The heart was in bad shape when you gave it to me: a crumbly autumn leaf of a piece of paper with two gentle humps meeting neatly beneath the top. I don’t quite remember the lyrics to whichever pop song you painted on it, around the edges, spiraling into the middle. What I do remember is that those words, not your words, were dark and smudged like bruises.
Your heart had its fair share, too. You confided in me: rain smacking off my windshield, texts from our parents saying that the power’s out, and we should come home. But we didn’t leave. We lay in my tiny car, rubbing our noses together and wrapping our tongues around the abstract idea of heartbreak. You mentioned Ben, the brooding skater guy who left his heart in another zip code. You mentioned Nick: emotionally inept. The percussive patter of rain could have pulled me into sleep. I said I would never be like them. You said I know, you’re nothing like them. Then you touched my hand and said you’ve liked me for a while.
I don’t remember what I said back.
I don’t remember what I said back but I remember the way summer use to burn your skin pink. I remember saying your name, Melanie, whispering it and letting the syllables float from my tongue like smoke. Like birds. I remember the scrape of your hand as you tied bracelets around my wrist. I remember the time we sat in my apartment, and you asked if I had any food, and I said yes, we have apples. I remember picking the green skins from our teeth. Is green still your favorite color? I remember sliding our hands between each other’s legs.
But then there was the end to us. There was no fight. There was just a day, a small shop, and two cups coffee. You said it’s over. You said you felt something was wrong. I asked what, or how. You said there was nothing specifically wrong, but it didn’t feel perfect. Sometimes, you said, that was enough.
“It’s got nothing to do with you,” you said. “It’s just my life, and this is how I’m choosing to live it.”
I didn’t say anything. I drove home from the coffee shop. Huge pools of rain lay like the dead along the sidewalks.
One day, writing fiction, I thought about symbolism and concluded that memory is nothing like a river. Memories don’t flow. Memories are more like the tiny circles left by skipped stones. They’re pretty, but they fade.
I dug through my desk drawer, looking for the paper heart. I can’t hold anyone’s heart, not even my own. But the one you made, the one about to turn to dust? At least I could still feel it.
Then, hours later, I found it beneath my camera and about fifty seven cents. It was almost torn cleanly in two. I couldn’t read the words you painted on it, so I held it in front of my bedroom window. I still couldn’t read the words. Then I gave up and looked past the torn heart, out the window. All I could see was the hummingbird feeder my dad put in his garden. There were no birds around it.
I remember a particular conversation about the bird feeder. It was the end of spring; bright green leaves were bursting along the road. I asked my dad why he bought a hummingbird feeder. He said to watch the hummingbirds. I asked him why he would want to do that. He said why not. Then he stared out the window, waiting.
“Saw one just the other day,” he said. “I think they’re beautiful.”
“But they don’t do anything,” I said. “They just eat and then they’re gone.”
He didn’t answer; we both watched.
How sad, I thought. To move through life so quickly.
– Greg Letellier