Just the Words

I heard the words ripple around me, slowly at first, settling only when the placidity of the moment deadened the place I visit when I close my eyes tightly. The place of comfort, usually warm, but uncomfortable when it gets too hot. Actions are supposed to speak louder than these words, except that words seldom exist alone.

There are some moments, some words that I cannot erase from my recollection. They visit me in the strangest moments as if they must remind me of a part of myself that still exists despite my conviction to forget. They work together with my conscious and at times are so vivid that not only do I remember them, but I hear them. I hear the tones, the pitch, the slightest breath that was taken three moments before the words changed my life forever. I wonder what my father was thinking during the three moments that he visited his conscious. Was he wondering if he really wanted to say it? Or perhaps that he so badly wanted to. So badly wanted to see the look of sheer terror drive across my mother’s face. I wonder most if he would have said it had he known I was listening.

I missed the actions that preceded these words. I missed the subtle looks, the harsh annoyances; I missed the whole event. But these words, I could not miss them. It is almost humorous to me how much I missed in this world. I hear now, I see now, I feel now. Mostly, I wonder when that happened. I wonder when I began to see the looks of pain that were so almost hidden. I wonder when I figured out the places on the body that can’t hide the pain, that can’t cover up the wounds of so many years of isolation. It is not in the eyes. Those can grow dead. It is not in the lips, they are the most deceiving of all. The pain lies in the hands and how people use them, and also in the forehead– the places most of us miss. I find it now, as I watch a hand nervously trying to cover the lips–a fools errand–hesitation slipping on truth. A forehead contemplating too much–a canvas for pain to write its story. Oh, these places I can’t stop staring at when I speak to a person.

I can’t stop myself from trying to figure them out, from trying to know them through their hands and their foreheads. I want to hear their story and then I want to tell them mine. It is not because I want them to understand. In fact, I really don’t care because it is always about me. It is about me getting rid of these words, me not wanting to hear them anymore. The more I tell the story the more it changes. I add a different word more harsh than the truth, more shocking. It is easier to believe lies than the truth. Every time the story changes it becomes less real, more far away from me. Then, the person I am speaking with must hear my words over and over in their head. When I am lucky, after I tell my story, I forget the details, usually a little more each time I say them again. Each time I speak it, it becomes someone else’s story. I become the girl they new once who…

I like being that girl.

I heard once that life is lived forwards and understood backwards. I often wonder how far back I must go to understand. I used to want to understand how he could leave all of us, but now, I just want to understand how he could have said what he said. Why did he pick those words, why did he way them with such certainty and conviction. Was he so sure of his words at that moment? Had he rehearsed them, had he chosen the perfect fit to get the perfect reaction? I will never know that part of him; I want to forget that part of me.

Everything is perfect now. Two loving parents who sleep in the same bed. The fact that he left should still irritate me, it should make me scared of what my own marriage someday will bring. But none of that matter to me, not at all. Yet the words, the phrase, the feeling, the conviction, those I still hear. I am oddly connected to these words as though it is a love affair. I often think about who I would be had I never heard them spoken. How can one sentence, one thought, build such a unique and frightening relationship? Who would I be?

I think I would be different. I wouldn’t have found out until six months later that my dad was going to leave. I would have eaten at the kitchen table and honestly believed that the random stories of installing an air conditioner for a friend meant something. Words are powerful weapons that evoke powerful emotions. But not all words. Some are futile objects selectively spoken to fill the spaces in silence that are uncomfortable. I hear so many useless words, so many useless stories. In fact, I speak even more vacant words than most. How can I tell the difference anymore? The difference between the words I cannot forget and those I so easily speak. Where does the difference lie? Is it in the message, or in the emotion of the person selecting the words? Or could it be in the intent?

Perhaps the difference lies in the face of my father when he spoke them. Or his hands, or his forehead. But I did not see his face. I only heard the words. I don’t need you and I don’t need these goddamn kids anymore. Oh how they rolled off his tongue. It was as though they knew their destination.

The oddest thing is that I have no idea what my mother said back to him. Did she have words prepared for that moment? Was she ready with a retort so perfectly refined that she knew exactly how his face would react after she said it? Was she looking at his face? At his hands, his forehead. Perhaps she had no words at all. Perhaps all I heard from her was the slightest gasp, so controlled. Yet, so scared. Or perhaps my father’s words overpowered hers. Maybe his words engulfed hers to the point where her words were no longer audible to my ears. I wonder if they were still audible to her own?

I wonder even more if these words have left her head. I wonder if they visit her in the middle of the night as they do me. I wonder if she has spoken them as many times as I have. I wonder if she has ever spoken them at all. I know she has forgiven his actions and I know she has forgiven the day he left. But I do not know if she has forgiven his words. They were just words and they were softly spoken. It was supposed to be his actions that hurt…But it was the words.

Just the words

ALC 2000