Essay from Abigail George

Your skin reads like emptiness

By Abigail George

My love had style. Irony. The sketches of subtle pleasure and pain. The resentment that comes with frustration. His motion hollowed out something in me. Perhaps a hollowed out bitterness. There was a yellow river in his hair. In the palms of his hands he held something back from me. The life of his family secrets. A room filled with the music of treasure. Earth becomes with weaving. Earth resonates in that most rare personal space of touch. The wide health of touch that makes you feel extraordinary on days hellbent, and filled with winter.

He was grace. He was mercy. When I was with him, I knew what desire was. There was always going to be the possibility of silence between us in the early hours of the morning. We had nothing to talk about. Nothing to say after the dry thirst that followed the physical act of the sexual transaction. I always felt apologetic for the fatigue I felt. I don’t know what he was thinking. What he felt.

He called me ‘doll face’. Now, I don’t look like a doll. A doll wears a painted expression. Rosy cheeks that blossom. A pained smile. I have put on weight around my middle. I haven’t seen him in the past fifteen years. I don’t know what he’s doing right now. Living. All people live. Others do it extraordinarily. Others extremely ordinary. I know what you’re thinking. Why am I here? Why do I come here week after week to rehash the past, to live there as if I was part wild/part history wilderness/part object/part possession? Is it just a sham, this insane vanity that I have to talk about him repeatedly when I come here, now that I am flying solo single handedly? 

Even when I was younger, during adolescence I was always drawn to the older man. The man with the accent who served me in a restaurant. Cultured. Educated. The writer. The teacher. The math teacher. The English-English teacher. The film and television production lecturer. Portuguese, British. The introvert. The man ten years older than I was in the summer I turned the lush age of twenty-two.

I thought I would be safe in the city surrounded by buildings. People who did not care for me, about me. Who would not turn their heads to look at me. To acknowledge me. Yes, I thought I was safe. The same way I feel when I come to see you every month. I feel safe here. I feel I can say anything. Know I will not be judged. I remember the electric blueness of the light. Nature was translated into pollution, climate change, global warming, buildings, banks, delis, foot traffic, cars everywhere you looked, grassy parks in the city where men played chess. Time meaning nothing. Time meaning everything.

The first day we met I looked up. Met his gaze head-on, chin up. He did not look away. I did not look away. A flicker of inquisitive excitement filled the void I felt in my heart. I knew what he was thinking. Passion. This was what I was looking for. A boyfriend. To be part of a couple. I was too young to know the difference. The difference between passion, and betrayal. Love in his hands. When he kissed me hard or soft. Gentle. Going all gentle on me.

I knew what his childhood was like without him telling me anything about it. His relationships with his siblings. Rivalry. Abandonment issues. A father addicted to drugs. Alcoholism on my side of the family. Cancer. It was the tapestry of loss that connected us.  Love was the photosynthesis of an awakened loophole into place.

I’m apologetic about love now. It’s walls made of brick history. I’m sorry for loving you. The glare has shifted mysteriously. The hours tick on. The clock inside the glass cabinet minding seeds’ growth. He was magic. It’s been one those days. Long, empty. The day dulcet. Elegiacal. Summer burning the nape of my neck, my shoulders. The back of my arms in my sleeveless dress. Admiration.

That’s when it started. I think I admired him with my perfumed hair. I don’t know what he made of me. I was a girl way back then. New to the city. Johannesburg. I think about him like family. That closeness close up, That quiet intimacy that belonged to men and women who find themselves at a loss for words in museums or art galleries or the theater. You see I don’t need people. I was lost in the city. Dust, flowers of plastic rubbish washed away off slick, cement pavements.

What is the meaning of couples anyway? We weren’t a couple in the truest sense of the way. The sky a polychrome blue. His eyes awash with a blue ink. His self control powerful. The control of a man who knows what he wants. Who also knows that he is going to get what wants come hell or high water. My memory is still raw of that day. The flow of the talk was always intense. Yet we could always sit for hours in each other’s presence and not say anything. Lost in our own world. Our own thoughts.

Yes, let us talk about the men in my life. My brother’s remoteness when his girlfriend lived with us for off and on for a year. She moved in with her color television, double bed, chest of drawers, and oven but after the year she was gone again. After that my brother and I were closer than ever. Confiding in each other over the skinniness of cigarettes and lukewarm coffee.

My wiry father’s absence, and abandonment. The Johannesburg men. Powerful men with hybrids of status, and large sedans . Influential men. Men who had the life experience of women and children in their lives. I want to remember them all, and what they meant to me.

‘You’re beautiful. Good girl.’ He whispered. It was always like that.

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