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Sarah Kain Gutowski

My Heart, Not Hers (And Not Hers Either)

If not for Buffalo Wild Wings and their extra large beers,
my husband might have divorced my extraordinary self
right at the airport. A man traveling with the least wise
version of his wife needs a drink, or two, or three,
because she will test all of his versions. Perhaps
this is where we acknowledge this conceit is not

unique, nay, not extraordinary: we all
house within our skin and brains another self
or two, whole persons devoted to one aspect
of twenty-first century life with particular,
not entirely healthy, focus. Because I fought
to maintain my own shit-show of personalities,

I’m not sure which version of my husband
sat with that version of myself at the airport bar,
eating fried whatever. All I know is that
on the plane, afterward, separated from him
by rows and crammed between two Baby-Boomers
who didn’t want to share their vacant center seat,

my heart burned, part indigestion, sure, but with
a moment of clarity: it was my heart, not hers,
and not hers either. In the scratched chairback TV screen
I saw my reflection, its schism more raw and obvious
than ever. Why had I brought us here? Outside,
the black tarmac winked its lights as the jet roared.

Seat belt signs sang their warnings. Trailing tissue
with her shoe, my extraordinary self returned crying
from the bathroom. The stewards tried to soothe her
with another drink, a different seat. And several rows
behind, my husband settled with relief, grateful
for this brief respite from all of me. And then we took off.

The First Real Darkness

Allow me this brief derailment from our story,
please: that first time we went overseas marked
the first real darkness we’d ever known. Absent
from their usual surroundings, my ordinary and extra-
ordinary selves had no idea what to do.
London was a city that gave no fucks about

our charms, whatever we imagined them to be.
I was on my own for once – my ordinary and extra-
ordinary selves remained inside my rented room
while I left for work each day. I was a walking hull,
and they stayed curled under the borrowed goose-
down coverlet, to which we were allergic, listening

to the other tenants come and go, speaking of punk
rock shows or takeaway they’d ordered for delivery.
We lived off crisps and the rare Pret A Manger sandwich,
which is why, despite our poverty, we gained so much stone
those first few months. That, and the shifting seasons ate
the daylight. Starved for sun, we woke up early in the gray-

black dawn and, instead of running, stared at our sad,
pale reflections. And then I left for work, to help
an alcoholic boss drink himself deeper
into his living death. It had all the signposts of a Hallmark
made-for-TV movie, really. I was that hapless,
ridiculous protagonist whose turning point crested

with date rape, the falling action really no action
at all, just more stasis – maybe a melodramatic
crying jag or two, but then the flight home,
heavy with defeat, wearing my limp and useless ordinary
and extraordinary selves like heavy stoles in the airport,
piggybacked as they were on my shoulders. Customs:

the usual nightmare. We had little of interest to declare
on our return. We slumped our way back into the States,
with nothing to show but some clichéd trauma
and the mute, virginal pages in our passport. And then,
like good telenovela heroines, we suffered amnesia:
we forgot our pain and its potential lessons.

Useless Masks

What we don’t realize at first is that my ordinary self
has accompanied us, like a stowaway moth but more
ominous, less pretty. First, let’s say it:
My poor husband. Three wives. Next, let’s
acknowledge how lucky she is, my ordinary self, having
become thin and malleable as a scarf, folding like silk

into our carry on, since the Italians lost my extra-
ordinary self’s luggage in Rome. She could have been
in her own dark exile for days, motion sick
from the constant circle and drop of conveyor belts
and jet fuel’s overly-present perfume. But
she’s here, albeit in secret, kind of, like an elf or fairy

who appears at night to pick underwear off the floor
and organize toiletries. She’s not entirely sure
why she came – she dislikes change, standing in lines,
sleeping in strange beds, the lack of WiFi. She misses
the children. But she likes the Italians, with their clarity
of voice and vision: what their mouths don’t shape they say

with their hands and arms. So different from the way we are,
with ourselves and others, every conversation a static
of false starts, our arms strapped across our chests
like life vests, hands cupped at our lips in useless masks.
This weird plane, my fucked-up collection of selves, loses
pressure by the second, moving faster toward the ground.

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