HELEN BETYA RUBINSTEIN (CONTRIBUTING WRITER)
I spent a few hours this past weekend reading Your Hearts, Your Scars, a slim, potent collection of essays by the writer Adina Talve-Goodman (z”l) about the fullness and the complexities of a life lived with “two hearts in my possession: one inside, and one out.” The first is the donated heart she received at age 19; the second, the single-ventricle one she was born with, which led her to experience heart failure at age 12. “Is your suffering dear to you?” she asks herself three times in the opening essay, quoting a story from Talmud. There and elsewhere, Adina treads through questions of ableism, strength, and shame with lightness and humor. In another essay, she entertains a suitor’s suggestion that there might be something zombie-like about living in a body containing a dead stranger’s heart, admitting there were days when she “did walk about the world feeling a lot like death in drag”—but ultimately she finds the greater horror lies in being cherished for her scars.
The collection itself is unfinished—Adina died of a rare and swift cancer caused by post-transplant immunosuppressants in January of 2018, 11 years after she received the donor heart. It’s easy to lose sight of the specific gifts of this book within the many layers of her living legacy: In a postscript, Hannah Tinti, the One Story magazine editor who helped edit this collection, characterizes Adina as “a hero in colorful scarves and overalls” with “a weakness for glitter and Cher.” Adina was the managing editor of One Story, a performer and trained clown, and the daughter of two rabbis. (Her mother, Rabbi Susan Talve, is known for opening her St. Louis synagogue to BLM protesters in 2014 and 2017.) Even after the transplant, Adina held on to the heart she was born with—not, she tells a nosy doctor, because it’s “a Jewish thing to take your organs home with you,” but because she wanted to keep what was rightfully hers and maybe to find out what a “dying heart” contains. The heart was released to her “in an urn through a funeral parlor,” she recounts drily, “as my own ‘remains.’”
The essays here deal in a troubled economy of gratitude and gifts, where one person’s death becomes another person’s life. But they are populated with the seemingly lightweight details of young adulthood: makeout sessions in basements and in cars, awkward breakups, too-long conversations with strangers, encounters on late-night subway platforms. On a walk to an Iowa cemetery on the ten-year anniversary of her transplant, where she means to pray but realizes she cannot recall the words, Adina remembers that the second-century miracle worker Shimon bar Yochai is said to have lived with “one eye laughing and one eye crying.” These essays devote themselves to living in this space, refusing the ostensible weight of their subject with a bright, insistent humor.
Adina was a new friend the year we both lived in Iowa (her first and my last), warm and sharp and generous and funny. Reading these essays lent new valences to my memories of hiking with her in the woods near my house, of sharing cocktails one night at a dance party that turned out not to be dance-y enough, of burning intentions in her backyard under a new moon. I was moved by the way a voice really can stay alive in print, how encountering Adina in these pages made her briefly, vividly present. There’s a moment in one essay when she bristles at being called “pretty” by a nurse, and concludes that what the nurse must mean is that she looks “a lot like life.” It’s a phrase I want to use to describe this book, which is too brief, and incomplete, but full of life regardless.