It would be nice, all these years later, for her to write down how it got to this point. But on her page, there are only the words of Leonard Cohen—words, it seems, everyone quotes now: There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. She painted yellow and green and blue around the words, to make them her own.
Her throat is raw from that-thing-she-does, and from cigarettes, and from holding the sound in when she cries. It’s noon. She should be at work. Instead, she stares at the space between the planks on the porch attached to this house in the not-so-good part of town. She drinks peppermint tea in the musician’s oversized sweater to hide her body that no longer says what she wants it to say.
The cat mews in the window, but she won’t go inside. The sun is bright. She puts on her sunglasses. Lights another cigarette. A clove this time that’ll give her a buzz.
She remembers only the end of the first night with that-boy, when the friend drove them home. She sat in back and there was ice cream caked on her shoe, but that’s not what she remembers. She shakes her head, no, to not remember that. She remembers holding the hand of that-boy, who sat in the front seat, talked to the friend like it was just the two of them, two senior boys, out for a joy ride in that red 1982 Buick.
She couldn’t drive yet.
Their two hands touching, his thumb rubbing against her skin. He cared about her. He did. She remembers.
This is how it works: important things are held within: if you lift the mollusk-tongue, there is a pearl; if you split a cherry, there is a seed; at any given moment, if you listen in your mind, there is an I.
The body also works hard to show that it holds something special—it blooms and ripens and opens to seduce.
If every being was just a ball of light—no definition, no bones, no skin—dirty-boy wouldn’t have thrown his body against the dumpster, just to get attention. He wouldn’t have pushed himself up off the playground grass with his black fingernails, which are the reason no one likes him. If there was just light, she wouldn’t have had to complete five perfect fouettes en pointe for her ballet teacher to hug her. Instead, the teacher would have listened to the poems she had spread out on the dance floor without that glazed look, that not-listening-face, that made her feel stupid. She wouldn’t need the outside to give voice to what was on the inside. Dirty-boy could have just glowed gray-blue, for lonely. She could have just glowed yellow-green for I-have-something-to-share.
If the artist isn’t careful, she’ll suck the moment right out of the world. The artist is hungry: she molds with her tongue, spits the world back out into words. If the artist isn’t careful, she’ll regurgitate her whole life onto the page. And then what?
But, she’s always hungry and wants to sink her teeth in, to tear all the way to the inedible bones which she’ll pull from her molars and line up: opaque, calcified things that, when put together, will tell the whole story.
The most important part of talking with the body is consistency. The apple burns red, fills with juice to say: I’m ready for plucking. That-boy would wear a smile that said: I’m a great guy. She grows smaller and smaller to say: I’m delicate, take care of me, I’m not too much trouble.
Consistency can be sought by repetition. She likes to sit in front of the mirror, take off her shirt, and count the bones between her breasts that are visible when she moves her arms up and down.
How it will go: wake up at four in the morning and dress in the dark. When you go into the bathroom, do not look in the mirror. You’re not ready. What that body will say is not what you want it to say.
She guesses she could fill the pages on her lap with the words in her head: I should have seen it coming. Sadness is always haunting, always hovering. But instead she writes: The most important part is consistency.
She feels a roll in her stomach. It’s hard for her now to tuck her legs under herself on this chair. Her body talks of failure.
It’s a fall day. Her favorite time of year. The season turns the world inward with fewer expectations. The trees lose their vibrancy. The landscape becomes empty, shedding so much that was spring and summer. It’s quiet. Not so much to say.
This is how it works: there’s emptiness at the top of a rib-cage, in a prayer bowl, in the wind.
This is how it works: there are containers that can hold multitudes: a pomegranate, cracked open, has not one, but hundreds of seeds.
This is how it works: there are times when you must wait a long time holding one thing: a chrysalis, opened too soon, is just goop.
Virginia Woolf wrote it was dangerous to live even one day. Yes, there was something dangerous about that day: She rose at dawn in the loft of the seed-farm, where she slept with the musician, and lifted his arm from around her stomach. Before they fell asleep, the musician had said he loved her body even though she knew she had gained ten pounds in that-easy-free fling. She rose early enough to make it to the pond before work, to take off her clothes in the yellow-green light, swing on the rope—breasts bouncing, thighs not-so-thin—releasing her body to the water, where she broke through, then buoyed back up.
She shakes her head now on the porch. An old habit.
When one is trying to survive, the important thing is consistency. She read in her theory class that gestures, acts, and ideas that are repeated over and over eventually constitute the idea of being natural. The idea of being real.
This is how it works: there are places to get lost in: an under-water cave, a convenience store, a mind.
Very early she knew that others didn’t speak through light. They spoke through what held the light. Very early she knew that who she was in the world was how she was physically manifested. And somehow, if there were too much of her, she wouldn’t be able to speak the language of sorrow or beauty.
She has to be careful about the eyes. Eyes can say too much. Like when
the musician brought her out with his friends—a loud bar, Mexican joint, laughing, blinking jalapeños strung around the room. She wouldn’t eat the guacamole because it had cheese touching it. And then her eyes met the musician’s—embarrassed, disgusted. The musician’s eyes met hers—cornered, scared, resilient.
Like the eyes of the black cat they found in the corner, behind the dryer, who had hid in a tree all night, mewing like a kitten, injured from another hungry being, and then slunk inside at some point, made it back home to die. And they knew the cat was dead when they looked in his eyes and the lights were off.
She needs to write down how she got to the porch again: sad and weak and fat. She needs to write it down, quick, because there’s a part of her that does not want to write it down. To give up her technique. To admit her body-language might have translation issues.
How it will go: put down the pen and make more tea. Stare out at the street until the sun comes down. Don’t give in. Write down instead: rice, broccoli, tea. Only rice, broccoli, tea. The key is consistency. Write down: I want my collarbones back. The lightness. This is how it will go: light another cigarette. Wait it out. In a week or so, you’ll be talking the language of bones again. Save your page for something else. Something about sadness and beauty and fragility.
Hands shaking, she lights up. The mason jar is close to full with butts and ash. In front of her goes the man with the big belly, sad eyes, and balding head. He walks the nine houses up to the corner store. She saw him do this before. She knows what he’s up to, like she knew dirty-boy, but he doesn’t look up at her. He darts his eyes down. He misses the glow. He didn’t see that she saw him. The both of them, midday, hankering.
The-man-she-will-marry wore a shirt that buttoned down the front and sometimes, if he leaned over, she could see his stomach muscles. She knew he wanted to kiss her. But, he also wanted to talk to her. He said he fell in love with her that day they sat eating dollar slices at the bar and she spoke about what she wanted to do with her life. His eyes were kind and she felt like talking.
Later she said, but that was back when I was thin.
He said, was it?
This is how it works: the body holds something special.
Rice and broccoli. Tea. Rice and broccoli. Cigarettes.
Maybe when the man with the big belly walks by with his paper bag he’ll see a bohemian woman, confident with a cigarette lifted, eyes to the sky, paper on lap, waiting for the next thought to capture, write down, mold. Maybe the man will see something beautiful in just that: in the girl-with-oversized-shirt sitting on porch—not Indian style, not pulled into herself—but just there. Thick legs apart. Feet with painted toe-nails on splintery porch. Maybe he’d never suspect that on the inside there’s just an empty chamber in which a cruel voice echoes off the walls, saying: this is how it will go.
The mind is a concentric pattern of thought. Very old thought arises; the self has an emotional reaction; the body does a behavior to reinforce or cope with that reaction. Over and over again, the rings of thought-feeling-action growing a shell, like a tree trunk.
That-boy had kissed her with his tongue. That-boy kissed her wet and messy. That-boy moved his hand down there, waiting for something, expecting something. That-boy pushed her head down. He had bought her ice cream. Back when she couldn’t drive yet. That-boy pulled into the empty parking lot, its one light streaming into the car. He kept her head down, even when she pushed up, and he whispered words in a quiet-strange voice, rubbed her hair. And when he was done she looked down at her feet where the ice cream he bought was all over her shoes, all over his car, and she scurried to clean it up. She shakes her head, no, to not remember that-boy laughing.
These words don’t want to be written because then they make it real and then old-thoughts arise, feelings take shape, and soon there will be a blue-gray haze to her eyes and the voice will tell her how it will go.
How it will go: you’ll wait and panic because it seems to take an eternity and so you’ll fear it might not work this time, that you’ll be stuck with it all in your body, that it will linger at the top of your stomach, taunting, and that you’ll feel the rumble of digestion. But you will wait, and you will whimper, and you’ll hate it, you’ll hate it, you’ll hate it. Your eyes will stare down the dark basin, your fingers will reach back farther, and then with one great rush you’ll go blind. And then a release. Wipe away bile from your hair, your lips.
Now look at that image—now you can look: pale, but cheeks never so flushed, neck never so long, collarbones never so present. There it is. Done now. Such relief now.
Consistency is the most important thing.
If you fail to find the right shapes and definition to say on the outside what you want to say on the inside, it won’t matter. There are options.
This is how it works: a cove fills up with the ocean, and then rids itself of ocean.
One summer, when she was home from school, she cleaned the toilet and the walls every day. One summer she found a new concentric ring to explore. She’d take things in. Then spit them out. Then take things in. Then spit them out. Break even, then.
One summer she stared at the land and made up poems.
If the artist isn’t careful, she’ll regurgitate her whole life, and then what?
This is how it works: there are ways to hold space—in a church, in a home, in a friend.
There are ways to take it: with addiction, with depression, with pride.
And there are ways to lay open only to close: there are fly-traps, sink-holes, trust.
When that-boy asked her out again, she knew she’d say yes. That-boy drove her to the beach this time. The sand came up between her toes and her shoes were dangling in the other hand that wasn’t holding his. He led her to the gray water, leaving the neon light of the strip where he parked his car. That-boy wore his nice-guy grin and it was how it was supposed to be. He was handsome. He chased her around the dunes and she thought it was romantic. He picked her up, carried her like a child, laid her down, hovered over her, and she thought it might not be a game now.
And she went away, looked up at the stars that were as bright as people talk about. She was not there when that-boy sucked on her skin. She felt that that-boy’s shorts were on, but hers were not. She heard voices, a family, coming closer, and she didn’t want them to see. He kissed her, wet and messy. She gagged, but he kept his tongue in.
And it happened too fast. She was limp. He was strong. She must have been somewhere else because here was too ugly. It must’ve been somebody else’s legs that-boy wrapped around him.
She didn’t know how to drive yet.
The sand stung her knees and that-boy’s grunts filled the silence and there was rocking, un-rhythmically, until she remembered her arms to push herself up, backed away on the sand, with her legs sprawled, exposed, to that-boy, to anyone. The sand raw and caked on her nakedness.
It’s another day and she’s still on the porch. She tells her boss she has strep throat. Man with the big-belly walks by again and he has the same thing in his bag he had yesterday: two liters of orange soda and two large bags of chips.
Look at me! she wants to shout. Look! He doesn’t. But she wants to tell him: I know how you feel. If he could see her eyes, her glow, he’d understand.
How it will go. (No.)
Yes, this is how it will go: No more just breaking even. That isn’t good enough.
When the man-she-will-marry calls, his voice crackles with the connection. It’s a lightening storm down where he drove after she told him that she didn’t love him.
This is how it works: words spoken in fear hold a non-truth.
There is silence on her end.
He’s describing the storm.
Maybe she whimpers.
He says the sky was lit up; he was stranded with his kayak; he paddled to an island.
Maybe she cries.
He makes her want to talk with words.
This is how it works: there’s a way to hold truth and give power: writing a story, for instance.
But the story doesn’t want to be written.
In the house with the porch that she sits on in the not-so-good part of town, where she has watched the man with a belly pass by, she is numb on her bed. The-man-she-will-marry lives here now and they sleep in this bed that looks out to the side yard that is no pretty thing but that lets light in. How it will go: you pretended for a while but look at you now, lying on the bed, numb from eating a whole dinner. Did you forget, you stupid thing, that the key is in consistency?
Repetition holds the frame.
This is how it works: there are paper-thin walls to leave behind when the pupa breaks free.
She glows yellow-green.
Erin Lyn Bodin lives with her husband and toddler in Vermont and is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Program. She’s been awarded an A Room of Her Own Foundation Fellowship and her poetry and prose has been published in the Black Earth Institute’s About Place Journal; Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature and Kindred Magazine. She’s been a finalist for creative nonfiction in the Tiferet Journal writing contest and she blogs about the “grit, grace and berry stains” of the simple life. Find her at erinlynbodin.com.