April 18th, 2012 - Heather Heckman-McKenna
I searched distantly familiar rooms in the dark. Reaching blindly, but pulling and grasping nonetheless. Two days before what would’ve been our fifth anniversary. Weeks before Eric and I finally would give up trying to make it work. Weeks after I’d gone to stay with my parents some ninety minutes north of the Worcester-area lakeside home I’d left behind. My father disconsolate, though he tried not to show it. Relieved that finally I’d found a good partner. Warmth of Dad’s close hugs. I could tell he hoped, much as I did, that Eric and I would work it out.
Though I didn’t know it yet, Eric wouldn’t show up at the site of our first date on what would’ve been our fifth anniversary. I waited in Bedford for hours. I still thought he’d try to make it work.
Of course I recognize now my foolishness. My own shadow a dark bow over my midst. No lucid line even in periphery.
I still ask myself, sometimes wryly, other times in desperation: what could “make it work” possibly mean with a sexual identity incompatible with my partner’s, and labyrinthine still to myself? Umbral minotaur ever chasing, a partial step behind. All I can do to remain fractions ahead of my own fear and shame. Still fooling even (or only?) myself, believing we could find a middle ground. Wavering reasons. Fiercely clinging to the treasured illusion that middle ground can possibly exist when it comes to a person’s sexual core.
Today I repeat long darkling patterns. “In going from room to room in the dark / I reached out blindly to save my face.” I thought I’d stopped, but I hadn’t.
Lucid simile collided with swift and endlessly recurring moments of ignoring myself. My refusal to let myself see. I couldn’t yet know that in early spring of 2022 I would repeat these blind lunges for a truth I recognized but refused to accept. I wouldn’t know that my core sexuality – my fetish and its implicit identity – would be the cause once again of dismantling everything I’d worked so hard in love and trust to build. That I would forget once more that feathery hope drifts always through dusty hallways of long-deserted neural pathways. It never does leave its perch; it faints and flutters, yes, but it doesn’t fly away. Things without words, things beyond words, things which can never be spoken for lack of language, and that I embody – quite literally embody – this liminality. A paradox whose patterns burn my life to the ground at the same time as I unfurl adamantine petals that have long protected me from my own needs. Those petals soften and yield no matter my efforts to the contrary and regardless of costs.
But in April 2012 I didn’t yet recognize the pattern that would take me another ten years to decipher. Reaching blindly. Finally seeing. Forcing myself to look and not turn away. This would be a decade hence.
In 2012 I didn’t yet know that my father would live only another seven years. That this time I would have to survive without him. Navigate my own identity, and do so without Dad. Afraid.
Ten years later, my husband touches my face, speaks gently. “Let go,” Will says. “Heather, you have to let go.”
I imagine the falling. Stagnant stutters. Crumpling my life in my hand like a letter I’m too scared to open. Mosaic glass littering the ground from the broken windows of my life. Shuffle the glass around with my feet, making new, pretty pictures. Remembered pain echoing through haunted hallways.
I kissed Eric one last time. Begged him with no words uttered. He walked me to my car.
I drove and cried. Drove and breathed. Drove over that barely-two-car bridge hovering above the four-foot overpass of the stream flowing into our lake. Tiny icebergs floated downstream. I paused on the bridge, watched those ice clusters, the way the rain bounced off them as if hopping fleas.
It was warm enough that instead of snow or sleet, droplets of condensation froze into tiny icicles on my windshield. Lit up oncoming car lights as if rubies and diamonds. I felt as if the tiny gems cut through my skin as I drove toward them. I imagined tiny red rubies suspended in midair behind me, spattering softly across dark pavement.
I never said I wasn’t dramatic.
Eric let me go so that I could find someone who could know and meet my core self.
Ten years later I repeat.
I fall in love with Will. My Will whose sexual core is not the same as my own. Icy plunge into a truth I didn’t choose. Stagnant stutters. Crumpling my life like a treasured letter I am forced to leave behind. Smoothing it out again as best I can. A letter that this time I have to read closely. Memorize and remember. Fold into a paper airplane, walk to our back deck, release. Watch its path through mulberry branches and dappled sunshine. Watch it fall into the grassy knoll that no longer belongs to me. A place of love and warmth and safety that I have no choice but to leave behind.
I said ten years ago and repeat today: I never asked for this.
Will talks to me, holds my face in his hands. “I need two things only from you,” he says. I take shallow, gulping breaths. I watch diffuse Toronto sun light his azure eyes, then close my own and listen:
“First, I need you to live your truth,” he says. “Second, I need you to love yourself.”
Yes I know that love is like ghosts.
I reopen my eyes. Open them wide. I watch love and pain flit across his face in craggy lines and serrated edges. I blink.
I envision the weeks to come. Will will hold my face in his hands. He will say, “I love you, I forgive you, I’m sorry.” The beautiful mantra we learned together. I will nod, repeat, then turn away.
He will hold my hand as he walks me out to my car. With any luck, it will sleet. Maybe I’ll drive away and allow myself a single backwards glance. Maybe I’ll spatter rubies behind me just one last time.
Heather Heckman-McKenna is a Ph.D. Candidate in English at the University of Missouri, studying and teaching literature and creative writing. She's published her creative work in The Carolina Quarterly, CutBank, and The Journal, amongst others, and two essays from her in-progress memoir, Finding Orange, have been nominated for the Pushcart. Heather gives talks and readings about domestic and sexual violence. You can reach her at heatherheckmanmckenna.wordpress.com.
Heather encourages you to check out the domestic violence support mission and work of https://truenorthofcolumbia.org.