Things We Know by Heart - Jessi Kirby



I repeat the number in my head. Let it take over the hollow feeling as I grip the steering wheel. I can’t let it go by like any other day without doing this. Four hundred deserves something, some sort of acknowledgment. Like 365, when I brought flowers to his mom but not his grave because I knew he would’ve wanted her to have them. Or like his birthday, when it passed. That was four months, three weeks, and one day after. Day 142.

I’d spent it alone, because I couldn’t handle seeing his parents that day, and because a tiny, secret part of me actually believed that if I was alone, then maybe somehow there was still a chance he could come back, turn eighteen, and pick up where we’d left off. Be a senior with me, apply to the same colleges, go to our last Homecoming and prom, throw our caps into the sky at graduation and kiss in the sunshine before they hit the ground.

When he hadn’t come back, I’d wrapped myself in the sweatshirt that still held the faintest hint of his smell, or maybe it was my imagination. I pulled it tight around me, and I made a wish. I wished, so hard, that I didn’t have to do any of those things without him. And my wish came true. Senior year became a fog. I didn’t mail my college applications. Didn’t go dress shopping. Forgot there was even a sky or sunlight to kiss under.

The days passed, one after another, measured out in an unbroken, never-ending rhythm. Seemingly infinite, but gone in the blink of an eye—like waves crashing on the shore, or the seasons passing.

Or the beating of a heart.

Trent had an athlete’s heart: strong, steady, ten beats slower than mine. Before, we’d lie there chest to chest, and I’d slow my breathing to match his, try to trick my pulse into doing the same; but it never worked. Even after three years, my pulse sped up just being near him. But we found our own synchronicity together, his heart thumping out a slow, steady beat and mine filling in the spaces between.

Four hundred days and too many heartbeats to count.

Four hundred days and too many places and moments where Trent no longer exists. And still no answer from one of the only places he does.

A horn blares from behind, yanking me from my thoughts and the nervous-sick feeling in my stomach. In the rearview mirror I can see the driver cursing as he swerves around me—angry hand raised in the air, lips spitting a question through his windshield: What the hell are you doing?

I asked myself the same thing when I got in the car. I’m not sure of what I’m doing, only that I have to do it because I have to see him for myself. Because of the way it felt to see the others.

Norah Walker was the first recipient to make contact with Trent’s family, though they didn’t learn her name until later. Recipients could reach out to the families of their donors at any time through the transplant coordinator and vice versa, but the letter still came as a surprise to us all. Trent’s mom called the day after she got it and asked me to come over; and we sat there in the bright living room together, in the house that held so many memories, beginning with the day I’d run past it for the fifth time, hoping he’d notice me.

The sound of his footsteps trying to catch mine had slowed me down just enough to let