Unexpressed

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

Prelude

We met in October, a month of changing colors, clean air, and new beginnings.

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We lived in the same building, two floors between us. For a few weeks we were nothing more than acquaintances who bumped into each other during fire drills and in laundry rooms.

But then something happened. A conversation happened, to be specific.

I was passing through your hallway, and your door was open. Even before we really knew each other I’d already figured out that you were an open-door kind of person, a trait I admired. I had decided to come in and say hello–only for a moment, I told myself. I was on my way to Elsewhere. But somehow I wound up lounging on your sofa (used, homey, covered in flowery fabric–out of place in an otherwise nondescript dorm) and we were listening to your music and having the best time. You were so attentive, so earnest, so kind. So authentically you, so unapologetic about it. After ten minutes of talking to you I had forgotten all about my other plans and was well on my way to convincing myself that maybe this had been my final destination, after all.

There was just something so shocking about the intensity of our connection–it felt as though we had already met in a past life. Like our souls were old friends, finally becoming reacquainted after several thousand years of journeying on separate paths across the universe.

Maybe that’s what I found so mesmerizing about your eyes that day, aside from their earthy hues of green and gold and brown–as I looked into them, they shone with a comforting familiarity. They told the story of us before it had even begun.

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Your sofa was where I let you tuck me in, later in the week.

I was drowsy and ready for bed; you were getting ready to explore the city’s rooftops with a friend. Our paths crossed. I could’ve gone up to my room, but you offered me your couch as a makeshift bed. Already dozing off, I kept my eyes closed as you covered me with a blanket that was warm and just-shy-of-scratchy, and the weight of it on my shoulders felt like a hug. And you told me, in a voice that soothed like a lullaby, that this wasn’t just an ordinary blanket, but a valued possession of yours. It was special to you, and in the last moments before I fell asleep I abstractly hoped that I would one day be special to you, too.

I woke up once that night, blinking groggily in the dark and feeling momentarily lost. But as my eyes adjusted I spotted a note on your desk addressed to me, scribbled in your impatient handwriting. I remembered where I was. And I felt a warmth emanating from my core that wasn’t entirely unlike love.

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In the days that followed we got closer, to say the least. The boy with the blue jeans, thick-rimmed glasses and warm smile found a permanent residence in my thoughts. Your name was suddenly a commonality in my journal entries, each one overflowing with hope and optimism. I could sense change in my future and I welcomed it.

Which is why a few nights later, as I stood waiting in the hall outside of room 1213, I was calm, my heart steady-beating in my chest. You let me in; you closed the door behind me.

We each had a beer, but I’m not sure mine ever touched my lips. As we talked it became less of a drink and more of an anchor to cling to as the room was flooded with emotional memories, the kind stashed away in the mental filing cabinet labeled toxic and do-not-touch. I’m not sure what my justification was for unburdening onto someone I barely knew, but suffice it to say that I did. I guess you just seemed like the sort of person I would want keeping my secrets. It felt easier, having you hold on to them for me. And I was happy to hold on to yours for you, too.

The rest of that night was a blur of honesty and compassion and hearts-worn-on-sleeves. Hold out your hands, you said at one point. So I did. You took them gently into your own, you looked at them closely. I remember thinking they looked very small and pale in comparison to yours. I think hands say a lot about a person, you said, and I think yours show elegance and strength. And I wanted to tell you that yours spoke of determination, of resilience, of tenderness.

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I’m of the belief that any activity can become an adventure when you’re in good company. We wandered all around our building that night and I never grew bored, not for a second. We sat in secluded-stairwells and in plain sight. We danced in a dimly lit lounge. We talked, for hours and hours, about all sorts of things. We confessed mutual feelings.

And oh, how glorious it felt to be eighteen and invincible and falling in love with you.

The night ended, because suddenly we realized that it was morning already. I think it was something like 4 a.m. when you walked me up to my room (taking the stairs, dragging things out). But in my head, our time spent together was eternal, along with all of the memories we’ve created since then. Filed away in a shiny new cabinet, labeled best-of-times in bright, bold letters.

Do you want to know the best part? At the very last second, we kissed. And it was breathless, and the room spun, and there was an inferno in my chest, like my blood was kerosene and you were breathing fire down my throat. And amidst erratic heart beats and burning, feverish thoughts I discovered that you were what I’d been searching for all along.

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

 

 

 

Fond Reminiscence

I guess journaling feels something like being my own mood ring.

(Today’s color: hazy orange, not unlike an August sunset.)

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I woke up blanketed by the soothing color of fond reminiscence, of something once-brilliant now just a bit blurred. Something delightfully nostalgic, if only slightly smudged. I enjoyed the tranquility of a day not yet touched, a silence not yet broken as I emerged from my slumber; I breathed in the air infused with the flowery fragrances of past pleasures to be savored all over again. Like a handful of cool glass marbles, I marveled at the smooth surfaces of these moments, their individual swirls of color, their aesthetic as a whole. I closed my eyes and sank back down into my still-warm pillow and allowed yesterday’s happiness to temporarily serve as today’s reason to smile. I remembered.

Have you ever watched the sun set?

It is very likely that you have, and if you’re like me, you’re always the tiniest bit in awe of (and occasionally vexed by) the way the light drains out of the sky with so much subtlety, so much grace that you never truly see it happen. It always seems as though the sun and moon wait to do their nightly hand off until you’ve closed your eyes for a moment too long, or averted your gaze for a split second to look at some other element of the natural world. The particles of pinkish-gold sift to some other section of the globe and leave you to admire the universe’s starry black backdrop, (and let it be noted that there has never been something more worthy of admiration than this glorious display of far-away radiance) but this change always occurs too indistinctly for you to track. The artful transition from day to night adds to the ever-present mystique of the skies.

After revisiting the events of this past weekend I am of the conviction that life’s sweetest moments are similar to the setting sun. Fleeting, bittersweet fragments of the best that life has to offer: so full of belly-aching laughter and eyes-closed contentment that they always slip away a little too swiftly, while you’re too busy appreciating them to worry about the fact that all good things must eventually end.

Or maybe you’re all too aware that they are passing you by, and this is the source for a slight heaviness in your heart, even during your most amazing adventures.

This afternoon, as I stretched out on a clean towel cushioned by a bed of clovers and overgrown grass, I allowed the sun to seep into my skin as I thought fondly of my favorite snippets from a now-immortal, magical weekend.

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I thought of a long overdue hug, of a spontaneous change of plans (actually, several of those). Of a shared sack of french fries, eaten in a parking lot. Of hearty, tears-in-your-eyes laughter.

Of an out of the way trip to a pet store (related: of falling helplessly in love with the wiggliest puppies, shivering with excitement).

Of a never-ending quest for new experiences. Of a dinner date, an evening drive.

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Of a let’s-take-our-time kind of morning spent writing in a library. Of appreciating the little things: a cup of tea, a handwritten note, a forehead kiss.Of not quite perfecting a tricky dance move but damn, you should’ve seen how much fun we had trying.

Of a million I love yous, each one unique and so, so sincere.

Of a much-needed cry, of holding on tight. (Of wishing that a moment could be suspended in time.) Of laying hand-in-hand, side-by-side on a wooden dock, enjoying an almost-chilly evening.

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Of a prolonged goodbye, of being unable to look as the car drove away.

I am not a believer in leaning heavily on the past (the fondly remembered good-‘ol-days) as a primary source of elation–I cannot endorse that, not in good faith. But I do believe in using memories as a means of embellishment, kind of like a smattering of sprinkles atop an ice cream cone. They are pretty, then sugary as they melt into something sweet and indistinguishable on your tongue.

Yes, the greatest experiences can only be treasured briefly before they are translated into mere mental images. Just like the elusive sunset, they end quietly, beautifully.

But the sun will set again.  And you will have so many more lovely moments, which will become lovely memories. You will be sad when they’re over, but you’ll find new adventures to embark upon.
And in this manner, life proceeds.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

A Wonderful Something

Let’s pretend we are clasping steamy, too-hot mugs of tea between hands protected by bunched up sweaters. Let’s pretend we are sitting in a small sunny booth with our elbows planted defiantly on the table, and let’s discuss our safe havens.

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Do you have more than one? Are they places or are they feelings? Is it the texture of a familiar, well-loved hand clasped firmly in yours, or is it perhaps the rich scent of your favorite novel greeting your nostrils as you open it to page one for the millionth time? I’m curious.

I’m in one of mine right now, in case you were wondering. If I were to invite you in, please, close the door behind you, the first thing you’d see would be my bed. It’s a small one, just large enough to accommodate a slightly-shorter-than-average 18-year-old girl as well as the occasional kitten that wanders in every so often (sometimes the clumsy calico, sometimes the timid gray one) looking for the ever sought-after perfect napping spot. On the bed you’d see a lavender bedspread and a thick, multicolored, polka-dotted blanket bunched up at the bottom, and if you asked, I’d tell you that it was a gift from a good friend from middle school and that it’s one of the few things from those years that I’ve never considered parting with, not even for a second.

You’d be sure to notice that the room has a glow at this time of night, partially from the neighbor’s too-bright garage light, but mostly from the assorted lights hung carefully from walls and draped just-so over mirrors. They are pink and multicolored and soft white, and don’t they add a lovely luminescence to this tiny space? I like to think they do.

And what color are these walls, anyways? you’d ask jokingly, Are they pink or are they purple? And I’d grin and shrug and say well, both, I guess.

You might at this point peer into the closet, the one that’s not closed off by a shuttered door, and notice the tiny bookshelf packed as tightly as possible with novels, or the puzzling pile of shoes on the floor that doesn’t seem to abide by the careful organization scheme that dictates the placement of the books and blouses and blankets.

Are you looking for a place to sit? Here, I can move my laptop and the granola bar wrappers and offer you a spot on the bed, or maybe you’d want to snuggle into the futon–yes, you can move as many of the pillows as you need to, make yourself right at home.

It’s always secretly pleasing to re-learn the joys of my small, squarish bedroom through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time. Especially when they finally look over above the mirror, as you probably would at some point, and see the collage I worked on tediously all through high school until it was juuuust right. And after you’d ask me all about the carefully chosen selection of pictures and posters and postcards and poems, I’d probably still catch your eyes straying to my vibrant masterpiece here and there throughout our time together, and mine probably would, too. Even though I memorized it long ago, it’s still nice to gaze at every now and then.

Do you have a cozy little room too, somewhere? With a guitar sitting in the corner, or a bright quilted blanket crocheted by a loved one and saved for rainy days? If I were to visit, would it tell me a story about your past, your hobbies, your aspirations?

It doesn’t have to be your room, but I’d love to hear about it–about your sanctuary, that is. About the place that you feel safe to exhale that breath you’ve been holding all day, and relax, and just be you, for once.

I’ve discovered something wonderful within this past year, though, while I was busy working my way (sometimes blindly stumbling, sometimes elatedly soaring) through my first year of college. And that wonderful something was as simple as realizing that a sanctuary can be a person. Looking over at him from the passenger seat as we fly down the highway a little bit too fast, as my heart beats a little bit too fast, but in the best way. Tossing and turning all night with him in a way-too-narrow bed, but giggling, because who-cares-as-long-as-we’re-together. Laying in bed with the lights off and my eyes closed and my phone pressed to my ear, because he’s laying in his bed with his lights off and his eyes closed and his phone pressed to his ear, and it’s two a.m., and we’re talking about insignificant nothings, and we can’t stop exchanging I miss you’s and I love you’s and we don’t want to hang up, not just yet. It’s feeling happy and overwhelmed and anxious and stressed and so in love my stomach hurts, but through it all, it’s feeling safe, because I have my haven by my side, and we’re invincible, and nothing can hurt us, not when we’re together.

But while we’re apart, just for now, don’t worry, my bedroom is a pretty acceptable backup haven.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel