Bones hurt in the most earthy way. They ache languidly, taking their time, swishing a slow mouthful of pain like a fine, smoky, dark red wine. Lying in bed I can’t sleep; tetchily they complain inside me. Now it is my hips and the small of my back. Herniated discs. Too much running.
I know what I want. Heat. Half-way in and half-way out of sleep I feel my heartbeat thudding through my peat-y haze. If pain were a smell, tonight it would be wet fall leaves and hardwood smoke. In my room over my bed it twirls a little, looking down, contemplating. I’ve felt it before, tasted this flavor. I had heat stroke this summer and thought I was dying. It was new and unfamiliar and viscerally uncomfortable. Pain and I, we’re old friends, we wear each other well. I have my moments though, where all I can think of is escaping. So escape I do.
Hands fascinate me. I love the strength in their fragility, their reach, their minute characteristics and differences. I am a sucker for big hands, warm ones smothering mine, mine are always cold. The right hands change everything. I imagine they are here, I dream them, wrapping around me in the night, their pressure releasing my discomfort. I want the heat of a steam sauna, and if not that, of a human. That is what gets us in our misery, isn’t it? No one wants to die alone.
The heat of my dream sauna deepens with every breath and it feels like it’s curling up inside me, filling me up. The heat is omnipresent in the most intoxicating way. As drops of sweat pool on my chest I am awed by this creation. It is better than lying on hot black-top, better that the one ray of sunshine sliding over the floor in fall, better than the beaded cat-shaped pillow pack I heat in the microwave. It is incredible.
He was incredible, lying behind me, holding me so tightly his arms around my ribs actually hurt. I felt the rise and fall of his stomach against my back and thought I’d missed out on a lifetime. From my dorm-issued, narrow-long, valleyed, lumpy single mattress, I saw the scratched, flawed walls around me and couldn’t believe I’d never been held so tightly. My neck was dewy from being so close, but the heat of another person gave me the shivers. Could I possibly keep it?
I was burning up, glassy-eyed, one of my killer migraines. I wanted to empty my stomach, fall into my dizziness until it was nothing but a swirling pinprick. That was in college, when the migraines began. I woke suddenly in the night to the sharp stab of an ice pick; ended my days with the toothy, churning throb of overusing my eyes. I tried to stay as still as possible, clutching my pillows as tightly as I could. My knuckles went white pushing against anything that could relieve the pressure. One night the boy I fancied sat on my bed and took my face in his hands, just laid them over my features, cool and heavy. I felt like I was burning from inside out. His hands floated over my countenance, light as clouds as on a summer morning. He kept me on the surface of reality, left them there until I could sleep. They were neat hands, big and square, calloused. They saved me.
Hands have always been important. I remember stretching mine impatiently across the cold, fine keys of the piano. How long until I could reach an octave? It hurt, that stretch, reaching thumb and pinky impossibly long. Back then they seemed so small against the long, plastic keys. In orchestra, hands fluttered, stroking noses and backs of ears, sliding over strings. nervously tuning and twisting. In those days the conductor carefully monitored our teenage manicures: no nail polish or long fingernails, no colors to distract or bone to dent wood . My wrists grew strong in gymnastics, wrinkled from swimming, deft from painting, chapped from washing dishes in the pizza parlor.
Those are not the hands I want tonight. The hands I miss are the ones I’m trying hard to forget.
The sun shone through the tops of trees on the mountaintop, touching down golden and strong against the warm mahogany stained wood on the deck. Sweat dried against my back and I shivered, letting the pale sunlight smooth over me, prickling as it smoothed the goosebumps on my arm. His hands dwarfed mine. They had their own cartography: massive, ropy, muscled, round. In smooth circles he churned the life back to my fingers, our arms bent at the elbows, and fingers intertwined where they met. He held them until my elbows went numb, then lent me his gloves, turning me into a clown, large and floppy. I walked down the mountain with my hands balled inside them, clenched in fists while the fingers flapped beside me.
Now my fingers press hard enough against my hips to leave big bumbling bruises. In the mirror this week I will see them tucking in my shirt and wonder how I could have done that. Now, the pressure is all I want, to push from the outside hard enough to beat the pressure from within. Sometimes all we need is equilibrium, balancing dreams and reality with a place in the middle that must be happiness.
At the base of my spine, a nerve is flickering. It dances the way a flame does in a cool breeze, throbbing like the intoxicating thrum of a Spanish guitar. In a way I am thankful for a reminder of the things that have come to pass. The past gives us the strength to conquer the future, and I am starting with a well placed flick to an unflappable flame.