A week after I went home with a man at the club— I say “went home
with”; but mean “stumbled after” at the end of a long night—
my parents dropped me off at college. As I strained to heave my
belongings from my parked car to my room at the crest of a hill,
a student asked me to wait up, so I paused as he approached.
He stood at least a head above me and, in that familiar Southern drawl,
offered to carry my stuff. “Sure,” I said, panting for breath. As we walked,
I thanked him, and he asked if he could call me sometime.
Since he had been so kind to help, I pursed my lips against the “no”
that came to mind, and shrugged instead. When we had reached my room,
he set the bags down on my bed and asked for my number. He stood
closer than I would have liked; close enough for me to smell cheap cologne,
and to step back just enough, a space he moved to fill again at once.
My hand slid down to grab my phone in the pocket of my shorts,
not to recall my number, but a reflex for security I didn’t know I had.
“So can I come back here soon?” he asked, and glanced at my bed;
and I, shrinking every instant, muttered, “Sure,” and rattled off my number
but changed the last digit. My heart cringed at the lie, but I shook it off,
and finally, he said goodnight and left. Sometimes we cross paths
on campus but he never speaks to me, and I look down. The timing was
unfortunate; this happened, remember, just seven days after I lost
my virginity to a man who didn’t want to talk about it.
“This is my fate,” I thought, as if the man who just left my room
could have known my new regrets. In my mind, it radiated from me,
this raw whorish self, this identity born in sin. Surely everyone knew.
Surely they saw it in my walk, dragging each foot after the other;
or glimpsed it in my eyes, the images I could not burn away; or saw it
in my skin where I failed to tear it out of me. Surely my soul bore a target
and deserved the catcalls, the insults, the invitations. Many times,
my parents and pastors warned of the fate that followed “loose girls” and I,
among them now, knew well that I deserved no better,
so swallowed and nodded and wept.
I carry the memory on my keychain, itself a silver weight
around my wrist. It dangles next to the key my parents gave me,
suggesting, always, a safer shelter, one I stumbled back to after
those long weekends. Still, as they promised, God is everywhere
once He is in your heart; maybe that is why it ached there.
So, on my chain, dull from resting in my dark purse, the two
keys rattle against one another, reminding me of failures,
of a hundred lies to cover up my visits to the other house.
Here I am again, navigating the street in a slow patrol.
I meant to drive past with a quick glance; but then,
I tend to linger here.
Chimney swifts glide up from the roof, then down
as if considering departure, but each followed
some leader back. Their circles do not end.
The waning moon reflects off a splintered wine glass
that peeks up from the weeds. A car honks behind me;
I turn and park in the abandoned lot next door.
Across the street, some new resident has moved in,
but surely they have seen me here before.
Surely they remember my pale frame, limping
across the street. This place remembers me, at least,
for its familiar shadows stretch to hide me, even now.
Can I inch closer, closer towards the door?
The shadows and I, we wait together,
and shrink in the shade of the oak—
hovering forever on the brink between here and there.
The door creaks open; a grey-haired woman peers out.
She cannot know my finger sketches circles on the stone.
Is it irrevocable? Can I really not turn the key
that weighs down my chain? Can I not retrieve each piece
of glass from the yard, the earring I left on the bookcase,
every echo of myself still resonating there?
If only it could slip from my memory, forgotten
as a dream is forgotten. I trace the slabs on the wall,
and wish I could erase them. I wish that I could take it all
out, brick by brick. I wish I were not like the chimney swifts
soaring away, then spiraling back down again.
The next time anyone
asks where all the bees
have gone, I will point
them to the columns
of our chapel. Not twenty
feet above our heads
the little insects swarm,
but they never come down
(just as well). I would ask,
if I could, why they stay.
Their homes shake
when the organ swells inside
but there they nest, still,
When all else failed,
I hummed songs
to myself to fill
the empty air beside me
when you no longer
Every hymn, or choir piece
from high school, or
tune my father taught me;
anything at all that was not silence.
Am I lonely?
also croons on the fence wire
alone, staring into the heavens.
I’m afraid, but I’ll be brave if you seem afraid.