The Frailty of that Thing in Your Chest

Humans are many things. They are bipedal. They are intelligent. They have opposable thumbs, and they even have souls. But I think that above all, humans are frail.

What’s the frailest part of a human you might ask? Is it that thing in your head that controls all the other things? Is it that thing in your back that the thing in your head uses to tell all the other things what to do?

No. In my opinion, the frailest part of a human is that thing in your chest. Although, I suppose I don’t mean that in the most literal sense. I mean it in the sense that has probably touched a lot more people than arrhythmia; I mean it in the sense that it can get broken, and pretty easily I would say.

Isn’t it strange that the thing that rhythmically keeps you alive and the thing that causes you to fall in love and cry six times in one day share the same name? I guess it isn’t so strange though, considering that pain in either of them will cause you to feel like you’re dying, regardless of whether the actual imminence of your death is fact or fiction.

I suppose that’s why they share the same name.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if humans didn’t have the second thing. (Because, obviously, you must have the first thing in order to be alive.) Wouldn’t it make things a lot easier? If that were the case, you would always know what the pain in that thing in your chest meant. There would be no instances of you feeling like you were going to die while being perfectly, completely healthy. Wouldn’t that be so much simpler?

But the thing is, that second thing does so much more than making you feel like you’re going to die when there’s pain in it. Because it also does that thing where it makes you want to spend all of your time with one person. It makes you feel like nothing else matters when you’re with that person.

What does the first thing do when there isn’t any pain in it? It functions. It keeps you alive. But nothing more than that.

And that’s the beauty of the second thing. It’s frail, but it also contains an unpredictable magic.

When the right combination of people, circumstances, and will come together, it creates a magic that can’t quite be described. Humans have a word for that magic, but it gets hijacked a lot to mean lots of different things that aren’t actually it.

But then that frailty comes in again. If you take out just one of those three magic ingredients: chaos. But I think the worst is when only the circumstances are wrong. The people are there and the will is there, but the circumstances don’t fit. When that happens, it just feels like the whole world is pitted against you. No one did anything wrong, so there’s no one to blame and there’s no one to be mad at.

What are you supposed to do then, when there’s no possible way to justify taking out your pain on someone else, when all of your insides feel hollow, when none of it really seems to make sense, and when you don’t know what you’re even supposed to do?

At that point, the only thing left to do is to reflect on all the good memories and be thankful for what was, instead of pining away for what could’ve been. Because all of those hazy, golden memories will always be there, but the future you envisioned might never be. And a lot of the time, you’ll find yourself saying that regardless of the pain that got into that thing in your chest, you still wouldn’t go back and change a thing, because it was all perfect the way it was, even if it ended the way it did.

But that doesn’t mean that you don’t try again. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you should stop creating your visions of the future. C.S. Lewis said something about how letting that thing create its magic is equivalent to being vulnerable, open to being broken, because by letting that magic happen with anyone or anything, there’s always the possibility that thing in your chest will get some pain in it.

But that’s just the frailty of that thing in your chest. Because humans also aren’t many things. They aren’t perfect. They aren’t invincible. They aren’t unbreakable. But most of all, they aren’t always strong, and they aren’t always immune to pain.

Because humans are frail. And the frailest part of a human is that thing in your chest. And even though sometimes pain gets into it, it’s almost always worth it in the end.

Do You Remember?

“Yeah, honey. I’m just leaving now.”

 

Levi Anderson held his phone between his shoulder and his cheek as he navigated down the front steps of Hill Crest Church, the Minneapolis sunset in the background. He lugged a rolling crate overflowing with music books in his right hand, carried a guitar case on his back, and clutched a travel mug of lukewarm coffee in his left as he spoke in puffs of white mist.

 

“What about the kids? Oh, sure. I’ll check. Okay. I love you, Clarissa. See you at home.”

 

He paused near the bottom of the stairs to shove his phone into his coat pocket and then made his way toward the parking lot. Near the front, he approached a green Volkswagen Golf, already surrounded by a myriad of instrument cases and other boxes. With a sigh, he popped the trunk and began loading his car, starting with the things he had just brought out.

 

The cold fall air whistled around him as he packed up all of his things. Reaching up to shut the trunk, he heard the soft crunch of footsteps. Had he forgotten something inside? Before he could turn or say anything, he felt something cold and metallic pressed against the back of his head and drew a surprised gasp.

 

“Don’t turn around.” The higher-pitched, but masculine voice had a forced sternness. “Get in. Drive.”

 

With a racing heart, Levi obeyed, inching toward the driver’s side door. He cracked open the door with a shaking hand and slid in. He heard the door behind him open and shut, the assailant also slipping in, as he started the engine. Was this actually happening?

 

“So where am I going?” Levi glanced in the rearview mirror as he backed out of his space and pulled out of the parking lot. His teeth clattered as he let out focused breaths of mist.

 

“You were about to head home weren’t you?”

 

Levi inhaled deeply, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles as he turned onto the main road running alongside the church.

 

“About thirty minutes or so, if I recall?” the assailant asked in a suddenly conversational tone. “Strange that I still remember, eh, Levi?”

 

Levi no longer felt the muzzle of the gun against his head, but he still resisted the urge to snap around. “Who are you?” he strained himself to maintain a calm tone.

 

“You don’t remember me?” the voice whined. “Oh, Levi, I was sure you would remember me. It’s only been, what, fifteen years now? What a shame. You were so important to me, though.”

 

Levi’s mind started spinning as he made his way down the city streets toward the interstate. “Why don’t I remember you?” his voice was ripe with confusion.

 

The voice gave a bemused chuckle. “People did always mean so much more to me than I ever did to them. It reminds me of you and your siblings, actually. How are Caleb and Rebekah?”

 

“Just fine,” he replied tersely, making an effort not to react physically, but he was wracking his brain for any possible connection.

 

The voice laughed. “Do you still not remember me, Levi?” Then it became stern again, but this time it wasn’t forced. “Well, I better help you remember.”

 

He half expected to have the gun jammed against his temple again, but instead he felt the figure lean forward, his breath on his shoulder as he merged onto the interstate. In the rearview mirror, a sliver of his face was now visible, but all he could see was a single brown eye and dark hair. Still nothing.

 

“I was never cool enough for you to like me in school,” he began, his face to the ground. “I wasn’t athletic. I didn’t like Call of Duty. I was too weird for you.”

 

Levi was speechless.

 

“Remember that basketball tournament your sophomore year? You and all the other guys threw me in the pool in all my clothes and I had to walk all the way back up to my room soaking wet.” He took a deep breath. His voice was pained. “And then your junior year, I was in your room and you told all the guys I was gay because I didn’t want to sleep on the floor.” There was a moment of silence before he spoke again. “Remember now?”

 

Levi swallowed. Bits and pieces had risen to the surface. He did remember, but he couldn’t put a name or a face to any of the incidents.

 

“The same year, you convinced one of my best friends that I was in love with her. She stopped talking to me. The next week she started dating you.” The voice gave what sounded like a stifled sob. “Then at prom, you and the other guys got wasted and hid the bottles in my locker. Remember now?”

 

“I—”

 

“Do you remember?” the figure lurched forward, his voice cracking halfway between a shout and a sob. Levi flinched, his breathing heavy. “Do you remember me?”

 

In his current position, Levi could see most of the figure’s face in the street lights. He barely looked different at all. Same eyes. Same hair. Same everything. His emotion-painted face was just how it had looked fifteen years ago. “Isaac…”

 

“You haven’t completely forgotten me, I suppose,” he whispered, leaning back. As Levi wove onto an exit ramp, Isaac began rhythmically tapping his gun on his knee, the sound of each tap lingering in his ears.

 

“Isaac, I’m so sorry. It was high school and if I had—

 

“Your apology is a little late,” he interjected, suddenly composed again. “Not that it changes anything. You can’t take any of it back.”

 

“Isaac, you don’t have to do this.”

 

“I know,” he answered as Levi pulled up to a red light. He raised his weapon and Levi braced himself, squeezing his eyes shut and gritting his clenched teeth. He heard the gun click empty and then silence before Isaac spoke again. “But I would never stoop that low.”

 

Levi raised his hand to his chest. His heart shook his entire body as he exhaled. “Isaac.”

 

“I just wanted to talk.” His breaths were weak and labored. “I just wanted you to understand.”

 

Levi heard the back door open and snapped around. Isaac stepped out of the car without looking back at him. “Isaac!”

 

Just then, the car behind honked loudly at him. Glancing forward, he saw the light had turned green. Turning around, another car blared its horn as the first sped past him in the next lane, then another and another.

 

“Better get going,” Isaac murmured as he kicked the door shut, meandering toward the oncoming traffic.

 

“Isaac!” Levi voice cracked, but another car led a blurred curtain of vehicles that blocked off his view. “Goodness,” he muttered as he stepped on the gas. Looking back, Isaac was gone, lost in a sea of headlights and metallic sheen.

 

As the street lights passed overhead, he couldn’t get it out of his mind. The gun could’ve been loaded. He could’ve done it, but he hadn’t, even after everything. Yes, he had abducted him at gunpoint, but Isaac had shown more character than he ever had.

 

Levi sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand as he braked and turned onto his street. Pulling into his driveway, he sat there in silence, staring at the clock on the console. He had been right. Thirty-one minutes.

 

Sobered, Levi shut off the engine and dragged himself inside, leaving everything in his car. He flipped on the kitchen light and tossed his keys on the table, leaning back on a chair.

 

“Levi! Oh my goodness!” Clarissa’s voice called as footsteps clomped down the hall.

 

“Hi, honey.” He couldn’t even force a smile. He felt so hollow. “What is it?”

 

“Look what Kira mailed!” she exclaimed, handing him a thin shred of yellowed newspaper. “It’s nearly ten years old so I almost didn’t recognize him, but I could hardly believe it when I did. How did we not hear about this sooner? You do remember, don’t you?”

 

Levi could hardly speak as his eyes glazed over the words. He covered his mouth with his hand and tears spilled from his eyes as he could only nod his head and clench the clipping.

 

Bright college honor student, Isaac Stone commits suicide. October 22, 2003.

broken iphone screens

Maybe the most painful wounds we endure are the ones we cannot see, and the longest lasting scars the ones hidden beneath the surface of our skin. Because while sticks and stones may break our bones, words are the weapons that strike the soul. But the visual modernity of our minds is completely blind to these battles, and the casualty count is starting to rise.

 

If only we paid as much attention to broken people as broken iPhone screens, we’d be aware of these cardiac spider web cracks reaching into the pulmonary, fracturing our breath, dividing sighs from sobs. No insurance covers these kinds of operations, because this cancer hides beyond the infrared and the ultraviolet, existing in the invisible spectrums where they can be denied out of our conscious thought until they remain only as friendly shadows that cling to us, following us wherever we might dare go. Though banishable by light, our ethereal companions persist with us, because we don’t dare ask for help until, under the weight of these ghastly wraiths, our own selves are on the verge of shattering.

 

Instead, we scorn any outside aid and become the epicenters of our own internal earthquakes, covering up the cracks and emerging hairline fractures with masks made up of coping mechanisms and painted on expressions in an attempt to elicit other emotions from the depths of our being instead. We hide the damage inside to comply with the de facto laws that legalize blood and broken bones while prohibiting sapped spirits or any type of tears as permissible perceptions of pain.

 

Is it any wonder then that attacks to the heart are the leading cause of death, both external and internal, when we hear the death of data behind the sound of shattering glass but remain deaf to the fragmenting of that frail thing within our chests? Perhaps instead of spending so much time studying two-year upgrade cycles, we’d be better off investing in increasing the integrity and resistance of our own race, because while we gain less susceptible strains of Gorilla Glass to surround our screens, we lose the ability to guard what’s truly fragile, and remains of that revolution then is a world where we value external aesthetics and surface sheen while neglecting the internal necrosis that may never be seen and dares us to die from the inside out.