By Amy Pecic
I was born with a hole in my heart.
This is the literal and figurative truth of my life. You see, stitching up the physical hole—when I was just 19 months old through a high-risk procedure I wasn’t expected to survive—ended up being the easy part.
It’s terrifying, sure, but a congenital heart defect has a simple solution: operation
I would beat the odds and go back to being a healthy, playful little girl, just one with a “zipper” on my chest—the nickname my father lovingly gave my surgery scar. I wouldn’t feel weird, different or broken. I’d make friends and live a delightfully sheltered life.
In fact, in third grade I’d stumble onto my passion, and for a brief moment, one other hole in my heart—the spiritual one—would fill blissfully up…
It is October, and Mrs. Thomas, my favorite grade-school teacher, gives us a writing assignment: Create a scary Halloween story, conjured up from our own imagination, and she’d choose the best one to be read aloud. There are dozens of kids in my class, and I love everyone, but, I definitely have three favorites: Kimi, the bookworm and the smartest; Bryan, the shy boy with the coke-bottle glasses; and Toby, the funny boy who laughs with all his teeth showing. I want to make them the stars of my story, but am sensitive enough to not leave anyone out. So I write about a haunted house—a white, two-story with a crooked black roof, a dungeon and a mysterious Knight—that my class visits on a school field trip.
None of us get out with our lives.
In the closing scene, Kimi is beheaded by the frightful Knight; Bryan tumbles to his death down a flight of stairs; and Toby makes a mad dash for the front door. He is quick and he is clever, but his bravery backfires and the house collapses on top of him, bursting into flames. Only ruins and ashes remain.
Out of all the stories, Miss Thomas chooses mine, and to my utter surprise, as I take center stage to share my terrifying tale, my classmates squeal with delight as they hear their names. They sit upright, raise their hands, and wave their arms frantically to get my attention. “Read it again! they yell. “Please Miss Thomas, can she read it again?” As I do, their wide eyes hang on every word and I knew I’d found my calling.
But soon my childlike innocence is buried in the rubble of two years of senseless and relentless middle school bullying.
The first week, I’m verbally assaulted, and by the third, the entire middle school has turned against me, and school is suddenly terrifying. Walking to and from school: petrifying. Riding the bus: frightening. No need to imagine ghoulish behavior; I’m living a real-life Halloween nightmare. I dart through hallways, eyes downcast, anticipating the next shove, the next jeer. A year of torture passes, and I stare down a bottle and wonder how many pills it will take to stop my stitched heart. I survive a suicide attempt, and when I return to school, my peers snicker in the hallways, whispering that they’d wish it had worked.
Then, I move on to high school and college, to abusive boyfriends and an addict for a husband, the holes in my heart opening, emptying again, as I scurry to close them up with drugs, sex and crazier and crazier antics, determined to numb the pain. But still, my longing to be loved, to be heard, gapes wide inside of me.
Maybe, something deep inside me felt, if I tell myself—and everyone else around me—a story, the pain will go away. And we all do this, to a degree. We have a life narrative we tell ourselves—a story about who we are that we grip onto for dear life, regardless of how negative it might be and how long it may prevent us from growing into our authentic self. And we assign stories to everyone around us, too: She’s the girl who lost her father. He’s the guy who can’t keep a job. She’s the drunk who always embarrasses herself at parties.
So who was I? Or, who did I tell myself I was? Well I certainly couldn’t look into my heart for the answer, into my imagination, into my dreams. That would require feeling free to express my truest, most authentic self. So instead, I chose to make my crazy life my story.
I was the girl who started every conversation with, “You won’t believe what happened to me.” I chose boys who would break my heart and abuse me and I made shameful choices just so I could alarm my audience with harrowing tales of those escapades, my self-worth so low that the shock value of the story was more important than the consequences.
I had to exhaust myself—physically, emotionally and spiritually—before I could realize that I didn’t need to show up at the party with a captivating story; that just showing up with me, as me, was more than enough. It wasn’t until I found myself defenseless, literally and figuratively on my back, that I began my own healing, back to who I really am, to that little girl who is willing to be vulnerable, who knows that her heartfelt life is her true story.
I still have that Halloween narrative, stowed away in a scrapbook. My rookie cursive handwriting is barely legible, scrolled across tiny pages in pencil and it’s littered with misspellings and irrelevant illustrations. But it doesn’t matter. Because these are my words, and I now love and cherish them.
Today, I hear the whispers of all my hearts. And I realize that while stitching up my physical heart was critical, it’s just as important to keep my emotional and spiritual hearts open so they can be filled. And in being filled—with love, depth of insight and imagination—they can spill over onto the page and into other hearts.
After living the ex pat life with her husband in London, England, Amy’s returned to her southern roots in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s currently completing a ‘mean girls meets cinderella’ memoir on the long-term effects childhood bullying had on her life. Her writing has been featured on vividlife.me and xojane. She tweets at @amypecicwriter.