September 22, 2021KR OnlineNonfiction

Cartography

There is only during, and after.
Jehanne Dubrow

The fan is whirring softly while the man kneeling at my bed holds my legs back. Christmas lights like stitches border the pale olive walls, and the smooth bristles on his face surprised me the most, wet and there as my fingers seek an anchor, finding none. I settle: above him, I curl around myself as my mouth opens to swallow the darkness that curtains my eyes. The map of my body—does he know there was violence here? Does it have taste? Can he know the night from half a decade prior, where I stood in the arms of a thief I loved, suddenly a stranger inside myself while I stared at the wall, confused by his wolfish fingers and wondering Where did I go? Some days I return to the site of ruin, run my fingers through the walls of my frame and call this pleasure. Some days I’m just running. What can be made of the damage? Too much, it was too much. Understand: I will not get over this. I will not recover. Doing so implies a restoration no map can lead to, a simplified view of a wound even time can’t put its arms around. There is only learning to live under its shadow. Any happily I find is built in defiance of grief alone, and Before is a place I return only in dreams to. The truth is, I could not begin this essay with myself. I had to start inside a different room, under spinning blades, then in pieces—legs, there, eyes, fingers, mouth. What was I looking for again? I imagine myself as a chart of intersected limbs, a lamb’s body restitched and shaking but still bleating, This is where I am. I can live here. That I still relish despite plunder. At his finger’s push, I settle: for the kiss that comes after I do, for now, for After. His frame, candid and bent over mine as if in worship. I lose only my noisy breath, my eyes opening as my fingers rise to map the shadow ghosting the borders of his jaw, asking those zephyrs between my mouth and his, Where will you go, where have you already gone?