I was born with what my mother always called a “leaky mitral valve” and it was never fully explained to me. The doctor suggested that my mother invest in some kind of a pet, to keep my mind off the stress and pain of my “heart problem”. I picked out a yellow parakeet that I called buttons, because when I held him for the first time he unbuttoned my shirt all the way down until I stopped him. I guess he was a dirty little birdy, bad joke. Anyhow, Buttons ended up dying of what the vet confirmed to be heart failure. I think the “heart problem” became real to me at that point. I guess that I had never considered the fact that I could die from having a problem with this very vital piece of my body.
The doctor ran down the list of banished childhood experiences that I now had to cross off. Here are just a few examples of the things I was now no longer able to do:
1.) Amusement park rides
2.) Sports of any kind
3.) Laughing too hard
5.) Running, leaping, jumping, yelling
Basically, I was the kid in the bubble but I got to sit on the sidelines and watch. Lucky for me, my mother didn’t always follow this exactly. Although, she also wasn’t opposed to my spending most of my time with her. When I was 6 my nickname was velcro because I never let go of my mother’s leg. Perhaps it was fear of encountering something too funny. Throughout my childhood until I was about 11 I was treated like a delicate piece of blown glass. I suppose this saved me from some potentially unpleasant experiences with my father as I know I drove him to nearly hit me several times. Ironically, this gave me a false sense of security, it was like my superwoman cloke. I was bullet proof because of my “heart problem” and no one would touch me.
Maybe it was the idea of having a defective or “broken” heart the led me to continuous heartache, literally and figuratively. I was quite awkward as a young woman and did not experience my first kiss until I was 16. Perhaps that doesn’t seem too old to you, but it does when all of your girlfriends had been there at 12 and in fact I think my sister was 9. I waited four long years for my first kiss and it was less than romantic. In fact, it was freshmen year of highschool after my first high school dance, homecoming and my mother had arranged for my date. Yes, you read that correctly, my mother arranged my highschool homecoming date. He was older and didn’t even go to my school, he happened to be a friend of my oldest sisters friends that I had an unexplainable crush on. Unexplainable, especially now looking back at photos!
I began to keep journal of my romantic mishaps at the age of 14 and have continued to record them right up until my last entry in which I wrote of my fiancé. Let me give you a glimpse into the mind of a 14 year old girl regarding love.
“July 15th 1998, I am sick of being lonely. Why don’t I deserve someone romantic and sweet? Are there very many guys like that my age anyway? I guess that I am a hopeless romantic. There is nothing that is going to change that. I just want a sweet sensitive guy that is romantic. It seems like everywhere I turn everyone tells me relationships are not worth it. My friends think that I am crazy to think this way. Maybe I am, but I think if I feel safe in a world or make believe romance and Romeo and Juliet, then so be it.”
How oddly insightful and optimistic I was as a 14 year old girl not having had the chance to experience a broken heart at this point. It is after those first few entries where the drama and heartache begins, the journey reads like a Bridget Jones tribute with all of the insecurities resembling some kind of copycat attempt. The hard back unlined white papered journal was a gift from my mother. She thought if I was able to express myself that perhaps I would somehow grow into a less awkward woman. I think it might have done the trick in a sense as I would refer back to it as a reminder that when I was feeling low about love and breakups, I had in fact endured the pain before. On the front of the journal stands a woman alone, an abstract painting of her in a field holding an umbrella under a clear blue sky as if anticipating rain or perhaps welcoming it. She wears a bonnet and white flowing dress that appears to be blowing romantically in the wind. I assume she is a beautiful woman, though her scarf conceals her face.
I continued to record my heart aches for 15 long years in this journal. It’s a painful read that I try not to revisit unless I need some kind of reminder of how good I have it now. I keep the journal out of sight of my finance as I do not think he needs to know the mistakes and lessons that brought me to him. I believe that I was being distracted until I meant my soul mate and he too went through the same. I often wondered if I was born with a defective heart because I was meant to experience such heartache or if I maintained a defective heart because I maintained this belief. All of my life I have had abnormal EKG’s and an abnormal heart. I was discouraged to pursue anything that would engage my heart too much. Perhaps, this is why I always pursued relationships half heartedly. I was endlessly attached to the men that were emotionally unavailable or literally taken. It wasn’t a conscious discussion that I made, it just happened to turn out that way.
In my most recent spat with the single life, I took a different turn from my normal moping and dark creativity until the next doomed relationship came along. I simply did not care if I ended up being the single weird cat lady in the studio apartment, but I held off on investing in the cat portion for the time being. I began to see something within myself that I had never noticed before, I began to see beauty and strength. There was a true sense of control in letting go of control itself. Suddenly, I came to terms with who I was inside and out. I was OK with floundering around not knowing what career path I would take or if I’d ever get married. In fact, I enjoyed the mystery and freedom of not knowing. I felt filled with joy and love for myself for the first time in my life. It was then that my fiancé entered the scene as if on cue in a romantic comedy.
We would joke to friends and family that our next mission in life was to open a company to help others find their perfect mate. It was the first time in either of our lives that love came so easily. There were no meaningless squabbles or hurtful words. There were no moments of dreading certain conversations or topics, everything just came so easily. Now, don’t get me wrong we certainly had disagreements, we certainly had times of doubt, but we were gentle with each other during the process and we understood each others needs in those moments. The “sacrifices” we made to be together did not feel like giving something up, it felt like gaining so much more.
Recently I took up running with my girlfriends and decided we’d start with a 5K. I went to see my cardiologist to be cleared to make the run and much to my surprise my EKG was normal. Not slightly improved or just OK, it was that of a person with a normal heart. The doctor could no longer hear the “murmur” in my chest which I had gotten so used to answering questions about. I could not help but wonder, if this change in my life was in direct correlation with the change in my heart and vice versa.