“There was this thing she used to do sometimes, when she slept. She would hold my arm, snuggle it and wrap herself around it. It made me feel like I was a lifeboat. Or an anchor. Like I had a purpose.”
You look at me from the other side of the bed. I can see the sorrow in your eyes, the glint of unspoken words, words I don’t want to hear. Words neither of us is ready to exchange. So instead I ask, “Can you hold my arm? So I can sleep?”
+ + +
The room slowly comes into focus, blurred blinks smoothing into clarity, taking the shape of a well-worn bedroom.
Dim light peaks through the blinds, slats of the sun spread out across the dusty orange duvet. Whispers of shuffling papers float across the room to my ears. I roll over on the bed and look towards the wooden desk in the corner.
You turn your head to look at me. “Sorry if I woke you,” you say. “I was going through her things and found this. Have you seen it before? I think it must have been her journal.”
I look at the small, black notebook in your hand and shake my head. “No,” I rub my eyes, groaning as I drag myself to a sitting position. “Thanks for helping me get to sleep. I needed it.”
“You did,” you agree, and toss it onto the bed, the quiet thud bringing me back to this new reality. “I’ll go cook some food. Clean yourself up a bit, yeah?” And you walk out of the room.
+ + +
You start to collect the strewn about dishes, barely touched food on both our plates. I find myself staring again at the black notebook, curiosity and grief beginning to outweigh the possible invasion of privacy I’m about to commit.
Flipping to a random page, I see her familiar handwriting darting across the pages. Letters bleeding from one into the next, lazy yet efficient.
I danced tonight for the first time in ages. Danced around my apartment, blinds shut, no one but myself and the music and the movement. It felt so good to move my body—like finding myself again after years of searching. Like a reminder that I have a right to this feeling, to activity… to love. Love from others and from myself.
Why is it easy to feel that on my own? How come as soon as another human is around, that feeling fades and I only feel that need to shrink? That feeling like the world is huge, but I’m bigger. Like I need to make room for others, stay still so no one will notice. So no one will be bothered. So no one will criticize..
“Did you know she liked to dance?” I ask you over the gentle noise of the faucet, wondering what else there is to learn about her.
You pause your scrubbing and look out the window for a moment. “I didn’t. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise to me that there will be more mysteries to unravel about her.” You turn to look at me, a sad smile on your face. “We both know how special she was.”
I nod slowly in agreement, turning back to the notebook and flipping a few pages forward. That same handwriting stretches across the pages, but there is anger in these scratches, heaviness in the dark ink. This time I read it aloud, so you can hear it too.
"Why can’t the happy feelings last? I’m not asking to be joyful all the time, but I envy the ease that so many others seem to feel. The relaxed way they transition from pose to pose in a yoga class, unworried about their leggings rolling down to reveal a belly they don’t have. Ignorant even to the concept that someone might notice how much space they take up on that spin bike—too much space on that spin bike. Naive to the idea that getting myself to an exercise class has nothing to do with a lack of motivation to move my body, but everything to do with how much I don’t fit into that mold. How much I don’t want the pointed looks at the parts of my body that don’t look like theirs. How much I don’t want to feel as if my body is a hindrance and can only bring me joy if I lose the weight. How much I’m not enough for my parents, for anyone, until I look the right way. How much I DON’T want to hear the comments after, whispers and stares about which they think I’m unaware. The same whispers and stares that have accompanied so many facets of my life. Except for the dancing, alone, in my apartment, with no one around but me. I want a space where others look like me. Where we can have that feeling together. Have that feeling I felt the other night and share it with each other. Remind each other that we deserve the things we want. Hold each other up."
I close the notebook. “I don’t know if I can read this anymore. I wish I could tell her she wasn’t alone in the things she internalized. I wish I had known, so I could have helped, could have been more aware of the things we said and what they meant to her.”
You turn off the sink and come to sit with me at the table, looking at me with haunted, but determined eyes. “We’re all victims of a society of no-mores, not-enoughs, like-this-not-thats. We’re all just projecting our own shit onto everyone else, all the time. I guess the first step to changing that is being aware. So let’s be aware. We can do that.”
Sighing, I lean back in my chair and look at the ceiling above me. I think about the multitude of pages in that notebook, all filled with her warring thoughts. Her desire to be loved in a way she felt she wasn’t. In a way she didn’t feel she deserved.
I think about the check from the insurance company, the one they sent after the accident as if twenty thousand dollars will make our lives okay again. I think about the subtle jabs you used to make about her health, all under a helpful, caring pretense. The comments we both used to make.
But mostly, I think about all the lost time—the lost opportunities to apologize and tell her what she deserved to hear. What we all deserve to hear.
+ + +
Walking down the street to catch the bus, the same route we used to take every day, children and people milling about in the brisk fall weather. Two children run to stomp on crunchy leaves, picking up the bright red ones and showing them to their parents.
I reach the bus stop and sit down on the empty bench. Across the street, there is a dusty, white-brick building with foggy, gridded windows partially concealing the lifeless space inside. A sign that says “for lease” hangs on the door. I look at the quaint coffee shop on one side and the used bookstore on the other, surprised this space isn’t already in use.
A man and a woman come into view, sitting down at a bench identical to mine, waiting for the bus headed in the opposite direction.
I watch them with sad eyes. She grabs his arm and looks up at him, says something that makes him smile. She holds his arm and lays her head on his shoulder, closing her eyes. The sight makes my nose start to burn, tears at the ready, feeling the ghost of her on my arm.
Thinking of the ways I didn’t hold her, support her, when she needed it, that check pops into my mind again. I grab my phone and write down the phone number on that sign.
+ + +
The grief is still there, it always will be. But this year, for right now, it’s a little more bearable.
Basking in the sun, summer starting to poke through the rainy spring weather, I sit on the familiar bench at our bus stop and take in the scene.
People sit in the windows of the coffee shop, a man sitting alone with his nose in a newspaper, a group of friends laughing about something over their iced coffees. An elderly couple walks out of the bookstore, looking down at their purchase with excitement.
And in between the two businesses, the previously abandoned building exudes its new life. The once white brick is now a vibrant teal. Green plants peek through the new windows that unveil the comfortable space inside, groups of full-figured people in athletic clothes, mingling while they wait for whichever embodied movement class they’ve chosen to attend today. A large display sits above the windows—bold, clear letters that spell out HOLD.
A group of friends walks towards the building with excitement on their faces, in their voices. Excitement, not nervousness or shame. They open the door that holds a new sign. This time, it says, “Welcome to HOLD—a safe space to build yourself up and remind yourself, and each other, of your worthiness.”
I hear your footsteps as you near, sitting down next to me.
“She would have loved this you know,” you say to me with a gleam in your eyes.
A contented sigh escapes from me, “Yeah. Yeah, I think she would have.”
This time I grab your arm, lay my head on your shoulder. And I smile at the sight before us.