Vulnerable

I wanted to love the almost wild things inside me the way I loved the wild things on earth, the places that denied comfortable human entry, the volcanoes, the arctic, the unrepentant hot of the desert with its endless dunes, masking all easy ways of navigation. I wanted to love the open spaces that wanting opened up, but to love them was to admit being vulnerable, to being susceptible to hurt.

Instead I thought of all the ways even animals protect themselves from danger, the sharp horns of the rhinoceros, a snail or turtle’s hard shell, a clam’s closing up, even the spines of a porcupine or starfish. Once, I wanted to tell someone that when I heard their voice it was like stars, a kind of dizzying light. But I have less defenses than wasps and, unremarked, I let the moment pass. Over the years I have regretted nothing so much as the things I could not bring myself to say.

Of my actions, I have regretted few. Even the ones that may have seemed impulsive to others were likely not. The men I chose to kiss, the people I chose to excise from my life, the times I chose something other than the quiet acquiescence expected of me. I may not have always been sure of the outcome of my actions, but I have always been sure of my own mind.

But it is one thing to know what you want and another thing entirely to speak that truth aloud where someone else can hear. Is this easier for others? I suspect so. I see how easy it is for my small son to love people, to tell them that loudly or often.

There is a kind of space that opens up when words have left your mouth, before they are taken in by another, before they nestle inside someone else’s ears, before they rattle around in someone else’s skull, before or if they take root in their heart. A space so small it can be barely noticed, or a space so large it feels cavernous, or like a precipice you are dangling on. You control nothing once the words have left you. Yours no longer, they have a shape to them, a heft you did not endow them with, a particular kind of movement.

We can study all the things that will lead a particular kind of animal to attack, learn its territories, even the way it hunts, whether singly or in pairs. We can observe what may cause a cluster of bees to envelope something with the intent to smother, when they or another kind of insect may sting. We cannot, however, ever truly see what lies in another person’s mind, how they might take what we have said as gift, or as wound, or as something so inconsequential it won’t even be remembered, even when, to us, it is all we have.

And this is how we are vulnerable. Because we are afraid of the unknown. Because we are afraid of that last thing most of all, that we perhaps don’t even matter. I want to learn to love the almost wild things inside me, yes, but I want them to be loved by someone else too. I want my words to matter, not just here, in the sense that in a way all art matters, but to individual people. I want to take root inside a rib cage, to, when I hear a voice that to me is like stars, be light returned, to be not echoed, but answered.

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