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December 14, 2012


How perfect is an alarm clock? A proper wind up alarm clock. Everything about it is beautiful. The way it looks and the way it works and what it is for. And that sound it makes. When you first get one that ticking could drive you mad. It will be the only thing you hear when you try to sleep. Eventually you get used to it and then you won’t notice it at all unless you try. To me, this is also a very beautiful idea.

One day my heart stopped beating and then one day I noticed.

I was laying on my bed and listening to music with my hands on my chest. I could feel my heart not beating where it had beaten before. It was confusing. You don’t expect to be around to feel your heart not beating. I turned the music down and sat on the end of the bed and put my hand next to my skin over my heart and felt nothing. And then I was scared. I turned the lights off and closed the window, and I sat there in the dark for a very long time trying to find my heartbeat. But it simply was not there. All of a sudden I was hit by a terrible and painful loneliness. The house was empty so I put on my jacket and went out into the street. There were not many people out at this time of night. I wanted to go up to every one and ask them if their heart was still beating and see if they could find mine, but I couldn’t find the courage to let them not hear my heart or to touch the skin over theirs. So I went back indoors and back into my room and I sat up a lot of the night thinking back and wondering when it stopped and what I might do next.

I rang the Doctor when I woke up and made an appointment to see him in two weeks. The receptionist asked me for a brief description of the problem. Being brief was going to be easy for me but probably not for her so I said I’d really rather discuss it with the Doctor.

For two weeks it was the first thing I thought of when I woke up, all I thought of during the day and the thing I fought to not think of when I tried to sleep. Everytime I turned my mind from it my hand would flutter near my chest and I heard nothing of what friends had to say because my ear was always listening somewhere else. It’s hard not to think about the only thing you don’t want to think about. It’s not easy to not talk about the only thing you think about.

I sat with the Doctor and he asked me what was wrong. I said that my heart had stopped beating. He looked at me a little strangely  and then something in my face made him look a little worried instead. I don’t know whether he was worried that it was true or just that I believed it was. This was the most relieved I’d been in some time. He took his stethoscope and put the bell over my chest. I could not have taken my eyes off his face if the sky had fallen. I won’t try to explain the various expressions that appeared there. I started laughing! It was the most I’d laughed in some time. He sat back and looked at me again.

“You don’t have a heartbeat.”

“I know.”

“You’re still alive?”

“I know.”

I’d guessed I probably was but it’s always nice to have a second opinion.

“This is… I’ve never seen anything like this. It isn’t possible”

The relief I’d felt had lifted me immensely. Now I didn’t feel as good. He looked scared to death. I wanted to tell him that I was fine, but, I don’t think that was really what was wrong.

He asked if he could check my heart again and I said that was fine. He sat back and seemed to compose himself for a while, then he tried again. This time, he tried a lot longer. This time I didn’t want to look him in the face. Finally he stopped. He put his stethoscope down and asked me if he could put his hand over my heart and try to find a heartbeat. I said that was fine and he tried. I looked everywhere but his face. Eventually he took his hand away. It took him some time to compose his words.

“I want to book you in for an appointment with a specialist.”

“Can I ring to make it? I need to check…”

“I mean now.”

When you are unique and beautiful you are treated differently.

An ambulance came to take us to the hospital. There was a brief moment where the Doctor was about to ask me to lay on the stretcher. He looked embarrassed. We sat on the Paramedic’s stools facing each other and nothing was said. I looked at the defibrillator. It looked like a weapon of war. I stared at the floor the rest of the way there. I kept rubbing my palms on my knees. They were as dry as a bone.

When we got to the hospital the Doctor lead me to the cardiac ward. I felt like everyone was watching me. I was certainly the only person the Doctor was paying any attention to. He kept looking at me as if I was about to run away. This made me want to run away more than anything else in the world. No one was looking except the Doctor. Everyone here had their own problems. Inside them or someone they loved.

The cardiac specialist had eyes like small dry stones. I sat in a consultation room with him and the Doctor. He kept his eyes on me constantly while he and the Doctor talked a lot of what I didn’t, and a little of what I did, understand.

“There’s a mistake. You know full well it’s not medically possible.”

“It’s not a mistake. His heart isn’t beating. I don’t know how it’s not, but it isn’t. I’m sure.”

“Then how the hell is his blood circulating!? How the hell is he still stood up and walking around?”

“Take a stethoscope.”

The specialist came at me wielding his stethoscope. He sat and put it to my chest and back and stomach in turn. I had my eyes closed. I could hear him muttering angrily under his breath. This went on for some time. Eventually he stopped. I opened my eyes. He looked furious and tossed the stethoscope into the corner of the room like a blunt knife. He told me and the Doctor we were going to the X-ray room.

Here he took a needle and asked me to roll up my sleeve. I hate needles. He swabbed my arm and sunk it in. I stared out of the window and thought about how much I wanted to go home. He stood me in front of the X-ray machine and told me to turn my head to one side. When they were done and studying the results I sat next to a desk. Neither of them seemed to remember I was even there. I took a pen from a pot and a post it note and started scribbling. Here is what I wrote.

Footprints in pure snow
Nothing is as beautiful
Every story ends in death

I was staring at that little scrap of paper when the specialist threw down the X-ray.

“We’re doing a CT scan. You need to sign this”

We weren’t doing anything, there wasn’t any we. I left the bit of paper on the desk, signed his form and went with them both to the CT room.

Without being told I lay down on the padded bench. No one was speaking at this point. A nurse came into the room and asked the specialist when he was going to be free. Her voice was like a cannon going off in that silence. The specialist turned on her and very curtly told her he would be busy for some time. She seemed confused and looked at all of us in turn. I smiled weakly at her and she smiled back with a tender look on her face. She thought that I was dying. It made me feel like maybe I was.

The CT scanner whirred into motion and the bed slid inside the clean, beige tunnel. It smelt of bleach and ozone. I had my eyes closed and that soft, peaceful hum of electricity made me start to drift into sleep. I hadn’t slept well recently. Pretty soon my head was swimming with the hazy, half-real beginnings of a dream.

I dreamt that I was flying. I could feel huge and beautiful wings, white as pearl, beating on my shoulder blades but no one could see them, not even me. I soared into an azure sky and kept climbing. The mass of the Earth dragged at my whole body and tried fiercely to pull me back but those wings bore me onward and I broke through the atmosphere and away from its reach and was catapulted up into Heaven. I tore into the stars, faster with every second, and the cold of space did no hurt upon me and my whole body grew warmer as I sped through the void. I headed for the gloriously pure Moon and, as I drew closer, I saw that it was not a sphere but a titanic portal like the surface of a lake. Perfect and shimmering like suspended mercury. I flew into it’s very centre, turned my face to it and closed my eyes inches before it as that blinding whiteness filled my entire vision. Time slowed here and it was like silk coating and blessing my whole body in a slow and languorous wave from my head to my toes. Behind my closed eyes I could still see the most beautiful and clean light and, slowly, with a smile on my face, I went to open my eyes…

The specialist was gently shaking my shoulder. He didn’t look angry anymore and he finally seemed to see me as if I was actually there.

“We’ve finished here now. I’d like you to come back to the consultation room.”

So we went. He, the Doctor and I. Sitting in there he looked me dead in the eye. And very carefully, and edged with a desire that I might lie to him, he asked me;

“Is your heart beating?”

And I told him that it wasn’t.

It looked like I’d struck him and I felt like I’d struck him. I couldn’t look him in the eye any longer so I dropped my eyes and saw a simple crucifix on a silver chain hanging round his neck.

He asked me if he could put his hand over my heart and I said that was OK. After he had done that he told me that he would like me to travel to London in a few days and he wanted to gather some experts if that was OK with me. And I felt very, very sorry for him so I told him that would be fine even though I didn’t think it would be. I felt I owed him a lie.

I took the train to London a few days later. I was going to meet some of the top medical experts in the world. All I wanted to do was sit at home and write.

We all sat in a conference room. They looked like a committee of vultures. There were a few confused looking interpreters for the experts who had come from Japan or Germany or such. They asked me a hundred different questions and studied everything that the specialist from the hospital had brought with him. I didn’t understand why I needed to be there. We had been there some hours. I don’t think I have ever been so unhappy in my life. Eventually one of the experts looked across the table at me and said;

“We want you to come to Geneva. We need to run more tests. You are going to require surgery.”

“I won’t go.”

“You must. This is the most important discovery in medical history. We have to understand it.”

“I’m not going. I hate this. I don’t need to understand it. I’m certainly not having surgery.”

“It’s not about you. This is for the good of everyone. If we can understand what’s wrong with you…”

I stood up and knocked my chair backward. I raised my voice and looked about the room.

“What is wrong with me is mine. It does not belong to you. If I could give it to you, you could have it. I don’t want it anymore. I don’t need it. But it is mine and we will, all of us, have to make our peace with that!”

I felt something break inside me and I broke my back to hold it in.

The room looked incredulous. I don’t think any of them understood why I was upset. Except the specialist. I noticed he was still wearing his crucifix. When I had been speaking he had hung his head. All of a sudden my whole body was overcome with a terrible weakness. My voice cracked and broke. It was hard to get the words out.

“I’m going to go home. Can I go home?”

No-one seemed to know what to say.

“I’m OK. I’ll be OK. I just want to go home.”

No one said anything as I turned and headed for the door. Outside of the conference centre it was already dark.

The train home clacked on it’s rails. It  was quite busy but I was sat on my own. Opposite me, on the other side of the carriage, in her Mother’s lap a little girl was asleep and holding her bear.

I started to cry. Dear God help me, I couldn’t stop it. Everyone buried themselves in books and phones and laptops. Only the children looked. I wept into my hands and the tears ran down my wrists. There was nothing I could do to stem it. I sat and rocked and sobbed and every grey and unanswerable fear and anxiety was brought forth, one by one, with each tear that fell. Through clouded eyes and trembling fingers I saw that the people were staring. It didn’t matter to me at all. I had had enough of people not seeing me cry.

An old woman who worked on the train came over and sat next to me. She didn’t ask me if I was OK. I liked her instantly.

She asked me if I wanted to talk to someone and I said I did, but I didn’t know what I could say.

She asked me if I’d lost someone and I said, yes, but that’s not what’s making me cry.

She asked me if something had happened and I said a lot of things had happened but it was one thing. And I was going to tell her that the problem was that I just felt… and then I stopped myself.

She asked me if there was anyone I could talk to and I was going to say no. But then I thought about it and I realized. I told her there were a lot of people who loved me that I could talk to but that I wasn’t always the best at talking.

And she said that I was doing pretty well now. The tears stopped and I smiled.

I got home and the house was empty. I lay on my bed and listened to music. On the bedside table my alarm clock was ticking. It didn’t feel like any time had passed at all.



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