I’m holding something back, and I know it, even if he doesn’t. And so when the man I’ve gone on two dates with is already planning the fourth before we’ve gone on the third, while there’s a part of me that thinks I should be flattered, the larger part of me just panics.
He’s a perfectly nice, intelligent human being that I happen to enjoy talking with. It isn’t his fault I haven’t figured out yet how to trust him, or indeed, how to trust anyone new. “It’s like being attacked by a bear,” he says. “It takes a while to learn that not all bears are bad.” But it is instinct when confronted by bears to think about escape, even when bears are sometimes shaped like men, and so when I think about trusting someone, some part of me considers this, considers also sabotage, considers pushing them away first, calls it a want for survival, not to have to watch another man go, not to have to crawl around inside the silence they leave in their wake.
I guess there’s a different man I could thank for this, if it were any kind of gift.
And so, on a night when I could probably be spending time with the new one, I am instead on YouTube watching videos of octopi dragging coconut shells and stuffed animals across the ocean floor. They are clever, and curious, those octopi, and I have always liked them, liked the way their elegant arms ripple in the water’s currents, liked the bilateral symmetry of them, the way they squeeze themselves into spaces. Liked too, the way that, like some starfish or skinks, they could abandon a whole appendage in the face of predators.
Whole limbs, left behind, still moving. If that’s what it took, when confronted by danger, to keep the rest of them whole. Not like the parts of me that others keep because I don’t know how to take them back. Not like the parts of me that others took that I didn’t wish to give. Do they consider then, those octopi, that their arms are lesser? The way that, without the other, they occupy a smaller space, the world suddenly overlarge?
Do they, like me, suspect they’ve lost a thing of value they might never be able to replace?
Or do they consider it fair trade for what they’ve gained?:
The wide, open ocean.
Learning to swim a new way.
A new way.
I’m learning to swim a new way.