‘so much held in a heart’

I’ve had a rotten cold for days now and it kept me from sleeping last night. I’d been laying in bed for nearly two hours, breathing out of my mouth and one nostril, my head propped up on two pillows, and turning from one side to the other. I listened to Travis’ deep sleeping, tossed the covers around a little when I got too hot, and nothing helped. So, I stumbled out of bed, being careful not to step on the cat, and walked to the family room where our dog was sleeping and woke him up. He looked so confused. “Is it morning already?” he seemed to ask me. And then I turned on a lamp and he squinted his eyes as I sat on the couch and propped up my laptop. He figured it out that no, it wasn’t morning. I’m just crazy. So he laid on his pillow and started snoring again, and while I was partially envious that he could sleep when I couldn’t, I figured I’d write the thing I’ve been trying to write for days – the one that’s been sitting in the back of my mind, half handwritten in a journal, the rest in jumbled thoughts that come and go.

Last weekend, my friend visited me and read a beautiful passage about everything a heart holds in a lifetime. I think she read it in a book, and I asked her to email it to me. At this moment, I don’t know what book it came from or who penned it. But it inspired me to write a version of what my heart holds after 33 years in this world. Here goes:

When I think of my childhood, I still feel the stir of excitement in my chest the night before every first day of school, the nights hiding in backyards while playing Kick the Can with the neighborhood kids, and my first time riding in an airplane. That wild flutter at my center is still what I live for, though it comes and goes between feelings of emptiness, heaviness, loneliness, and anxiousness. In the course of a lifetime, I expect my heart to be tired at it’s end, so much happy beating like a hummingbird, so many times deflated like a balloon that was let go only to fly around in a nonsensical pattern and lie exhausted on the ground. The heart’s cycle is curious and switches rhythm as life changes, sometimes multiple times a day. One can hope more happiness than sadness comes its way.

I can’t fit everything my heart holds in this post, but I’ll try to sum up some of that tangled mess that thumps behind my ribs. There are happy moments like falling asleep in triple bunkbeds above my brothers, the three of us smelling like fireworks and fresh Wyoming air at the end of a long, hot 4th of July. My heart remembers waking up at 3 a.m. and sneaking down to the living room every Christmas morning to see if Santa came. It cherishes making membership cards with my mom for the Fun Club we made up, where all my friends would come over to play games. There is a bed full of stuffed animals, and a big pink Barbie house full of toys from McDonald’s. It sees a “zero” best friend because zero comes before one, and that makes the friendship even more special. And then there were other friends, and other bests, and they all remain inside my memory forever, taking up this huge perfect space.

My heart fell in love with the salty smell of the ocean, staying up past midnight, taking pictures of everything and gluing memories in albums. Part of my heart always lives in California, at a restaurant on the beach where we ate chocolate coffee cake and laughed our guts out all night, on Main Street in Disneyland.

And then part of my heart always lives in Utah, the smell of the lake, long summer evenings, my dad choosing the movie on Saturday nights, cracking walnuts in front of a roaring football game, my mom and I crossing finish lines. Mashed potatoes and gravy every Sunday, and holidays that tasted like cinnamon bears, Orange Sticks, and hot chocolate. Mountains, and college, and roommates, and Slurpees. Then newspapers, sandwiches on Center Street, The Owl, and growing up while never feeling grown up at all.

Pieces of my heart live all over the country, wherever my friends and family are – New York, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., Washington state, Colorado, Idaho.

Then there are the cracked and bruised parts of my heart – the parts that have holes, scars, and cuts. Feeling guilty for half my life because I didn’t understand, feeling lied to and betrayed. Whispers, cunning smiles, and sneers. Insecurity and losing friends. Being told I was ugly and believing it. Hiding behind my hair and baggy clothes.

Boyfriends and breakups, getting in the way of love, and others doing the same. Being heartbroken over and over by the same men, and doing my own share of breaking. Calling one person 20 times in a row one night, tears streaming from my face, never getting an answer. Watching his garage door close one day, knowing it was over forever. Pain and relief at the same time.

And then a year went by and things changed and one day I drove down an unsuspecting road and got chills thinking of the love interest who would eventually become my husband. Feeling, for the first time, that this seemed right from the beginning.

My friend sitting across the room from me, telling me one of my ex-boyfriends committed suicide two weeks earlier and that she found out through the grapevine after someone read a column his step-mom wrote. Wondering how one day someone can disappear from this world. Knowing that life is so hard for some people. Realizing there were only two people I could talk to about it. Ripping up, throwing away, and deleting almost everything I had to remind me of him.

Making a new home in New Mexico that looked like hiking whenever possible, felt like trying to find the right path, and tasted like green chile. Getting engaged on top of a mountain at sunset, walking down the aisle. The light days, anxious days, adventure days, and sick days.

Choosing a pair of earrings from my grandma’s collection at a lunch with all my cousins that I knew would never happen again now that she was in the ground. Missing her voice and our long drives and phone calls. Later releasing balloons into the air following a service for my grandpa – the orange rocks in the background and wondering why there was so much more peace in this loss.

The death of a parent, something no one understands until it happens. Kneeling by my dad’s body and sobbing in that long maroon room, everyone telling me he looked better two days earlier when I couldn’t be there. Telling him I was sorry. Running my fingers through his hair. Geese flying by and hearts appearing in rocks and trees, on trails, and in clouds, and I feeling like my dad would never forget.

I didn’t feel like myself for more than a year, and then one day, like magic, I wanted to listen to the happy songs again. But the happy songs don’t solve everything – nothing ever will.

The intensity of my heart has multiplied by 1,000 in every way.

I dance now even though I’ll never know how, and I surround myself with people who don’t mind. My heart holds the loud nights, the piano nights, and Halloween. Sunsets glow brighter than ever, and I love the rain. Sometimes I shake when I read the news and see videos of people running from violence in pictures on my phone. It all feels so close.

My heart holds dog smiles and sneezes, slow cat blinks, and Harry Potter nights. Bike rides, trails, and wine. Summer in the backyard and the way Travis tries to save all the bees and spiders. Rose bushes surrounding our brick house.

Life always goes on as it will, and time will move too fast. We’ll experience as many far away places as possible, I’ll write memories inside airplanes, and scale mountains until we are old and broken. Life will break me many times more – I don’t even know how to imagine the ways it will. And my warm, wrenched heart will hold it all.

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