Translated by: Rachel Willson-Broyles
Welcome to the world! Take a deep breath, cry your first cry and open your eyes. Well done. Now you’re ready to be fed, burped and taken care of. Take your first steps, say your first words, start school, become a teenager. Don’t think there’s anything wrong with you just because you lose control over your body or want to scratch your skin off or associate everything you see with sex. It’s perfectly normal. Everyone is like that at your age. But soon you’ll be an adult and start to forget. Soon you’ll grow into your body, forgive your parents and start liking things like pickled herring, olives, German dramas, and a little piece of dark chocolate after dinner. Your feelings won’t chafe as much as they do now. You won’t feel compelled to go out into the rainy night air with the volume of your earphones so high that you barely feel the cold.
After some time as an adult, you’ll meet someone. You’ll exhibit all the symptoms of being in love. You’ll place your tongue in the person’s mouth and move it around in circles. You’ll start to use baby-talk and invent corny nicknames. You’ll go to couples’ dinner parties and discuss things like travel plans, the weather, jobs and the stock market. Soon you’ll be ready to do what I failed at: starting a family. And so that you don’t repeat my mistakes I ask that you read on.
If you ever happen to be sitting on a bus and you hear two senior citizens talking about a friend who has died, DO NOT listen to them. Switch seats. Get off the bus. Break a window and jump out into the snow if you have to. If you still end up sitting there, then don’t think about how one of the senior citizens sighs deeply and trembles her bird-like fingers and suddenly exclaims, ‘Poor Signe. It was her heart, her heart failed her.’
Keep living your normal, routine life. Keep going to dinner parties and planning all-inclusive vacations. Keep taking your lunchbox to work and using expressions like ‘tomorrow is another day’. Don’t ask tough questions. Don’t go home and pile up facts about all the functions of the heart. Forget immediately that a normal heart only manages to beat two point five billion times before it gives up. Don’t let yourself be affected by the morbid thought that we all have a heart that will one day stop beating. Don’t think about how this insight feels like an avalanche. Think of something else instead. Focus on your career. Smile at family dinners. Propose toasts at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Laugh when everyone is listening. Cry when no one is looking. Don’t do what I did. Don’t lie awake at night with your hand on your chest. Don’t listen when your heart starts to whisper.
It will be easiest to hear at night. Your heart will start to wake you up when you’re lying in bed next to your partner and at first you’ll think that it’s a burglar sneaking around in the dark, but soon you’ll realize that the voice is coming from your own chest. Your heart will whisper that your partner has become boring and lets out little farts at night and has a fake laugh and stale morning breath. You don’t laugh like you used to. Your conversations have become predictable.
Your heart will continue, night after night, until you give in. One morning you’ll wake your partner up and hear yourself say all the phrases your heart has taught you: ‘Honey. We have to talk. This isn’t working any more. My love has disappeared. It’s not you, it’s me. I have to follow my heart.’
Later that day you’ll move out of what, until now, was your home together, and when you’re standing there on the street with a rolling suitcase in your right hand and a paper bag of geraniums in your left, your heart pounds triple beats and dances the cancan and yodels with the joy of freedom. You can finally do eve¬rything you’ve waited to do for so long. Your heart has you hostage. Your heart will force you further, from bar to bar, from city to city, from bed to bed, always on the hunt for that real, true, 100 per cent. It will take many late nights, many drained glasses, many rolled-up bills on dirty mirrors, many panics at dawn, many disappointments.
But then one day, of course, you’ll catch sight of the person you’ve been waiting for. The person who can be a she or a he or an in-between, just like you. And your heart will force you to go right up and introduce yourself and soon you’re sitting there next to each other on a park bench and soon your topics of con¬versation are linked like a zipper and soon you’re convinced: this is the person you’ll be with the rest of your life. On the way home you kiss each other in a starkly glaring underpass and when you walk home alone you’re not alone. For the first time in your life you leave second-person singular and become first-person plural. For the first time in your life you feel whole.
This is love at its strongest. These are kisses that combine the feeling of jet¬packs, roller coasters and electric shocks. The two of you will never get stuck in embarrassing silences. You will never get enough of each other’s salty upper lips. You will never stop laughing at that joke from that awful nineties comedy you see on the first night you’re going to sleep together. Chevy Chase plays the perfect family father who’s going to celebrate Christmas with his perfect nuclear family and he’s just gotten a gigantic Christmas tree that’s way too big for the house and the rich neighbour says scornfully, ‘Hey man, where do you think you’re gonna put a tree that big?’ And Chevy Chase just smiles back and answers, ‘Bend over and I’ll show you.’ And even though it’s a dumb joke you can’t stop giggling and that whole first night you say it to each other over and over again. Darling, where’s the remote control? Bend over and I’ll show you. Darling, how was the dessert? Bend over and I’ll show you. Darling, where should I put my tooth¬brush? Bend over and I’ll show you.
That joke will accompany everything you do in the coming days. You sneak into an exhibit opening where they serve free wine and you hear a visitor comment on the gigantic sculptures with the words: ‘I mean, I don’t get why people think big things are so extremely entertaining.’ And you look at each other and mime, ‘Bend over and I’ll . . .’ You see a TV inter¬12 view with a celebrity mom who’s being asked about the delivery of her baby and the idiot reporter asks again and again, ‘But exactly HOW MUCH did it hurt?’ And you look at each other and think, ‘Bend over and . . .’ You’re sitting at that Chinese restaurant and holding hands under the table and stroking each other’s thighs when no one’s looking and the kid at the next table asks, ‘Mom, how do you make a banana split? And you don’t even need to look at each other, you two are so much the same person with the same tra¬in of thought that you collapse into the same laughing heap. All while your heart is rejoicing and shooting fireworks.
A few weeks later you’re living togeth¬er. A few months later you’re planning your first vacation. You’re finally 100 per cent happy. So happy that you’re ready to ruin everything. One evening you tell the love of your life about your encoun¬ter with those senior citizens on that bus, or maybe it was a train, what feels like a hundred years ago. You describe how you became fascinated with the heart and how the average heart only manages two point five million, or was it billion, beats? And you say, ‘It’s thanks to listening to my heart that I’m sitting here.’ You smile at each other. A week or so later you wake up in the middle of the night. You hear whispers. But they’re not coming from your chest.
The next morning you’re woken up by the love of your life, who says, ‘Honey. We have to talk.’ The love of your life maintains that you have drifted apart and that you don’t laugh like you did before and that those feelings have disappeared, and the only thing you can answer is, ‘Bend over and I’ll show you.’ But your voice is full of tears and neither of you laughs. Your heart loses its balance and falls headlong down into the pit of your stomach.
You’ll try to fix your broken heart at the local bar. You’ll sit there in the cor¬ner behind the gambling machine and try to convince your heart that there is hope, you just have to keep looking and not give up. But your heart is worn out. It doesn’t have the strength any more. It’s seen everything and wants to retire. You’re the one who will have to take over. You’re the one who will have to persuade yourself to get drunk and try to hit on everyone who looks remotely like your former love. You’re the one who will soon be notorious for being the Chevy Chase-freak at the neighbourhood bar because everyone you succeed in per¬suading via money or liquor to go home with you has to kiss you in a particular pee-smelling underpass and then watch the classic nineties comedy and laugh in the right way at the right joke. Your chest yawns and sighs while you drink yourself blind and sit in the back of night buses and roar, ‘It was my heart, my heart failed me.’
Then one sunny day you’ll wake up and decide that you’ve had enough. You refuse to end your days as you began them; you refuse to return to being fed, burped and taken care of. You refuse to waste away. Instead you’ll sit down and write a will that warns young people against repeating your mistakes. Then you’ll do what I’m about to do in a minute. You’ll suck air into your lungs, you’ll tighten your stomach muscles until sweat breaks out on your forehead, you’ll hold your breath until everything goes black. You’ll explode your egocentric heart. Your lungs will fill with blood and the whispers will fade away and through your tear-quivering eyelashes you’ll see the horizon swing sideways and then dis¬appear upwards. Deep inside you’ll know that you’re finally free. Well done, you’ll think. You’re ready now.
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