As If I Were Lit From Within
The air inside was sticky and thick. My girls and I made ourselves comfortable on one of the dilapidated couches occupying the apartment and it was there that we waited and watched, hanging low to the ground like ripened fruit. They chattered about little things: that couple to the left of us in a hushed fight; that girl we didn’t like; who would go to the store to get more beer or who would flirt with a boy who had some. I was only partially engaged in the conversation, distracted by the heat and the face I was unknowingly searching for everytime a body moved past or a crowd entered through the back door, bringing in with them a faint but salvational breeze—the smell of salted air and fading orchids.
“Are you looking for that boy still?” whoever had spoken up sounded annoyed, her voice popping with the sound of sucked teeth, a sign of disapproval.
“Nah,” I replied arching my head back towards our cluster. We were taking up so much space -- stationary like we were. Shifting free from the couch beneath me, I enjoyed the sound of my legs ripping free from the leather couch, how the beads of sweat that once pooled on the back of my thighs were now freely collecting on the fading brown furniture below me, a color that mocked my skin. Now standing and back at my full height, the air I met felt suffocating.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the back door creak open but its breeze could no longer reach me. Looking back at the leather couch, the Eden my girls and I found, I regretted my decision to stand but it was already too late.
By the time I decided to go back they had already spread out and taken up the space I recently occupied. Their bodies were no longer cramped and stuck together, their arms now had just enough room to extend fully, allowing each of them to delicately fan themselves while I made my way forward into the deepening heat.
“Don’t get lost out there looking for love!” one of them sang behind me mockingly. “Yeah,” another teased, “don’t get all romantic and let all them frogs in here fool you for a prince!”
They were bent over giggling, a few shaking so violently with laughter that they began to spill their drinks. I wanted to say something witty, something dry and cracked. I wanted to lie about only having to go to the bathroom but before I could, the couch was lost and they were swallowed by the crowd.
Earlier that evening, I spotted him in the kitchen demonstrating how to properly uncork a bottle of wine using only a screwdriver to a small circle of skeptical onlookers. I watched from across the room, amused and undetected while the party continued to swirl around me. Limbs and bodies, heads and hair all rushed past. I found my foot tapping to some song all by itself, my glass of wine, the same brand he was skillfully attempting to uncork had diminished greatly without my knowledge.
This was the moment of our first encounter: me gliding over to him with a smile and a empty cup. We did not speak, we simply played our roles: him filling my plastic cup with some unpronounceable brand of zinfandel, me coyly nodding when I decided that my cup was full. I remember thinking I should compliment him on this skillset, his resourcefulness when it came to carefully opening bottles with impractical tools but I decided against it, instead choosing a look, a silence he might read into. Turning away, exiting the kitchen I became aware of his gaze, his eyes resting sheepishly somewhere along the nape of my neck. My mother once told me that all women know when a man is watching them walk away and I know he did not stop watching me until I was no longer in sight.
After I left the kitchen and his gaze had fallen victim to the waves of people blocking me from his view, I pulled myself into a corner of the room and took note of my changing mood. I was a ball of energy blinded by my own light. I was talking faster, smiling more. When I told my girls about him they all looked at each other, rolling their eyes, amused. I likened him to something sweet, something tall and growing out of the earth. In a text message I said something childish like, I just met a boy who brings out my inner R&B. I was moved. Every song that came on was fantastic and left me swaying on a chair, swishing my hips on the couch. We had only come in contact for maybe four minutes or less and here I was requiring more, sitting silly in the heat, ablaze as if I were lit from within.
Now, caught in the current of the crowd I found myself hurtling towards conversation after conversation finding refuge infrequently, either perched on windowsills or leaning against a bookcase or a cool patch of tile. Throughout the rest of the night I would see him sprinkled about the party like seasoning.
Once I caught a glimpse of him dancing in the foyer, another time I brushed past him slinking up the stairs. We whirled around one another, our eyes darting about, looking for each other from across the room only to bashfully meet and then burn out like dying stars. We orbited an attraction neither of us understood. I was becoming dizzy.
He seemed to be growing brighter— brown skin standing out amongst a sea of brown skin, a green t-shirt catching my eye even as he wandered somewhere behind me— I was aware of his constant presence as if it were my own.
At some point I ended up back near my original sanctuary, that wilting brown flower of a couch positioned at the neck of the room where the breeze would gather. My girls, all wandered away and now another group had taken advantage of the seating, having their own hushed talks. That was when I felt it, his eyes resting just below my shoulders. His gaze was non-assuming. He took in my back as what it was: simply a back. I thought back to all of the times men had made my body into something else with just a look: a dining table, a bridge, a toothpick to rid them of debris.
Standing now in the vortex of cool air swinging in from the back door I found myself longing to be outside. In the apartment it was sticky and tropical—every body inside a rain cloud pressing against my skin, smothering my view. I was sick of summer skin, thick and clammy like waxy leaves rubbing past my own as I tried to make my way down a hallway or into the kitchen. Without looking back to double check on his existence I made my way to the narrow backyard. I felt his eyes shift just as my hand reached for screen door. This was the climax of our meeting: me silently leading him outside and into the cooling air, the hum of our bodies lost somewhere in the evening mimicking the buzz of cicadas or porch lights.
Sitting, our bodies became a delicate heap blocking the door, his head rested on my shoulder, placed there organically, as it had been intended. Inside the music swelled and pushed through the building. Together we watched the lamplight of the wrinkling brownstones on the block flicker in time with the bass and without lifting his head his voice rose to me for the first time ever, its sound something I felt I created.