Encounter: Brian Doyle

“Two Hearts” by Brian Doyle

Some months ago my wife delivered twin sons one minute apart. The older is Joseph and the younger is Liam. Joseph is dark and Liam is light. Joseph is healthy and Liam is not. Joseph has a whole heart and Liam has half. This means that Liam will have two major surgeries before he is three years old. I have read many pamphlets about Liam’s problem. I have watched many doctors’ hands drawing red and blue lines on pieces of white paper. They are trying to show me why Liam’s heart doesn’t work properly. I watch the markers in the doctors’ hands. Here comes red, there goes blue. The heart is a railroad station where the trains are switched to different tracks. A normal heart switches trains flawlessly two billion times in a life; in an abnormal heart, like Liam’s, the trains crash and the station crumbles to dust.

So there are many nights now when I tuck Liam and his wheezing train station under my beard in the blue hours of night and think about his Maker. I would kill the god who sentence him to such awful pain, I would stab him in the heart like he stabbed my son, I would shove my fury in his face like a fist, but I know in my own broken heart that this same god made my magic boys, shaped their apple faces and coyote eyes, put joy in the eager suck of their mouths. So it is that my hands are not clenched in anger but clasped in confused and merry and bitter prayer. I talk to God more than I admit, “Why did you break my boy?” I ask. I gave you that boy, he says, and his lean brown brother, and the elfin daughter you love so. “But you wrote death on his heart,” I say. I write death on all hearts, he says, just as I write life. This is where the conversation always ends and I am left holding the extraordinary awful perfect prayer of my second son, who snores like a seal, who might die tomorrow, who did not die today.

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