Chamber Music

14 Mar

The bud bursts forth young, tender; shooting upward til’ the heat breaks them in half, or makes them bow down. A new shape emerges: adulthood. Sometimes that shape is never comfortable. Youth hangs on in ways we don’t recognize.

Grandma used to listen to Tony Bennett and smile this secret smile. It lit her up within. She said Tony understood life better than most, that he kept her “young at heart.” She seemed silly. In my eyes a heart could never get old. It was either alive or dead. It was a constant beat, and I would place my hand on my heart and feel reassured that it was still there.

In school, we counted the number of times our heart beat. We learned that our heart had four chambers and the aorta was the most important vein and that it went right through the middle. I loved that the heart matched the rooms of our house. It made sense to me. My home was my heart, and each room contained a person that filled my life, though some rooms were large enough for two.

When Mommy told me that my father had an aortic rupture I didn’t quite get it.

“That’s impossible. Daddy’s heart needs that. Ms. Luce told us in school,” I said, watching my mother’s head bow down with the weight of her adulthood. From that moment, she began to take a new shape and only Grandma played music for months. My new mommy slouched and had black-rings that made half-moons beneath her eyes.

Daddy’s goneness echoed through our lives. Each day it beat on and we breathed to that beat. With each breath I knew that my heart went on, despite a constant flood of feelings I didn’t quite recognize. Though I was young, adulthood began to tug at me too. I began to smile when I had a bad day at school; and played quietly because bounding through the house like a child shattered the fragile cocoon where we had encased ourselves.

It was after Daddy’s death that we began to garden. It was a frigid, slushy spring, and every afternoon I would find Mommy wearing her bright yellow boots and this ratty sweater. It had a few small holes, but was incredibly soft. Her hands would be caked in mud and sometimes snow.

Grandma always shouted, “Hello, my wild thing” and gave me a hug when I came home from school. She never had a snack ready. We would slice apples and place them on dough to make apple cakes with cinnamon. She introduced me to kim-chee, which crackled in my mouth.

My favorite was jicama; a white crunchy root. Chomping into it felt like biting something clean. Mommy’s hands were black, and jicama snapped in half, and Grandma played Tony Bennett, which hummed in and out of the beating that throbbed within us.

(Published in


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