I Love You, But.
by Serena Rodriguez
Peaches tells me I have water in my bones. “It’s where we hold emotions, and yours, is over flowing.” I’m lying on my stomach, staring at the floor, the head rest of her massage table smothering my face. Somehow, she’s got my leg contorted in the air, twisted around like a confused crab, her finger pushing into my sacrum. It hurts but feels good in the way one exchanges physical pain for a distraction from the heart. Peaches has pressed play on the cd player. A slow and deep bell sound engulfs the stillness while woody lavender smoke fills the air.
“My feet feel heavy,” I mumble in between exhausted breaths.
She’s my twenty-something-year-old guru for the day. I’m desperate for someone to tell me I haven’t lost my mind. I need to know there is a physical explanation to this grief welling inside me. “Of course they’re heavy. We hold sadness in our calves, our feet.” She says this as though I was supposed to learn this along the way. As her magic fingers press into the balls of my feet, I feel a sharp pain rocket through my body and the tears begin to fall. “Your body, it needs to release.” Yeah, no shit.
I dream about you for the first time in July. One moment, we’re in an office building and walking together along a corridor. The walls are white and there are large windows leading to a sunny and busy street. We walk close, pausing to hug each other, and then, with a gentle swift, we’re in a bedroom, lying down on a quilted bed. The room resembles something out of a country bed and breakfast. The frame is made of pitch black iron and the quilt is a patchwork of colors and forgotten stories. There is a pearl-white water pitcher and basin on the dresser. Rainbows bloom from its spout. A wooden frame of carved feathers surrounds the dusty mirror that hangs above the dresser. We are clothed and don’t touch each other. Instead, we watch dustlight dance in soft sunbeams. Again, as if someone has turned the lights off then on, we are in a different scene. This time, a tent. You are holding me as we lie on the hard ground. I know I should be cold, but the warmth from you keeps me sustained. We are alone, and you are familiar. Your face is buried in my long hair and you say, “I’m sorry, I can’t get away. There just isn’t enough time.” With the heat from your words still searing in my ear, I awake in my bedroom to the coolness of morning.
Peaches is tapping on my chest. “Your sacral space, the pericardium, it needs to be cleared.” She rubs rose oil into my shoulders then presses her long cool fingers into the chasms of my armpit and ribs. With the reach of pain, tears begin flowing again. This time, my body joins in and it’s shaking and I’m trying to pull in breath. My eyes are still closed but I know she is looking at me with a pity that goes beyond anything I can handle right now. “This is love,” she says.
I wonder what kind of love she has surrendered to. I wonder if she has spent days on her own table, tapping into her sadness – releasing a pull so strong that any sudden move and it will spring back on her so quick and so hard that her bones will shatter. I wonder if the elasticity of the love I am capable of will always be this strong, or if the band will become brittle with each crack at vulnerability. “My legs still hurt.”
The night you asked if you could make love to me, I snickered inside a little. It seemed like such a silly thing to say— Can I make love to you? But the conviction that settled into your eyes as those words left your lips sent a shiver through my spine that only allowed me to give a slight nod in the direction of, please.
Afterward, as we stood outside smoking our cigarettes, you wrapped your scarf around me. I buried my chin and nose into the blackness of the wrap and inhaled your musky scent. You began to always bring along an extra scarf and I got to where I always underdressed for the weather. Because to see you reach into your bag to bring me warmth, was to feel you loving me.
The night you decided that we would only be friends, was the first time you told me you loved me. We talked on the phone into early morning hours, when the stars begin to take on the magic of craving. You repeated yourself, saying it twice— I love you, I love you. It was as if you were desperate for me to hear your love and not the circumstances that wouldn’t allow us to be together.
“My life is complicated, dear.”
“Stop trying to protect me,” my voice a whispered plea.
“I’m not. I’m protecting myself.”
As your voice echoed ration mingled with ache and excuses, I saw a scorpion, erect and still on my red concrete kitchen floor. Your explanations morphed into sound without language as I stared back at this light brown, translucent visitor. I got up calmly, telling myself that nothing can possibly hurt more than your voice in my ear saying you love me in the same breath as, you’re not good enough. At least, that is how your reasoning felt— I wasn’t good enough to take a chance beyond comfort. I reached down with an empty pickle jar and scooped up the scorpion. He never flinched, barely moved. I took him outside and left the jar tucked beneath the gnarled juniper trees. As I stumbled over the hard dirt of draught, you never stopped talking. Nervous talk. You were too busy explaining to me how we need to protect ourselves. You had no idea that I was in the cold and dark, underdressed and rescuing scorpions.
Peaches has turned me over, she’s cocooned me in a blanket, mimicking a mother’s womb. I feel silly yet oddly comforted. I keep my eyes closed. Peaches is young but her eyes remind me of my grandmother’s, wise and beyond kind. I’m at least fifteen years older than her but in this moment, I feel like a toddler separated from their mother, desperate to find someone safe. I don’t want to look at her, I know her soft smile will summon another flood of tears that will pool around my ears, leaving a sticky salted stream on my neck. I haven’t had a cigarette in months but today I want one— no, I want an entire pack, one after the other until I’m sick and throw up. I want to purge this tornado swelling inside my abdomen.
Last week, I awoke to the sun still asleep. I was pulled out of another dream. In this dream, I’m at a party, filled with empty faces and loud voices talking over one another. Suddenly, I’m pulled out of the room, as if someone has tied a string around my waist and has yanked me from behind, sending my arms and legs out in front of me— my core bound to the unknown. After this rush, I am standing in the middle of a flat dusty landscape. The only thing in the scene is the three-sided murky glass bus stop that shelters me from the wind and fine desert dirt. The people from the party are gone and there is no road. Everything is incredibly still and quiet and hot. I look to my left to endless flat terrain and as I turn my head to the right, you appear, your long arm reaching out to me, tethered. You are floating and the smile on your face pulls my core again and I feel a kick to my leg and I sit up in bed, breathless. The dream is over and I feel the weight of you bare down on my chest.
I can’t go back to sleep so I research scorpions. I learn they never get sick and their venom can heal people from diseases when given in right dosages. It’s also said, that if a scorpion reveals itself to you, it’s to warn you of lurking danger. They show themselves as a sign of protection. I’ve begun to think of you as my overindulgence of venom. An overdose of medicine. I’ve drunk too much of you but instead of throwing up, I have diarrhea and bottomless salty tears.
Peaches reassures me though. She promises me I’ll move through this and come out stronger. I have to believe her because she is tall and thin and beautiful, and her Princess Leia buns are on point. But it’s been weeks since she’s fixed my heart and the rivers won’t stop. The monsoon of tears has caused a flash flood that rush in when I bury my face in my scarf. Or, when the equinox moon shines through my window, illuminating the ladder to my attic bedroom, where I sleep, alone. I want to believe that I’ve managed to detox you from my body, but my bones are still sloshing around, and my heart is still knocking at my calves. I want to call you, but instead I call Peaches. I’ve made another appointment to drain my river.
About the Author
Serena Rodriguez is writing her way through the undergraduate program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Currently, she is working on her collection of poetry, which examines the wounds that tangle amidst the narratives of sexuality, love, and religion. She is also working on her first memoir, which explores the many ways we move through trauma in our attempts to find clarity and peace. Serena is a Poetry Editor for Santa Fe Literary Review and lives in Lamy, NM with her biggest inspiration, Zell, her seven-year-old daughter. She has been published in Santa Fe Literary Review, miriamswell.wordpress.com, and Accolades. Want more? You can find more of her work here!