I learned that when you are sad your heart shrivels up and becomes the size of a small apricot seed. With too deep an exhale it can easily slip up a lover's throat and into your hands. I was sleeping in the living room the night I found my first heart. Anyone that I could have crashed with that night would have been fast asleep, and those who were awake would have been far from their beds, so I settled for the couch.
I couldn’t sleep, each change that tomorrow would bring dragged against my skull. I tried my best to go through all the differences in my head, as if imagining each one would prepare me to treat tomorrow like any other day. I tried to imagine not walking into the kitchen and asking Audry to guess whether today I was making Hazelnut or Salted Caramel coffee. Instead, I imagined going straight into our bathroom and taking a shower. I tried not to hear the eight o’clock news playing in the background while we deciphered each other's dreams from the night before. Instead, I imagined our bed, made and empty.
I wondered if she was still awake, thinking of tomorrow morning. Usually, she would be fast asleep, while me and our cat, Charles, would play our nightly game of catch and fall. The game entailed Charles’ acting on his deep desire to knock things over, and my inability to catch them before they fell. That night, there was no game, only my imagination to play over and over again, while Charles’ stayed by Audry’s side.
I had convinced myself she was awake. I guess that’s why I pushed myself off the couch and found my way into our room. I thought she would be awake, I didn’t know how someone could sleep after such a fight. It wasn’t a loud fight, neither of us were screamers. We are both quiet people, which is probably why we had found each other's company so comforting. Most of our conversations were had through loose whispers, any louder simply meant that we were too far apart.
I think that the loudest that I had ever heard Audry get was when she was at her niece’s baseball game. The minute her niece hit a home run I saw Audry’s voice peak, and reach up high in the sky, higher than her hands that flailed in the air. It scared me at first, to see this different person inside of her, trying to reach out. I remember looking out around the crowd to see if anyone else had noticed this new person sitting next to me. In that moment she was no longer quiet, made of soft whispers and warm breath, she was loud, far away and happy. To my surprise, I was happy for her and this new person. When we got home, we sat on the couch, and Audry showed me the tens of thousands of videos she had taken of her niece. We sat there, close enough to watch the girl running on her small screen, and smiled silently to ourselves.
The problems started when Audry stopped whispering all together, or maybe I was just too far away to hear her. We had our rituals, we drank coffee and watched the news every morning, but our conversations stopped at our preference in coffee. Soon, Audry stopped telling me about concerts, and baseball games, or maybe I forgot she had ever told me. Instead, Audry went with friends who, like her, had found being a part of the loudness all the more riveting. Once, from behind the safety of a tight corner, I overheard her say to her friends that “she wouldn’t get it, it would be more fun just us”. Then she joined me back in the living room and kissed my cheek.
All of those silent moments spent together proved to be preparation for that night's finale. It was one of those fights that happens in each person's head first. Monologues rehearsed late at night when insomnia chooses you and not your partner. Lines, written and edited, over silent dinners. An argument that’s never exactly happened how either one of us imagines it to be, but all the more painful. It was a fight that led to late nights of me questioning my word choice, and tone, and if they were to have changed would we have heard each other?
Yet there she was, curled up into herself, her hands grasping the blankets tighter than they’ve ever held me. To anyone else it would have looked like she was sleeping after any ordinary day, the allusion almost fooled me. It wasn’t until the small apricot seed sized heart rolled out of her parted lips and onto the floor that I realized that she too was as sad as I was.
At first, I thought she was going to wake up. The sound of her heart hitting the hardwood floor was so piercing that even our cat, Charles, stirred awake and came to look at the small round shape. She didn’t wake up, she didn’t even move. For a moment I thought she was dead. Her mouth was still hung open like a lazy O and I couldn’t see the movement of her chest under the blankets. She was still.
Just as I had reached down to pick up the missing organ, Audry breathed in a deep sigh, her body trying to breath in the part of her that she had so naively misplaced. Still asleep, she shifted herself onto her back displaying me the steady rise and fall of her chest. Audry wasn’t the best with words but she always found a way to tell me she was okay.
My attention went back to her heart. I picked it up and cupped it in the palm of my hands. With all the descriptions of hearts that I’ve ever read, none of them prepared me to hold one. For one, it didn’t feel hot, you’d think a heart would be scalding, even outside of the body, but Audry’s heart was lukewarm at best. It was a lot like when you put a chicken in the microwave and it’s not completely done. If you lay your hand on it you can tell the center is warm, but everything else is left cold. I was also surprised by how heavy the heart is. When reading poetry I had always imagined the heart being something light, but her heart had a weight to it, it felt like a large marble. Perhaps that was because it was a sad heart, I have yet to hold a happy heart.
The moment I felt her heart in my hands I knew I would never let go of it. I gave her everything else in the relationship, but I took her heart and the cat. I didn’t leave her empty handed, she kept the apartment with the nice view, and she got some of my favorite of our friends. I also didn’t leave her without a heart, even then I realized that would be cruel. I had never seen anyone living without a heart, although I had heard through the grapevine that an empty chest was as horrid as it sounds. The person is left with no feeling in their chest, but a suffocating feeling in the pit of their stomach. It’s as if all the extra room in the chest is simply filled with pressure that weighs downward. The person is left with feeling that something is missing, but never knowing exactly what, and nothing ever relieves the pressure. I would never want that life for her, and while I am her ex-girlfriend I’d hope she would never want that life for me. In the end I gave her Charles’s heart.
I won’t get into detail about how to get a cat’s heart out, all you need to know is that a cat's heart is particularly small and loose; and after a few solid shakes Charles gave up his hearteasily. Now, Audry has Charles' heart, and Charles has her’s. Charles was in no way harmed, if anything he seems happier. He’s definitely gained a few pounds, and loves to follow me around the apartment. Rather than our traditional game of catch and fall, he sits right on my lap and softly talks to me in his own secret language. I will admit that it is nice to come home to someone waiting anxiously for me everyday.
As for Audry, I’m not so sure if she knows that her heart isn’t hers. Other than a few short text messages and some secondhand updates from friends, we have kept our distance for the past four months. It wasn’t until I was invited to a mutual friends birthday party that I saw her again.
She was sitting at the bar. At first I didn’t recognize her, she dyed her hair hot pink and gave herself bangs. Audry had colored her hair before, pale browns and auburns, always natural colors. Her new loud hair made her seem alien and foreign, nothing more but a stranger in a bar. I didn’t go up and talk to her, I didn’t know if she’d want me too. I didn’t know if I’d want to. Instead I watched her.
I watched as she finished drinking most of her whiskey, and sat it on the edge of the bar. Then, with her elbow she pushed it off the edge. I stood up to go to her, to help her clean the quarter of the whiskey that had spilled on the floor, but the man next to her turned around first. Audry shook her head, her freshly cut bangs bouncing just above her eyes.
“You spilled my drink,” is what I thought I heard. Although I could have heard wrong, I had never seen Audry be so direct with anyone. I watched as the man apologized and offered her another drink. She accepted, and as soon as her newly poured drink reached her hands she pulled away from the bar, and disappeared into the cluster of people.