Give Me Your Heart
Dear Dr. K——,
It’s been a long time, hasn’t it! Twenty-three years, nine months, and eleven days.
Since we last saw each other. Since you last saw, “nude” on your naked knees, me.
Dr. K——! The formal salutation isn’t meant as flattery, still less as mockery—please understand. I am not writing after so many years to beg an unreasonable favor of you (I hope), or to make demands, merely to inquire if, in your judgment, I should go through the formality, and the trouble, of applying to be the lucky recipient of your most precious organ, your heart. If I may expect to collect what is due to me, after so many years.
I’ve learned that you, the renowned Dr. K——, are one who has generously signed a “living will” donating his organs to those in need. Not for Dr. K—— an old-fashioned, selfish funeral and burial in a cemetery, nor even cremation. Good for you, Dr. K——! But I want only your heart, not your kidneys, liver, or eyes. These I will waive, that others more needy will benefit.
Of course, I mean to make my application as others do, in medical situations similar to my own. I would not expect favoritism. The actual application would be made through my cardiologist. Caucasian female of youthful middle age, attractive, intelligent, optimistic though with a malfunctioning heart, otherwise in perfect health. No acknowledgment would be made of our old relationship, on my part at least. Though you, dear Dr. K——, as the potential heart donor, could indicate your own preference, surely?
All this would transpire when you die, Dr. K——, I mean. Of course! Not a moment before.
(I guess you might not be aware that you’re destined to die soon? Within the year? In a “tragic,” “freak” accident, as it will be called? In an “ironic,” “unspeakably ugly” end to a “brilliant career”? I’m sorry that I can’t be more specific about time, place, means; even whether you’ll die alone, or with a family member or two. But that’s the nature of accident, Dr. K——. It’s a -surprise.)
Dr. K——, don’t frown so! You’re a handsome man still, and still vain, despite your thinning gray hair, which, like other vain men with hair loss, you’ve taken to combing slantwise over the shiny dome of your head, imagining that since you can’t see this ploy in the mirror, it can’t be seen by others. But I can see.
Fumbling, you turn to the last page of this letter to see my signature—“Angel”—and you’re forced to remember, suddenly . . . With a pang of guilt.
Her! She’s still . . . alive?
That’s right, Dr. K——! More alive now than ever.
Naturally you’d come to imagine I had vanished. I had ceased to exist. Since you’d long ago ceased to think of me.
You’re frightened. Your heart, that guilty organ, has begun to pound. At a second-floor window of your house on Richmond Street (expensively restored Victorian, pale gray shingles with dark blue trim, “quaint,” “dignified,” among others of its type in the exclusive old residential neighborhood east of the Theological Seminary), you stare out anxiously at—what?
Not me, obviously. I’m not there.
At any rate, I’m not in sight.
Yet how the pale-glowering sky seems to throb with a sinister intensity! Like a great eye staring.
Dr. K——, I mean you no harm! Truly. This letter is in no way a demand for your (posthumous) heart, nor even a “verbal threat.” If you decide, foolishly, to show it to the police, they will assure you it’s harmless, it isn’t illegal, it’s only a request for information: should I, the “love of your life” you have not seen in twenty-three years, apply to be the recipient of your heart? What are Angel’s chances?
I only wish to collect what’s mine. What was promised to me, so long ago. I’ve been faithful to our love, Dr. K——!
You laugh, harshly. Incredulously. How can you reply to Angel, when Angel has included no last name, and no address? You will have to seek me. To save yourself, seek me.
You crumple this letter in your fist, throw it onto the floor.
You walk away, stumble away, you mean to forget, obviously you can’t forget, the crumpled pages of my handwritten letter on the floor of—is it your study? on the second floor of the dignified old Victorian house at 119 Richmond Street?—where someone might discover them, and pick them up to read what you wouldn’t wish another living person to read, especially not someone “close” to you. (As if our families, especially our blood kin, are “close” to us as in the true intimacy of erotic love.) So naturally you return; with badly shaking fingers you pick up the scattered pages, smooth them out, and continue to read.
Dear Dr. K——! Please understand: I am not bitter, I don’t harbor obsessions. That is not my nature. I have my own life, and I have even had a (moderately successful) career. I am a normal woman of my time and place. I am like the exquisite black-and-silver diamond-headed spider, the so-called happy spider, the sole subspecies of Araneidae that is said to be free to spin part-improvised webs, both oval and funnel, and to roam the world at will, equally at home in damp grasses and the dry, dark, protected interiors of manmade places; rejoicing in (relative) free will within the inevitable restrictions of Araneidae behavior; with a sharp venomous sting, sometimes lethal to human beings, especially to children.
Like the diamond-head, I have many eyes. Like the diamond-head, I may be perceived as “happy,” “joyous,” “exulting,” in the eyes of others. For such is my role, my performance.
It’s true, for years I was stoically reconciled to my loss, in fact to my losses. (Not that I blame you for these losses, Dr. K——. Though a neutral observer might conclude that my immune system has been damaged as a result of my physical and mental collapse following your abrupt dismissal of me from your life.) Then, last March, seeing your photograph in the paper—“Distinguished Theologian K—— to Head Seminary”—and, a few weeks later, when you were named to the President’s Commission on Religion and Bioethics, I reconsidered. The time of anonymity and silence is over, I thought. Why not try? Why not try to collect what he owes you?
Do you remember Angel’s name now? That name that for twenty-three years, nine months, and eleven days you have not wished to utter?
Seek my name in any telephone directory; you won’t find it. For possibly my number is unlisted; possibly I don’t have a telephone. Possibly my name has been changed. (Legally.) Possibly I live in a distant city in a distant region of the continent; or possibly, like the diamond-head spider (adult size approximately that of your right thumbnail, Dr. K——), I dwell quietly within your roof, spinning my exquisite webs amid the shadowy beams of your basement, or in a niche between your handsome old mahogany desk and the wall, or, a delicious thought, in the airless cave beneath the four-poster brass antique bed you and the second Mrs. K—— share in the doldrums of late middle age.
So close am I, yet invisible!
Dear Dr. K——! Once you marveled at my “flawless Vermeer” skin and “spun-gold” hair rippling down my back, which you stroked, and closed in your fist. Once I was your Angel, your “beloved.” I basked in your love, for I did not question it. I was young; I was virginal in spirit as well as body, and would not have questioned the word of a distinguished elder. And in the paroxysm of lovemaking, when you gave yourself up utterly to me, or so it seemed, how could you have . . . deceived?
Dr. K—— of the Theological Seminary, biblical scholar and authority, protégé of Reinhold Niebuhr, and author of “brilliant,” “revolutionary” exegeses of the Dead Sea Scrolls, among other esoteric subjects.
But I had no idea, you are protesting. I’d given her no reason to believe, to expect . . .
(That I would believe your declarations of love? That I would take you at your word?)
My darling, you have my heart. Always, forever. Your promise!
These days, Dr. K——, my skin is no longer flawless. It has become the frank, flawed skin of a middle-aged woman who makes no effort to disguise her age. My hair, once shimmering strawberry-blond, is now faded, dry and brittle as broom sage; I keep it trimmed short, like a man’s, with scissors, scarcely glancing into a mirror as I snip! snip-snip! away. My face, though reasonably attractive, I suppose, is in fact a blur to most observers, including especially middle-aged American men; you’ve glanced at me, and through me, dear Dr. K——, upon more than one recent occasion, no more recognizing your Angel than you would have recognized a plate heaped with food you’d devoured twenty-three years ago with a zestful appetite, or an old, long-exhausted and dismissed sexual fantasy of adolescence.
For the record: I was the woman in a plain, khaki-colored trench coat and matching hat who waited patiently at the university bookstore as a line of your admirers moved slowly forward for Dr. K—— to sign copies of The Ethical Life: Twenty-First-Century Challenges. (A slender theological treatise, not a mega-bestseller, of course, but a quite respectable bestseller, most popular in university and up...