Lately, that’s what living feels like also it’s been raining a lot lately but I don’t mind get diamonds tossed into my hair even if they’re temporary and cold.
There are so many stains, the eye does not know where to settle except in space—past people.
My father taught me silence.
First, it was the silence of adoration, of moments of sitting mute from happiness. Under seven years old. My father used to blow dry my inky hair that I inherited precisely from him as I sat with his legs flanking me. Talking interrupted the black noise of the blow dryer so I used my arms to convey whenever he lowered the hot air too close or when I felt my hair was sufficiently baked.
He would let me have mouthfuls of his coffee ice cream when my mother was looking away too. It was our secret because my mother was outlandishly convinced that any caffeine would stunt my growth irreparably. She was always heart-wrenching-ly anxious about small things. But the ice cream kept me still and otherwise complacent wherever we went after we left the ice cream parlor. I still grew. Taller than my mother easily.
Then, there was the strain. After we moved continents, the silences began to fill with adulthood seeping in. The lack of words was more accusatory than peaceful. How dare my parents be parents, I seemed to often think. I found silences less wearying than talking, especially when we uprooted ourselves again from the complex Pacific Northwest that I dearly loved to elsewhere. Gone were the smells of petrichor mixed with lush pine, the patchwork of moody greys in skies, and most of all, everyone who grew with me from my childhood to teenagehood.
After the next move, my silences became armor. Speaking seemed to feel as if it were an unfairly divided chore between us or surgeon tools slicing knowingly to the where the pain lay. I could find blame in all things, if moved to do so. My father would repeat, “what happened?” to me, while I would respond “I don’t know” or with a stare. The latter pains me even now to recall.
As years passed, our silences became salves that we can carry cleanly anywhere for each other’s sake. I grew more. Learned more. Wised up. Emerged from my rigid chrysalis happily. We both know how many words silences condense without losing any of them. I lean in to show that I understand. I smile to reply.
My people were born from mugwort garlic and a she-bear that ate these two things and these two things only in utter darkness away from the sun for too many days until she became a woman who shed the skin of a bear and emerged from the rock void feeling clear glow light on her almond center skin and wept for the first time out of equally jet eyes.
No matter how much he slept, he felt the same.
He only liked the stasis of sleep, of absolute disconnect. He thinks he has the most potential while dreaming. Lately, life has a habit of tiring him absolutely. Nerve-deep.
One of his dearest wishes was to outgrow a house instead of having to abandon it.
To grow old and match its precise woodgrains with his own skin as time passed. Houses, he found, he could love unconditionally, know better than lovers because they changed empathetically with their occupants. Every scar he left on the house—a scored floorboard from the time he dropped a lumpy mug he’d made in ceramics, the chipped corner of his room from overenthusiastic bookshelf dragging, and nicked stair railings—stayed in the same shape until he tended to it.
He liked that houses couldn’t repair themselves.
There is a wall around my heart
That has no end and has no start
Of greyish, haunting marble stone
It stands there weary and alone
That’s the color she wore on her nails—a blue so deep that it became the static black of ceilings on sleepless nights. She kept them precise and unchipped.
Every night a new victim. Anyone from a stranger who smelled too sharply of liquor, to an acquaintance with an eerie habit of staring a beat too long, to past lovers she had outgrown for some reason or another.
Always only after midnight. She’d write their deaths, how she imagined each one would die—exquisitely without her.
He would cocoon my feet in his legs. During winter, the only parts of me that ever get cold are my extremities. It’s like the rest of my body hoards the heat.
He’d give me the most vulnerable parts. Behind the fold of his knees or the shins. Eventually, my toes would thaw, never quite warming completely because they’d drank in his heat.
One evening the sky was nearly navy. We were on his unlit twin bed, straight on our unbent backs—forearm to forearm.
“Listen to this,” he said, in his rolling human whisperer voice that always tickled me deep below my sternum.
He broke his straight-backed pose to reach over me to click on some forest-screened guided meditation. He had told me that it helped him journey without moving before he slept lately. He either slept as luxuriously and often as a house cat or not at all. He did not often use spectrums—only their utter ends. Which is why, I supposed, the world leaked into him more profoundly. But lately, he had been in cat mode.
He clicked the screen on. Settled back forearm to my forearm. We closed our eyes. Him first, because I liked how he looked with his eyes closed. Much more settled than when they were open. I closed mine and thought of nothing.
A quiet woman’s voice told us things. About a walk in a forest. To step here, step there. Trace the bark. Smell the pine.
At the end of it, he opened his eyes. He asked what I had seen.
I had remembered how my father and I used to watch the liquid blacktail deer behind our beloved house— the silence eloquent.
“Green,” I’d said.
On our second date.
The first was formal, we both did our elaborate courtship dances. You were endless. Tall, with softer skin and hair than I expected—especially for a man—and sweet toothed. You moved, I moved. You spoke and I spoke. You insisted on picking me up old-fashionedly from work and driving the both of us to a maroon-bricked cafe that you refused to reveal beforehand. But you gave in. It turned out to be my own favorite one all along.
Which you didn’t know until I told you over our table.
You got chai. You insisted on the perfect ratio of sugar and milk and warmth for each lush spoonful that you mixed for my tongue. That I have the first triangular swallows of our velvety cake slices. And the last.
I found that endearing. You insisted on paying too. I let you because I caught the softness in your voice.
We returned to my car. I tipped you two kisses—more pecks than petals opening.
On the second date, you insisted that I follow you home in our separate cars. Because you had to change from the stark greys of work to the well-washed greys of leisure. So I followed you, feeling the tenderness of your movements ahead of me. Your arms and feet moved slowly and only for me.
I know you felt me like a phantom limb—only a complete body behind yours. Until we arrived to your home.
We climbed the stairs side by side and then you led me by the hand again through your door to a place that was filled with the smell of you and only you.
You taught me how eyes can flare, to find the small succulent spots that cause quivers—I learned from you that the inside of an elbow feels kisses marrow-deep too. An elbow, not two. Because my right one has an almost-full moon patch of a scar now. Because I waved once and impossibly caught the blood-orange-bright end of a close standerby’s cigarette there. I didn’t feel pain at all, but in the morning there was a pucker of dried riverbed in the thick of drought there: elbow.
It only panged when I salved it.
Sort of like when I was with you.
I like the vulnerable kinds.
The noises of slumber—the hitches in breaths, the half-conceived words slipping out dreamlessly, and throat membranes catching. Knowing the way someone sounds while sleeping is as intimate as body cartography.
Second, the quaking voice. Telltale tremors before the speaker’s eyes spill from the softness of the moment. I want to cup that voice often.
Surprise ones. The escaped tones from the tonsils that burst out from seeing sudden movements or hearing them—the noises of a startled animal—only human.
I remember every sound of yours like warm clay holds fingerprints.
My father and I used to fish in a murky sound. We caught only ugly things—muddily-scaled bloated bullheads, scraggly algae, and twisted tiny crabs. We let them all go. Gently. Not one of our catches ever died or gasped in air for very long.
The most beautiful fish I caught fit in my palm. It was slick and spirited—every spasm caused it to spill silver and salt.
I held an entire sea in a hand.
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