Sitting on the couch, my legs curled, in what used to be called Indian style, I saw you rush by. “Come here please,” I called, before you completely turned the corner. You peeked, looking back at me, startled at being seen.
“Yes. You,” i encouraged, your eyes dropping quickly. “Don’t worry. It’s nothing bad. I promise.”
You slink toward me, your mop top, home permed hair tossing a curl over a corner of your face. I immediately recognize the timid look, seeing your inner turmoil reflect being caught, watching you prepare to bolt to the safety of a stack of books. As tenderly as dealing with a skittish animal, for indeed I am, I hold out my palm up so you can see I have no tricks waiting to catch you. “Come on 8, please,” I cajole, scooting and making a bit more room to sit beside me.
At last you sit beside me. After all, you are a good girl, and always do what adults tell you to do. You were raised to respect your elders, and I am over three decades older than you, five times your lifetime. I slide the tendril covering your hazel eye, tucking it behind your ear. I smile at you, trying to send every bit of reassurance to you, but I can feel your breath quicken, watch your pulse pound on your pale throat.
“8, do you know how amazing you are?”
You stare blankly at me, as if I had spoken a foreign language. And, indeed, I suppose I had. It was the language of empowerment and affirmation, with words you didn’t know or recognize. “Do you,” I ask again, hoping to elicit words from the small body beside me.
I lean over, gently kissing you on top of the head. I am careful not to touch you too much, for I know you expect that to happen, especially if you don’t want it. Barely above a whisper, I plant the sound into your being, “You are, you know.” You sit very still, willing yourself to melt away as you did so many times before, and will do again and again.
You keep waiting for the trap to spring, for these sweet words to capture and injure you somehow. I watch you turn them over in your head, trying to find the detonation device, puzzled by being unable to do so. I cock my head, making sure I reveal my most open face to you. You see the smile, and are torn between wanting to savor the moment, and being scared that my expression is one that will prove you have been caught.
Still sitting, our bodies barely touching, “Do you know why I say this?”
I see the pain cross your face. Immediately, your instincts revolt, and it shows in your knotted fist, buckled between our bodies. Your chin muscles flex slightly, as you begin to tighten and release, the precursor to another headache. I watch your mouth gape, trying to find words to argue the point while still managing to be appropriate to an adult. I don’t make it easy for you. I keep hoping you’ll find the reasons yourself. The tense moments pass, and we each begin to fidget, frustrated within ourselves.
“Oh 8, you really are. I know you don’t believe me. You’ve already given up being amazing, but you really are. You are smart and funny and strong and beautiful and giving. You do, and will, bring joy to people around you. One day, you will even make it part of your being when you explore a whole new way of living.”
My enthusiasm overwhelms you; it is simply more than you can grasp. You are struggling to survive. Day after day, you offer yourself, to protect your brother from the monster that babysits you both. Living closest, you are often thrust with your grandfather, who touches you time and again, making you feel a traitor to the grandmother that has loved you special, out of dozens of grandchildren. He is praised for his righteousness, yet you have made an unholy alliance with him, trying hard to keep the peace, trying not to let anyone find out what you are doing as an unwilling adulterer.
I let you lean gently against me. “Oh, 8, I know… I know…” Repeating rhythmically, settling into your heartbeat, sending the message into your soul.
“You don’t have to struggle anymore,” I whisper to you. “It’s ok. Really. You’ve done an amazing job, but you don’t have to do it anymore. Why don’t you let me take over? I know it’s not fair. And, besides, they can’t hurt you now. Open your eyes, and you will see they’re gone.”
Watching the tear slide down your face, the cracks of your protective dam widen, just enough to let in the affirmations like desert rations.
I have seen you, and I know you survive. You are me.
This is continued, in a way at Listening to 13