It’s like PTSD. The concussions and lesions in the brain kind of PTSD. It makes it hard, damn near impossible sometimes, to recognize the familiar parts of someone’s face. Imagine looking at someone you’ve seen your entire life and their face looks all fucked up…. misplaced, to put it more delicately.
I can’t trust something like that. I can’t trust a face I don’t recognize. Imagine her eyes are glassy, empty, or just plain gone. Not a scrap of home, hidden in there. It causes this kind of fear in you. The jittery kind that wakes you up in the middle of the night, breathing heavy, wondering what time it is. The kind where you look at her in the bed next to you and you know that you can’t trust her. Her eyes make you doubt her, not because you don’t recognize that face, but because it’s what that face means that you don’t know, and you should know.
I woke up with a start, that night. Maybe i’d had a nightmare. i can hardly remember. The room was lit by one light far in the living room. I was breathing heavy. The air conditioner wasn’t humming like it was supposed to. Mell liked to turn it off in her sleep, and although it woke me up on hot nights, I found myself laughing at the thought of her trying to get back into bed.
I turned over in our bed, reaching out to the other side, hoping to feel Mell’s skin. My fingertips pressed into the cold side of the bed, and like that the illusion was broken.
I snapped up from the bed, panic in my chest, tightening. I turned around, stumbling over my feet to flick on the light. The room was empty. I turned every direction, trying to catch a glimpse of her red hair. The window was open, only a fist worth of air entering the room. Oh God. I thought
The face is supposed be a diagram to the mind. Her’s should be no different. Yet somehow her face is a map that doesn’t tell you what you’ve found, but simply that you’ve found it. A frown that is most definitely a frown, but you have no clue what her frown means.
But this is not PTSD. Not the kind involving lesions. It was something else.
“Mell!” I screamed, scrambling to the window, prying it open. The moon spilled out over the roof of our home, grey tiles glowing. She sat there, arms around her knees, in her silk purple nightie. I called out to her a few more times, but she didn’t turn to me. Her face was clean of all her creams and crust and her freckles went up to her jaw and cheeks and forehead.
“Why didn’t we have any children?” Her voice ghostly, and distant. My stomach clenched, and anxiety began to wash over me.
“Mell, I need you to come into the house and talk to me.” At this point, leaning out of the window . She didn’t frown. She just kept staring off in the direction of the moon, eyes fixed on something. She continued to sit there, and I knew she wasn’t coming back inside. I gripped the frame carefully and slipped my leg out, finding a decent place to stand. Then the other foot, and there I was, standing a couple of yards from her in a pair of grey sweatpants.
She is a beautiful woman, I forgot to mention. It’s rare, really, a woman who was as flawless as she was. She’s the kind of girl who had to make herself look just right every morning. Plastering cream, smearing red and black streaks on her eyes and lips, she was an old fashioned kind of beauty. At night, i think about the lines of white, the powders and the blush. Underneath it all she knows. She is only those fatty, clotting, thoughts of contempt and unwillingness. But she knew that the crust and oil muted that fat and held in the spillage. No one would know about her clots save her…and I. She had green eyes, maybe, under the contacts. I can’t remember the last time i’d seen her before she’d snuck off somewhere to put them on. The dye was so far deep in her roots that it was all her scalp knew. I love her.
Her tanned skin and her bright freckles that start from her neck and trailed down her breasts and her navel, were the first thing I noticed about her. This stocky young girl, not even ten years old, freckles covered up already with a powder too dark for her skin. I loved her tiny fingers and her fat ankles, but she’d never want to talk about them. I rubbed them when i thought she wouldn’t notice, admiring them with the tips of my fingers. She’s called Mell, her name lost somewhere ten years ago when we were young and brash and at home. She was the woman. The only woman.
I walked over to her, slowly, but she didn’t even bother to glance up at me, and I was sure that this was my fault. Somehow she had found out. I needed to hold her. I wanted to tuck her face into my chest and imagine she was covered in makeup and smiling like some daft clown.
I reached out once again, but her voice came sharp and clear
“Don’t you dare touch me!” Then her voice began to lose its ghostly tone, falling into a solid quivering mess. I could hear the anger under her skin. She was shaking, but she wouldn’t look at me.
I forced my way to her. I wrapped my arm around her anyway, turning her shoulder into me. Her face was on my chest. She didn’t resist. I didn’t think she would.
“You’re mom used to always say that you’d catch your death out here.” I whispered into her ear. Maybe the sound of my own words pushed me to smile grimly. i could feel a lump in my throat. She didn’t reply, didn’t move an inch.
“I’d name him Nathaniel. He’d be called Nate like you, but he would have a regal name.” Her voice was all muffled on my chest.
“They’d never stop making fun of him at school, you know that?” The lump was getting bigger. Cold air blew over the houses and Mell shivered in my arms, pulling tighter into me and I couldn’t stop. I gripped her as closely into me as I could. I wanted to keep her from seeing my tears. She couldn’t know, for sure. I wouldn’t let her. My eyes burned and felt hot at first, sliding down my face, then the cold air chilled them
“He’d look like you, you know. Big black eyes, dark almost black hair. They say that beauty and ugly always make beauty. He’d be just the most handsome thing in the world, but only if he looked just a bit like me in the eyes and the nose. He’d be perfect and he’d be mine.” Her words were soft and playful, but distant and weighed down. Her nose nuzzled on my neck.
It started a few months ago. She’d give me this look. This fucked up look. We’ve been together for longer than I’d like to count, but this… was just not hers. At first, i really didn’t know what it was for. After that…well…i guess i was just lying.
Her red, toxic waste glowing like, eyebrows crease down hard, making worry lines above them, and—and— her lip curling up, showing the lines in her cheeks. Her eyes quiver, and then it’s like the lights dim and gloss over in them.
She thought I didn’t notice. She was keeping it from me. Or I was keeping it from her.
Maybe if it hadn’t have been me to love her and hold her then maybe I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t catch her.
But I am the one who holds her and loves her and I notice.
Out of the corner of my eye, in the reflection in the mirror while I brush my teeth, across the table at dinner, in bed, as she crumples into my arms after spasming and thrashing in ecstasy. Oh, i can’t help but to notice her.
That face lasts only a moment, or maybe even a fraction of a moment. It appears and then vanishes. But i always catch it.
But, maybe I don’t see it. Maybe I was never supposed to.
But she knows. She knows. How could I have been so…
“He’d be mine too, you know.” I told her. That was when she moved. She pulled back sharply, her tiny hands on my face. Her eyes were watery. I stared at her. There was a pause. A moment where she just looked at me as the rage built up in her tiny little body.
“Why couldn’t you just tell me?!” She screamed. She was trembling with every word, “Why did you have to keep it to yourself? I didn’t know how much time you have left Nathan!” She glared with those big eyes, “I didn’t know, how much I’ve wasted…” Then she trailed off. Then her brows came down, and her lip went up and her eyes glossed over. There it was. There it was, and i knew that i knew what it meant.
This kind of thing, it sits at the bottom of your stomach. It’s a gall stone, and it tears you from the inside out. You find yourself, some nights, curled up on the toilet, cringing and crying, trying to push it out of you. Those exact lines forming on her face for a split second scrapped at me.
I can’t sleep at night. I wake up panting and in a sweat. Mell is such a heavy sleeper lately, that some days I think she won’t actually wake up again. Like she’ll lie there slobbering, hand tucked in between her thighs, forehead pressed against my back, forever and ever.
I have a lesion in my brain and her face just looks like a fucked up map.
Every time she smiles at me when she and I eat spaghetti out of the pot, or when she screams and hollers across the room about reality television, I’ll see the expression lingering in her features like a mask ingrained in her.
Her face is all gone. All I see are the lines above her brow as she frowns and the lip rising up and the wrinkles around her mouth. And the trauma is there. I lie in our bed, in pain.
She shouted, at me, the whole neighborhood to hear, but she didn’t care. she slammed her fists against me, like some wild animal, and she just cried. She sobbed, no restraint. She clung to me and pushed me away until she was tired. Then she just whispered
“Please don’t leave me.” Over and again. She couldn’t punch and holler anymore. And though I didn’t say anything—I couldn’t— I held her in my arms and I thought, ‘I’ve never wanted to go.’