful to treat her just right. My mother said that I was a downright first class pet owner, that all the love I had made me a great mother, even if my daughter was just a dog. I was pretty proud, and I told her then and there that I was going to be a dog breeder once I grew up, and that I would make sure that all my pets got plenty of love. That made her really happy, and she was grinning for the rest of the day.

One day, I went to the back yard looking for Sophie, holding a few treats in my hand, calling for her. Sophie was extremely energetic and really loved her doggie treats; she would dash out from her hiding places and run to greet me, leaping for my hand even though she already knew that she wouldn’t make it. I laughed as she tried to nip at my fingers before finally bending over and opening my hand to her. She snatched the treats quickly and was starting to run off before I quickly scooped her tiny body up into my arms. She squirmed around, fighting to be free, but I didn’t let her. I held her closer, loving the feel of a warm body against my own. By then, she was positively thrashing in my arms and she was growling. This angered me, and I held onto her even tightly, refusing to let her go. Her little heart thumped stronger and faster, and she wriggled about, trying to crane her neck backwards to bite at me. But I had her so tightly in arms that the most she could do was squirm a little. She was like one of those giant squishy balls that I never got to buy; I squeezed my arms around Sophie’s trashing body tighter and tighter, feeling the softness and warms of her body. It became a game, and I wanted to see how much harder I could squeeze the puppy. After a while, her growls turned to whimpers and her movements were less violent. Even her heartbeat seemed to relax.

I was delighted. I had won! I knew then that she would never, ever try to run away from me again, and wouldn’t even think of attacking me. I nuzzled my face into Sophie’s soft white fur, and felt her warm but still body against my cheek. Somehow, I finally realized that Sophie was dead, but I didn’t care, or at least I don’t think I did.

When my mother came outside and found me dragging a limp Sophie along on a leash, she grew pale and brought her hand up to her mouth. I grinned at her, delighted that my mother was in so much awe over my dog taming abilities. But when my dad came outside, he didn’t look the least bit impressed. Or amused for that matter. Instead, he came up to me and snatched Sophie away from me, along with her leash. Taking off his jacket, he wrapped it around Sophie and glared at my mother.

“See?” He shouted meanly at her. “Look what she has done now! I told you that we shouldn’t get a puppy after what happened to the hamster, especially not one of these small ones. But you didn’t listen to me one bit! Now look what happened!” I stared at my dad, confused at his reaction. He seemed a little…mad.

My mother had recovered herself by now, but still looked a little pale. Anyhow, she quickly came to my defense. “Anna didn’t do that on purpose,” She retorted. “It was an accident, right darling?” She turned to me, a desperate question in her eyes.

I looked at her, at her wary brown eyes. They were the same brown eyes I have known all my life, yet there was something different in them today. There was fear. “I didn’t want her to leave me.” I muttered quietly, looking at both of my parents, wondering what crime I had committed this time.

My father’s hard-as-rock expression didn’t falter, but my mother looked instantly relieved. She turned to face my father. “See?” She mocked him. “Anna did that out of love.” She turned back to me. “I always knew that you had a heart full of love. So much love in such a small body.” She smiled at me, and I grinned back, knowing that I had answered correctly.

My dad scoffed, and still carrying the unmoving Sophie, walked around to the backyard door and out to the driveway where he got into his car. I watched him drive away, wondering if Sophie would ever be returned to me. She wasn’t.

I started first grade that fall at the local public school. I took the school bus every morning, and would have to wake up extra early just to make sure I wouldn’t be late to the bus stop. Sometimes I got lonely on the way to school. There were other kids in the neighborhood, and the bus was usually packed pretty full, but no one seemed to want to stay close to me. For some reason, I found that the other kids, even some of the ones that were older than me, would rather stand in the aisles of the bus than sit down next to me. On my first day, the school bully had approached me, leering.

“Welcome to the bus, squirt.” He greeted me in a nice-enough tone although his eyes seemed to be speaking an altogether different language. “I think you should get to know the simple rules of this bus.” He paused to smile at me when the bus driver glanced suspiciously at the two of us in his mirror. “There’s only one - don’t piss me off.” He grinned predatorily at me. I smiled back nicely, meeting his gaze evenly. I thought that was an easy enough rule to follow.

The boy must’ve seen something behind me or something because the next second, his smirk faltered and he looked away. When the bus stopped next, he got up and quickly changed to a farther away seat.

It was almost as if he was afraid of me.

My world was a simple one; school started bright and early and I would spend the entire day sitting at a small table with 3 other kids my age. But I never talked to them, and they never talked to me either. Most of the time, I just drew pictures. I liked drawing. It was simple and didn’t require thinking, nothing like math or reading.

I like color too, and I used lots of color in my pictures. But my favorite was red. There was something about the color that just appealed to me. I put a slash of red here and there… Once I drew Sophie, but white was too boring a color, so I took my red marker and made it more interesting.

After school, I would ride the bus home to be greeted by my mother, who, no doubt, had had a horrible day alone at home. I would get milk and cookies and all kinds of delicious home-baked snacks. Then my mom made dinner. Sometimes she would make enough for three, but usually only for two since my dad would work late and only come home after my bedtime.

My mother fell sick in 4th grade. It wasn’t like the flu or the cold at all. First it was a simple cough now and then, but as a while it grew into long hacking coughs. She grew thin and became tired all the time. She wouldn’t show it at first, always forcing herself out of bed in the mornings and stayed on her feet all day. But then she didn’t get up one morning.

When I got home from school that day, she was still in bed.

“Mom?” I asked her tentatively, not sure what to do.

There was no response. Then, “Don’t worry sweetie. Mommy will get better soon, it’s only a little sickness.”

But she was wrong. It wasn’t little and it grew worse everyday.
My father used to complain that he had trouble falling asleep at night. Finally, my mother went to the drug store and bought him some medicine to ‘make him feel better’.

I borrowed a few of Daddy’s medicine, and ground them up, careful not to make a lot of noise as I crushed the little white pills. Then I warmed up some milk the way that mom liked it- hot but not burning.

“Here mom,” I said cheerfully as I carefully handed her the drink. I felt like a doctor- giving a sick patient medicine to make them feel better.

My mom thanked me, then sipped carefully at the drink, smiling because she felt better already. When I came back to check on her an hour later, she was already asleep. That was a good sign, because my mom had always told me that sleeping was a way to get stronger and fight off the illness.

She was still sleeping when my dad returned home. I didn’t know what to do, since my mom always already has dinner hot and ready when he comes home-but not today.

He scowled at me, then hung up his coat and went to his bedroom that he shared with my mom. He came up a few minutes later, and walked over to where I was sitting at the table, drawing.

“What did you do?” He asked in a quiet voice. I looked up, curious. His eyes were wider than I had ever seen in my life before, and his face was pale, as if he had just seen a ghost in the room. Well, he probably saw mommy’s.

“I gave her some medicine.” I replied evenly, continuing to shade in the people in my drawing. Then, I picked up my scissors and began cutting the shapes out.

There was silence, then my dad went over to the phone. He picked it up and dialed. Beeeep beep beep.

“547 Hilltop Lane. And come quickly.” My dad said in a low voice that I could still hear.

“What you doing daddy?” I asked curiously. “Who are you calling?”

My father looked at me, but didn’t put down the phone. “Please, come quickly. As soon as you can.” He spoke to the phone, but ignored me.

“I said, who are you calling?”

“Hurry please, hurry!”

Then, it hit me.

“You’re going to have mommy taken away aren’t you?” I cried, knowing for sure that was what my dad was doing.

He didn’t say anything, but put down the phone quickly.

“NO!” I screamed as he made a dash to the front door. I leaped off my chair and sprinted for the door as well. I had been sitting closer to it, and I got there before my dad did. He stopped a few feet away from me, watching me strangely, like how I’ve seen my hamster watch me before it died. He stared at my hand, his eyes still wide.

I looked down and realized that I still had my scissors.

“Please, Anna..” He began quietly, his chest rising up and down.

I shook my head. “You’re never here when we need you. You’ve never seen her cry when she makes dinner, when she’s thinking about you. You can’t leave anymore.”

When the sirens came, my favorite color was all over the room, dying the carpet a rich, beautiful red.

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