At a recent dinner, I was asked to describe myself in three words to a circle of friends. Outside, the moon pouted, and we spooned chili into our mouths, puckering lips at the strange and salty heat. “I think I’m funny,” said one friend, as I watched a piece of diced zucchini swim through his bowl. “I’d say I’m aloof,” said another. When it became my turn, I balked. My friend struck his lighter, and the flame rose, tenderly, to meet the slow lip of the candle. “I think… I think I have a bossy heart,” I said, surprising myself. “Like, my heart owns me in a way… but maybe it’s just that I’m always in love.”
When I got my heart kicked in high school after a bad breakup, I walked around shiny-eyed — wanting to touch and torch everything. I painted my nails on the porch, and the sharp, waxy scent of polish rammed through the air. When I clenched and unclenched my fist, my fingernails glinted a wicked red. I felt strangely powerful. I couldn’t get my heart to shut up. While friends peppered me with advice on how to quell an achy heart, I spent late nights awake in bed, blasting electro-pop and drinking galaxy after galaxy of skim milk. My heart was noisy — told me to suck it up.
Years later, walking through the Diag one morning, I watched a boy with a cigarette nested behind his ear; I watched a woman flashing her arms in silver rain. In the bathroom, my roommate called his boyfriend’s name, said, “I love you,” softly, into the wet sink. And his boyfriend said it back.
In college, my heart cracked when I recognized the kid I loved wasn’t going to say it back. At least, not like that. I loved him, but we were friends, and when we passed each other on the street, we fist bumped — his rocky hand pulsing against mine. Some nights we would eat takeout on the floor of my room, amid black hairs patterned on the floorboards like wires. “Hey,” he’d say, looking up. “You want a bite?”
When I say my heart’s bossy, I mean it’s oversaturated at times, with all the joy, all the angst, memories of river walks and collared shirts, all the love I have for dozens and dozens of people, dozens and dozens of places. Watery muscles. Heart seeped with everybody I try to love at all the “right” times — in all the “right” ways.
In allowing my heart to take over my body, I forget. The love grows familiar, feels dumbly immovable. But it’s not. When I was in elementary school, my sister ate strips of salmon from a glass container and talked about loneliness on the swings, and my heart hissed. The love rushed. So often, my love for everybody sprawls through windows. Whether I love others as friends, sisters, dance partners, strangers wearing purple scarves — it still surprises me how over time, the love changes shape. I start off loving somebody as X, and as we both grow, it shifts. Suddenly, I’m loving them as Y. The love shimmies and evolves. And sometimes, that feels bad. But most of the times, it feels important: unlearning a specific kind of love I’ve had for somebody. Growing new love on top of it: thicker, callused love.
Activist and writer Audre Lorde notes, “Love is a movement. Actually, love is the movement. It is that which moves each of us toward one another … Indeed, the radical potential in love is its ability to destroy the walls, fortifications, edges, spaces, which work to separate us.” What strikes me about Lorde’s observation is that love not only moves and builds — it also deconstructs. Whenever my heart starts beeping inside my body, I think about all its “ability to destroy the walls,” but also how necessary it is, sometimes, for the heart to learn how to stretch. When I say my heart is bossy, I mean that my love stomps and struts, and it’s not shy about it. It crashes often, it changes shape, and by doing so, it grows.