Unlike yours, my heart is tied down—stitched, actually—to my upper shoulder courtesy of a flap of skin they, the surgeons, stole from my inner thigh. I’m being serious here. In the manner of a mouse with its feet stuck in a pad of glue, the stitching keeps my heart from wiggling out of place. I have what is called ectopia cordis, an exotic but romanesque way of describing one who is born with their heart on the outside of their body.
Go ahead, look ectopia up. It is an existentially threatening Google search. It is even mentioned in the cuneiform records of Babylon. Apparently, most in ancient history born like me were considered gods of temporality, since you could literally see their heart pumping on the outside of their body—an eternal timepiece cloaked in the veneer of mortal flesh.
With ectopis cordis, most quickly die. Me, I lived. Also, I was born a twin, but my twin sister never made it. Ironically, she was born without a heart. We always wondered what became of her heart. I mean, really, where can a heart go? How can a heart not grow?
Having your beating heart rest on the outside of your body, well, brings with it significant challenges. One of those is Simone, who stood before me a few days ago trying to break up with me.
As was always the case, she just couldn’t break the news. I knew it, she knew it, and being the emotional strategist that I am, I stood in my reluctance as a wet bird stands in a mud puddle, reaping the consequences of their joy all the while unable to fly until the mud dries and washes off. Mind you, about mud, she already called me spineless and pathetic...lovingly I think. But the details are not important here. She had cheated on me twice—the times I knew of—but my mother always said when you find something you love, don't let it go unless it bites too hard. The problem was I never felt her bite. I didn't deserve any better, and so, she dragged me around.
This is all in retrospect, you see. The dainty and graceful Simone eventually did break up with me, but as to how she worked her sweet magic, you’ll have to wait.
A fact about me, perhaps, or a note on exposed vulnerability—just because you are born with your heart on the outside of your body doesn’t mean you have a good heart. Aside from the obvious, allow me to make a few observations about women, sex and ectopia cordis.
Lying, deception, and the great game of opaqueness of soul cease to be a possibility. If I try to lie—say, “professor, I did do my homework, but left it at home,” the little red creature—my heart—vibrates and scurries about like a mouse when the lights turn on. When I’m horny, it stiffens and fills with blood, flopping around like it owns the place. A wolf tethered to a sheep is no tether.
When I’m distracted during a conversation, it hums, well, kind of imagine how a mouse would sing if it got voice lessons from Bob Dylan. Young Dylan. If I am angry, its red body turns black…you get the point here—there are as many behaviors to my heart as there are what people have called “moods” or “emotions.” No manner of yoke or harness have proved effective in giving the little bloody pumper directives. It merely responds, and I have to clean up after it, as if I'm trying to decipher a poetic toddler who just learned how to talk backwards.
Sometimes I feel guilty disobeying it in the face of its pleading and brutal honesty, as in, it has a distinctive consciousness of its own, which, while clearly associated with the irrational labyrinth that is my psyche, exhibits traits that feel foreign, nay I say feminine.
It would have been so much better if my sister had survived. We could talk about things, laugh together. I wouldn't be so lonely. Mother always said we were soul mates who never had the chance to meet, but will meet at the end. What happened to her heart? How could someone be born without a heart? Are you kidding me?
The little experiment that life is playing on me has revealed a truth so far only investigated in the dusty annals of speculation—a thing called honesty.
As it turns out, the ability to feign emotion is as integral to our social life as money is to our economic life. While everyone can pretend to feel bad, pretend to care, and go through the motions of what empathy looks like, I’m marooned on an island of asshole, since if I don’t care people know it immediately, and apparently, I care seldom. I can try to make excuses for it, but who, really, to believe? The rest of my body doesn’t even have to react anymore, and strangely, over the years it seems to have a ghostly mission to direct me in my affairs, a phenomenon I know exists since it is not always consistent, as something purely instinctual should be, nor is it always against me, given that it often reacts in such a way that I don't like in the short term but, in time, I come to realize is the best course of action. Girls that I’m physically attracted to but repulsed in every other way get the wrong impression—actually, you’re hot, but I don’t want to sleep with you—and conversely, girls wearing baggy clothes that I want to see naked get the impression that I don’t think they are sexy.
On the other side of things, you’ve all heard of having a broken heart. People are terrified to hurt me, since, well, my heart begins to break immediately—on my chest, on the spot, immediately. Blood down my shoulder, valves writhing as a headless snake. It’s all literary in a sense, but a fucking mess in all practicality. Rags, a mop, disinfectant, the whole shebang is needed.
Now, you would think that this would be a boon to any guy. Chicks dig sensitive guys, right?, a guy who has shucked the incandescent slime of masculine indifference and who is now open to the world’s sensations, as much as say, a flower is to the warm tentacles of the sun. I am proof this isn’t the case. But right now you’re thinking all this is a bad thing. You are sadly mistaken.
Let us return to Simone, that petite blond beauty who was just standing in front of me days previous botching her break-up speech. Simone stopped me under a street corner. Her lips quivered under a flickering street light, and I saw, on that rare occasion, what makes her so delicate, why I fell into the love hole with her in the first place—an inability to hurt that registered in the color of her skin. When she panicked out of fear of causing harm she would turn pale, as pure as an angel dipped in a bucket of white paint.
Simone and I were kin in this regard. We were both readable on the outside, unlike the rest of you conniving bastards, you who can hide.
She was trying to break it off for some reason, but that’s not important. What is important is the position of power I always had over Simone—once she saw my heart quiver, gasp and turn black on my shoulder she would be forced, out of an emotional imperative that has its origin in her father’s death when she was twelve, to back pedal. Simone couldn’t hurt a soul, at least intentionally. But she was no dummy. She was well aware of this fact. She knew that as long as her eyes saw my heart break, she didn’t stand a chance of going through with it. Sleeping with other men was no problem, but to return home to face up to the fact in person would crush her, and I empathized with her in that regard. She knew that to successfully break up with me she would have to employ trickery. Trickery she did.
Like a dog on a scent I could immediately tell that something was amiss when, rather than lower her head and break up with me in shame, as she had done on so many previous occasions, she stood forth, smiling that sexy smile, leaning forward, surreptitiously—nay, clandestinely—drooping her heavy breasts into the cold night air so that even mother Teresa couldn’t avoid a peek. And when I saw them, my heart pumped full of blood, squeaking giddily as she delivered those fateful words—“You’re an asshole.” Then my heart exploded, split, frost heaved, cleaved…blood everywhere, bits of heart flesh scattered on the sidewalk like crumbs of insincere love doled out by drunken carelessness. But wait, she didn't say those words. She said, "You hurt because you are scared, and you are scared because you feel guilty about something, but I don't have a clue as to what that is....I don't deserve you."
By the time I figured it out, she was already around the corner. With my heart in pieces, I was still living, still breathing. A man without a heart—it was a scientific miracle.
But it wasn't a miracle. The heart on my shoulder was never mine it turns out, but the heart of a ghost, a twin, a twin sister who never made it here.
I'll see her in the end, I've been told.