Hot Potato Heart

One potato, two potato

This kid Danny in 2nd grade had the thinnest, straightest dishwater blonde hair, and possibly eczema because frequently there were flakes and red patches on his face.  We didn’t know what to do with him. One day, in line for school lunch, he started to sing. I wish I could remember the song; I can’t remember the song. He crooned, actually.  Some song he loved that had the word “love” in it, numerous times. I got the same feeling listening to him as I got listening to my brother three years later singing his favorite Carpenters song: “Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby.” The feeling was – complicated.  It was about boys, boys being vulnerable. What boy sings about love, what boy sings, “Baby”? Thank goodness there are boys that sing this way.

We didn’t know what to do with Danny.  He wore a blue plaid shirt from Lechmere’s.  He was so overcome by his song he stepped out of the lunch line for a moment.  The line couldn’t contain him. We tittered, me and the other girls in line around him, vaguely repulsed and drawn to him.  Weeks later, one of those girls had a boy-girl party I was invited to but not allowed to attend. After the party, I learned Danny was “going with” Lisa. I wondered if he’d sung at the party.

3rd grade, working on a project about dinosaurs, my mind blown by “66 million years ago”, and “brontosaurus, 33 tons.” I responded, “Gosh,” and when the number was unfathomable, “God!” David Goldstein said I sure said “God” a lot in a manner implying that it was boring that I did so. In my mind, I was swearing: “God damn that’s a big number!” That same year, Barb and I pretended we were Archie and Veronica, Reggie and Betty, kissing with our lips tight and thin, wondering what was so great about this?

Three potato, Four

Fifth grade, Bobbie Simon belted out “We’re on the upward trail” from inside a large cardboard box that the class decorated with construction paper to look like a large jack-o-lantern. We were returning from music class – finger cymbals and singing – and Bobbie ran ahead to get in the pumpkin and sing to make us laugh. Which we did. I think the teacher did, too, and so maybe this time he didn’t get in trouble. Later in the year, he said he’d give me a pony. He wrote this to me in a letter with many misspellings. I didn’t know there were people who couldn’t spell. He enclosed a polaroid picture of a piebald pony that I yearned for.

T_ was boy-crazy in 7th grade. She was music-crazy, too. We called the radio station to vote for “Piano Man” to win best song of the day because she loved it so. She also wanted to see “Jaws” and kiss boys. Sometimes, I wanted to be her.  Other times, not. Seven years later, when she seemed in danger of marrying a man – a perfectly nice man who bought me clams when I visited and let me sleep on their couch – I hoped she wouldn’t. How do we name the bright star we see in each other at 11, 12, 13? How do we say, “Stay true to her. She’s crazy about music and science.  She won’t steer you wrong”?

Five potato, six potato

New York, Mark Shepard, 9th grade, clammy hands (mine), minor piano virtuosity (his). Pale blue eyes and paler skin and a disconnected smile that, if I saw it now on a 15-year-old boy, I’d think trauma, or maybe just run-of-the-mill detachment and entitlement. The magazines I’d read at T_’s house two years earlier instructed girls to “ask questions about him,” “do things that interest him.” Which found me grumpy, biking through forest-lined streets outside our suburban community, resenting the fact that I found myself here, on a bike, which I didn’t enjoy, sweating so my corduroys stuck to my thighs.

10th grade. Albany, Oregon, West Albany High, hiding out in the library at lunchtime, reading Animal Liberation by Peter Singer after bolting my sack lunch.  It was an incomprehensible book to me though I agreed with the politics – and what the hell small-town high school librarian is putting freaking Animal Liberation on the shelves of the West Albany High School library, and why couldn’t she be my friend?

Seven potato, more.

My daughter told me last night that Percy Bysshe Shelley’s heart was found to be calcified when he died. This happens in some cases to our organs. I understand this as a Dorian Gray phenomenon played out in Shelley’s own body. He made babies indiscriminately with various women, most of whom died (the babies, and eventually, the women), yet on he plunged. When finally it was his time to die, and after a grandiose Viking funeral pyre was set beneath his body, his calcified heart remained. The fire could not consume it.  None of his kin wanted it. “We hoped he’d burn and that’d be the end of him. We can’t bear the irony of this so-called heart persisting, impervious to the flame that destroyed every other part of him.”

“Shelley had a hot potato heart,” my daughter said. Garth and I fell upon that phrase.  What a great title for a story! “Whoever writes something first can lay claim to the title,” Garth said.  You see how that went down.

When I die, my heart will burn. It will turn to ash, like my other organs. I have used it. Not as well as I might have; it shied away from some moments that would have grown it. I have loved no better or worse than anyone else, and enough to call this part of me tinder for the flames, ash-to-be that will be as adherent as any ash, and as soft and light as it needs to be to drift on the air. Tenacious and forgettable.


  1. Polly Pitsker said:

    Thanks for writing. I always enjoy reading your blog. I look back on my long life of loving and living when you share your thoughts.

    • Leslie said:

      Me too, thanks Katrina.

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