The cold killed the lilacs.
I shouldn’t be surprised, really, because spring in Minnesota can be calculating, moody and cruel. It’s 80 and balmy one day, then the next morning lays down a frost on the grass. Don’t box up those sweaters and hats so soon, it says, though I always do. I always act too fast. It’s one of my many personality flaws, but it’s not the worst one.
The lilacs didn’t stand a chance. They had a week or two to bloom, the smell hanging heavy over my street and making me dizzy with happiness. We brought a handful into the bar with us on a marathon Sunday and cooed over their beauty. We made a makeshift vase out of a Bud Light bottle.
The problem with lilacs is that they die so early.
It was cold all week, too cold for May. I drove to the clinic and paid my valet in quarters. “It’s a bad thing to tip in quarters, but I promise it’s two dollars,” I said to him. He didn’t seem to mind; it was laundry money, anyway. The parking lot was all ripped up with summertime construction.
My doctor looked at me and said, “I guess your heart is just a little intense.” And in my head I said, “Are you kidding? I spend every night thinking that my heart is going to attack me and I’ll die alone in this bed and no one will find me for a day or two. Of course it’s intense. I’m intense. This is intense.” My pharmacist best friend told me I had nothing to worry about and it was all in my head, but I looked at him and thought, “You don’t sleep alone. You’d have someone to call 911.” I was being crazy, and I knew it, but a heart is a big complicated thing. I’ve never been good at calming down, either.
If you looked in my phone, you’d find only articles about heart disease and heart attacks and how to know if you’re having a stroke. You can’t say I didn’t cover my bases.
I sat and waited for my blood to be drawn, trying not to tremble, trying to steady my mind and page through an old “Time” magazine. The man called me over and pressed his warm hand to mine to steady me. “It’s OK,” he said. “I’m good at this, you’ll be OK.” My veins roll around, skinny and weak and hard to find, and I have memories of being stabbed multiple times by inexperienced hands trying to pin one down. But he got it right the first time and smiled at me in triumph. I watched it flood the vial and I tried to take a mental snapshot of the color so I could have a lipstick made in that exact shade. How romantic would it be to wear your lover’s blood on your mouth, I thought. I love you so much I’m wearing your blood on my lips and my nails.
I tried to think about driving through Joshua Tree with my brother singing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” to calm myself on the way home.
A few days later, I sat in another clinic surrounded by old men, crippled and stooped over with their age. I tried not to look at them; I was already on the verge of tears and their thin skin and weakened eyes would’ve made it worse. A woman scrubbed at my chest with sandpaper and stuck EKG wires to me, six in total. She tried to make me laugh but my nerves were too jumpy, playing piano on my ribs in clattering minor keys as she worked.
I wore the device for an entire day and it kept record of every beat of my heart. I took it out to dinner and drank rosé with it. I slept next to it and tried really hard to stay still and not disturb it. Thank god for modern medicine, right? When I returned it, the smiley woman said, “Have a great weekend!” and I said, “See you later. No, wait, I hope I never see you again.” She laughed and said she hoped the same.
I wanted to keep my results, to see my EKGs and take a picture of the patterns so I could draw them all over your arms, so I could learn when my heart bumped and jumped and danced around. But I didn’t get to; my doctor kept them and called me to tell me everything looked normal. She probably threw them away.
But I still have marks from the monitor. I can’t wash them away no matter how many showers I take, no matter how many hot baths I stew away in. It’s still so cold.