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Weightlifting, Wanderlust and Vicissitude (or: The Heart As a Muscle)

by JoAnna — March 12, 2013

Goodbyes never get easier, or perhaps they do if you say them often enough. There are times when I think I’ve figured out how to deal with people who bemoan my departure long before I’m even gone. Ultimately, I know the flippant comments, curious questions and heartfelt sentiments have nothing to do with me. They’re about others finding a way to cope with the various changes that come to all of us. The thing is, while I might be aware of this reality I still can’t help but bristle with each “I’ll miss you” thrown in my direction.

These are the times when I think the heart might be just a muscle.

Yogi tea always seems to know...

Yogi tea always seems to know…

Thwack is the sound my palm makes, carrying the weight of compressed fury behind it. I’m barely able to get my body out of the way before the car brakes and another flesh-on-metal collision is avoided. I clutch a heap of dry cleaning against my chest as I push off the steel and cast-iron beast, shooting the driver a withering look of contempt. In that instant I’m reminded of all the countless near-impacts and crushing harassment over the years and so I conjure up as much filthy Arabic as I can.

“Are you stupid?” the man yells in broken English, his right hand on the wheel as the left presses his Blackberry against his ear.

Tozafeek 3ars I’m trying to cross the road! What part of that did you miss?” Hitting the hood again I stomp down the street and wave my arms in the air. Another woman gone mad, muttering ibn el mitnaka the whole way home.

Fuck yeah. The heart is a muscle.


Here. There. Everywhere. Nowhere. I live between spaces, trying on places and sprinkle little pieces of myself – in the spirit of Gretel – along every step of the way. From Beirut to Berlin or Brussels to Bangkok, there are times I can’t figure out whether I’m coming or going. I sometimes feel I’m residing in the pockets between moments, the pregnant pauses that feed memory and give substance to this thing called life. I carry the marks of each place I’ve been. Their outlines (all blurred around the edges) have a habit of resting heavy, and like nuclear imprints they leave long shadows that creep down the wall.

Reminders that are radioactive to the touch.

The heart is perhaps something between an organ and a muscle.

Cairo. I may not like her all that much but I’ve become familiar with her persona. I know the sound of her voice and I’ve seen the way her bosom heaves with the weight of expectation. I know how she tastes (astringent and salty). I’m quite aware of how she looks (grainy and textured). I’m well acquainted with her demeanor (highly mercurial and schizophrenic) and I know she smells like sandstorms and dustbins slightly tinged with desperation.

I sit for a long time on the floor of my empty flat. Every movement echoes: the vibration ripples down the corridor of my ears and laps against shores of soft membrane and hidden cartilage. The sound is cold and alien, suggestive of emptiness and absence. It wasn’t so long ago that my flat was fullof trinkets, furniture and people. With reminders and memory and all the other stuff a home is made of.


Somehow I find it funny it took less than two hours for movers to compress my life into a stack of marked boxes. It feels strange although it is not because everything has come full circle. I arrived in Cairo empty and now am full again. What started as newly occupied apartment is vacant once more.

Try as I might to shake her off, Cairo’s long shadow has marked me. There’s no way I can forget her now. And with that, I stand up and brush off my jeans and wipe the dust from my face. In the end I know every fresh start needs an ending to arise from.

That’s how new adventures begin.

Thud. Clunk. Lurch. Moan.

The heart is much more than muscle.

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