Learning to Swim

The Puerto Rican woman next door is pounding on the dividing wall, screaming that I don’t pay her enough attention. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t pay her enough. Something is lost in translation, a word dropped, or just a letter even, and the whole meaning changes. You owe me. Or you own me. And I don’t know what she’s saying but I can tell that she’s naked because she always screams louder when she’s naked. Something about the liberation of her body matching the liberation of her voice and I just wish she would shut up and stop being so liberated while the rest of us are in chains. I want to tell her she’s just a metaphor in some dumb story, but she wouldn’t listen anyway. Stubborn bitch.

My Top Ramen is burning.
I hop on the counter and take the pot on a towel in my lap so it can warm up my thighs while I add the necessary ingredients. That foil packet of god-knows-what. Sriracha. Lime juice.

The floor grows slippery with her words, streaming like water between the cracks in the floorboards, and I have to pull my legs up to avoid getting my socks wet, slowly watching the water rise higher and higher from the force of her accusations. I want to explain to her the mechanics of words, how the less you speak the more emphatic each word becomes, that no one pays attention to a rainstorm in Seattle but that a drizzle in the desert is a Big Deal. But she wouldn’t listen. She never does.

She calls me Green Bean, like I’m a “white” Mexican ‘cause I don’t speak much Spanish, like that means my culture has been bleached from me and all that’s left is some vague remainder, a filtered-down version of the past trapped inside this body bag. I think she wants me to let it out, get it out. Maybe I should scream like she does.

But I don’t know how.
I helped her carry groceries up once and every bag was full of rice, heavy as her morning glare. It made my arms sore and my pride even worse as her eyes drooped down over my thin limbs and she lifted the bags with ease, stripping my masculinity with a single pump of her bicep.

You don’t exist, I want to tell her. I made you up inside my head. But she wouldn’t listen.

“You don’t talk much, huh?”
Well, what could I say? That I don’t believe words communicate much anyway, that people lie and misconstrue and present false accounts of what lies beneath their skin? Or maybe I’ll just say that if I talk too much all the dark comes out, and that I’d rather people just think I’m quiet than know how ugly my mind really is. Maybe she’d shut up then.

But I didn’t say anything. I just shrugged. And I don’t know, maybe she likes the silent type because she pulled me inside, and covered me with her body, smothering me with vaguely familiar smells and sounds as I found parts of myself buried in her sheets. She kept her hand over my mouth the whole time as she moved over me like a current, back and forth, back and forth.

And now she’s flooding my house, pinche loca, she’s soaking my head in words as thick and intransgressible as the soup I’m eating. They crash over me, slippery and fluid, and I can’t find the source, and I can’t find the destination, all I know is I’m drowning.

“Te amo,” she screams, like an accusation—like she really means she hates me—and that one really makes me angry. You can’t just say shit ‘cause you feel like it, because it makes you feel good inside, or powerful. You can’t just say shit to manipulate people.

So I take my pot of Ramen and wade through the destruction of my kitchen to the front door, where everything spills into the hallway and our neighbors poke their heads out to see what the disturbance is, but I don’t look at them. I just bob downstairs in my soaking wet boxers and my soaking wet socks till I get to the floor of the building, and I stand on the sidewalk eating my soup half-naked while an old man with a mustache does the two-step to Donald Byrd’s “Bronze Dance” beside me.

He winks, and nods up to the Bitch’s window, where words tumble like rain drops onto the dry cement. Can he hear it? Does he know?

And then I see it, the waterfall behind this man’s eyes, that silent, roaring vicissitude that pulses and wanes and crashes against his flesh as he dances, back and forth, always moving, never stagnant, finding stability, somehow, in flux. He smiles as if he knows me, as if he’s known me my whole life, like he’s been waiting here the whole time and I just never saw him, not really.

I take a last bite of my soup, and set the pot on the pavement. There’s nothing but scraggly noodles left plastered to the stainless steel, all the liquid already inside me, and I can feel it swish against my stomach as I stand beside this man and mimic his movements, side to side, and step to step, something stirring like a storm inside me as I surrender myself to the motion. It finally erupts in tears down my cheeks, springing from the chaos of all the words I could never release, and I let them flow, freely. Let go. Let go.

Shhhh, the man nods, and a peace envelopes me. That’s right, easy… you’re home now, child, shhh…

One thought on “Learning to Swim

  1. Crying at Persuasion, its soo my life right now.. Jane Austen was a literary mastermind.

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