Who are you? she wants to ask. Why are you different? How do you remember when no one else can? Why do you believe I made a deal?
In the end, she says only one thing.
And Henry’s hands fall away from his face and he looks up at her, his green eyes fever bright, and says—
“Because I made one, too.”
THE MAN WHO STAYED DRY IN THE RAIN
Title: Open to Love
Artist(s): Muriel Strauss (design) and Lance Harringer (manufacture)
Medium: Aluminum, steel, and glass sculpture
Location: On loan from the Tisch School of the Arts
Description: Originally displayed as an interactive installation, in which the aluminum heart, perforated by small holes, hung suspended over a bucket. On a table beside the metal heart, jars of varying shapes and sizes contained different-colored liquids, some water, some alcohol, some paint, and participants were encouraged to select one of the glass jars, and empty the contents into the heart. The liquid instantly began to leak out, with a speed dependent on the viscosity of the substance poured.
Background: This sculpture formed the central piece of Strauss’s senior portfolio, a collection of work on the theme of family. At the time, Strauss did not specify which member of her family was paired with which piece, but insisted that Open to Love was designed as “an homage to the exhaustions of serial monogamy and a testament to the dangers of unbalanced affection.”
Estimated Value: Unknown; work was given to Tisch by artist for permanent installation
New York City
September 4, 2013
A boy is born with a broken heart.
The doctors go in, and piece it back together, make it whole, and the baby is sent home, lucky to be alive. They say he is better now, that he can live a normal life, and yet, as he grows up, he is convinced something is still wrong inside.
The blood pumps, the valves open and close, and on the scans and screens, everything functions as it should. But something isn’t right.
They’ve left his heart too open.
Forgotten to close back up the armor of his chest.
And now he feels … too much.
Other people would call him sensitive, but it is more than that. The dial is broken, the volume turned all the way up. Moments of joy register as brief, but ecstatic. Moments of pain stretch long and unbearably loud.
When his first dog dies, Henry cries for a week. When his parents argue, and he cannot bear the violence in their words, he runs away from home. It takes more than a day to bring him back. When David throws away his childhood bear, when his first girlfriend, Abigail, stands him up at the dance, when they have to dissect a pig in class, when he loses the card his grandfather gave him before he passed, when he finds Liz cheating on him during their senior trip, when Robbie dumps him before junior year, every time, no matter how small, or how big, it feels like his heart is breaking again inside his chest.
Henry is fourteen the first time he steals a swig of his father’s liquor, just to turn the volume down. He is sixteen when he swipes two pills from his mother’s cabinet, just to dull the ache. He is twenty when he gets so high that he thinks he can see the cracks along his skin, the places where he’s falling apart.
His heart has a draft.
It lets in light.
It lets in storms.
It lets in everything.
* * *
Time moves so fucking fast.
Blink, and you’re halfway through school, paralyzed by the idea that whatever you choose to do, it means choosing not to do a hundred other things, so you change your major half a dozen times before finally ending up in theology, and for a while it seems like the right path, but that’s really just a reflex to the pride on your parents’ faces, because they assume they’ve got a budding rabbi, but the truth is, you have no desire to practice, you see the holy texts as stories, sweeping epics, and the more you study, the less you believe in any of it.
Blink, and you’re twenty-four, and you travel through Europe, thinking—hoping—that the change will spark something in you, that a glimpse of the greater, grander world will bring your own into focus. And for a little while, it does. But there’s no job, no future, only an interlude, and when it’s over, your bank account is dry, and you’re not any closer to anything.
Blink, and you’re twenty-six, and you’re called into the dean’s office because he can tell that your heart’s not in it anymore, and he advises you to find another path, and he assures you that you’ll find your calling, but that’s the whole problem, you’ve never felt called to any one thing. There is no violent push in one direction, but a softer nudge a hundred different ways, and now all of them feel out of reach.
Blink and you’re twenty-eight, and everyone else is now a mile down the road, and you’re still trying to find it, and the irony is hardly lost on you that in wanting to live, to learn, to find yourself, you’ve gotten lost.
* * *
Blink, and you meet a girl.
* * *
The first time Henry saw Tabitha Masters, she was dancing.
There must have been ten of them onstage. Henry was there to see Robbie perform, but her limbs had a pull, her form a kind of gravity. His gaze kept falling back toward her. She was the kind of pretty that steals your breath, and the kind you can’t really capture in a photo, because the magic is in the movement. The way she moved, it was a story told with nothing but a melody and a bend of her spine, an outstretched hand, a slow descent to the darkened floor.
The first time they met was at an after-party.
Onstage, her features were a mask, a canvas for other people’s art. But there, in the crowded room, all Henry could see was her smile. It took up her entire face, from her pointed chin to the line of her hair, an all-consuming kind of joy he couldn’t look away from. She was laughing at something—he never found out what—and it was like someone went and turned on all the lights in the room.
And there and then, his heart began to ache.
It took Henry thirty minutes and three drinks to work up the nerve to say hello, but from that moment onward, it was easy. The rhythm and flow of frequencies in sync. And by the end of the night, he was falling in love.
He’d fallen before.
Sophia in high school.
Robbie in college.
Sarah, Ethan, Jenna—but it was always hard, messy. Full of starts and stops, wrong turns and dead ends. But with Tabitha, it was easy.
* * *
That’s how long they were together.
Two years of dinner, and breakfast, and ice cream in the park, of dance rehearsals and rose bouquets, of sleeping over at each other’s place, of weekend brunch and bingeing TV shows, and trips upstate to meet his parents.
Two years of drinking less for her, and staying clean for her, dressing up for her, and buying things he couldn’t afford, because he wanted to make her smile, wanted to make her happy.
Two years, and not a single fight, and now he thinks that maybe that wasn’t such a good thing after all.
Two years—and somewhere between a question and an answer, it fell apart.