I’ve been working on opening up my heart.
I’ve been sitting with eyes closed at random places -the break room at work, the bathroom, at red lights and stop signs in the car- and whispering to myself “my heart is open, my heart is open.”
But all that’s really there is a heavy lump in my throat, because my heart isn’t anywhere near being open. Lately, my heart has been closed.
When I think of my past experiences and emotions I like to envision a house, with rooms, and common areas, and a garden.
If you’d ask me a few years ago what that house looked like. I would describe it with little consideration, as nothing more than a shack. An abandoned structure, inside dark and dingy with boards blocking any view from anyone on the outside wanting to take a glimpse in. Mildew, standing water, dried, withered, and flaking paint, rats, and the reeking stench of loneliness. Dust collecting on the windowsills and the baseboards, in the walls a termite infestation, gnawing away at the structure of the house. Each room filled with boxes, piled on top of each other, on top of furniture draped in cloth. Furniture that once served a purpose, that was colorful and comfortable, that sustained a living and brightened the home. The garden left untended, was muddy and overgrown filled with empty pots and dead plants. Weeds took over where once grew a meadow. And wasps took the place of butterflies.
To the outside world it looked like no one could possibly live in that space, yet you could find me there. Wandering the common areas of this withering home, it’s halls and kitchen, in complete darkness. Any inch of light would be too much for my weak body, but my wide-pupil eyes got accustomed to the dark. Often times I would wail, as I let my fingers run alongside the walls and I’d aimlessly wander past the closed rooms bursting with stuff. I would find my way up the stairs, rest my hand on the door of what once used to be the master bedroom and I’d sob until my knees would buckle and my face would hit the ground. I’d lie there and I would fall asleep licking my tears as the only source of nourishment for days. At least that’s what it felt like a few years ago.
My heart didn’t represent much back then. Nothing but an empty casing beating in my chest, I kept its parts contained in multiple boxes, in different rooms, in that house, after it shattered once. I picked up the pieces and kept them separate from each other, contained, because having the heart beat in parts unseen hurt less than one big collective broken thing inside my body.
I don’t quite remember how it all happened. After years of keeping those boxes untouched, it’s hard to recall what’s in them and where each piece belongs. But as I’ve wandered these halls of my emotional body house and opened up a few of these boxes I can now piece together stories.
Stories of when I was younger and we had no home. We were helping out family, so my dad decided to sell our house and we’d all move in with my grandmother, whose house was also the home of my aunt and uncle and their two girls. They were there first, so they got first pick of rooms, and beds, and shelves. All I got was a cot constructed out of chairs pushed together. It was comfortable. We were all under one roof.
Stories of when we used to live in our own home, before we decided to move in with grandma, and aunt and uncle and cousins. When my mom would tuck us in bed and we’d yell “Goodnight dad!” throughout the house and as sure as everything that is sure, my dad would yell back. “Goodnight!” It was comforting, but if I knew that that would be the only memory I would have left of what a happy family felt like I would have frozen that moment in time. I would wrap it in cloth and carry it in my pocket and let it keep me safe. I would open it up whenever I’m driving down the road and I realize that moment is long gone and no more and I can’t bring it all back.
I never knew that my dad selling our home would mean the beginning of something I once wished for while we were driving in the car as a family, because that’s what we did. My parents would pack us in the car at night and we’d drive for hours. They would have conversation and laugh, only I can never remember the laughter, and I’d sit there and think of my friends and how all their parents were divorced and how they had two of everything and how I wanted that. So I wished that my parents would divorce. I’d wish that. And now at 26 I still think, somewhere deep, that it was all me. Somehow my wish caught wind and manifested and here I am living in its aftermath.
Stories of when I had a dog who loved ONLY me and growled for everyone else. How when I felt lonely and neglected, because my parents were yet again living in their own whirlwind of anger and resentment and emotion, I would sit with my dog and we would talk. I would tell him things. And he would listen and hold onto my desires and keep them safe. He would never hurt me. We’d established that. Until one day he left and I never got to say goodbye and no matter how loudly I screamed from our balcony into the darkness of the night, he’d never return.
Stories of how years passed and now I’ve gotten so used to my mom and dad fighting I would count down the days when all hell would break loose. When days of ‘peace’, were always staged and how when it all finally combusted I would thank goodness for it’s predictability. “Like clockwork”, I would say to myself. It never took too long.
Stories of when my parents would leave for work opportunities out of the country for months at a time, because if they didn’t we’d be broke and most likely end up on the street. How all my friends thought it was the coolest thing, but they didn’t know that I’d come home and pretend that my house wasn’t always empty. At 15 I would stick my key in the front door lock and yell out “mom, dad! I’m home.” Only to be greeted by silence and an empty house. And maybe the furniture even felt sorry for me. My heart collapsed into itself every night, as I made sure the house was locked and I put myself to bed. I’d call my parents once a week. Brief conversations of “How is everything. Fine. You? Good. I miss you. School is good. Bye.” The silence was deafening and even though I grew used to loneliness, I became desperate.
Stories of when my first boyfriend had such a strict father he wasn’t allowed to talk on the phone. I called his house once and pleaded with his father to let me talk to him. “Is this a life or dead situation?” he asked. And I answered “yes.” I was certain it was, because the walls of this empty house were caving in and I needed to hear a real voice to save me from myself.
Stories of when my desperation sparked the attention of a new boyfriend, who later would turn out to be nothing more than a wolf in disguise. He too was lonely and recognized that in myself. “If I were your boyfriend I would be here everyday and sit with you in silence. You would never have to be by yourself again.” Magic word potion. I drank it willingly. I was his.
Stories of when we fought for the first time and I screamed in his face like my mother taught me. “Calm down,” he smirked. “Or else”, he said. “OR ELSE WHAT?!” as I provoked him, as he later explained to me. “Don’t provoke me and I won’t have to do that again. I never want to hurt your beautiful face. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Just tell me you love me. You won’t leave. I will never leave you.” And I forgave him. Just like that it was over. As swiftly as the back of his hand hit my face, that’s how swiftly I forgave him, every single time. When he blankly stared into me, as his rage took over, and his grip tightened around my neck, I forgave him. As he took the rope and tied my hands and feet together and shoved me in the closet, I forgave him, every single time. Until the memory of my future daughter brought me salvation and the will to set a good example for her me cross-paths with her father years later. A man with a heart unlike what I was used to, but my past would prevent me from accepting him fully.
Stories of when my parents finally divorced and how I remember certain parts but not much after the fact. How every time I try to remember my head starts spinning and it seems hard to breathe. I find myself in front of that master bedroom banging my head against the wall, because I want to be let in, but I also know what awaits me when it does. I shove through these boxes and the memories upset me. It’s a whirlwind of so much and I can’t handle any o
See I’ve worked through certain memories and I can tell stories in bullet points. I can show you this room, and this room, and this room, and if you linger you’ll see my progress as I’ve sorted through certain boxes, slowly cleaning up what no longer serves me, so that these rooms in this emotional body house can be used for something else that does serve me. Perhaps.
If you ask me now what my emotional body house looks like. I would say, it’s getting there. The garden is still unkempt, but I’ve repainted the common areas and occasionally invite people in. Most of the leaks are fixed and every once in awhile I’ll throw open the windows. There are rooms, filled with boxes, but they’re sorted into categories, and I can budge my way around.
But for now the best view of the house, which is found in the master bedroom is off limits, mostly to myself. On one of the shelves in a tiny box another story.
The story of my own divorce, my own marriage in which I bore a child and slowly built a home, much like the one I faintly remember of my parents and how, that too failed, exactly like theirs. I poke around the bottom of the master bedroom door with a stick, aware that one day I need to face a monster much bigger than one I’ve already battled. Abandonment and his companion loneliness, I know the two of them well, and I can look both in the eye and smile, knowing I’ve triumphed over them.
But the monster, comfortable and fast asleep in that master bedroom, I need to face is divorce.
- [in sing. ] a separation between things that were or ought to be connected
“ought to be connected, ought to be connected, ought to be connected…”
And if you could find me in my emotional body house, you’d see me curled on the floor repeating these words as I rock myself into comfort in front of that master bedroom. As I clamp my hands into fists and build up the courage to sort through those memories.
I could remember them if only I would open up my heart and let them flow through.
When all that’s really there is a heavy lump in my throat, because my heart isn’t anywhere near being open. No, when it comes to the memory of divorce, my heart remains closed.
But until then I stand with eyes closed, in random places -the break room at work, the bathroom, at red lights and stop signs in the car- desperately convincing myself, “my heart is open, my heart is open.”
Kate is a banker by day, yoga teacher by night and a writer and mother always. Native to a small country right above Brazil called, Suriname, now living in sunny Florida. Having moved to the States in 2006, she is intrigued by different cultures, connection and people’s stories. As a former victim of relationship abuse, wanting to make s difference, she’s launched the Purple(DOT)Yoga project which provides free yoga sessions to Domestic Violence shelters in the community. She also really likes naps and enjoys cuddles with her little family. To see what she’s up to follow her on Instagram, FB or her website at www.kateberlin.com.