Hearts Are Public By Lola Kelly

with Featured Artwork by Elisa Peterson

I can feel him looming. Ready to strike chaos into the city. But I can’t see him. This puts me, and all of us, in great danger! Where is he??! This is what he does. He keeps us guessing. I won’t be shaken by his tactics. I steady myself and look down over the edge. I watch the children screaming below. My cape flickers in the wind. I must defend them.

“KAPOW!!!”

He grabs at me and spins me around. But I’m ready! I grab him by the arms and we’re locked in for battle. He narrows his eyes and in a low voice he says to me, “It’s a good thing cats have nine lives, Catwoman!”

“What? I am NOT Catwoman! I’m Batman!”

“I’M BATMAN!”

“No! You’re Riddler!”

“I was Riddler last time when Saul was Batman. Now I’m Batman.”

“I’M BATMAN!”

“You can’t be Batman!!! You’re a girl!”

I quickly realize this is just part of the Riddlers tricks! I won’t fall for it. But he will fall! I throw him! I watch him tumble to the streets of Gotham below.

Justice is served!

The principal has different ideas about justice and how it should be served. Mr. Eagan calls me into his office. He tells me never to do anything like that again or I will be “suspended!”

“Hung in the air?” I ask. That sounds fun, but he said it like it isn’t fun at all.

“No. Suspended is when you’re sent home from school.”

That still sounds, fun but he’s saying it like it’s justice.

“I’m going to call your parents.”

“No! Pleeeeeeeeeease? I promise I’ll never try to be Batman again.”

Mr. Eagan thinks this is funny but is trying to be very serious and I don’t know if this is fun or serious. I am so confused!

“Being Batman is not the problem. Pushing Raymond off the jungle gym is the problem. Pushing anyone, ever, is not ok. Raymond wasn’t hurt but he could have been. Do you understand?”

I shake my head yes… “Are you still going to call my parents?”

“You’ve never done anything like this before. Can I trust you to not do that ever again?”

“But what if someone pushes me? Or says something really bad? I see Saul and Raymond do-“

“I’m going to call your parents.”

Libby is so excited that I got sent to the principal’s office and wants to know all about it. She runs up to me after the bell rings and asks me what he said and if I had to wear a cone hat and stand in a corner like in TV shows when kids get in trouble.

I tell her about suspension and she agrees that that’s so weird, but not as weird as dunce caps. She says maybe not being at school when you’re supposed to be at school works differently and we just don’t know how bad it is because we’ve never done it? That must be it. She’s so smart.

Libby asks me why I got sent to Mr. Eagan. I tell her about how I pushed Raymond and that’s very bad and I shouldn’t ever do it again. I tell her that they’re calling my parents. That makes her nervous, which makes me more nervous.

“But why did you push Raymond?”

I tell her about the stupid thing he said about Batman and being a girl and how he was just being a Riddler and so wrong!

“But it is Bat… MAN. Do you think he was wrong?” Libby asks this because she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t even play on the jungle gym! She doesn’t even like Batman! But Libby looks at me like I’m the one who doesn’t get it, then says, “My dad told me that if you act like a boy, then boys won’t like you and you may never get married.”

“What? What does that mean? What does boys liking you have to do with getting married?”

Libby looks confused by my question and says, “Cuz a boy needs to like you to marry you?”

I want to ask her more questions but her mom comes to pick her up and she goes home. I walk outside to wait for Juana and watch the other kids get picked up. There’s lots of only one parent picking up kids. It’s mostly moms. But everyone else is just moms and…dads. How come there’s no moms and moms? Or dads and dads?

Juana comes to walk me home. She seems mad at me. She’s never mad at me. She tells me that my mom is on her way home from work early. Mr. Eagan must have told her about Batman. I want to explain about the Riddler but Juana doesn’t watch Batman so she won’t understand.

I put on the TV but Juana says I’m not allowed to watch Batman today. She puts on another TV show she likes. There are people at a wedding and lots of music that’s very serious. I’ve been to a wedding so I know all about them. My aunt married my uncle and she was a “bride” which is the person in the wedding who wears a white dress and no one else is allowed. The bride on the TV wears the same dress my aunt did. The TV bride kisses a man who looks like my uncle. Everyone is really happy about the kiss and they smile at each other and hold hands. Then there’s dancing. How come all the people dancing are just boys dancing with girls?

My mom comes home and sits me down. She doesn’t watch Batman but I try to explain to her about the Riddler. She doesn’t listen though and is very disappointed in me for pushing Raymond. I tell her I will never do it again and I’m sorry and I start to cry but she gives me a look that means I shouldn’t cry. I ask her if she’s going to tell Dad and also how come there are so many moms and dads?

She laughs. She didn’t mean to laugh and she’s trying to be serious again. She asks what I mean.

“What is getting married?”

“…Oh… It’s when two people commit to be together as partners for the rest of their lives.”

“Does a boy have to like you?”

“People who get married usually like each other, yes. You shouldn’t get married if you don’t like each other. Married people are usually people who love each other and live their lives together in the same house.”

“But you and Dad are married and you don’t live in the same house.”

“… Yes. That’s true. He has to live far away for work… But a lot of married people love each other and live together.”

“But does a BOY have to like you?”

My mom doesn’t know what I mean. I ask if her friends Barry and Hal or Susan and Mary or Joe and Richard or Kim and Lena are married. All of them seem like they love each other and they live in houses together.

“Oh… I see. Well… all of them do love each other, and they are partners for life.”

She isn’t getting it. But it took me a long time to see, so maybe she hasn’t noticed yet.

“Mom… Have you noticed there are a lot of boys with girls? If being married is people who love each other… how come there are so many boys with girls?”

My mom takes way too long to say anything and then says something about homosomethings and some other word and I ask her what the words are a few times. She tells me they are also called “gay” and “straight.” She says something about attraction and I ask a lot of questions but then she doesn’t answer any of them and just asks me about my crush that I told her about. My cheeks get red.

“So you know how Saul makes you feel? When adults feel something like that they call it attraction. Or being attracted to someone. And some people, straight people, they are only attracted to people of the opposite sex.”

I am so confused!

“So a man and a woman. That’s opposite sex. But gay people, they are attracted to people who are the same sex. So a girl and girl, or a boy and boy.”

“People can have crushes just on boys or just on girls???… Why? How does it work? What’s wrong with-”

“There is NOTHING wrong with them! Don’t say that!”

I wasn’t going to say that but she’s mad now so I’m scared. She takes a deep breath which is good because it means she’s trying not to yell. Then she gets really calm and says, “People are just born that way. It’s in their bodies. It’s normal and healthy and there’s nothing wrong with either but there are a lot more straight people in the world so that’s why you see so many moms with dads, like you said.”

“OK!” I say this but I am not sure I am ok?! I don’t have crushes on just boys OR just girls and my mom just told me that that’s what normal and healthy is! I am not normal or healthy!

I need to think so I go and lie under my bed.

I think about crushes. I have a crush on Saul, Libby, Ms. Garcia, Thomas, DeLorean and Simona. They are boys AND girls. Not just boys or just girls. HOW DO PEOPLE GET CRUSHES ON JUST GIRLS OR JUST BOYS? How come there are so many straights?!

I think it must be something in the heart and my heart does feel funny right now. My mom said it’s in their bodies and people draw hearts all the time with love so that must be where it comes from! Maybe I have two hearts! One for boys and one for girls!

“Mom do I have two hearts? Would that be healthy or normal?”

“No darling, it wouldn’t be healthy to have two hearts. You just have one. That’s plenty and all you need.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

“No reason. Just wondering.”

I don’t have two hearts. Oh no, oh no! Wait. Maybe crushes come from brains!

“Do I have two brains?”

“…definitely not. Why are you asking all of this?”

My mom’s looking at me the way she does when I’m up to something. Maybe being not healthy and not normal is going to get me in trouble and I already am in trouble because of pushing.

“You told me asking questions is good!”

“Ok. Fine. Stop shouting.”

Sometimes on TV when people want to find things out they have to be sneaky! If you ask too many questions people get suspish…something. They don’t give you the answers and they look at you like you’re about to be in trouble. So sometimes you need to ask different people different questions and then add up all the answers.

I go across the street to Casey and Laura’s house. I know they’re at soccer but their dad is home. He tells me they’re not home and I try to act like I didn’t already know that and say “Ok!”. I ask if I can ask him a question and he chuckles and says “You just did! But you can ask another.” I ask where crushes come from. He laughs from his belly. Maybe crushes come from bellies?

“Crushes come from your heart” he tells me.

I knew it! I thank him and go home. I’m glad I know this but I still have so much to figure out about straights and my body. I’m going to need to ask a lot of people a LOT of questions.

Mom is sitting me down to talk me again for the second time this week. I must be in a SO MUCH trouble. I wonder if I’ll ever be allowed to watch Batman again.

“I need to talk to you about something.”

“Am I in trouble?”

“No. You’re not. I just need to explain something that I should have explained better… I heard you have been asking people at school… if they’re straight.”

“YOU SAID ASKING QUESTIONS IS-“

“I know I did. Please keep your voice down and listen. I’m trying to explain. It is good to ask questions but some questions are sensitive and private! You can’t go around asking anyone anything.”

I have so many questions I want to ask but I’m going to get in trouble if I don’t listen.

“Let me ask you a question. When you use the bathroom-“

“Mom, stop! That’s embarrassing!”

“Exactly! So that’s a private question that’s very sensitive for you. Some people feel sensitive about… crushes and…the gay or straight question.”

“Which people?”

“Well, that’s the thing. You never know. So it’s better not to ask people at all. Just wait until they decide to tell you on their own. Ok?”

“Do crushes come from bathrooms?”

“What? No. Why?”

“How come at school and in big buildings there’s boy’s bathrooms and girl’s bathrooms? But then everyone goes inside their own bathrooms inside the bathrooms?”

“…I … I think. Well, it’s just because it’s sensitive and because… that’s just the way it is. I think… you’ll understand when you’re older.”

Adults always say that when they don’t want to answer a question. I wonder if they’re lying and they don’t even understand even though they ARE older! My mom seemed confused about bathrooms too. I wonder if I’ll ever know what’s wrong with me now that I can’t ask people if they’re straight.

It’s been weeks and I still cannot understand how people only get crushes on just boys or just girls! I need to know how they make their bodies do that. I tried and I can’t. How are straight and gay bodies made? How do their crushes come out like that???

I think this has something to do with bathrooms because my mom seemed funny when I asked about that part. So I’m doing a science experiment!

I go to the bathroom with Libby who I do have a crush on. I can’t pee because I get nervous but she knows about this and puts on the sink for me so there’s noise and she’s so nice and pretty. The bathroom did not take away my crush.

I go to the bathroom with Claudia. I don’t have a crush on her but I want to see if the bathroom will make me grow one. Her pee smells weird. No crush. Huh.

I wish I could go to the bathroom with boys. I try to pretend like I did it on accident but Mr. Morris grabs me and shouts at me. Definitely sensitive!

I wait for Raul outside the bathroom. I don’t have a crush on him. I can’t go inside, so I listen very carefully.

Zip. PFFFTTTTMAWWW!

Ewwwww. He farted. Gross. No crush!

This isn’t helping. There’s a big poster of a heart in the auditorium from the science fair! Maybe I can learn about crushes from the heart. I look really carefully at the drawing of the heart and all the labels around it. The heart doesn’t look like the ones people draw but they kinda do have the same shape. I wonder if everyone’s heart looks the same and if that’s a question I can ask. I think that’s not private if there’s posters of it out in the auditorium? There’s definitely no posters of people using the bathroom or being straights, which I know are private things! I think things with posters must be public questions. I look for a grown up.

I ask Ms. Brown if all hearts look the same as the one in the poster. She doesn’t look uncomfortable the way people did when I asked if they were straight so I’m right! This isn’t a private question. Hearts are public!

“Great question. Mostly, yes.” Ms. Brown says. “But some are slightly different. Different sizes and different ways of beating and working. There are slight variations in everyone’s bodies but all hearts are very alike and they work in similar ways to keep us healthy.”

I say, “Thank you very much Ms. Brown” and go back to the picture of the heart to learn more. There are pipes coming in and out of it. Carrying stuff into and away from the heart! Maybe a pipe puts something in the heart and then a crush comes out!

I go back to the bathroom. I look closely at the toilets for hints. But they look just like toilets at home. I look at the sink.

Pipes! Just like in hearts! They lead up the back and feed into the sink.

On top of the sink there’s a faucet and water comes out. This is a lot like how crushes come out of hearts. The water sputters and splashes out and it really looks like how crushes feel to me. There’s one button you have to push and I keep pushing it. This is fun!

Wait, there’s only one button! The one at home is different! It has two thingies and you turn them and water comes out of the one faucet! And the one at Granny’s house is two turny things that come out of two separate faucets, but she calls them taps!!! That must be me!!! I have two pipes and two crush taps and some people just have one faucet!!! Slight variations, keeping us healthy, just like Ms. Brown said!

This is definitely how it works. I still have a lot of questions I wish I could ask people but I know they are private questions. I’ll have to wait for people to tell me. For now it feels nice to finally understand how straight people’s pipes work.

Contributors:

Lola Kelly is a writer, director and performer with a focus on immersive works and genre storytelling with a queer point of view. They have worked with REDCAT, Unmarked Door, Red Hen Press, Santa Monica Pier, South Coast Rep, ABC, CBS, Fox, Mítu, and Sony, among others. Lola is a graduate of LMU, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and King’s College London and lives in Los Angeles.

Elisa Peterson is a maker, memoir essayist, illustrator, and recycle artist. Her mixed media art has been published in Prometheus Dreaming and her writing has been featured at Creative Colloquy in Tacoma WA. Kings Books carries two of her illustrated chapbooks and her charming graphic zine collections "Ask Your Grandma" and others are available through Etsy.

2 Comments

  1. Really appreciate how u captured and sustained a child’s voice and reasoning

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