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On Where the Heart Is

July 30, 2015

They say home is where the heart is, but my heart is in two places, and nowhere at once.



It misbehaves at Departures, somewhere in a time zone two hours ahead of Greenwich. I beep as I go through security, and the officer intervenes. My heart is ripped away from me at the checkpoint past which only ticketed passengers may go. I try not to cry. It never works. I know the tremor of my chin will give me away, so I keep my head down as I walk past the offending officer. It is my heart I want back, not his sympathy.


I board the plane with a hollow space in my chest.


Takeoff distracts me momentarily; I have always loved to fly. Then comes the altitude, and the hollowness expands. Or perhaps it is the sterile cabin air. I am convinced that there is no journey longer, or more painful, than the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps one day someone will build a wormhole across it, a sort of time machine-Eurostar hybrid to make the trip swifter for those with elusive hearts. But that has not been invented yet, and for now I continue to hate oceans.


My heart is returned to me sometime after cruising altitude has been reached and my dinner tray has arrived; the Proustian effect of hot tea and a warm bread roll. The clouds below look like cotton candy. My heart quiets down, and settles in its seat. I naively leave it unattended.


Never leave your heart unattended on a transatlantic flight. Never, ever leave your heart unattended on a transatlantic flight. I forget the cardinal rule of safe travel, the one that should be printed in bold on every safety instruction pamphlet, right above fasten your seatbelt and do not smoke in the lavatory.


Too late. I hear the sickening silence of my heart splitting down the middle, just as we fly over that point of the ocean precisely equidistant from the loved ones I am leaving and the loved one I am meeting. The halves repel like magnets, dashing across the equator in opposite directions. I am left in my window seat with an empty space in my chest again, and I wonder how I will survive till landing.


Landing comes, and I have survived. It always does, and I always do, still it surprises me every time. My hollow chest and I feel nothing. We are too tired for pain, I think. It is Greenwich’s turn to be ahead now. Five hours ahead, I calculate, but I do not trust my jetlagged math. I step off the plane and suddenly spot one half of my heart. I trample toes and trip old ladies as I run madly after it, catching it just as I collapse into the space between a pair of open arms I know well. I bury my nose into the white t-shirt and inhale the scent I memorized a long time ago. My lungs recognize it. It is safe to breathe again.


I try not to cry. Again. I don’t know why I bother. I keep my telltale chin down and peek past the arms still wrapped around me for the other half of my heart. I already know I will not find it. I last saw it back on the plane, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. By now it has made its way back to those I left. I will retrieve it when I cross the ocean again. I hate oceans.


They say home is where the heart is, but my heart is in two places, and nowhere at once.



To the family I love, whatever side of the ocean you are on now.

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