memoir: only this and nothing more
Have you ever felt that thundering ache in your chest, like your heart was going to explode? Rupture? Like it was you under the floorboards in an Edgar Allen Poe poem? The imminent booming becoming louder and louder and louder until it eventually drives you insane? And everyone just looks the other way?
We all just accept it. My aching thumping heart.
The same way I can’t seem to ever have a good hair day, not once. Or the way my left-hand windscreen wiper doesn’t quite get that five inches in the corner when it pours.
Just another thing to shrug at, put up with and somehow carry on.
When I get triggered, I know it is coming. BOOM! I am back under the floorboards, with my heart ready to explode and scared it’s about to mean the end of me.
Gentle, well-meaning doctors tell me that’s not going to happen though. Well, it will one day of course. But not right now and not because of a thumping heart.
I have begged to be hooked up to an ECG machine or pushed into an MRI scanner; checking more closely just to make sure. Don’t they realise how fragile it is right now?
All is fine with my heart, I am told. They have checked the valves and the arteries and the pumping muscle. Healthy as can be. When we begin to talk about what makes my heart hurt, they pet my hand and turn the other way too. Handing me a script that keeps me feeling even and numb.
Even and numb as can be.
Stopping the thumping. The panic inside.
No one really gets it though.
I am constantly told I am so brave. Or when I am not around, I am talked about with pity and sad looks and turned cheeks and doubts.
It used to be the pregnancy announcements that got me.
A punch to the gut every time. BOOM.
I think I hid it well though. I would make my smile the size of a dinner plate and tell them how brilliant the exciting news was. Joy bursting out of my pores like sunbeams. I made sure of it. What I hated more than the sickly, secret grief I felt was the feeling like I was under the spotlight in a talent show and all eyes were on me. Waiting for me to slip up: Can she handle it? Is she going to crack? I refused to give them any indication I was dying inside, even with the faint thump of my heart growing louder and louder, almost catching me out.
I even became an early pregnancy hormone seeking missile. I knew people around me were pregnant before maybe they even did. I knew the signs, the symptoms; the cold sores, the flu, the fatigue and I somehow told myself it was better to be prepared this way. Like sad, old witch at her crystal ball, just so I could feel some type of control, and totally ready.
Always that dinner plate sized smile until I got home.
And then when safe from all of the eyes, in the dead of the night BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, the panic and that fucking womb hating clock set in, as I fell apart and the hurt poured out.
It has slowly changed now though, as I have gotten older and this ache becomes a different thing altogether.
I still carry on despite it, day in and day out.
But it’s no longer the pregnant bellies and birth announcements and mothers around a table of chatter about breastfeeding and sleep patterns. No, now it runs so much deeper and louder.
It’s as I pass our front door and sets of little shoes aren’t lined up like they should be.
I mourn for those shoes. They should be there and I crave them.
It’s the two empty bedrooms, we use now to store ‘stuff’. No fairy lights, or storybooks or toys filling them up as I walk past every day, creating a fracture on my heart that cracks a little more every time.
It’s the splashing and squealing we never hear of a night in the bathroom as we cook dinner and try to fill the house with our own noise so we don’t notice.
But we notice.
As I hang out the washing, it is the little clothes not there to peg up in a row. The giggles I don’t hear in the yard; only a breeze and the thump of my aching, cracking, breaking heart. Driving me insane. I don’t have water bottles and lunch boxes to clean, or snacks to prepare. I don’t have tears to kiss all better or hugs to help chase monsters away.
That’s what makes my heart burst out of my chest now, in the dead of the night.
It gets so hard sometimes. I really don’t believe the thumping will ever stop.
So, yes, some may think of me as brave and strong and positive, putting one foot in front of the other and doing all I can to see those little shoes by our front door. This adventurous quest we are continually on. Like frontier explorers handling injections, and embryos and blood tests and sickness and bloating. So much sickness and bloating. No one really knowing the truth of our quest and the toll it has taken and what’s planned for the time ahead of us.
Maybe I am brave?
No matter what you may think, at least please know this: Under the floorboards where my heart sometimes thumps till I can’t stand it anymore.
I am terrified there is only this, and nothing more.
Emma Brooker is a writer based in Newcastle, NSW. You can read more of her work here.