Creative Nonfiction: Symptoms of a Mistreated Heart by K.B. Carle

You arrive in Louisiana with a familiar darkness shrouding your vision. With your parents talking above you. Their voices at a distance. One missed call. Your primary doctor. Your father with your phone. Your heart works overtime. How it rattles against your ribcage when your mother asks what the doctor said. How it rattles your bones when your father says you need to go to the emergency room. How it clenches and pounds and clenches and pounds with every step you take.

***

Periods didn’t always come with blood clots, though you can’t remember a time when one didn’t include the other. Your gyno with his soft hands claimed to see nothing new. Nothing out of the ordinary tucked away in hiding. No reason why you were always tired. You’d always run cold. That was why, when he said there’s nothing wrong, you believed him and walked out. He’s the doctor, the gyno, the man who delivered you, and you wanted to believe he knew.

***

Google guides you and your family to the nearest hospital. Your cousin at the wheel. You go to Louisiana to go to Mississippi to go to a family reunion in Georgia. But you are still in Louisiana with guilt nipping at your stomach while your mother holds your hand, her thumb caressing your knuckles. Another trip delayed because of you. Your need for sleep. Your heart exhausted from all the beating.

***

In New York, you struggled to find your breath. Sunk to the ground in the hall that connected the subway to the bus station. Your parents were always waiting for you. Your memories filled with collapses, your body too weak to bear your weight. You exercised to become strong. You almost fainted doing yoga. Your fingernails transformed into spoons. You told yourself you were fine, despite feeling your heart yawn and pause. Yawn and pause and beat again.

***

Your cousin drives you and your family to a hospital with brown walls. With green grass and flowers and a parking lot with four cars. Your father declares that he’ll stay in the car. He hates hospitals, your mother says while she holds your arm. In the time it’s taken to land and be escorted to the hospital, you’ve transformed into this frail, breakable thing.

***

You spent most nights on the toilet. Mornings on the bathroom floor. Your blood filled the white spaces between the yellow tiles, mapping the areas where you’d fallen. You learned to leave the door unlocked. Which parent could hear a moan versus which moved fastest when you called their name. Blood stains appeared on your sheets, on your bed, in your pants, in the pads that no longer contained you.

***

A psychiatric hospital. Search “hospitals near you” and this is what Google prescribes. The waiting room has no chairs so you lean on the receptionist’s desk. Maybe she calls you baby the same way your aunts used to when you were sick, all sweet sounds and gentle touches to make sure you were okay. To make sure you were still breathing.

***

An ER doctor dismissed you. Gas, he said, without touching you. Prescribed pills without asking how you felt. How you felt your heart curl, tugging on your veins. You wanted to believe it was gas. Something that would pass despite the blood clot floating in the sample cup, your name taped over the lid.

***

The normal hemoglobin level for a female is between 12.1 and 15.1 g/dL. Yours is at 4.2. Someone orders two bags of blood. Your father leaves with your cousin for Mississippi. Your cousin has to work the next day. Your father still hates hospitals. There’s only one chair to sleep in and your father plans to return in your uncle’s car the following morning. Your primary calls. You text your friends. They want to send flowers. You’re placed in a room with a roommate who asks the nurse to leave a chair for her daughter. Visiting hours end. Your mother stays. Your roommate’s daughter never comes. You ask your friends to send her flowers.

***

Most nights were spent waiting for your bladder to haul you to the bathroom. Your lips parted. You inhaled, but felt your body crave more. Your felt the clenches and pounds and clenches and pounds of your heart. You felt every pause. You asked someone, anyone, for one more day. The continued clench and pound and clench and pause of your heart. Just give me one more day.

***

The Louisiana doctor says you have polyps on your uterus. This diagnosis will be proven false. When your body is ready in Georgia, she will expel a uterine fibroid like a gum wad dangling from the lips of a child. Before that, you’ll have energy for the first time in years and walk circles around a pond where swans go to war with ducks. Before that, you will watch your mother sleep, a needle in your arm. Blood from two transfusions will fill you. Will leave you with the coming of a new, less painful, period. Your heart will nestle in your chest, hum for the first time in years.

K.B. Carle lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her flash has been published in a variety of places including Good River Review, HAD, Waxwing, Bending Genres, No Contact, and elsewhere. K.B.’s stories have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize, and her story, “Soba,” was included in the 2020 Best of the Net anthology. Her story, “A Lethal Woman,” will be included in the 2022 Best Small Fictions anthology. She can be found online at kbcarle.com or on Twitter @kbcarle.

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