Amy Souza and Cristal Brawley

Cristal Brawley
Inspiration piece

How the Heart Works
By Amy Souza

You hear tapping on hardwood like the dog still exists.

Wind shattered the night – rumbled windows, swung porch chimes – and you woke to a carpet of yellow-ochre leaves below the maple’s bare branches.

Once you saw a dying squirrel drag itself under a parked car in a last bid for safety, its tiny chest pounding hard, and you couldn’t look away.

A dead baby beaver on the street near your house. A stiff black lab on the side of a midwestern highway. Your own dogs dead in your childhood cellar, behind the neighbor’s bushes, at the vet’s office, in your sad solo apartment, in your current home spread atop the couch where you watch TV.

Your husband online dated first to investigate the algorithms and then to make sure he wasn’t staying because he couldn’t get someone else. His therapist asked how he felt about lying to strangers on the internet but not how he felt lying to you.

Imperfections show up every day.

Last week your therapist said that everyone needs love and you deserve to feel seen, but you’ve lived without basic human needs for so long it’s become habit.

You’ll never understand why people leap from airplanes to feel alive, as if they couldn’t sense their heartbeat on a regular morning looking out a window to catch the neighbors in a familiar embrace.

That bitter sense of humor snugs like armor.

Ghost white fingers, blue lips.

You wonder who you’d be if your ancestors stayed behind.

A tiny frog’s heart alone, pumping away in a scientist’s lab, might be the saddest thing you’ve seen.

You can know why you’re irrationally loyal but not know how to change it.

Breakdowns are only welcomed in film, television, novels, and song. Fiction tells a truth we’d rather not see at lunchtime.

Your mother felt ready to die at 80 but lived to 95 and you still can’t say whether that’s wonderful or tragic but you wish you could talk to her right now, tomorrow, and the day after that.

For two years straight your chest has hurt, like hands thrust into your sternum and squeezing tight, some days such a pressure you wonder when you’ll collapse.

All you really know is how little you understand.

And sometimes you forget to embrace the flux.

Remarkable a heart is the size of a fist. Pumps blood to lungs, which return it full of oxygen, until the heart shares that richness with the rest of you. Valves maintain the flow. Every intricacy plays a part.

Try not to forget you need all of it.


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