Home > Heart & Soul (Lost & Found #5)

Heart & Soul (Lost & Found #5)
Nicole Williams

SHE WAS MY heart. She was my soul. She was everything that resided in between.

I guessed that was just another way of saying she was my everything. That was what my mind kept circling back to ever since we’d scheduled the surgery. It was still a month out. I knew it was considered fairly low risk compared to other kinds of heart surgery, but when a doctor detailed what was involved—opening up my wife’s chest, digging around inside to find that vital, pumping organ, moving on to repair what’s wrong before closing her back up and sewing her shut—nothing about that sounded low risk. Low risk was stitching up a gash or setting a broken arm, not open heart surgery.

I’d struggled with nightmares for most of my life, but they’d always been the same. After the word “surgery” spilled out of the doctor’s mouth though, I started having a different kind of nightmare. One still having to do with pain and blood and loss, but I wasn’t starring in my night terrors any longer. It was her. Rowen.

Chained to an operating table instead of a rusty water pipe, her screams filled my head instead of my own. I could see her blood staining my hands when I lifted them in front of my face. Her life slowly drained out of her, seeming to puddle at my feet, while I stood there, frozen in time or in shock, unable to hold on to her as she slipped away.

It was a nightmare I’d become far too acquainted with, and one that woke me up too many times, the sheets tangled around me and sweat dripping down my body. The images always took too many moments to clear from my head. I didn’t want to wake her, but sometimes I couldn’t help it. If she didn’t jerk awake from my screams or from my body flying up in bed—if by some miracle she managed to stay in her peaceful place—I found myself gently pressing my hand to her back, waiting to detect the faint beat. Sometimes it would take a moment for me to feel it, and in that panicked moment, I heard my own heartbeat thrumming in my ears, seeming to fill the entire room.

Every time, I’ve felt her heart’s beat. Sometimes it takes me longer than other times to find it, but to date, I’ve always been able to make out that steady, confident beat fluttering inside her. Sometimes all I needed to feel was a few beats before it lulled me back to sleep. Other times, I’d see the light from the sunrise filter through the window before I could pry my hand away from her back to crawl into the shower and get started with the day.

The more a person thought about a heart and how it just kept going—beat after beat, hour after hour, decade after decade—the more of a miracle it became. The more of a mystery it seemed to be. This thing that pumped blood through our body, keeping it alive—it never stopped, never faltered, could endure extreme amounts of stress and abuse . . .

Right up until it gave out.

That was what I’d been thinking about lately. A heart. More specifically, Rowen’s heart. It was fine and healthy and strong until it wasn’t. That was the way it was for all of us, I fully understood that, but it took on a different meaning when someone close to you was told their heart wasn’t right. The words the doctor said kept replaying in my head, over and over. Words like ventricles and narrowing and operating and risks of stress. Words that were, on their own, unthreatening, but when tied to the woman I loved, they took on material form. Almost as if surgery shifted into the shape of a gun and all the other words materialized into bullets, one after another being loaded into that gun before it dropped to the temple of the person I cared about most in the world.

I’d heard it said that words were only words, but that wasn’t true. At least not all of the time. Words had power. Words had more power than a man’s fists or a woman’s stare. They had a hundred times more power than people gave them credit for, and that was what a portion of their power was derived from—humanity’s aversion to ascribing power to those seemingly innocent things we called words.

I knew better though now. I knew just how much power words had after enduring countless hours in waiting rooms, patient rooms, and doctors’ offices over the past couple of months. I knew words might not be able to take Rowen away from me, but they were responsible for paving the path.

“Words don’t have power,” people still tried to tell me. Then why hadn’t I gotten a good night’s sleep since the day I rushed Rowen to urgent care after she passed out in the middle of the track we were running on? Why hadn’t I had a half a day of peace since the tests they ran that day were explained to us?

If words didn’t have power, why had I been holding my breath for her heart to give out at any second?

The answer was simple, so I didn’t know why everyone seemed to refuse to accept it. Words were the single most powerful thing on the planet. I wouldn’t forget that. Especially when a doctor told me we were just going to discuss the options and go over the risks associated with those options. I’d make sure to cut him off when he started listing what could happen before, during, or after surgery when a person had a heart defect like Rowen’s. I’d make sure to lift a hand to silence him when he, in so many words, said my wife had a bad heart.

How could that be? How was it even humanly possible that this person who was the very definition of love and heart and soul to me could have a bad heart? How was that for the most cruel, morbid form of irony?

Rowen had a bad heart.

That was a load of bullshit.

Rowen had the truest, most pure, good heart I’d ever known. That was what I tried to comfort myself with when I felt the stirrings of a panic attack creeping up from my stomach. I knew the heart I saw in Rowen and the heart the cardiologist saw in her were wholly different things, but that didn’t stop me from trying to grasp onto whatever strand of hope I found dangling above my head.

I didn’t know how long I’d been sitting behind the wheel in Old Bessie, staring through the windshield and seeing nothing but my fears seeming to take real shapes and forms before my eyes. I saw tragedy blooming in the flowers lining the walkway to our new condo. I saw death shoving through the soil, growing into the grass edging the sidewalk. I saw a life void of love and color and laughter in the wisp of clouds dotting the blue Seattle sky. I saw death where there was life. I saw darkness where there was light. I saw pain and heartache and tragedy on a beautiful summer day . . . and I wanted it to go away. I wanted to believe the best and hold on to so much hope I was drowning in it, but even all my supposed optimism was struggling to see the good in this. From a husband’s standpoint, there was no good in finding out my wife had a heart condition that required surgery sooner rather than later. No good side at all.

I shifted in my seat and blinked a few times in an attempt to clear the images from my head. They were only flowers. Only grass. Only clouds. It didn’t work, so I turned my attention to the cab and took a few deep breaths. Everything would be fine. Rowen would be fine. She’d have the surgery, recover without a glitch, and we could go on with life as if this had never happened.

Instead of reassuring myself by focusing on the familiarity of Old Bessie’s cab, I saw Rowen sitting beside me, dangling her arm out of the window. That faded, and I found the seat empty again, but the image was still seared in my brain. I wondered if that side of the truck would one day go unoccupied, the spot where she sat never to warm again, the pictures she liked to scroll into the windows after spending a night steaming them up having been drawn for the last time. Rowen saw the world as her canvas, and she never wasted an opportunity to leave her mark, even if it was just on a plate of steamed up glass.

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