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Kristen McCullough Christina Robertson Essay #2 Final Draft 4.22.11

Where Is My Heart?
Home is where the heart is. . . I begin, before scratching it out. I stare up at the twelve incandescent jack-o-lanterns hanging from my ceiling, their hillbilly cut teeth blackened as their eyes, grinning down on me. Home is where the Halloween decorations hang year round. I smile back at the orange glow and pick at my notebook, my mind empty. Home. What is home?

³Hey.´ My dad appears. ³I¶ve got Tangled.´ I whoop and throw myself at him, abandoning my paper. I chase him, our feet crashing down the wood stairs. I grab the movie from the kitchen counter as he heads to the living room to alert Mom. Dad throws me a blanket and I allow the couch to consume my body. As the Disney commercials fly by, my parents comment on what they love best about the movie: my dad loves Maximus, the horse. My mom likes the scenery. I enjoy Rapunzel¶s indecision after leaving the tower for the first time. Who doesn¶t go through that? My memories of leaving for college are interrupted by a whisper in the back of my mind; What is home? I pick at the electric blanket. I imagine what my own home will look like some day. I see myself plucking weeds from the soil in a strawberry and pumpkin patch, dirt rolling through my

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fingers and bunching under my nails, worms sliding over my knuckles. Treated cherry wood flooring and cabinets. One of those armchairs, dark green and big enough to swallow me whole. A king size bed to dominate the small bedroom. A Keurig coffee maker to waft the smell of life throughout the house. A John Deere walk behind mower so I can immerse myself in fresh cut grass on the weekends. But something is missing. What makes a home? Laughter erupts from the room. I mistake it for my niece and look toward the kitchen. My heart stops drumming when I realize the noise came from the movie. Jade. My eleven month old niece. I plant her in the enormous chair in my imagined home and feel better. ***

I glance across the back seat of the suburban to my best friend. Her hands are clasped in her lap, her legs jumping up and down²a perfect mirror of my own posture. I jump when Dad¶s phone rings. He turns the stereo down. Mom launches up and flips the phone open. ³Hello?´ She sounds breathless, like we have run the last seventy miles instead of riding in comfort, to Bemidji. After a moment she squeals and cries, ³It¶s a girl!´ I smile and lean back, listening to Mom tell my brother we will be at the hospital in twenty minutes. I wonder if my niece will have the McCullough nose. Mom hangs up, chattering to my dad, who has just turned the stereo up again. Seconds later, my phone buzzes. It almost slides from my lap to the floor in my shock. ³Hel--´

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³It¶s a girl,´ my brother yells. My speaker crackles and I turn the volume down. I hear a wail in the background. I feel tears burn my eyes, but chew on the inside of my cheek until my voice returns to normal. ³Is that her?´ ³Her name is Jade Taylor McCullough and she is seven pounds, eleven ounces! I can¶t wait for you to hold her!´ My brother¶s voice cracks in excitement; he draws a deep breath. I clear my throat and ask, ³How is Nilda?´ I hear a crash. ³Sorry, it was the phone or Jade,´ he explains a few moments later. ³For God¶s sake, you¶re juggling the baby and the phone?´ ³Yeah, it¶s not too hard.´ ³You just dropped one of them. I¶m hanging up now. See you in twenty.´ I relay Jade¶s weight to the rest of the car. I only notice I¶m picking my sweatshirt apart when we step out of the car and hurry toward the hospital entrance doors. All too soon our party is standing outside my niece¶s room. I bend to hug and kiss my sister-in-law¶s mother, Alicia, as the nurse allows us into the room. The dark circles under Nilda¶s eyes, her sweat-soaked hair, and strewn hospital gown clued me into her struggle, her victory, her exhaustion. I stay behind my family, peeking at Jade. A white hat covers a head of black hair. Swaddled in a faded white blanket, she looks like a burrito. I giggle, thinking of her half-Mexican heritage. Kenzie glances at me, confused, but gets distracted by the emergence of Jade¶s baby fingers stretching toward my brother¶s goatee. The tiny baby fingernails fascinate me. My heart pounds an uneven beat in my chest. ³Kris, come hold Jade!´ Marc smiles at me²the new aunt. It is the moment I have been dreading. I start to refuse, but like Moses parting water, my family clears the way. Marc pushes

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her against my chest, waiting for me to extend my arms. I break into a cold sweat as I feel my arms circle around the baby burrito. I hear my heart pounding in my ears like a raging hurricane. I consider passing out. Marc re-positions Jade¶s head before letting go. I see spots as the last of her almost-eight pound body settles into my arms. Dontdropherdontdropherdontdropherdontdropher. . . supportthenecksupporttheneck. . . I wish I had pulled my hair into a pony tail. I wish I had sat down first. I wish. . . I stop wishing as Jade¶s eyes travel from her father to me. I almost drop her in shock. Her eyes are like midnight; darkness broken only by the light of life pinpointed on my face. She even has a red splotch on her forehead in the shape of an arrow pointing toward her eyes. All signs point to life, I think. The raging storm in my head calms as she glares up at me, so accusing. Her eyelids are swollen, like waking up from a really long nap. I want to apologize for something. Instead, I mentally make her a deal. I will never leave you. She continues to glare at me, unconvinced. I promise. As long as you are alive, I will never leave you. Okay? God, you look like a burrito. A very fragile Marc and Nilda baby burrito. Satisfied and unperturbed by my racist comment, her eyes break from mine to look up at my dad, her grandfather, looming over us both. ***

The movie over, I lay back in bed. My jack-o-lanterns continue to smile at me; my Johnny Depp poster smolders at me in the orange glow. I think of my upcoming trip to Oregon, aching in longing for the mossy forests, the hiking trails, the mountains, the ocean; even the

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dunes have a grassy tint to them: The Emerald City. I put my imaginary home just outside Portland, close to my favorite aunt. I sigh, looking to my cuckoo clock; it is later than I thought. I blink, my eyelids drifting shut. I scoot further under the blankets and push my pillow beneath my head. What makes a house a home? ***

I dig around the tree for a present that isn¶t for Jade. My hair catches on some pine needles as I find one for my dad. I detangle myself from the crooked evergreen and spot a few more presents for my sister-in-law. After distributing the gifts I kneel next to my dad in the arm chair, smoothing my hair back down. He pats my shoulder and I twist to smile at him. Jade¶s first Christmas showers her with gifts from Santa and family members alike; she is having a blast tearing the wrapping paper apart with her teeth. Everyone but my dad and I roar with laughter as she wrangles her way around the paper, stopping only to accept a kiss from our Pomeranian, Nikki. For a moment, it feels like time slows. A bubble encases my corner of the living room, Dad sitting behind me, smiling at the spectacle before us. I bask in the warmth that can only come from excessive body heat. For the first year ever, we have a full house. What with my dad¶s family on the west coast and my mom¶s family almost non-existent, Christmas is usually a small affair including only my parents, my brother, my mom¶s parents, and I. This year, not only did my grandparents join us, but my new sister-in-law, her mother, and my niece added an extra spark of heat to the room. I secretly found this better than going to Las Vegas to celebrate Christmas. Light-bulb-heat is nowhere near as comforting as that which radiates from a hot blooded person.

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I jolt back to life as a tiny hand travels up my leg to my knee. Looking down, I see a pair of dark chocolate eyes staring at me, her lips twitching into a coy smile. Her arrow shaped birth mark is glowing red from the exertion of chasing Nikki around the room. All signs point to life, I think. I accept her hand, swinging her into the air superman-style. Her hands fly to her mouth, eyes scrunching with her grin. I fly her once around the house before landing her in her mom¶s lap. Jade twists around to look at me, her hands still at her mouth. In the chaos of everyone¶s laughter, we share a look. She smiles once more before I go back to kneel next to my dad. ***

I lay in bed picking at the corner of my notebook, twirling my pencil in the other hand. Frustration builds in my mind. The only sentence on the top of the page is cliché and crossed out. Home is where the heart is. That¶s not specific enough, I frown. Where is my heart? In Oregon, with the mossy forests? In Europe, with the Alps and sprawling green countryside? Is it where my thoughts remain, so far from my physical being? Does it reside within people? What about my memories? What about the fact that I¶ve lived in one place since the age of three, dreaming of traveling far away for just as long? My pencil scrawls across the page, slow and uncertain. As the questions spill out, I throw the curtains open inside my imaginary living room. The one with the body-eating chair, the one with the dark cherry wood fireplace, the one with a flat screen TV and book shelves devouring the walls; books pinched and rammed into any space they can fit. The one so far away. As light pours into the room I hear a faint sigh. I spin around and am greeted by tiny sausage fingers reaching up to mine. I look down, and realize what I am missing.

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Picking Jade up, I twirl her around and run with her outside into the sunshine of my imaginary home; her fists shoved to her mouth, suppressing a flood of giggles. It took a tiny hand to lead me to my final conclusion: Home is where the Jade is.

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