Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Midway to Here

For BB

You were so big and I was scared. I could not get past the mass of you. To me, you were like the buildings in the city where we met: giant, hulking, immovable. All thickness and brute strength; their very presence a silent, epic boast against the elements, inspiring awe and fear.

And I did feel both about you, though I never let on.

The others, though, they had no trouble showing you. I watched as they were drawn in and then drawn back, night after night, into our little sideshow world of smudged light and strange music and carnival freaks. Every night, I stood in the back and held the tent flap open. I watched them file past, their eyes already on you—a massive presence, standing on the stage, axe in hand, ready to pound solid rock into ash. I saw how they looked at you. The men’s admiration and jealousy and need to connect with what you were; what you stood for. The women’s small, wringing hands pressed against their bosoms, gasping at every feat of strength. The strategically placed flowers. The “accidentally” exposed ankles and slips of dresses off shoulders. The breathy exclamations of love and desire.

I saw it all and I cannot say I was unaffected. But there was also the fear.

It was your want. So obviously visible on your face as you stood there above the crowd. Your eyes, searching for my face, as you lifted impossible weights, crushed coal into diamonds with your bare hands. Your gaze fixated on me, every night, so intensely held, so unflinchingly steady, making me feel exposed. As if you could see through me; as if you knew what I was hiding underneath my flimsy, shapeless muslin dress and big workboots.

Your eyes; your want, it made me feel…too much like a girl. Small. Weak. Sweet and shaking and untouched.

I didn’t want to be that. I wanted to be an iron bar. Hard, unbreakable.

But you. You bent iron bars like they were willow branches.

Others told me I shouldn’t be stupid. That I should know this meant you would always protect me.

I wanted to make myself believe this. But I couldn’t.

I couldn’t look at your arms and not imagine my bones being crushed. I couldn’t look at your massive shoulders and imagine the head that rested on them might be as gentle and sensitive as my own. I couldn’t look at the roughness of your fellow carnies, the men you spent your days with, and not imagine you were like them. I couldn’t imagine that if I let you know me, you wouldn’t tell them all my secrets, my body, my taste, my smell. I couldn’t imagine you wouldn’t have a good laugh telling them.

Yet, there was something that wouldn’t quite let me run away, either.

So instead, I became your first-aid administrator. At the end of every show, once the tent emptied, you would sit on the edge of the rough wooden platform, and quietly wait as I tended to your cuts and bruises. We would talk. And I could feel you wanting, and wanting, and drinking in every touch of my hand to your skin; every kindness I’d bestow on you. You were a lion, laying down before me. You wanted me to know you could do this.

But every time I heard that growl in the back of your throat, I jumped back.

And then the next night, I was there again with cotton and linament.

We settled for this pattern, you and I; this uneasy balance. We each half had what we wanted. We waited to see which of us would gain the other half, if we ever would. We occasionally let the scales tip a bit, to test…but never enough. For both, something never started was better than something ended.

But we knew the rules of our world well. No show can last forever. A finale is demanded.

And so eventually, it was time to play ours out.

It was a night when we allowed ourselves to break the balance of our routine just a tiny bit. We stayed too late acting out our little care ritual, talking, pretending it needed to go on longer than it did. When we left the tent, the lights and noise the midway had gone dead. It was pitch dark. All the sleeping carriages had been locked shut.

Except yours.

I could not go to my bed at that hour without disturbing others, so you offered me a place to sleep. I accepted as if it were nothing, but felt full well the weight of what we were setting in place. Whatever happened, we both knew it would all be different from here.

We went inside. You offered me the couch in the front and some of your underclothes to sleep in—soft, worn white cotton undershirt, boxer shorts. I knew I would be swimming in them, but accepted the offer. You politely turned the lights off and pulled the curtain around your bed in the back to give me privacy. I turned my back when I changed even so; afraid you would look; and afraid of what you might think. I listened, but I didn’t hear the curtain move at all.

But I couldn’t hear you breathing, either.

I lay down and waited in the dark, for either sleep, or you, to come.

Sleep came first.

I was roused by light coming through the windows, stale and gray and discomfiting, the way it always is, for those of us who are used to making our living at night. I could hear the early, early morning sounds of the troupe—animals being fed, waste being hauled away, motors being tested for the next move.

I heard you stir.

I closed my eyes and feigned sleep. It was still very early. Most performers were not up at this hour.

I heard the curtain slide open.

You walked to the front of the trailer as if to get something. I heard you pour some water into a cup.

I heard you turn around and look at me.

I lay still, my dark hair a tousled mess about my face on the pillow, pretending to still be asleep, hoping that you couldn’t tell I was faking. Trying to keep my breathing soft and even.

You stood there for a long time. Watching me.

Through my closed eyes I could see the look of want on your face. That look I’d come to know so well. But I could also sense something I hadn’t realized before. Your own fear.

And I knew for the first time that perhaps I was not so powerless after all. And perhaps, in the end, it was all down to me.

You were still standing there, wanting me to want you. And I was still feigning sleep.

I had a choice: open my eyes and welcome you in or stay sleeping behind my iron bars.

When I return to this city, it’s that early morning I always come back to.

You standing over me,
The world’s strongest man.

Me lying still,
The world’s weakest girl.

(photo credit: in person by techne)


Blogger Mu Ling said...

This was really beautiful. I loved how it worked on so many different levels. Thank you.

9/06/2006 5:01 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Mu Ling: Thank you for liking it. I think this may be one of my more favorite posts I've written. I was kind of bummed no one commented.

9/06/2006 10:15 PM  
Blogger Mu Ling said...

Maybe everyone is stunned to silence by how lovely and poignant it is?

9/06/2006 11:48 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Mu Ling: You're too kind. Well, yours is definitely a much more positively-focused theory than any of the ones I've been carrying around. So yeah, let's go with yours.

And thanks again.

9/07/2006 1:37 AM  
Anonymous Buck said...

You're paranoid. You've got sitemeter, right? you know that I've been by here about 8 times to reread this, right?

9/07/2006 3:04 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Buck: I'll assume the repeat visits comment was a way of saying you liked it, so I thank you very much.

I do have sitemeter, but I don't check it much, and when I do, apparently I'm very stupid about interpreting it, or I'm looking at the wrong thing or something. Right now, for instance, it says only two of the last 100 people who have visited have accessed this post, and neither of them is from your neck of the woods.

There are many more people than that who have visited the front page, though, so that means they might be reading it there. But then again, they might be reading anything, or just clicking through. You can't really tell.

I also can only see the last 100 visitors, so if you've visited a number of times over the past 24 hours and the 100 count has turned over, it might not all register.

In any case, I never assume that numbers means enjoyment of what's been read. They could read it and think, "Wow, that post really sucked," for all I know. I pretty much rely on comments to let me know if something was powerful enough to strike a chord. Neutrality doesn't normally inspire action. People generally only make the effort to type a comment if they've been moved by something, either positively or negatively.

In any case, I'll still like what I did myself. I'm pleased with it. And maybe someday the person I wrote it for might even come across it in his travels and feel something about it, too. I'd like that.

9/07/2006 9:35 AM  
Anonymous Buck said...

Wow. I'd never thought about any of those things.

And you know, this may seem weird, but when something I read gets to a certain level of awesomeness, I find it increasingly hard to comment. However, in this case, I can see that there is a need to be explicit just this once. So, yes, I liked it. In fact I found it deeply moving. One of those times I mentioned, I actually had a lump in my throat. So thanks for sharing with us.

9/07/2006 12:15 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Buck: Thanks, very much heartfelt. And I hope it won't be "just this once." I suspect a lot of the sadness in the world is a result of humans being able to easily express discontent with ouselves and other people and things, but our real difficulty in expressing our appreciation of ourselves and other people and things.

I am trying hard to change that as I can.

As a side note, it was not easy for me to say/admit either that I was proud of this piece (self praise) or that I wished more people had said they liked it (need of others). But I am also trying to change that as I can--being more open about what I want and how I feel, without being ashamed of that.

I'm not sure why I'm telling you this. But there it is.

9/07/2006 9:52 PM  
Anonymous Buck said...

because you rock.

9/08/2006 4:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Miss Syl, that was beautiful. I love it, I really do. It's resurrected my summer for me; the Spiegeltent, the street theatre, the wonderful madness of the Edinburgh Festival...I'm kind of sad it's over for another year, and your post has brought it all flooding back. :)

It's delicious.

9/08/2006 1:22 PM  

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