i. got no heart
“You got heart, kid,” says some coach to every kid playing a sport in some small town in America.
You got heart. You are in the game. You got passion. And that passion, worn on your sleeve. That passion, worn on your face and in your tears. That passion that keeps you angry when you lose the “big game.” That passion that makes the win seem like a small glory.
I never played sports or won the big game. My sister did. She had heart. I felt the house shake from feet stomping up stares after losses. And I watched her shoot countless hoops by herself on weeknights until mom called her in. Her sweat carried the weight of her pulse as it hit the gym floor. The tall girls underestimated, at their own peril, her 5’3” frame. Nothing stopped her. She had heart.
I never had heart. The one time I tried to play basketball I felt the anxiety of the game rise. I ran this way and that. I felt the muscles in my legs tense. I felt the possibilities. We could win. We could lose. I could lose. I somehow ended up with the ball. I huddled over the ball and collapsed to the ground wailing, “I quit.” This was only a scrimmage. On the first day of practice. I never went back. I had no heart.
The first time it happened I dropped everything, including my body, to the floor of the chemistry lab. I had no idea what happened. But the world spun and felt like a Ferris wheel without the music. I had too much heart. It beat hard and fast. When I would stand. Walk. Go up the steps. My parents looked at me with worried eyes. My family has a lot of heart. Grandma and grandpa. Mom and Dad. They all know what it’s like to feel that heart in those ways where your eyes widen and tear with ache.
I began seeing a cardiologist. He was the first person to feel my boobs. I remember thinking that youth group lied to me — it wasn’t my husband. And none of my friends understood how exposed and vulnerable my body felt. How could they? They had just enough heart.
The doctor said I would outgrow it. That age would soften the beat. And in time I wouldn’t notice it so much. My body would learn how to handle this beast of a beater.
iii. he’s got heart
Our first kiss was to “The Big Lebowski.” I sobbed the next day. I panicked. I realized I liked him. My heart started to flutter. I called my dad. My dad is good at common sense. He told me — go to the ER. Because an erratic, pain-inducing 180 beats per minute lying down is not normal.
I got a ride. I lay in a bed in the ER by myself. Every time he flirted with me over text I saw my heart rhythm skip on the monitor. Stress. Something more. He asked me what I was up to. “Lying around,” I responded. No need to worry him with messy details about arrhythmias and whatnot. He asked if I wanted to hang out. “Erm. Kjashkjg,” I responded or didn’t respond. The truth only yields for so long. He picked me up. And the next morning brought me coffee — because he didn’t know anything about “tachycardia” or “arrhythmias.” And when he kissed me that day, my heart didn’t flutter but settled. Because, damn, he’s got a whole lot of heart.
White, red, and pink candies overtake a corner of the Target. As a Kid, mom always told me that red and pink clash—such colors are tacky. But to this day, I enjoy them if only to be contrary. By the end of the month it will all be on sale. You can buy a heart full of chocolate for three dollars and some change.
After spending half a day at the cardiologist, the irony of tacky valentine’s decor and my own tachycardia feel cosmic and comical. He waits in the car for me to grab a few things. We feel like we are losing heart. Losing heart that such events will ever stop defining us. I eat a heart-shaped Reese’s. Somehow it tastes better than the normal shaped Reese’s. It must be because-- it’s got heart.