#IHeartU Writing Contest Winner

Heather McKenzie
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Nov 6, 2015

We're so excited to share the Open Category winner of our #IHeartU contest: Heather McKenzie, for her work When Pluto was a Planet. We fell in love with its inventive and adept use of language as well as its creative imagery. Tell us what you love about When Pluto was a Planet in the comments!

A multimedia designer by day and photographer by weekend, Heather is usually the creator of visuals that connect in context with another's words. She is the publisher of a free interactive book app for iPads called Notions + Our Curious Culture of Consumption, an award winning app Kirkus Reviews named "One of the best Book Apps of 2014."

She has a penchant for planets and myth. Check out her artwork about Venus, Mercury and the Sun.

When Pluto Was a Planet

Luckily, a west-facing house was auspicious that year. Pluto was still a planet. His and my intentions were aligned, and our sky luck just needed a guardian on the ground.

"I'm concerned about the stairs," she said.
“Stars?” I glistened.
“Stairs,” he winked.

While some people get houses inspected for wood rot or bugs that destroy foundations, we called in a Feng Shui master to fortify our luck for two. As with love, there are patterns that make a house a home -- intentional properties that create space for intimacy. You just can't leave that to chance.

"Split level foyers bring bad luck,” she Feng Shui-ed. “Darlings, you could break up. The energy doesn't flow."

Joy ... We had just bought our first house and already luck was fleeing.

Pattern 1: Flow
Like love, a good home has spaces that bid you to explore.

We promptly put plants outside and followed her council for positive chi within: Art to inspire creative solutions; greenery to soften angles and arguments; wood floors to keep us grounded.

Pattern 2: Balance
Like love, a good home feels balanced when lit from both sides.

We were sheltered for years in coupledom, proper Feng Shui and common outlook. We lighted each other in similar but different ways. If he was the movie, I was the book. He was good at things that made me feel safe, like holding hands and investigating sounds. I was good at making money and giving affection.

“It’s straight from a magazine,” a neighbor gushed. “Wish my house was this gorgeous, but when you have kids . . .”

Yeah. When you have kids. Not that we wanted any. But, I wanted another dog. I wanted to turn the living room into a photography studio. He didn’t want change.
Change is fickle and random, like fortunes in cookies. It happens whether you’re living in a west-facing house or not.

Pattern 3: Activity
Like love, a good home requires fresh activity inside and out.

According to Feng Shui, the front door symbolized our ‘careers.’ The year Pluto was downgraded from a planet to a forgettable petrock, luck’s winds moved past our house in an October burst and yanked the storm door off its hinges. He lost his job. I dodged layoffs.
We hammered the door back onto its frame but closed ourselves to everyone and everything, except depression and my mother -- who was by appointment only.

“Well, I need to get back,” she bolted, before rushing off to a root canal.

Even when Pluto was a planet, nobody wanted to stay long.

To create space for intimacy, you need to be close. You can do that at a small table or in comfortable chairs, neither of which we had.
In the living room, two pretentious sofas killed conversation because they were farther apart than sound waves traveled. The ceiling angled up 30 feet.

“It looks like a museum in here,” temporal visitors would echo until I staged the room for photo sessions and replied: “Look up. Beautiful! Now look at me.”

I wanted to be looked at. He didn’t see me anymore.

Pattern 4: Participation
Like love, a good home requires participation in its surroundings.

Depression is a possessive mistress when it moves in, unpacks criticism, stonewalls affection, and locks down the thermostat.
Orderliness became his shelter. He hated to leave but loved routine. I hated to stay and overworked. The bed became a multiplex for meals, entertainment, and online searches. Depression starting sleeping where I used to.
Depression didn’t like things like new pillows, and scolded me for changing things. So, I wiped the sinks dry of drops. Moved the coffee maker back into place. Erased my existence with Windex. Before I got too meek, I rented a storage unit and secretly stashed photography equipment and a spending addiction.
We existed in separate bedrooms. Occasionally we’d meet in the kitchen to walk on eggshells. He never kissed me that year. Except once. I marked it on a calendar.
You have to get good at carrying things if you’re going to be a good woman to a depressed man. Nobody tells you that. I carried the groceries, anxiety and suburban desires. He carried shame.
Eventually, he got a temporary job with the post office. Then he carried mail. But not for long. Within a year, I was carrying the full mortgage, skin cancer and debt.

“Maybe you should go back to school, “ I offered.
“You going to support us?"
“Yes,” I replied, intuiting how it would end. Woman nearing 40 puts man through school. Man feels better. Man leaves.

But he didn’t like change and I knew he would keep me. Nevertheless, our humanity was dimming with his need for control and my hidden bank statements.
I wasn’t in love, but I loved him. I was rooted in loyalty and hope, even if flooded in resentment and anxiety. And, really. Did it matter if I was his channel for change without getting anything back? I was rather used to it.
I carried him through college, a new job and thyroid cancer. When the scar across his throat started to fade, he got his voice again and said:

“We need to do something.”

“Let’s sell the house,” I agreed.

Luck is an intention but love is a decision. So is leaving.

The last things I carried in were tiles. It's been almost a year since I've lived here. Many more since I felt loved here.
The door is fixed. There were contractors in the yard today repairing wood rot. I leave the tile samples for him to approve. Respectfully, I gather up the Chinese takeout I ate on the living room floor, but save the fortune cookie. Because you just can’t leave things to chance, it read:

"An attractive person will bring joy to your home."

Like love, I feel expansive and hopeful. I lock up the house and drive away in a constellation of possibilities.

Written by Helen H.

I adore furry faces.