Today someone asked me about my heart. She was not a doctor. But still she asked. “How is your heart?” she said, at the park of all places, with children darting around us like minnows around rocks in a stream. I was about to answer when the cry of a curly-headed toddler across the playground sent her running.
What I wanted to tell her was that I could hardly believe her timing, because I have been waiting for a question like this for weeks. For years, maybe. Waiting for an opening up, a cracking open, a way to let the outside things in. Like a curtain being parted to let in the light, except more visceral, more violent. Maybe even more literal - a surgeon cracking the sternum to gain access to that singular muscle that keeps us alive with its beating. But still, I am waiting, the words caught in my throat, feeling my heart beat from the outside, pelted with rocks and requests for entrance, bombarded with memories and beauty, too. Still the doors stay closed. I have done every manner of thing to get them open.
I have swum in shallow rivers, submerging my ears to hear the silvery echo of the water. I have walked thirty sets of stairs to the rooftops of buildings. I have studied the clouds. I have listened to my children talk in their sleep. I have meditated on the impermanence of life. I have spent hours in compromising yoga poses. I have collected seashells and stones and seeds in old egg cartons and gifted them to neighbors. I have read more books of poetry than I can count. I have memorized lists of extinct species the world will never see again. Everyone knows about the Dodo Bird, but who remembers the Golden Toad or the Arabian Ostrich? Bachman’s Warbler or the Bali Tiger? And what about the Caribbean Monk Seals? The Christmas Island Shrew? The Pyreanean Ibex, with its horns like daggers threatening the sky?
Tonight, I rise from bed in the smallest hours and walk under the streetlights, still in my pajamas, to the park where the woman asked me about my heart. The playground is littered with left-behind push toys and plastic kitchens, tricycles with busted wheels and child sized SUVs with dead batteries, a bicycle basket without a bike, filled with acorns and bits of grass. I pick up the basket and hold it to my chest, fingering the smooth strips of white plastic, woven together like straw. I think about how the plastic is stronger than bone and sinew. Stronger, even, than stone. I think about how it will be here long after all of us have gone. I sit down on a bench and watch as the sun rises and the park starts to slowly fill with children.
A woman with tired eyes and an older man walk past me, the man with slightly stooped shoulders, the woman pushing a stroller. They stop at the swings and I listen as the woman admonishes the man - her father - for missing his doctor’s appointment. I notice that he has small hands and large ears. His hair is unkempt. Patiently he listens to his daughter, pushing his granddaughter to and fro in a bucket swing, her little legs kicking. “Life expectancy for men has risen from 46 to 76 in just one hundred years” he tells her, his voice as even and steady as a metronome. He adds that she should consider him lucky to have lived so long already.
The woman, who has some gray hairs of her own and wears overalls stained with paint or maybe baby food (although who am I to talk in my rainbow-pattern pajamas) tells him that she doesn’t find this funny. He explains that he isn’t trying to be funny and for a moment they are quiet, listening to the wet babble of the child in the swing. “78 isn’t old,” she finally says. And the man laughs so much as he is lifting his granddaughter out of the swing that he nearly drops her in the mulch.
On the way home the sun is bright enough to hurt my eyes, and when I walk into the kitchen and see my son at the counter eating his breakfast cereal, I discover by the look on his face that I have been crying.
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