Hiding in Plain Sight

A lot more personal than I usually get…

***

Teri Joseph, Nicole Ari Parker’s character on the TV series “Soul Food,” was one of my first introductions to the idea that being a successful black woman involved suits with over the top shoulder pads, a brisk purposeful walk, and waking nightmares lived in secret; shortness of breath and blinding panic quickly stowed away before anyone could come to discover what was wrong. The other woman who taught me that lesson was my mother. She always said that the worse she felt, the better she made herself look. Shoulder pads slightly more understated than Teri’s, dark brown lipstick to match an immaculate manicure, cheekbones accentuated with face powder for that “try me” effect.

Years after my 8-year-old self watched these women display in public like they were untouchable, like everything they did was effortless, I adopted that costume as well, and the words came so naturally to me that I forgot that they weren’t originally mine. I’m trying not to look how I feel. The worse I felt, the better I looked; not severe lack of sleep, not a messy breakup, not homesickness would make it beyond the walls of my room, not even beyond the boundaries of my own body. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. No one around me was explicitly asking for me to perform flawlessness, but put on a show, I did (and still do.) Minimal makeup, but enough to trick the inexperienced eye into thinking that my skin is naturally glowing and free of blemish. Dramatic eyeliner becomes the sharpest weapon in my arsenal of self-preservation and self-destruction. Form-fitting and low cut, bright and quirky, all outfit choices carefully selected the night before for precise execution the next morning. Every compliment is validation, and added pressure to never let the mask slip. I would make people feel uncomfortable otherwise, and I can’t have that.

Beyond aesthetics, the performance includes frequent and thorough conversations about other people’s problems to which I didn’t always have the answer, but always tried to channel all the calm I can conjure to make sure I say something comforting, helpful, or at least something that makes them laugh. I’m never too busy, tired or uninterested to talk through family conflicts or school stress, anxiety about debt, or a hostile work environment. There were also my own studies, jobs and several extra-curricular activities, all to be done with supposed ease. In the process, I’ve learned to fasten my facade a little more tightly, with obstacles like metal gates topped with broken glass and barbed wire between myself and anyone who suspects that all is not as OK with me as I insist.

 Yeah I’m free what’s up?

Of course I can talk!

Nothing ooh, just tired.

I feel guilty for resenting the constant act I feel I have to put on and for resenting the people who have assigned me this role. Stop being a martyr. This is what friends are for, to be there for each other whenever necessary. In the past, I attempted to unload on the one person who I believed should and would be there for me no matter what, not realizing at the time that there were things about myself I didn’t yet know and understand, and that I was basically using that person in the same way I was being used. I’m sorry. I’m not apologizing for existing as the person I am, which I often felt compelled to do when that person was in my life. I couldn’t have “worked on myself” in the ways that I said I would, because I’m not broken and in need of “fixing.” As regretful as I feel sometimes for relying too heavily on that person, I’m also glad that their confusion and frustration with my chaos was drowning out my attempts to understand myself.

Now I’m getting ready for a long day of work, meetings, a four-hour class, and hopefully a chance to hear Angela Davis speak at my school. Minus shoulder pads, but still bearing the anxiety of over-extending myself, of having agreed to undertake projects of which I actually don’t want to be a part, of having too many tasks between me and the weekend, and not enough hours to complete them while feeding myself anything other than coffee to keep going. So, I try my best to look radiant. Here’s the latest perfectly drawn eyeliner wing, the left side always comes out better. Here’s the latest collection of rings I’ve stacked on every finger, again another aesthetic borrowed from my mother. Here are the picturesque Somerville houses in neat rows with statues of the Virgin Mary praying from every other front yard, the first thing I see before my commute downtown. What you won’t see is the pacing around the bedroom, the shortness of breath, the tightening in my chest, the pajama shirt to muffle myself, the tears streaking the concealer I just put on, the frantic phone call to my mother while I try to collect myself before I miss the bus and complicate my day even further.

Even this blog is part of the performance. How much of it is fiction summoned from an overactive imagination with only so many outlets to release itself? How much of it is lifted directly off the pages of my journal? Maybe today I won’t try to hide faint cries for help behind self-deprecating jokes. On multiple occasions, I’ve spent hours talking with professors and other people who I know really mean, “How are you?” when they ask, but every time I feel close to actually expressing parts of this, I stop myself. I’m being self-indulgent and inappropriate, and it really shouldn’t be anyone else’s job to deal with my confusion, aside from a person who is paid specifically for this purpose. The relentless highlight reel showing murders of black people by the police in the US, along with people being killed in protests against the government in the DRC, and the awareness of the backs I have stood on in order to be alive and well right now, all work together with many other factors to aggravate the low feeling I’m carrying around. Writing is the only thing that allows me to unburden myself of some of these feelings, but the crowding of too many other commitments means that I write less, which only deepens my anxiety.

I’m frightening myself, mainly because it’s slowly becoming more difficult and less appealing to put on my stage persona before going out in public. There are also a few other things at play that I don’t quite understand and am not ready to share. What I can say is that I want to be loved in the way that I try to love people, completely, in all ways, on panicky 4am phone calls, in ‘I’ve missed you” conversations turning into “Actually, I need your help…” in impromptu trips to the city if it’s affordable, just to be there in person with whoever.

It feels very isolating to consider the possibility that there are so few people in my life who can love me the way I love them, to the extent that I’m about to make an appointment to speak with someone professionally trained to help me to do this “work” on myself. People are either too practical, too busy, too engrossed in what I think are far more critical situations, or awkwardly silent. Sometimes they aren’t able to see far enough backstage to realize that I’m not ready for the conversation to move on to lighter topics, that I just want to be seen, even if  for just a moment.

Maybe it’s my fault for not knowing exactly what kind of response or support I’m looking for. Maybe I’m too self-centered and over-estimating the role I play in the lives of the people closest to me. The one thing I’m sure of is that I have to want to thrive for myself, to just be, rather than to do so because I can’t answer the question, “What would so-and-so do without me?”

Actually, no. Everything isn’t fine. Can you please talk to me?

(Image: My mum looking absolutely gorgeous on our way to one of the many weddings we used to attend. I had on a a dress with drawings of fruit all over it.)

Inventory

Here’s another extract from the story-that-shall-never-be-finished 🙂 You can read the first part I shared here.

a spine- folded in half

The curve of my back was the long stretch of road to Labadi beach. We were sitting in the cramped backseat of a taxi, the rattling of the loose parts underneath it competed with and eventually won over the radio static interspersed with football commentary Dede Ayew with the cross, and it’s a gooooaaaaal! It was my birthday, so I didn’t care that the leather seat was sticking to my thighs with sweat in one place, and scratching my skin in another with place where the leather had cracked and where hairpins and groundnuts from some other passenger’s lunch were now embedded in the seat’s foam filling. The faded tarmac fought the sand encroaching onto its sides and the omnipresent waves of the Atlantic grew more restless and furious the more of land and “sea defense” rocks they swallowed. The road knew it would soon follow. You were the first person to ever buy me flowers, so it no longer mattered that hours before, I was prepared to give up on you and spend the rest of my day punching disappointment into the cushions of grandma’s sofa because you arrived at the gate hours after you said you would. My low expectations for you had been exposed, but the embarrassment I was hiding in my throat had almost vanished.

It’s not my fault you’re not reliable

It’s not my fault I’m late. The car–

It’s because I’m not your priority.

Let me finish. The car broke down and I had to take a taxi.

It’s not my fault I have a hard time trusting you.

It’s not my fault you always want me to prove something to you.

But perhaps I am moving too fast down the list of minor slights and sly insults. We had not yet learnt to drag each other on this journey after which I could no longer see myself in mirrors, and you wondered what made you try to understand something as unconceivable as a reflection in flux in the first place. That day it smelled exactly like July should, drizzle clinging to leaves and the next rainstorm never far off, but you couldn’t tell from looking at the tourists roasting themselves, first on side, then on the other, by the pool. We picked our way through discarded slippers and empty bottles of sun cream pressed down in the middle towards the back of the hotel grounds. What looked like just another chalet actually housed an eclectic and slightly confusing array of things; a winding hallway with orange and white tiles and walls covered almost entirely with abstract art that looks like everyday Accra in haphazard brushstrokes, stick men fighting over another stick body lying on the ground, a red trotro in the background. At the end of the hallway and past the Thai restaurant, a porch swing strung between two bronze pillars, its seat full of gold and fuchsia pillows with a few bald spots where there used to be beads. Then, an indoor replica of a lovers’ lane overgrown with vines in such perfectly ordered disarray that they must have been plastic, leading to an ice cream parlor with attendants in starched pale green uniforms, an unfortunate color choice considering the large tub of pistachio ice cream right in the middle of the glass display case.

Maybe it was the air conditioning whistling over our heads, or the series of tingles one brain freeze at a time, or the fact that the tall metal table and chairs were a little awkward to use so that your foot kept meeting my ankle in the same spot every time we shifted, trying to get more comfortable. It could also be the familiarity of this place I had begged my mother to take me whenever I did well on a big test in primary school that relaxed the tension that was yet to build in my back. I did not yet know that I would hold moments like this in the side of my mouth like toffees I didn’t want to melt, running my tongue over them to the point where it was raw and aching, trying to recall the taste of lime sorbet and teenage infatuation not as yet tainted with insecurity and the pressure of long distances and too much time spent apart.

Inventory

I wrote this prose poem a while ago and decided to try and turn it into a short story because I felt like I had a lot more to say. I soon realized that picking at old scabs and turning real life events into fiction aren’t things I’m interested in, mainly because it hurts a second time to try and make villains out of victims  (or to realize that one can be both) just for the sake of the story, or to walk back through unpleasant events that actually took place. Another difficulty I had working on this story was that it’s my first set somewhere that isn’t Ghana, and I’m not very good at or interested in doing that at the moment. The surreal is much safer territory for me and that’s where I plan to stay, at least for now. This is an extract from the story, which will probably remain unfinished indefinitely. No edits or additions, no submitting to literary blogs/journals (I usually don’t post complete short stories here because I’m trying to get them published), nothing! The story was difficult enough to write the first time around. I think I’m all good 🙂

***

1 eye liner in nuit noire shade

I’ve pulled out a few lashes from my right eye because it’s always the troublesome eye, the one that is oddly shaped and more difficult to hide behind thick coats of liner.

“What is all this black stuff? I can’t even see your eyes.”

My smile remained fixed only in the photo you took of me, ruined slightly by the table and the bright blue menu covered in plastic, and dotted with unnaturally yellow pancakes and waffles dominating the foreground. The grin slid off my face and onto my chest as I tried to formulate an airtight answer that you could not deflate with condescension. I feel braver when my eyes are obscured in black sludge and glitter. This is the only way I can feel feminine since this big chop makes me look like a duckling with the black fuzz on my head, slicked down with leave-in conditioner instead of pond water. I’m trying to look like the old photos of my mother where she was more beautiful than I grew to be, with 60s lashes standing boldly and separate from each other even though it was ’79. All of these answers were dripping with the kind of sentimental slush that you hated, so instead I said:

“Oh. You don’t like it? I’m still learning ooh, don’t worry.”

Neither of us believed the forced peals of laughter I dropped onto the diner table between us with a harsh metallic sound like coins striking granite, but you picked them up regardless of your tired distrust and shifted your weight to one side so you could shove them into the back pocket of your jeans. Later, you would attempt to dissolve the hard grains of stilted conversation that were caught in the corners of both our eyes, in tea so sickly it left smears of brown sugar on the insides of the mug, just the way I liked to drink it.

The only Boston I knew was green linoleum on the kitchen and bathroom floors, small white lines running up and down each tile like veins, it was the JFK/UMASS station with round backs covered in layer upon layer of warm clothing always retreating and advancing – which direction, Ashmont or Alewife- it was how many times can we go out for pancakes before the syrup turns into clumps blocking our arteries? It was using my arm to hide the angry smudges– one for each eye– on your pillowcases and hoping that my visit would not turn out to be a week-long sparring match in which both opponents were not interested enough to take hits at the places that mattered, resorting instead to lazy swats at the other’s ego, causing slight bruising, if even that.

***

name- unaccounted for

I’m inspecting my body for visible signs of damage, just to make sure that my skin will not betray the hurt from the sharp edges of words like: “You’re so selfish, always asking for too much.” I’m taking stock of myself, looking though archived emotions, replacing peeling labels and crossing out inaccurate ones. I’m trying to remember my name. I’ve found a folder in the back of my wardrobe, a solid blue cover and shiny silver rings on the inside. Across the front of it in threatening block letters, one word: SELFISH. I’m confronted with the moment I was given a new name, when I decided that good little Methodist girls from Adenta didn’t spit on reputable degrees before moving cities to fold and fetch overpriced clothes for women who were manicured from their teeth to the blunt ends of their ponytails, and to fold themselves into men who were unwilling hosts.

“Fafali! How can you burn scholarship money like this? What is your plan? It’s that boy, eh? Answer me!”

“Ma, I have to go. My break is over and the manager is giving me eyes.”

Selfish. My mother hurled contempt down the receiving end of the telephone, the same ugly square contraption that had always sat on her bedside table long before I was ever imagined as a small fluttering sensation against the walls of her abdomen. She was probably holding one hand suspended in front of her as she usually does when she is desperate to pull understanding of a horrifying reality out of the air around her. She did not know that I took the blank roll of paper that was pressed into my hands after four years, and used it as a map for a life I did not want to live; an empty desk for an empty office job, the desolation of a research facility with white walls and sheets of white paper with unfilled questionnaires. I often prioritize others before myself. Strongly disagree. She did not know that I had taken my new name, Selfish, the one that you gave me after the last tantrum you could endure from me:

“What’s the meaning of this?” You affected a grotesque imitation of my needy drawl, quoting one of my frenzied text messages: And you call me Fafali instead of babe or beautiful and I know I’ve crossed the line again and I’ve made you angry with me, again.

“Fafali I’m tired! You just like drama. You’re just so…so selfish! I can’t– I won’t do this anymore.”

I was sitting on your lumpy sofa that felt as though it was made of velvet, and I realized that for nearly five years I had dredged up your words in an attempt to understand what you wanted from me, sifted and separated them to the point where you just let me have them. Take them and go. Pack your things and go back to DC. Or back to Ghana. I don’t care. I have wrung my hands to the point where the skin has begun to peel off. I’ve actually gone too far to turn back. We had clung to each other beyond my morning is your late afternoon, past your at times admirable, at times half-hearted attempts to decode the tangled self I handed to you, hoping we could make sense of it together.

Now I’m working hard to scratch off your name from the inside of my cheek. I have left pieces of myself from Adenta to Georgia Ave to Dorchester and back again, flakes of skin between computer keyboards, tears warping pages of a text in another binder which proclaims ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY on its cover, childish terms of endearment in languages we have long forgotten. I’m wearing other names around my neck like self-indulgent, sexy, and you are wasting your life. My favorite name is too-beautiful-to-be-working-here, so I tuck it into all the pastel colored cardigans that occupy my days at a job I tolerate in a city that has now extended beyond the ancient linoleum in your house to the faded one in mine, to the B line always delaying and mice tap dancing on my ceiling boards at night.

Negatives

There are two of you sitting on the sofa. One of you is picking dead skin from the sides of your fingernails, and the other one isn’t trying very hard to hide the contempt in your voice. You know I’m a bully, right? There are four of you sitting on the sofa. Two of you should probably make this the last time you see each other but you won’t, because habits are almost impossible to break, especially the dangerous ones. Two of you are doing the least you can to make sure whatever it is that was once between you still exists somewhere, even if it’s only in photographs stuck to a fridge by broken magnets. Two of you need to give up, but the other two are sitting on a bench in an empty playground, laughing with heads thrown back as if you don’t have anywhere else to be.

There is one of you crying into a pillowcase that needs changing. One of you said this would be the last time you would do this, because all it does is betray your weakness with puffy under-eyes that no amount of concealer can fix the next morning. One of you doesn’t understand why you’re taking painful, ugly gulps of breath in between cries, as if you’re scared you’ll suffocate if you stop. One of you needs to exercise self-control. There are two of you lying in bed. One of you is trying to be reasonable. You got everything that you wanted after all, didn’t you? One of you is  childish and self-centered, and one of you is still trying to access that part of yourself that you are convinced you have misplaced, searching for it in overflowing jewelry boxes, in handshakes that last a few moments too long, in bite-sized sermons you throw down your throat without tasting, in horoscopes you don’t believe in. One of you is empty.

There are four of you sitting in a café. Or maybe there are only two. One of you is trying to contain your excitement. It really isn’t that serious; this isn’t one of your stories. Calm down. Don’t embarrass yourself. There are two of you sitting at a too-small table in a café. The other two left because they must have realized you weren’t as exciting as you first appeared to be. There are two of you sitting at a café. One of you is hoping you can just stay here all day, maybe until the baristas start shuffling their feet and turning chairs over tables so you get the hint that it’s over. One of you has hope beating against your chest from the inside, and the other one feels desperately pathetic– pathetically desperate for trying to bend daydreams until they resemble reality. One of you is pretending to be engrossed in theory and texts and theories about texts and time and what is time and what is text and what…and one of you has focused every last bit of your attention on the legs of chairs that have continued to shift in tiny increments and are now touching, and on how you are leaning so far to the side that you might tip over. There is only one of you. One of you wants to go on typing, but doesn’t really know how to describe the thoughts knocking on the back of your skull. One of you wants to go on typing until you’ve said everything that needs to be said and won’t have to type any longer.

One of you probably shouldn’t. One of you has said too much already.

NB: I’ve been trying a lot of different things with my writing, and if you’re reading this you’re essentially my experimental subject. I’m also struggling with and against the different genre restrictions– prose poetry? fiction? if this is a poem, where are the line breaks and verses etc??? What I’m saying is at this point, the categories and tags on this blog mean very little because I can’t seem to pinpoint what exactly it is that I’m writing. You’re probably just as confused as I am. 🙂

Inventory

I’ve pulled out a few lashes from my right eye because it’s the troublesome eye, the one that’s oddly shaped and more difficult to hide behind thick coats of black liner. I’ve arranged them in line next to crumpled pieces of used tissue and some sharply exhaled breaths crystallized in the cold air. I’m taking stock of myself, looking though archived emotions, replacing peeling labels and crossing out inaccurate ones. I’ve used my teeth to pull out the cream lace from that bra you liked, and I’m still trying to scratch off your name from the inside of my cheek. I’m trying to remember my name.

I’ve taken to cracking the ring finger on my left hand, so I’ll take out the knuckle and place it beside all my other things. It’s relatively easy to do, but the difficult part comes when I try to pry the residue of back-when-it-was-different from underneath my fingernails. I’m rifling through the old clothes hanging in my wardrobe, checking the collars and hems, ripping out loose threads every so often. I didn’t realize those were the same threads tying the muscles in my face together to keep my smile from slipping sideways and away. I’m trying to flip through old textbooks, but the pages are warped together with tears and heavy sighs. I don’t recognize the frantic scrawls in the margins, but I assume it must have been mine. I’m trying to remember my name.

I’m undoing the tangled net of shoelaces and headphones, hair ties and conversations that wound on and on to nowhere. I’m sitting on the floor surrounded by all these objects, and I’m sorting through them in an attempt to discover where I left the sense of self that was placed on the tip of my tongue two decades ago on a balcony thousands of miles away from security. I’m trying to remember my name, but it has passed through so many different variations that I am no longer sure which is correct.

I’m trying to sift through all the mistakes to find out when the gap between what I thought and what I actually said began to widen until I learned to fill it with what I was supposed to say. I’m taking stock of myself today. I just found a scratched mix CD and a coupon for a free dance class. Shuffling papers for the trash are shuffling feet on hardwood are shuffling selves until I find the one that I cracked when I tried to fit it into the right self for you.

 

How the story ends

There were questions stuck in the gaps between your teeth, they were irritating your now inflamed gums and were threatening to mar that deceptive smile, fluorescent beams flashing- I’ve been totally alright, thanks for asking! There were moments you had preserved cushioned by velvet, placed in the pocket inside your jacket, patted down to ensure they were still there every so often, polished and turned around between your fingers from time to time. And now you passed them back and forth between yourselves, being so careful as not to drop them so they did not crack like

The  foundation you caked on your skin because fault lines always begin on the forehead and around the mouth

The foundation you not so much built but assembled and held together with tight hugs and

That smile interrupts the smooth brown of the face in front of you so often it feels like yesterday was three years ago and your favorite restaurant had not yet turned into a kitchen appliance store and your hands did not do unnatural things like reach into each other’s chests and squeeze the heart so that the rhythm changed for good.

There is a reason why you are not able to sit through reunion specials of shows you have never watched, listen to music with strings creaking with longing for Lord knows what, maybe begging for someone who knows how to tune a string instrument so that it does not creak?

There is also an explanation for you picking apart bits of discarded writing, choosing a bone from here and a bit of flesh from there, hoping no one will realize the he you address is actually the he they all know.

You no longer stare at the sky at 4pm on a sunny Saturday, because you would like to believe that you have long outgrown that part of yourself that yearns for things like a certain time of day frozen in 1996 when your mother looked exactly like you do now and you had not yet learnt to deny yourself things that brought you joy.

And you are now trying to romanticize an interaction that if anything was a clumsy attempt to reassemble an arrangement whose configuration has been distorted beyond redemption. You have been trying to write about this for days hoping that the questions you should have asked will materialize somewhere between inch 1 and 1.5 of the margin. Questions like, “What happened?’

Oh it was no big deal, we met up ate and laughed, just like old times…

 

1 Corinthians: 13

She had spent this morning, as she had done every morning for the past two months, flicking through photos on her cracked phone screen to the point where she was sure that tiny flecks of glass would permanently embed themselves in her thumb. From the moment she heard the final click that fell into the silence at the other end of a phone call, she had embarked on an impossible mission. She was searching for that inexplicable love that gives freely and willingly of itself and does not scratch a tally of every wrongdoing into the lover’s fleshy back. She was looking for the profound feeling of safety and belonging that she had only felt briefly in her mother’s embrace before it disappeared into a cloud of ashes– skin, nails, bone and one burnt will and testament.

There’s nothing like a mother’s love. You’ll never find a love like that. Everyone loved her. I love how you’re coping with this. Do you love him because the sound of his voice echoes words of comfort trapped on the wrong side of the afterlife? Or do you love him because ‘love’ is a more socially acceptable way to describe an unhealthy attachment?

Was it silly to want that 1990s love? A love that came dressed in a tight black dress with nearly invisible straps, in jeans with holes at the knees and leather jackets, perched lightly on the back of a motorbike speeding onwards into the night. A Friday night, smoky club and kebabs from the street burning your tongue love, which would metamorphose into love pre-destined and sprinkled with holy water. She was desperate to learn what made her grandparents giggle, heads bent and foreheads nearly touching on a black and white dance floor circa 1958, when Accra was Accra and the air was not yet burdened with smog and dissatisfaction, heavy only with anticipation and guitar strains from the highlife hit of the day.

Maybe someone could show her a Lauryn Hill crooning type of love, that incense and I put this on specially for you, love. Where could she find this thing that caused those who lacked it to rage and riot and wither and fade away, and those who had it to rage and riot and wither and fade away? She was looking for a slam poetry love that swung its long dreadlocks, eyes closed, mouth twisted mid-verse, one hand on heart and other hand reaching up into ecstasy and beyond. She swiped and swiped through digital love filtered through fake sepia lenses, hoping to find an old movie love where everyone tried too hard to be proper but somehow ended up even more vulgar than they had intended – Not in front of the children!

In search of a forever love that held true to its word and did not cower at the prospect of no one else but me, she read and re-read old messages trying to decode the signals she had missed. She had missed that forever love somehow, choosing instead a right now kind of love that was only waiting for something much less complicated, a little bit more convenient. She thought she had grabbed a handful of the hem of that heavy African lace love obviously wore– on her way to yet another engagement, no doubt– but all she had was polyester masquerading as silk love, an only for a few nights love, only for those curves, love. She was given you’re blowing this way out of proportion love, and you feel feelings too much kind of love, I promise this is good for you, I’m only trying to help you see beyond yourself, love. She thought all she had to offer was I’m too insecure and I need you, love; I don’t make sense with or without you love. She was missing the extremely important self-love, that linger in the mirror a little longer love, allow yourself some self-indulgence sometimes, love. You may have understood your reflection a little sooner, love, if only you had stopped looking at it through love-tainted frames.

She had spent this morning, as she had done almost every morning for the past two months, using her blanket as a shield to protect her from the incessant ringing of the phone–

Talk to us! Are you alright? He was wrong for that. She will never be a fraction of the woman you are. I hear the wedding is the same day. I mean how disrespectful! Hmmmm. Are you alright?

She was embarrassed, because she was playing true to type. She had turned into the woman she had always heard about, that woman who searched so long she ended up losing her way in the deceiving maze of nostalgia, that woman who woke up every day for months and years looking for a sign, for hope, for “closure”, and the greatest of these, love.

White Noise

In this house, we deal almost entirely in crossed signals. The soundtrack– chairs scraping back night after night, with black tracks on linoleum as the only indication that we ever sit together. Together. Occupying the same air space where sound bytes slide past each other and fall into the resigned oblivion pooling at our feet like endless yards of yarn that will probably never knit themselves into a baby’s blanket. A silent chorus, no one can hear you no matter how loud you scream. White noise plays on and on into our forever– birdsong, forks against empty plates, teeth brushing at dawn, drawers and doors slammed into splinters, all combined and all white noise. The transmission of my self-discovery, the groans of my growing pains have been scrambled by the screeching of car tires, by keys slammed on a freshly polished table, by sighs that scream I give up, more disheartening than actual barks of anger. I have tried to speak the miserable lines of verse that form my thoughts for you to decipher, but I now realize that you are not equipped to interpret the fine-tuned tones of my cries, or perhaps you do not want to. So we continue to speak across purposes, exchanging false exclamations- Oh my goodness, she is so big now- with neighbors and flinging hymns we do not mean up to heaven every other Sunday. Ours is not discord or cacophony, it is parallel beams so removed from each other that they eventually diverge, defying the realms of possibility and any chance we have of being together.

When Wells Run Dry

And the drought was so severe that the springs had ceased their playful spray months before and the dry riverbeds cracked audibly, sending up gasping pleas to the sky. It was almost as if a mean little deity sat on a chipped wooden throne somewhere in a parched forest, or on top of a mound of dirt, distributing water into enamel basins drop by painful drop with a contemptuous cackle trapped in the back of his dry throat.

In the same way, I doled out affection in stingy portions, when you were almost spent and could barely produce whispers from peeling, bleeding lips. It is possible that my well had simply ran dry- but I must admit- it’s more likely that you were attempting to pull water where only sand and sediment had sat for centuries. Your thirst was uncontrollable; even your pores cried out for what I could not (and did not want to) give. Your appetite demanded the most succulent of fruits, but all I could offer were the shriveled remnants hanging at the end of sagging branches, with juice that had long fermented and vanished.

More. Always wanting more. Why so greedy? Why couldn’t you be content with the memory of greener times? Your voracious consumption was not sustainable. Consuming all. Consuming me. You yourself, you were the wind that whipped through rainforests and stripped trees of their greenness. You were the dust that settled on the eyelids and inside the nostrils of victims as they entered their final rest. You were the supreme being jealously tightening the tap before anyone could taste the metallic sweetness of that life-giving elixir. You were the tornado and the sandstorm, the landslide that demolished any potential fertility and nourishment. You dried up the well, and then complained that it was I who didn’t know where to dig.

Uncharted Anatomy

And I stood there- my arm outstretched- the flesh of my palm sickeningly pale, translucent even. Vulnerable. I don’t believe in wearing my heart on my sleeve. Frankly, it’s a nuisance, and  people for whom it’s not intended think they have the right to (mis)handle it. I handed you your own personal map- traced the back streets and highways of every artery and vein- granted free access to pathways and trajectories where only neurons fire. You swept up the littered streets and polished monuments and memories until their gleam was painful to anyone who looked. You stumbled across fault lines and paused before speed bumps of insecurity, finding your way around them sometimes crudely and without much patience, but most times gently. But then one day, I found the map crumpled in a ball and shoved roughly underneath a lumpy mattress. You were tired of an eternity and a half of rescue missions and repairs, and I was tired of not being able to navigate.

So I took it back.