I choose Before the Rain. When I start to describe the movie as Macedonian and Albanian, my partner holds up a hand, “That’s all you need to say.” He is history-minded and his heritage is Albanian, so he knows what this means. But it isn’t that conflict I remember from the film. It’s the love stories in it. A priest, a photographer, a young girl. When I first saw it, decades ago, I remember saying that if I ever needed to cry, it was a good one to go to. That first time, I was all tears.
This time, I sigh. I feel sad, sadder than when I started the movie. But that’s all.
I lay in my bed and watch a cadaver dissection video geared toward bodyworkers, physical therapists and the like. I love the overwhelming complexity of bodies and look eagerly at the very still, very waxy-looking forms stretched out on metal tables. A man narrates over images of gloved hands slicing the skin away from the layer beneath. Women in white lab coats peel back the skin and hold it up like it’s a hide. It is a hide. We hide beneath our skin. Someone shines a light through the skin to show its transparency. I mean, it’s translucency. I mean, it’s hide-ness. This also doesn’t make me cry.
I walk around a mirror-lined room, back and forth on the smooth, wood floor. A woman watches me. I lay on her table while a she stretches the layer under my skin, pinning her thumb, her elbow, her fist into my foot and hip and back. I’ve been told to call it a rib basket, she says, because cages don’t expand. But cage is what I know. I grow imperceptibly longer, imperceptibly smoother. My hide is imperceptibly happier. I do not cry, even though, sometimes, it hurts.
I lay on a gray yoga mat, over cloth bolsters and plastic blocks and wool blankets. I lay under my own skin and try to be soft and try to be soft and try to be a little more soft. I’m not even close to crying when the teacher asks us to feel all the places where the ground holds our bodies.
In the morning, I cough lightly as I twist to the side and as I do a bubble of pain expands in my left low ribs. And then it grows bigger. And more painful. I swear as I fold sheets. I swear as I pull myself from the car outside my office. Half way through my first massage, I grow pale and sweating and have flashbacks to the handful of times I’ve fainted. I cover my client’s back and apologize. I have to stop.
Finally. I cancel the rest of my day and drive to urgent care with tears seeping down my cheeks. Even turning the steering wheel hurts. I’m convinced that it’s a kidney stone. Friends who have suffered them describe them as excruciating. This is not excruciating yet, just nauseating, but I see my opportunity and let my pain be teary for a few minutes on the highway.
I rest, ice, and drug my muscle pain into a calmer place. On my front porch, the September sun races over my feet. It doesn’t linger. It doesn’t hold much warmth. The cooler air pushes me back inside. The lump of dull ache in my side and back feels almost exactly like the lump in my throat.
An assumption: If I love you now, I will love you forever.
Because I still love the toe-headed boy who lived up the street from me and shared his toys. And I still love the soft, ruddy roundness of my third-grade teacher. And I still love the trio of girls from Glencoe. And the trio of girls from Andover. I still love the guy with the faint lisp and the guy with the good hugs.
A truth: I love them all differently than I once did. I don’t want to say less, but of course, less. I love them without urgency or intensity or consequence. I love them easily.
And someday I will love you easily too.
When I step into the shower, the water on my face undoes the lump in my side which undoes the lump in my throat. I sob wide and hard. My face pinches into pain. The sobs stop. Then start again. Then stop. The bathroom fills with steam that fogs the mirror and hangs around the ceiling like low clouds. I crack open the window and let in a thin stream of cool air. It does its best to dry things out.
Tracy Burkholder is a writer living in Portland, OR. Her debut book, I Want More is a lyric hybrid of memoir, poetry and image published by Summerbear Press. Available here.