so we went to phoenix to support my mom after a procedure she had done on her heart. my mom lives with a condition that causes her heart to beat erratically, and the surgery was performed to lessen, or hopefully eliminate, this problem. she was on the table for nearly nine hours; the doctors explained she has unusually thick muscles around the veins in her heart which made the procedure unduly tricky. as i sat there with my mom in her recovery, hearing doctors and nurses address her as a patient, i realized how impossible it is to talk about the heart without translating the words into metaphor. my mom's erratic heartbeat, my mom's muscley heart: if this were in a book, wouldn't it mean something? i'd like to believe that it would.

when i've read books where characters receive terrible news or are blindsided by betrayal, so often the feeling is described by saying his or her "heart sank." and maybe that's a cliche, but is there any other way to describe it as accurately? i remember once when i read a boyfriend's email behind his back and found letters he'd written about another girl--evidence of encounters i hadn't known about, feelings he'd hidden from me. and when i read them, when i even just saw the to and from lines--well, my heart just sank. it is a distinct feeling and it is real, and it happened to my heart, literally and figuratively, all at once.

i thought so much about the heart this weekend that i knew immediately i wanted to write about it, but now i'm finding that the words aren't really working. i had a writing teacher in college advise that the best way to communicate a character's feelings is to first think about how feeling manifests itself in the body. by that measure, it will suffice to tell you that these past few days, seeing my hometown, being in the house i used to live in, i felt such an upwelling of nostalgia that it made it difficult to swallow, and that seeing my mom in the hospital bed, unwrapping the cellophane from a dinner roll and tearing off small pieces to eat--my mom, pale and sweet and tired--that my heart felt so full i thought it might burst.

cliche or not, this is the only heart that i know,
the same heart that beats in my chest.