Habit of Silence

In the mornings, it was excused for sleepiness.  We’d pass each other in our own floor patterns and habits, maybe say good morning.,  My cigarette smoke leaked into the morning yellow on the back deck where I’d wake and listen.  Birds and wind and traffic and exhalations.  Then my brain would squeeze as the sun rose higher and the dreams cleared, knowing it was time for the day to begin, wondering how it would go, if it would last, if we’d changed.

We dressed at different hours–I, with the comfort of time suspended, unable to work and trying to heal–and he, in the rut of unemployment and agitated fingers buttoning his shirt.  The hush of clothes as we passed in the hallway to the bedroom, maybe a polite ‘excuse me’ to break the air.  I sought space at this time, for meditation and thought and perspective.  He sought with hot flesh and prodding fingers and a tired way to love me.  I couldn’t be touched.  The possibility of my lover touching me quite thin, as my skin was too awake and afraid.  I wondered if we had anything else to give–what was left to receive from each other when we needed such different things?  One day I had said “space, Justin, space…I need to be alone because I’m broken.  I need to take care of this mind”  and I could never tell him how my soul wept for him in loneliness.  I could never tell him he could have my soul if he tried to take it.

The year before, when I was healthy, he proposed through a poem he had written, down on one knee, his hands shaking.  I cried the moment I understood, and the ring glittered like snow; I was really loved.  We’d lay in silence together be and making love, our minds lax and limbs jello.  How I could love him then, in the floating hours of the day, and I told him through my fingertips how I loved him.  We’d laugh and touch our lips together.  We’d flirt with argument.  Later, in the kitchen and into the living room, we could talk talk talk about the future, about work, about anything.  We were content and never reliant on security–just love and affection.  I was sound and whole then, before I broke.  The safety and promise he gave me allowed me room to breathe and be, and it was then that my walls were able to crumble down to the floors of our pretty house; it was then that I felt safe enough to crack open and bleed.  It was then that the silence in the house was broken by my shrieking as he silently held me in my moments of flashbacks and terror.  It was then that I went to the mental hospital without telling anyone why.  My voice grew desperate, scaring me enough not to speak.

What can I tell you, about desperation and horror, when you were so gentle and sheltered?  How could I show you through my fingertips that I loved you and needed you, when I used my fingers for rubbing my temples, scratching poetry in the hours of dawn, raking through my hair, clutching my pills?  I want to say “Stay.”  “Don’t leave me.”  “I’m so scared.”  “I love you but I can’t show you.”  “Don’t touch me, love me from over there.”

This illness is a silence.  Alone now, he is gone and relieved.  I love him from over here, where I’m bandaging myself and mending by myself.  He doesn’t speak.  I imagine he’ll someday say “I miss you,” “I’m sorry I left you when you were sick,” “I was too weak to help you.”  On weekends he picks up our child and above her little singsong voice, we are silent to each other.  There is the zip of her jacket, the steps toward the door.  And my ex-fiance goes out the door, while I ache for what I don’t know how to touch.  There’s no sound to my crying.  I’ve learned to muffle it, it happens so often.  Late at night I lay awake in my bed and tears cooling the pillow.  I think maybe, when I’m better, when I’m stronger, everything will stop hurting.  Everything won’t tingle my flesh and hasten my heart.  I listen to my breath and cling to a quiet faith, and restlessly sleep in medicated dreams.

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