Tangles of damp bronze hair strewn across pillow and face. Hands with chewed nails hiding red eyes, fringed with salty lashes.
I’m channeling all of my energy into keeping this emotional drizzle from evolving into a torrential downpour. How did I get here? I ask myself wearily, not for the first time.
Tears trace hot patterns down cold cheeks, are brushed away by tender hands. The harmonious scents of shampoo and soap linger on his fingertips. I burrow a little deeper into the warm space above his collar bone. Inhale shakily, taking in small sips of his skin. I close my eyes, appreciating the tightness with which he is holding me. The physical proximity is helping to bring my mind back to the here-and-now, to extract me from past and deposit me into present.
We are horizontal on a bed that is not my own, in a small room vibrating with the whir of an air conditioning unit. Movement feels impossible; my own inertia is overpowering. I find that I am suddenly exhausted.
I’ve been gripping onto him too tightly, as if he were a flight risk. (As if I were in danger of drowning.) I work on unclenching the hands-turned-claws, smoothing over the ten crescent-shaped marks on his back with a gentler touch. I am so grateful for his patience, his palliative presence. I love him for it.
Concentrate on breathing, I instruct myself. Back to basics.
I was happy-crying, at first. We were cheek to cheek and tuned in to the same frequency of I love you/I love you/I love you. But at some point the emotional current carried me into deeper, murkier waters. Under-explored territory that I generally choose to steer clear of, sail around rather than through.
The tears triggered the gnawing unhappiness, even though happiness triggered the tears. It began with I love you so much (and I do! insert 50 more exclamation points here) but it ended with Jesus, when will this ocean of psychological distress finally start to dry up?
The past year has involved a lot of unlearning old survival tricks, ones that I’m finding I can live without these days. Trick number one: hold in tears at all costs, so to preserve the veneer of invincibility. To be honest, it’s going to take a while until I can cry without feeling a little bit embarrassed and guilty and weak. Until I can be upset about something without quickly becoming upset about everything. It’s just that, well, I’ve turned down so many chances to cry throughout my teenage years. I’ve been saving, compacting, internalizing all of the things I should have been releasing, voicing, admitting. I have years of raw, acrimonious, tangled-up hurt to sort through, and often when I’m overwhelmed with emotion on the surface I can feel the full weight of what’s beneath.
But hey, I am taking baby steps toward being able to own and express my emotions as they come, even if only to one person, not counting my small leather journal. And every time I allow my misery to manifest via crying, another drop of my residual sadness evaporates and is gone for good.
I’m wondering when is the last time you quietly asked yourself: Am I alright?
When is the last time you held onto something heavy and harrowing, and when are you planning to let it go?
He inquired with calm, guiding questions about my feelings that night, (and again the next morning over donuts and coffee) prompting me to put words to my woes. The best I could offer was a tiny smile and an apologetic shrug, palms turned upwards. I hadn’t fully understood what happened in that hotel room, and I still don’t. But–if I had been gifted with the ability to vocalize my thoughts as well I can scribble them down or type them out– this is what I would have said.
What I wouldn’t have left unexpressed.