He doesn’t know the sounds my heart makes when it’s happy, so he can’t tell the song it sings now is a slightly off-key copy of a much more beautiful original.
He just hums along in the deafening silence. I try to mimic an earlier version of myself but strain from the effort and he grasps my shaking hand. He traces the spiral tendrils of anxiety into my palm.
It’s like he can’t reach me where I am. His fingers follow the outlines of the things I can’t say aloud almost as if to draw a makeshift map to find me. He can’t place me except to know that I’m not where I should be.
He looks at me in the same way one does a lost puppy. He sees I was once well cared for and loved, under the caked on mud from splashing through a particularly dark puddle. My brilliant tag has no address, so he knocks tentatively on countless doors in hopes of finding where I belong, tucking me under the warmth of his arm. He knows I belong somewhere, but he doesn’t know just where.
He sees that my eyes are vacant, and presses my empty shell to his chest as if the warmth of his body might somehow revive me, like search and rescue to a hypothermic hiker lost in the wilderness.
He wants to help. He clutches my grief awkwardly, like a stranger being helpful by holding someone else’s baby. Tentatively, he holds it close, unsure how to soothe it, wincing nervously that it might vomit all over his sweater. He’s eager to return it, regretting a little that he offered to help, but smiling politely.
The way he looks at me, I can tell he feels a bit like a trespasser who happened upon an unmade bed. He’s somewhere he shouldn’t be, witnessing me undone in a way that is more intimate than he has any right to observe. He averts his gaze politely but no amount of time feels sufficient for me to gather myself. Perhaps that’s why he can’t see me, I mean, really see me.
He’s waiting for me to pull myself together. I wonder how long we will play chicken like this: him being too courteous to see me in disarray and me being unsure how to reassemble the fragments of my life sufficiently to be presentable for company.
And so I sit in the darkness and listen to him hum the melody. I fumble with buttons that won’t close no matter how hard I try because the things that once covered me don’t fit anymore, even as he steadies my shaking hands. I’m lost in the spiral tendrils of anxiety and a song that’s off-key.
Author: Alison Tedford
Editor: Catherine Monkman