Front door locked, back door open, bright lights, and concrete stairs. The table under the clock is always empty. Except for the times I’m always sitting there. They’ll stop by to say hello, as they make their way to the bathroom, the front stairs, the book that we’ll never pick up again but need for this assignment. When it’s quiet, when my nose has stopped running, when my cheeks are rosy but not raw, I pop a found piece of gum and head upstairs. To the quiet corner where I’ll deliver the treat-sized candy and my fears. We’ll murmur quietly even though the floor holds only us and the hum of the heaters blowing lukewarm air. I sit on the floor, against the metal shelf, looking up as he smiles down. Looking at my shoes as I wonder how much is mine to take. Quietly, I’m breathing in and out. Hallowed out and filled.
I skip out of the early round of daylight trick-or-treaters, promising to return for the late-night stragglers. Grab a handful of candy and forget how much I dislike Halloween. The air, my car, and I are all warmer than expected. I keep the heat off and that song on repeat. It plays two and a half times before I’m parking my car in the back of the building, running up the stairs, and tossing my books onto the carrel’s top. Flop into the chair. Get up and move the bucket under the dripping ceiling. Think about using my own carrel rather than theirs. See their smiling faces and mine in photographs taped to the back of the carrel and decide against it. In the next couple of hours I inhale most of my snatched candy, manage to get only three shades of highlighter between my fingers, and nearly lose my appetite by the time he comes down to get me for dinner.
If the frozen smiles of my friends bear a warning, I don’t see it. I shove open the doors on our way down and scowl when he tells me I need more protein. We both know how heavy that door is. I’m stronger than I look - I’m still walking this hallway, aren’t I? I’m still here. Inhaling candy and dinner and him, spitting out the new wedding ring. Sitting across from, next to, in front of... his foot always on the rung of my chair. We’re bickering and he teases and we’re relentless, as I wonder how much I am breaking. I’m carefully within the lines but with abandon. I’m reckless with only that which I can claim as mine, and I leave everything else alone.
Until I’m walking through the dark parking lot, spooked by ghosts of the future, and I lay my head down on the steering wheel, careful not to blow the horn - although I’d like to wrap my arms around it and squeeze. I want to hear the horn blaring, and alerting, and breaking the silence and my smile.
Tears don’t come, so I drive home slowly. Pick out a dragon and a princess on separate streets and pair them together in my head. Fated to be together until I realize it is the prince and the princess who have the destiny. It’s the dragon who breaths the fire. I laugh or scream, I can’t tell which, as “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” clicks back to its beginning.
They’re sitting on the stairs to the driveway in the dark. Drinking pumpkin beer, with a sound system set up - notes and screeches, and ghosts, and chains echoing into the night. Harmonizing with mine. I’m still somewhere in that lost land between tears and laughter, but the night’s still warm and with them I know I am safe. So, I join them on the stairs, my hand in the candy bowl, reeling in the rest of myself from the dark. Counting the pieces of candy through the plastic, one, two, three, four... but I’m gritting my teeth and forcing my breaths in and out, hallowed and full. Structured, controlled breaths, and perfect posture on the steps, even though I’m bursting and soaring and screaming and weeping in silence. Even though I’m out there somewhere scattered or shattered or whole in the dark.
So I get up and I start to dance. And they let me. Alone in the dark driveway, I’m collecting pieces of myself, scooping and reaching and bending and stretching. Until the hour comes when the street is empty and the kids who never came never will. Until I’m panting, and they gently collect me, and bring me inside. Where I fall into my bed with all of my pieces finally mine again. At least until he and I crash through them together once again - scattered, shattered, and whole. Hallowed out and lit up.
[ originally posted here ]