We swathe the Earth in our longings and throw our secrets to the sky. Behind anonymity we are effortlessly exposed and free. But we dress our own selves up in costumes and ornaments, and write scripts that tell a story that is not wholly our own…
…That is to say, someone heaved out of bed this morning, staggering under the weight of her heart. Breakfast was a battle; her mouth was a field and her memories were the soldiers and the cereal was the cannon and her insides were a grave. She got dressed with utter care and put on her pantyhose flawlessly- with graceful swipes of her manicured fingers (there was a howling in her mind and she defiantly ignored it.) She filled in the gapes of her skin with make up, she drew beauty onto the wreckage of her eyes, over the tattoos designed by tortuous, sleepless nights. Her son died in October; she sits on your right in the grey silent subway. The smell of her perfume disconcerts you and her thumb brushes your sleeve as she reaches into her bag for some mints. And you don’t know the way her son smelled as a baby and you never saw him smile over a plate of steaming pasta, and you will not remember the lines of her profile, come Friday.
…That is to say, yesterday his thoughts were pulling at his lips and he couldn’t bear it. So he left thirty minutes early, a fist in his lungs. He drove fast, on autopilot, the radio-less silence keeping the car warm. He was shivering slightly, but it is February. The beach lay vast and deserted. The wind shuffled the sand lackadaisically, like cards. He didn’t take off his boots. There was a little shop on the edge of the boardwalk, aglow in the lavender afternoon, but he bought neither coffee nor hot apple cider. He walked straight to the waves, to the indigo power and white foam and chilly spray of them. He walked for a long, long time, his shoulders huddled in his sweatshirt like refugees. There was privacy and there were memories and there was helpless rage and there was a slight flooding of the eyes. Today, his ears pound with tiredness and he mixes up your order and forgets the whipped cream on your latte. You are antsy; you know he is making you late for work. You watch him re-smear the bagel, irritated. You don’t know- he doesn’t see you at all.
….That is to say, the war swooped in like an eagle and it ate his life alive. He saw his house erupt in fire and the smoke lay in his hair for weeks and he couldn’t quite wash it out. He shared shelter and food with a mangy, auburn cat for seven months and its eyes comforted him when he woke at dawn, frozen from his dreams. He is haunted forever by the hunger, and sometimes he cannot eat for days; his stomach doesn’t remember how. His English is rough and choppy; it makes some Americans uncomfortable or impatient, especially when he stutters. Sometimes he meets with some men from his apartment building or his deceased brother’s friends and they play chess in the park under the trees and they smoke languidly and argue with vigor. You also like the park, especially at twilight. Often when the summer gets lazy and tiresome, you and one of your neighbors get Slurpees and donuts and sit at one of the stained cement tables, waiting for the heat to settle. You observe his leathery fingers, the skin brown and loose with sun and time, and you approve of his handsome olive green cap that shades his eyes and shields his smile. You slowly learn that his game moves are practiced and brilliant, but you don’t know that he sometimes cannot remember the names of all his children and it terrifies him to the point that he’s unable to breathe.
…That is to say, yesterday night your friend buried her anxieties in a carton of Ben&Jerry’s and yet they stubbornly resurfaced like ghosts in a graveyard. There is little left to do when ice cream fails and yet your friend did not despair. She went for a run and willed the pain into the drops of her sweat and the panting breaths jumping out her mouth. In the shower, she cried like a child, folded in half. Today she wears a high pony and obnoxiously chews peppermint gum. Her fingers play with the loose thread of her shirt. She teases you and laughs with you at the awkward couple smoking at the edge of the terrace. The sun frames her face and it is wide and expansive and you feel that you see her. But you don’t; not in the way she’d like you to. The wind toys with her hair and smiles sadly.
…That is to say, when you become a parent your past will cease to exist. Your child will see you only in the now, and as he matures, judge you all the harsher for that. Your life will constrict into something beautiful, but in the constriction, whole worlds will be lost, if only for a while. The indecency of high school and the betrayals of childhood will fall away. The things you loved and the things you lost will be of little consequence to your little person. You will refashion yourself into something stronger and better and sturdy like the trees. You will reprogram your body into forgetting what it means to falter. On the inside, you will be so awfully afraid. But your face will smooth out the creases until it will hold only love and wisdom and that is how your child will dare to trust freedom. Your child will run into the wind, with no considerations and no fear, because you have fashioned the wind with your own hands and you would never let it hurt him.
The truth is that sometimes I notice it when you laugh too loud or talk too fast or try too hard. Sometimes I notice something in the shadows of your face and I want to make it go away. Sometimes I almost say something, a warm indentation on my tongue. But then you check your phone or stuff in the last french fry or give my arm a tug and run off yelling “race you”, even though that’s clearly cheating. Sometimes I let the wind carry your secrets away from me, with the dust. I assume you do the same for me. Because the wind is so much more graceful and so much less attached than we humans can ever be.