You climbed inside my heart late one night back in high school. I let you in by accident, without knowing what a cursed blessing you would be. As I curled up beside you on that yellow velvet couch, a tiny part of you slipped in with my weak blue blood as it returned from its journey through my body. At least, I think that’s when it happened. That was the moment I felt a tiny shift. Never before had I cared whether someone would call the next day. Never before had I put a specific face to the shadowy figure I envisioned in my dreams. I can only assume it was that little piece of you passing through my superior vena cava that caused the change.
We talked for hours that night. I’d been with other boys, but they always wanted too much, too fast. You were happy just to hold my hand. Genuinely happy, not just skin-deep so. Later, when my eyelids grew heavy, I floated through the halls in the strong, warm basket that was your arms. Then you lulled me to sleep in a bed that was, for the first time, not my own.
The next day, while looking in the mirror, I touched my hand to my chest. My heart felt different. Bigger. More aware. I could tell a little part of you was wedged in my right ventricle, just below the tricuspid valve. It was a strangely thrilling feeling, knowing you were in there.
But I didn’t want to take any chances. Although my heart had never been abandoned by love, or abused by a guest who overstayed his welcome, I’d heard stories. So I told myself you were just passing through.
But then you called, just as you promised. We went for ice cream and coffee at that little outdoor café. We stayed until close; they had to ask us to leave. Do you remember?
Later that night, I told myself you would soon burst through my pulmonary valve and breeze through my pulmonary arteries. You’d pay my lungs a visit, gather some sustenance for your next rendezvous, and slip away from me through a deep paper cut or a scraped knee. It was only a matter of time. Yes, you were still just a foreign body. A welcome one, to be sure, but one I didn’t dare hope would stick around.
But then weeks turned to months and months into our first year. You left my heart once, on a minor detour into my lungs. I told myself it was okay; we could be friends. But before I knew it, I felt you return to my left atrium. Your presence was stronger now, refreshed by the time spent away.
After our second anniversary, I felt you graft yourself onto my left ventricle, the chamber strong and large enough to support us both. That’s when the shadowy figure of my dreams disappeared altogether. That’s when I let myself consider our future; our children playing in the yard; and growing old hand in hand. The little part of you living in my heart no longer felt foreign. You were a part of me.
As the years passed, you taught me more and more about the anatomy of my heart. I learned it would have been incomplete without you there, grafted inside.
Then you had to go and ruin everything. I knew before I got the phone call. I felt you seize up, there where you lived in my heart. The pain became unbearable. You, a piece of a vital organ, were torn from my body without warning, without anesthesia, by the ruthless hand of death.
Thick, red sadness poured through my aorta and spread through every inch of my body.
You were gone.
At your funeral, the bright sun and blue sky mocked the new arrhythmia of my now defective heart. Nevertheless, I refused to cry. I insisted I was lucky to have had you there while I did. I insisted my heart should still be shared. I swore I’d someday find a new guest to build a home in my cavernous left ventricle.
I met potential guest number two at the library. He took me out for sushi; I didn’t tell him that’s what we ate on our second date and honeymoon. As he leaned in for a kiss, you suddenly surged back to life. Only it wasn’t the same little part of you I’d known. It was your ghost. It wrapped around my entire heart like a thick grey blanket.
Instantly, I lost interest in potential guest number two. I didn’t explain; I just left.
Your ghost chased away potential guests three, four, and five, too. I think they sensed your presence; I think they knew you had a grip on every inch of my forever-grieving heart.
After number six, I stopped trying.
Your ghost was an invader, but I didn’t push it out. I carried it around without protest for years and years. Yes, it was heavy. Yes, its weight made it hard to sleep through the night. But I got used to the dark circles under my eyes and the hunch of my shoulders. Besides, how could I have denied your ghost room and board after you showed me how to make my heart complete?
Just a moment ago, my heart stopped beating. I think your ghost stole my sinoatrial node in the night. I think your ghost absconded with my natural pacemaker, and took it to your grave.
I didn’t fight it.
Thanks to you, I studied the anatomy of my heart for decades. I knew every branch of every artery. I knew every millimeter of every lonely chamber, from ceiling to floor. I knew that, because of you, my heart and I spent forty years alone and unfulfilled.
That’s why I didn’t fight it. That’s why I’m here now.
But just in case you decide you don’t want me anymore, I left my heart behind.
Sara Kathryn Puls is a Wisconsinite who absolutely hates the cold. Accordingly, she now lives in South Texas and is happier than ever. By day, she is a migrant farmworker attorney for a non-profit law firm. By night, she reads and writes as much as she can. Sara’s work has appeared in, or is forthcoming from, Scout & Engineer, Liquid Imagination, Kids’Magination, and other places.