Our Heart of Glass
Forever catch the rainbow of our love, with its red passion and its orange anger, its yellow joy and its green growth, its blue melancholy and its purple pain, into a solid, unbreakable heart of glass.
With his head resting on my shoulder, I pictured the solid heart of glass that sat quiet and perfect somewhere inside my carry-on luggage. Outside the airplane window, the sunset was exploding slowly into orange and red fingers of light that spilt into the darkening blue sky serpentine, glowing. They looked like the tendrils of color inside the glass heart, curling around each other like a double helix rainbow.
His breathing was soft and peaceful, almost as if he had somehow magically forgotten why we had bought the glass heart, as if the magnitude of what I had done to him—to us—had become mere wisps of darkness dissipating in the colorful ether of his dreams. His rising chest felt like an extension of my body and I was surprised to find myself inhaling and exhaling in unison with him, wishing we could stay like this forever, floating above reality in a transitional state where my betrayal was just another senseless and forgotten nightmare.
Except it wasn’t. A bit of turbulence hit the airplane and his eyes came open, staring right into mine. Surprisingly, there was love in them, the same love we had promised each other so long ago. Love in his eyes glowed like a rainbow that you could only see from a specific angle and I knew exactly how to look. It played behind his hazel-emerald irises for an instant before reality began to darken them into the umber-green of earth and grass wet with a rainfall of tears.
The rainbow was gone.
He untangled himself from me, looking away to pull his phone out of his pocket to check the time. “How long was I out?”
The sharpness of his words cut through the last remnants of my daydream just as the last ray of sunlight died in the horizon outside the small airplane window. In the seconds of semidarkness before the overhead lights came on, we were two dark figures sitting just inches away from one another, yet the distance between us couldn’t have been traversed with the fastest airplane in the world. We would need a spaceship for that.
“About an hour. We’re halfway there, I think.” My words were tentative, soft child fingers stroking the head of a very hurt and angry pitbull, loving the dog and yet knowing that losing one or more precious fingers would not make up for the damage the child had caused the poor creature.
“Wow. Scary to be able to sleep through this much turbulence. Though I guess I slept through worst in my own home for two years with all the secret turbulence that you brought in.”
I took the jab quietly. After a week and a half of arguments, inquisitive questions, dark revelations, shame, tears, broken things, shouting, more tears—I was starting to get used to the flavor of his pain. “I know,” I finally said.
“Do you?” He said bitterly but in a way devoid of the emotion of previous conversations—if one could call all-out nuclear war with hurtful words for missiles true conversations. “Sorry, you know I’m grumpy when I first wake up.”
Reaching for his hand, I felt myself travel across the infinite void between us. It was like first contact these days; we had become so alien to each other in our newly shaping forms. “It’s okay. I deserve it.”
“No. No one deserves to be treated like that. Not even you.” A thin sliver of tears was beginning to well up in his eyes.
Fighting the urge to look away, I squeezed his hand in reassurance. “I promise to never break your heart again.”
As if pulled by some invisible string, his head turned and faced up toward the overhead compartment. “Is it safe up there?”
“The heart of glass? Yes, very safe.”
His eyes were on me again. “Are you sure? That TSA lady just carelessly cut through the red protective wrap and I was so afraid she’d drop it. That would have been a bad omen.” The ready-tears were still there, dangerously close to manifesting.
Indeed, our carry-on had been pulled aside in spite of our precautions to have all the liquids in a separate bag, but the heart, being made of glass, gave the TSA agents pause as the bag made it through the X-ray cylinder. “I repacked it very well. I promise it will survive even your hypothetical airplane crash.”
His eyes widened. “Gosh. It sounds so awful when you say it.” A tiny upturn of the lips, a near smirk. “I didn’t really mean it.”
“I know. Words said in anger—“ I paused to think, not really the poet in this family of two. “Are meaningless monkey banter?” I ventured.
The almost smirk suddenly bloomed into a smile and a roll of the eyes. “That’s worse than any verse I’ve ever written while drunk and after falling on my face.”
We were now laughing and it felt like a ray of sunlight breaking through the cloud cover of almost two weeks.
“I liked the way you put it back there though,” I said when the laughter subsided.
“What?” His face was still alit with after-laughter.
“About out love being under examination, under the detailed eye of TSA.”
“You liked that?” The light in his eyes remained, not quite a rainbow, but at least a tiny gleam of hope. “I really wondered if she thought it was filled with some explosive liquid or if she pictured us hitting someone over the head with it. As if we would even consider breaking yet another heart.”
I swallowed that softer jab and said, “More than that; it made it so real for me. I picked that piece at the gallery because I want us to start fresh and seeing it scrutinized was terrifying. I can not even begin to imagine how terrifying this all has been for you.”
After a minute, his hand squeezed mine and my entire body shuddered with what felt like near-forgotten delight. He looked into my eyes and said, “The only true terror here is losing you, losing us.”
More adventurous than I had been today, I pursed my lips and brought them close to his. They responded in kind and suddenly the tenderest and most innocent of kisses fired up the neural patterns that glowed his name, Willem, the only name I ever wanted to accompany the words, “I love you.” The guilt soon followed though, that inevitable chasm of betrayal and shame into which I had fallen. I now was the one holding back tears.
He pulled away gently, caressing my face as he always did before going to sleep. “We’re working on it. I am doing my best.”
I had no words.
“So, is this turbulence over for good?” His voice was soft and caring, a rare jewel these days.
“Yes, for good,” I said, knowing in my heart that I meant it.
We stared at each other and it felt like the end of rain and the moment of silence before the first hint of dawn.
That’s when the screaming started.
We both turned to the sound of commotion coming from somewhere in the front rows.
“What’s happening? Someone got sick?” He seemed calmer than I expected.
I, on the other hand, felt a rush of intuitive fear that seized me from head to toe. “Grab our bag,” I exclaimed, pointing at the overhead compartment.
After a second of hesitation, he undid his seatbelt and sprang up, quickly snapping the compartment open and reaching for our bag. He handed it to me. “What’s this about?”
“A hunch.” I quickly unzipped the bag and dug for the bundle containing the glass heart and stuffed it in the tight space between the seat and the wall, half hoping, half knowing that the heart of glass would be as solid as my commitment to save this relationship. I handed the bag back to him along with my phone and wallet.” Put this bag back and throw our phones and wallets in your shoulder bag and stick it up there too.”
It must have been something in my voice but he asked no questions and did as I asked. I was infinitely glad the aisle seat was empty. What I held back was my earlier sense of utter discomfort, upon boarding, at having been regarded with something like scorn by two passengers in the airline’s uniform who were not part of this flight’s crew but had been sitting in first class. Willem and I had been touching each other lovingly as we made our way down the aisle, which had taken me by surprise, but had quickly retreated from the contact under the scrutiny of those two characters. What I had thought some form of hate at that moment felt now like a visceral “hunch” of something yet more sinister.
Now, by the time Willem sat back down next to me, we were both shaking. Soon a dark voice with a thick foreign accent began approaching, all the while barking orders at both crew and passengers.
“Was this your hunch?” He asked, barely turning his head toward me.
“I think so. Hold on tight babe. I got us and I got our heart of glass safe from harm. If they ask, all our stuff is in the overhead.”
When the man’s figure appeared in the aisle next to the bathroom door, I wasn’t surprised to see that same unhappy face we had walked by in first class. Now, while standing there, his eyes paused on mine for a second, devoid of any feeling, before moving on to my husband. “You,” he said, pointing at him. “Move to the aisle seat.”
I caressed Willem’s back tenderly and pushed gently in the direction of the aisle seat.
Without looking at me, he swapped seats and sat quietly, facing forward.
I did the same, keeping the uniformed man in the periphery of my vision until he continued all the way to the back, asking people to move around. It not being a full flight meant there were plenty of empty seats to separate us all: divide and conquer.
“Your wallets and phones, all of you.” He said loudly.
There was a rustling of clothes and a small whimper followed by the clink and clank of phones and wallets being thrown. Then our flight attendant showed up next to our seats with a large trash bag in her hand, her eyes silently pleading for our compliance.
From the aisle seat, Willem said, “Our phones and wallets are in my blue shoulder bag in the overhead compartment.”
I turned slightly as the man directed the flight attendant toward the overhead. “Get it!”
She did so and had no trouble picking out the bag and opening it, quickly fishing for the two phones and the two wallets, which the man grabbed, inspected, and threw in the trash bag. That’s when I first noticed the icy glint of a long knife menacingly pointed at the flight attendant. When he got back to the bathroom area, he handed the woman over to someone on the other side and turned around to face all of us in the back of the plane.
“You will stay in your seats quiet and good and you can be safe from this.” He lifted the knife for all to see. “We are armed and ready to cut you up if you disobey.”
No one spoke. All we could hear was the sound of the airplane flying unseen through storm clouds as dark and dangerous as the ones building up within.
Minutes passed that felt like hours. We sat still, not daring to look at each other. The empty seat between us seemed to me like a manifestation of the barrier that my deceit had created between Willem and me. I craved to reach for his arm and give him comfort and I felt a lot like I had the last couple weeks: helpless and not knowing how to console him.
The man kept walking back and forth down the aisle, looking at the passengers, scrutinizing, and intimidating. The little he said was always a reminder that we needed not worry and we would be safe as long as we stayed in our seats and said nothing.
I didn't believe him, but I wasn't sure either. When I managed to look across the aisle at the person sitting in the window seat, I noticed that his in-flight entertainment screen was on, playing some movie I couldn’t recognize. I realized the hijackers had not disabled the in-flight entertainment. My challenge now was to turn my screen on without being noticed.
The man walked back and forth a few times, like clockwork. Finally, mustering all the willpower I could find, I touched the screen in front of me, bringing it to life. I sensed Willem tensing next to me and I quickly brought my hand back to my side and waited. The hijacker walked by again, this time stopping right next to Willem. I froze but tried to keep the fear from showing.
"What is that red thing?" The man asked, his voice rumbling thunder.
Red, I thought, the heart of glass was wrapped in a thin sheet of red foam. "Where?" I asked, trying hard not to look at the space between the arm of the seat and the wall, where the heart rested. Could he see it?
"Under the seat!" He said sternly.
Immediately turning to the space under the seat I saw a piece of the red material, likely come loose when the TSA agent had carelessly cut through it to unwrap the glass heart. It must have fallen when I had nervously taken the bundle out of the bag. “It looks like trash. Do you want me to get it?" My voice was barely steady, on the edge of breaking, but holding.
"Yes, get it."
I bent over, making sure that both my hands were visible at all times, and reached under the seat in front of me. Then, with my head down, holding my breath, I extended my arm and handed the red piece to him.
He snatched it from me and studied it for a moment before crumpling it into a ball and throwing it on the floor. Another minute passed before he walked away.
I let my breath out slowly and turned my head lightly to take a side look at Willem. He was doing the same and we regarded each other like this before I blinked twice and tried a tentative smile, hoping to reassure him that things would be okay. In front of me the airline logo shone blue and yellow, the irony of the slogan "Flying the friendly skies" not lost on me.
The hijacker stood by the bathroom door for a while, the handle of his knife visible above his belt, as black and deadly as his eyes. I was wondering how nobody had gone to the restroom in the last half hour and hoped neither I nor Willem would need to use it any time soon.
When the man resumed his pacing toward the back of the airplane, I did not waste any time; without hesitation, I made my way to the flight map and quickly realized that we were definitely not flying toward Houston anymore. From what I could tell, the airplane was now heading north and right into the Rockies. By the time he made his way back to the front of our area, I knew with certainty that we had been hijacked and that our survival rate was now at its lowest.
Suddenly, I felt Willem's fingers caress my forearm, only momentarily, to then retreat, leaving a tingling sensation behind that comforted me beyond measure.
The next time the man made his rounds, a woman did ask to use the restroom.
"I'll hold on to your kid," the man said. When the woman walked past us, followed by the man towing the kid behind him, I could see the panic in her expression. He followed her right to the door and opened it for her. For that instant his back was to us, mere seconds, but enough, I thought, for a surprise attack. When the door closed, the man pressed his ear against it, keeping his back to us for yet a few more seconds.
Next to me, Willem stared in that direction as well, giving me a surreptitious and questioning look before the man turned around to face us, his captive audience, once more.
When the woman came out of the bathroom, I could see the relief in her face at holding her little boy's hand as she let the man walk her back to her seat, somewhere behind us.
This time, I reached for the heart of glass and tried to fish it out of its protective cover, hoping it would not slip out of my hands. I felt the cold smoothness of the surface and the pointed end of the heart, not as sharp as a knife, but enough to cause some damage. Turbulence hit and for a moment I feared it would drop out of my hand with a loud thud, calling the hijacker's attention to me. I wasn't really sure what my plan was, only that I had to be ready for whatever opportunity presented itself before meeting whatever fate these men had in store for us.
Holding to it carefully but firmly, I slid the naked glass heart, no bigger than an average man's fist, and dropped it between my legs. A combination of my baggy sweatpants and the seatbelt hid it from sight, or so I hoped.
Eventually the airplane hit turbulence again in bursts that made our hijacker stumble as he made his rounds, frustration evident in his already bedraggled and angry expression. At some point the man nearly felt on top of a passenger in the row in front of us, a middle-aged woman who nearly went into a panic as the bulk of the perpetrator almost crushed her. She started sobbing.
"Quiet!" He said to her once he regained his balance.
With my right hand I reached for Willem and got his attention. I mouthed the words, "Restroom," simultaneously pointing in that direction with my lips. Understanding dawned on him after the second try and he nodded, quickly resuming his position in the seat.
A few minutes passed after the woman finally calmed down and the hijacker started pacing again. Turbulence continued unabated.
I spread my fingers and moved my hand to catch Willem's attention, doing a mock countdown from five to zero, then stopping. I saw him give me a thumbs up and I braced myself for what would come next.
Again, I focused on the man's rhythm, back and forth. He appeared to be someone who liked consistency, which suited me perfectly right now. I had already counted several times how long it took him to reach the back of the airplane to then return to the bathroom area ahead of us. Holding my breath, I began the real count as he passed our seat, timing it so that it would reach zero when the man was in the back of the airplane.
"Sir, may I use the restroom?" Willem's voice was tentative and I saw that he had raised his hand and turned his head toward the aisle.
The hijacker took two steps before he spoke. "Go ahead."
Willem undid his seatbelt and got up, then paused, waiting for instructions.
"Go, go," the man said, slowly making his way back toward the restroom. "But don't close the door until I get there."
Willem opened the door and turned to face me as he waited, a silent "I love you" dancing softly on his lips. The airplane shook and I could see him faltering, but then holding steady as the man made his way toward him.
When the hijacker reached the door, he slid it closed and held it there. "Don't lock it," he said to Willem, not letting go of the door handle to keep it from closing all the way.
Meanwhile, I had lifted the armrest and started shifting over toward the aisle, turtle slow. The heart of glass sat cold between my thighs, sliding right along with me. There was no clear plan, only hope.
Turbulence hit again and the man stumbled, being forced to let go of the door. I thought this was it and was ready to grab the heart of glass and run for the man, but he recovered too quickly.
To my surprise, he started walking toward the back of the airplane, as if he were going to resume his nervous pacing, all the while dancing side to side to keep from succumbing to the airplane's sudden jolts.
Holding my position I waited and kept my eye on the bathroom door; it hadn't moved and I wondered whether Willem would dare lock it to save himself or keep it unlocked to protect me from the man’s wrath. Either way, I had already positioned my legs such that at anytime I would be able to quickly propel myself in to the aisle, like a tightly coiled spring.
Finally, the man made his way back toward the front. "Are you done in there?" He said loudly, meaning Willem.
Willem's voice emerged from the nearly closed door, calm and fearless, "I am almost done, sorry."
"Hurry up!" The man added as he walked passed our seat.
Then it happened, a burst of turbulence that I could feel in the pit of my stomach overtook the airplane. The man did his normal rebalancing routine but then was forced to take a step back to keep from falling and his foot landed on top of the red sheet of foam that had slowly unfurled in the last hour. His foot kept sliding backwards, out of his control; he was falling and soon he found himself stretching his arms forward to prevent his face from hitting the floor.
Faster than I could think, I sprang toward him, raising the heart of glass above me like a mighty weapon. I brought it down on his head of black hair, which was only about two feet above the floor now as he tried to get back up.
The sound of solid glass hitting skin and skull was sudden and dull, the crackling of bone nauseating but at the same time satisfying. The man emitted a guttural grunt of pain that filled the back of the airplane like an explosion.
By the time blood began to pour from the wound, my hand was above my head again ready for the next blow. This time his arm came up, trying to block a second attack, but it was too late; the momentum of my anger had already gone past the point of redemption and I felt in that bloodthirsty second all the agony of my betrayal, the shame of the pain I had caused Willem and the weight of the lies that I had told to hide my deceit.
It had been emotional hijacking, so hitting the man’s prone form felt a lot like bludgeoning that part of myself that had let itself fall into the trap of self-serving justification and had broken Willem's heart.
When the heart made contact once again it was like reclaiming a part of myself finally, after two years of being trapped in my little world of egotistical behavior. There was no grunt this time and I felt sorry for not hearing the man plead or fight back. I felt victorious and knew that in doing this I was taking a certain step in reasserting the true love I felt for Willem. Strangely though, it caused a sharp pain in my gut that was a lot like the guilt I had carried but crystallized into pure physical agony.
People were now moving around me restlessly. I could hear screams in the other parts of the airplane, "Take him down," "Grab him," but soon the spotlight of my consciousness laser-focused on that point of pain.
I reached for my stomach and there it was, the man's knife, handle deep inside me, cutting me from within like redeeming steel, wet with my guilty blood.
In one swift motion I pulled it out and instinctively held it upward. A stranger's hand took it from me and I heard steps running away from me. "I got a knife!" A woman’s voice shouted, but everything was being swallowed by darkness, like the sun going down again. Hadn't I seen the sunset already once today?
It seemed I hung bodiless for an eternity in a void that had no beginning and no end until a voice echoed within the reach of my awareness. "Honey?" Willem, I thought, and I followed the voice out of that void, out of that nothingness that had swallowed me for what seemed like centuries.
Light reclaimed the world when my eyes opened and there was Willem, his face contorted in worry, leaning over me as if I were a corpse and this my funeral. "Honey, you're gonna be okay."
We're gonna be okay, my own voice whispered in my head. The world around me slowly focused into clarity and I could see other faces around me, all filled with concern about the dying person on the floor. Except I wasn't dying anymore.
"What happened?" I asked, my voice like a whisp of air rushing through sand paper.
"We took them down," Willem said. "Well, you took the main guy down and everyone else just followed your lead."
My body spasmed into a sudden cough and then my mind reeled in fear when I recalled the attack, the heart like a falling star destroying a dark planet. "The heart?"
Willem's beautiful countenance moved out of sight for a moment and then I could feel his gentle hands opening mine and placing something cold and smooth in them.
"It's all here. Unbroken."
"Unbroken," I repeated. "And the men?"
"Constrained. Well, one of them is completely out for now, thanks to your valorous act, but the one nurse onboard says he'll live." His voice was soft and calm, but I could also sense relief in it, as if for the last weeks we had been talking to each other underwater and now we were finally surfacing from the deluge of emotions that I had unleashed with my betrayal.
Something hit me. "Are we still in flight?"
"Yes, but we will not be heading to Houston. We'll land in Cincinnati soon."
"Cincinnati? Isn't that where we—"
"Yes, it is. I guess it's time we start rewriting this story, after you recover."
I smiled in spite of the pain that was starting to make its way into my abdominal area, slowly but threatening to take over. "What about starting now?"
"Now is good," he said, wrapping his hands around mine and our heart of glass. "This time nothing will break us, although there's a lot we need to work on."
"Yes. I am ready for it all."
He bent over and kissed me softly and when he retreated, not only were his lips building into a slight smile but something whimsical was dancing in his eyes again. It wasn't quite a full-colored rainbow and I knew there were still storms to come, but the flashes of bright colors filled me with hope.
We both held onto our heart of glass in silence, not the begrudging and pained silence of the last two weeks, but a silence like that when the sun kisses the ocean's perfect horizon, filling the sky with tendrils of light and color. Though sad to see a beautiful day come to an end, this silence beckoned the arrival of the momentary darkness of night, a time to walk together under uncertain light, hand in hand.
At some level, I believed we both knew now that at the other end of this long night there would be a new dawn, filled with new rainbows made of impossible colors that our original, innocent and dreamy love had been unable to see, colors born of the trials of the soul and alchemized through the fire of shared pain and loss into unbreakable glass shaped like a single heart, beating more strongly than before into the unknown, delicious future.
About the Creator
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