She wasn’t aware she was broken—so she saw no reason for repair. When she walked over and sat next to me, on the edge of the bench, her body angled enough to touch my knee with hers, I knew she was half in and half out of something—something I couldn’t… can’t plant in my brain…my attempts at framing her don’t make any difference, even if she read this story she wouldn’t see herself. She would think Oh poor sweet girl, as she often said when reading my stories. To be honest (if writing about someone else is ever really honest, as if perception can ever be focused on the same spot). She is not the partial person my words might seem to make her; from my vantage point, my attempt to try and occupy her space; her frame of mind, my best attempt at the truth now: she had no use for my saving.
We shared something: a disunion with our fathers (hers continuing into the present, mine less Humbert Humbert than hers, actually, not at all Humbert Humbert). My silences were often mistaken for uninvolved compassion. I ignored replying, commenting, showing any disgust, distrust, or disapproval for the tales she’d been telling. Four weeks, one mention a week (at minimum) of their relationship. Was she ill, was it for attention, was she searching for solace…advice…someone to tell her it wasn’t ‘right’?
elocution |ˌeləˈkyoō sh ən|
When I first met you I was afraid to say your name, afraid to get it wrong. My flat accent pronounced LUCY-AH, your lips shifted into a titled pucker, eyes squinted into sun-blocking slits. ‘It’s LOU-CHI-AH’ you said, really slow, like you were speaking to your Nonno back in Italy. Lu-ci-a, I parroted, the student to the teacher.
But after this moment she’d always be answering to me; she’d always be the student.
I let her stay the night. Day two and she wasn’t holding back. For her age she was exceptional, the best to-date. And in exaltation I let out something I’d never recover: God, I need to marry you. Then my hips dropped, legs collapsed, my body crippled by ecstasy. She settled into the space between my shoulder and neck, hooking her head like a jacket to a coat peg. My father tells jokes about my flat chest, she said, he says I should get them done. I looped circles around, over, between her dappled breasts—my touch rolled out her skin’s response, her hazelnut nipples, their standing allegiance.
Why was she sharing this with me, why was she talking about it with such ease? Was I the first? (Her casual conversation starting points would suggest not.)
predilection |ˌpredlˈek sh ən; ˌprēdl-|
She stared at me when my back was turned, and while I brushed my teeth. How she must have memorized that one-sided look of me. When I’d turn towards her, feeling the imaginary heat of someone’s eyes being fixed on me, she’d look down; her chin and neck were always parallel. I wanted to scream keep your chin up. But would she even understand how to apply such advice? That one night, when I let her slide my shorts off, she managed a strong hold with my eyes. Maybe this was her seductress, just a performance, I could never know.
When I was thirteen, she said, I awoke to him masturbating on the couch across from me. He thought I was asleep.
fissure |ˈfi sh ər|
A football match was on; who was playing is of no importance. All I remember is the boisterous shouting men, how their voices overtook hers. Her honest unafraid moment, a rather candid testing of my compassion. It was over this raucous crowd that she first told me about her father.
My father taught me how to do this, she said, raising the butt of her empty beer bottle a few inches and smacking the awaiting pistachio shell, dispensing the woody-green nut. Although its end-state resembled a hammer-smacked light bulb, she still swept up the shards into the palm of her tiny hand, held it out, and sprinkled it into mine. (How tactlessly generous.) Her father was back in Ireland, a police officer, on his second wife, seventh kid, an assortment of Irish-British saplings, and the newest Irish-Caribbean infant twins. Five empty bottles (she drinks quickly when she’s nervous) lined the window ledge next to the table. Cinema?—I asked. And her reply, her happy-reminiscent tone coupled with the sentence that carried it made me mute and my chest tight (like trying to breathe deep in a soggy steam room, the wet-oxygen, a confusing state for the lungs).
I haven’t been since my dad took me when I was still at college. He pretended I was his date, held my hand, arm across the back of my seat. (She said it with such normalcy, wait—no, with such pride, it seemed she was searching, tugging for a reaction).
She had dizzying brown eyes, irises spinning caverns of light-amber rings in the fresh-cut tree color of them. She was full of rings I hoped held wisdom but hers were paths leading elsewhere, never to the source of pain.
trepidation |ˌtrepiˈdā sh ən|
‘I’m going to Ireland next week for my Dad’s promotion ceremony.’ She didn’t look up from her phone.
‘Why would you do that?’
‘He picked out a dress for me. I’ll get to see my little sisters.’
‘How he is isn’t alright—you know that, right?’
‘He loves me and he’s my Dad—what about that isn’t alright?’
citadel |ˈsitədl; -ˌdel|
She had bones like knives for all the words she couldn’t speak to him, to anyone else I’d imagine. When he’d pierce her frame with judging eyes, when the outline of his penis would swell under the looseness of his sweatpants, and how she said she could never wear skirts again. All those times my mother stopped me on the stairs on my way out scolding ‘that’s easy access’ and shaking a finger at my short skirt. I had never imagined anyone would ever be proof of her warnings.
‘Strips of grass have to be fenced off in order to be preserved’. I squeezed her hand hard hoping it’d make her notice the sad reality of my words. She said, ‘That’s a lot like our love’ and let go of my hand.
Houses, crosswalks, signposts crowd the journeys we take. Maybe the lack of green teases the eye forcing us to stop and stall, on its unnatural occurrence in our day-to-day. ‘You have to protect love like grass,’ she plucked my hand out of my jacket pocket.
You do have to protect it, I thought, protect it from people walking a shortcut through it, throwing gum wrappers and Coke cans, spitting on it. We try to protect the simple gifts we are granted sometimes with unnatural methods like fences and an automatic fear of strangers.
It’d be nice to just love a lot and be loved a lot in return, but for now, I’ll stow my love until the day when it’s ready to be given away. The day I can drown someone in it, meet someone worth dousing in all that contained compassion. That woman won’t live without smiling at least once every day. But fairytales fit better in my head, better on paper, better when watered in the safety of my imagination. Because writing you allows me to continue loving. If only the hope of love was really enough.
I had lived my whole life assuming I was damaged; it took seeing a therapist to really believe I had survived the stories my mother told me.
What about your Dad? Lucia asked.
I’ve stopped calling him that. What list do you want? The emotional or physical collateral damages. They’ve come to mean the same thing after so long. I’ve made a game of it, a memory challenge of sorts, a timeline of all the instances when he proved himself unworthy of my love. The list is long. My forgiveness ran out but the list is still growing.
1 shattered window, a kitchen chair with three legs.
1 cellphone snapped in half.
5 plates in pieces on the floor, the linoleum pockmarked from sharp ceramic edges.
1 cellphone buried in the plaster of our front foyer wall.
Repossession of the car given for 16th birthday present.
1 graduation ceremony missed.
No congratulations on graduate school acceptance.
23rd birthday forgotten, maybe ignored.
I wanted to be a sounding board, to tell her she wasn’t insane, that she didn’t need to hide; but she didn’t want me to, not yet.
cache |ka sh |
‘Do you remember the time on the bus?’
I said yes, but tried not to think of that day. The upper deck was packed with schoolgirls, skirts and knee-high socks, scuffed black shoes, smelling of outside, perfume, and stale lunch sacks. She moved her hand from its cupped position on my knee. ‘They’re staring’, she said, clasping her fingers in crisscrosses, trying to tie them in knots to avoid picking my hand up again. ‘What of it?’ No amount of stern glares at those schoolgirls would shut them up. The loudest of them wrote out ‘DYKES’ with an exclamation point on the steamy bus window. I set my chin on her shoulder hoping this sort of public claim would make her sexual identification easier. It didn’t.
reposition |ˌrēpəˈzi sh ən|
verb [ trans. ]
I relit my Lucky Strike, she struggled to hold eye contact. When she spoke I could catch the straight bright white of her teeth beyond the soft plum of her lips (why make these comparisons when remembering?—unanswerable). She didn’t smile often and never in photos. She had a long neck, and a tiny head (had, because she’s no longer my present), that looked as though it would roll right off, down to her feet where her eyes were usually focused. People looked hard at her, wondered how gorgeous she must be under her pleather jacket, and faded leggings, if only they could see her bare and whole (I assume that’s why they stared). Everything about her was small, her breasts, her fingers, her waist, her voice—most of all. A voice that had been told to keep quiet since she was able to both think and speak for herself. (Do we ever really do that, or, rather, are we just recycling and compiling other opinions, calling the makeshift obscurity, the intellectual plagiarism, our own, our original? Just re-telling…re-telling, un-making the already un-made.)
She stopped me as we walked along the river. ‘It’s freezing, come on!’ I said. Moving my body backwards with the ease of a dancer leading the Waltz, she propped me against the stone wall and kissed me. It’s in those instances that you forget—that it all becomes about the movements of the kiss, the colliding magnetic of two sets of lips, the fluid melody of dancing tongues, the moment when you forget there are two people involved, that we have jobs, names, titles, responsibilities.
If I could hang in that first kiss, when my mind was untainted by the dangerous logic of her being, then I think things would have been a bit different. If only being a sweet person was enough.
A little girl sprawls out across her father’s lap, with the assuredness of roots from a mature oak. He is sweeping hair from out of her eyes with one hand and shading the sun from her face with his other large palm. The train is crowded and he keeps lifting her head up and out of the aisle to allow other passengers by.
Is this how you were with him, how it started, but it never stopped? Did he love you so innocently, protectively, before you became too old for these gestures—before they turned romantic? Is this how you still see him?
She wasn’t the intellectual type (whatever that means), but she said the most encouragingly extraordinary things about me: ‘I enjoy the way you write, the words plant themselves in my mind, sometimes making a bed in there.’ Why couldn’t I love her like that, how unashamed she was with her feelings and the risks she took with them—with me.
I saw you today, in the hallway near the library. I’m not sure you saw me. I wish you had, hoped you’d stop to say hello, to tell me you were well; that I hadn’t ruined you beyond repair.
But you didn’t see me. You haven’t replied to my emails, accepted my apologies. I am left with my selfish fear of your instabilities being contagious.
‘That’s the thing about intellectuals, they prove you can be intelligent without having any idea what’s going on in the world’. She was quoting lines from the Woody Allen movie we’d watched last Saturday, as I tried to end things with her. ‘I’m just not capable of dealing… of being in this type of situation’. What I really meant was that I couldn’t try to love someone who epitomized the abuse I’d spent my young-adult life breaking free from. Every bit of me wanted to look past her missteps, to see her rocky spine, her square hips, her deep navel laid out in front of me and not see him all over her. ‘I could make you so happy you know’. Her usual regurgitation of clichéd promises. ‘You can’t just say you’ll marry someone.’ But I thought- you can’t control what orgasms make you say.
I wasn’t her first, Kayla was. Kayla didn’t do the leaving and that’s all I know for sure. Maybe Kayla was the ‘saving’ type.
Maybe the way I went about leaving wasn’t the right way—compassionless. The post-it read:
“Do not fall in love with people like me
we will take you to
museums and parks
and kiss you in every beautiful
place so that you can
never go back to them
without tasting us
like blood in your mouth”
Not even my own words, just a bit of Internet plagiarism. I couldn’t offer her any piece of me.
A man sits down across from me on the tube counting his rosary. His lips move in quick whispers like a lover to a lover’s ear lobe. I think how beautiful it must be to believe in something impossible to see or physically feel. Maybe the spiritual sensations are enough, but what would I know about religion?
The same goes for love; believing in something you can’t technically feel, something you can’t take from your lover’s mouth and hold in your hands. You can buy a new bed and lay in it until it falls to pieces but you can’t lay down on your love, sink into its downy mattress, and you never really feel it fall to pieces underneath you.
Sometimes I think I want to love something invisible, to be lost in my own imagination, to lie on the transparent. But then I remember how religion starts wars, does more evil than it does good. Love and religion have ugly and imaginary similarities.
I have learned one thing, for sure: that facades pose as relationships. All I can do is take the obstacles as they come and dress them in opportunity. ‘Love’ is its own alien chemical, there is no safe mixture, no particular environment, no combustion point. Time is our only reliable conductor.
Losing you felt like a public event, the sort of breakup that takes place on a crowded train, when you’re trying to be subtle but screaming over the grating metal track makes that an impossible feat. The embarrassment of leaving the house with a coffee stain on the rear of your trousers, or getting news of your cat’s death or your mother’s kidney cancer making an unwelcome return. And you’re stuck on a train and everyone gets the news with you, everyone has seen the brown spot on your ass. They can hear the pain in your tight throaty tone, the suffocating sensation of holding back years of reserved tears. The day I abandoned you, because that’s what it felt like, I had to sit on the 131 to Tooting Broadway with clinched vocal chords and a hole for a stomach. Losing you was like trying to drink through a straw with a hole in it that I can’t seem to cover up.
relinquish |riˈli ng kwi sh |
verb [ trans. ]
The resilient trees push buds from their supple and thawed branches. I smile at trees, bushes, and daffodils that pop out of the once-wintered soil. I grin because I admire their ability to survive, to be beautiful after eight months of the coldest winter in fifty years, or is it twenty-five? They are brilliant, still trying and showing for us. That’s what love looks like when you pass an elderly couple laughing, kissing, and holding hands. It’s like the cherry blossoms that punch through a tree’s green skin after twenty-five years of hard-winter times.
I’ve spent months trying to fit you on the page. Seeing you today helped me realise that nothing I could ever create would be that tragically beautiful. I found a note you must have hidden in my wardrobe the last and final time you were here: I can’t wait for my hand to be able to fall asleep on your skin.
My hand falls between the mattress and the wall. My tired arm has gone slack and the pillow clinched beneath my chin has parted from my heavy face. I startle, and pull my arm up toward my head because I am scared of the spaces I can’t see.
When I met you I saw you, but not wholly. And I was scared of who you could be inside, how you could transform and sometimes I pulled away out of fear, but my adventure, my inability to give up on something un-explorable directs me back to you, the uncertainty of your next word or move, the depth of your eyes, how your hand feels hard like fresh sheetrock when it’s angry against my balled fist; or when it’s open against the curve of my hip as I shift my sweaty torso under you.
My hand rests between the bed and the wall each night. I let it dangle longer each time hoping to fight my fear of uncertainty.