June was in a musical mood that day. The steady rain was using the gymnasium’s roof as its instrument, and it pit-pattered and cling-clanged a song to help to fill the silence while we waited for the circle to fill. Even after five meetings, we were all still feeling each other out. As far as we knew, we only had one thing in common, and that was what brought us here in the first place. It was okay though, because I had my own personal distraction.
Hands, the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Is it strange to call a man’s hands beautiful?
Hands which looked soft and warm. Hands which could caress skin and feel as pleasant and uplifting as a ray of sunlight on a cold day. Hands with fingers long and slender, and nails so well trimmed. Clean hands, never carrying a speck of dirt. Hands which could hold water and keep it, because why would the water ever want to leave them? Hands which were almost always folded together, resting on legs gently crossed in a pensive manner. Scars patterned the knuckles, thin and pale, like scratch marks. What hidden stories did those hands hold?
I sat two chairs away from those hands. Close enough to see, too far to touch, and I knew it was better this way. I would surely be tempted to sneak a feel otherwise. I would spend the entire session devising a way to make it look like an accident. It was easy to get away with looking though, thanks to the hoodie I started wearing. Navy blue, bearing my university’s initials and a cute beaver. I barely knew the face attached to that body. Those hands I could picture with my eyes closed.
The circle had a few empty chairs today. We waited an extra five minutes before Joe, the group leader, suggested we get started. He greeted us all, and we went through the motions of introducing ourselves to the rest of the group and mentioning our progress. My eyes glanced away from those hands briefly to give my introduction before returning to them. The right thumb had shifted up the left index by a small increment.
Then Joe invited us to speak. About why we were there, what we were struggling with, just anything we wanted to get off our chests. Someone started speaking, but my attention was fixated on the fingers which had idly laced themselves together. I imagined how they would feel laced in mine, or rubbing my shoulder or thigh, a pleasant distraction, while I was doing homework or reading a book.
I barely realized when he started speaking, only because the hands shifted again, brushing something invisible off the left knee before serenely folding back into place. My gaze flickered to his face. His bespectacled eyes weren’t looking anywhere or to anyone in particular. His tall frame sat properly in the stiff folding chair, a glaring contrast to the slouching position many of the other circle members opted to take. His dark hair was neatly combed too. He looked dressed for work. Grey suit and pants, with the jacket unbuttoned, clean white under shirt. All that was missing was a tie. I wondered if this was dressing down for him.
I rubbed my palms on my jeans as I began listening intently, though my gaze returned to his lap where his hands rested.
He was talking about the morning.
How he hated the morning. It was his least favorite part of the day. The morning was the destroyer of good things, the harbinger of misery and dullness. Night time, on the other hand, was a joyous time.
He never stayed home when the sun went down. He’d get dressed in his finest threads, polish his mask, and go to whatever party at whoever’s loft he managed to hear about. There were always parties going on somewhere in the city. You just had to know where to look and who to talk to, especially if you wanted to get your hands on the ‘good stuff’.
He couldn’t give us many visual details about the places he went to –or perhaps he just wouldn’t- but he could recall the taste of alcohol and smoke in the air. He could recall the feeling of his body jostled by many others, and music so loud it rattled his teeth and bones. Above all he could recall how alive he always felt, how weightless, and invincible and he could see everything clearly. He could see colors and details so vivid it was almost like seeing into another world, and it was a pity because by the morning he didn’t have the vision anymore and the world looked so dull by comparison.
He remembered a girl. Yes, a pretty little thing, dressed like she did all of her clothes shopping at Hot Topic. He couldn’t recall exactly what she looked like, save for her eyes. Large, blue eyes that made him think of ice on a frozen lake. Ice had never looked so bright and warm, and the eyeliner she wore made them stand out all the more. There was a soft glow about her that was familiar and comforting to the touch, like being wrapped up in the arms of your favorite song.
She was skinny like a model. Yes, he remembered because he had invited her out to eat. Both of their rides were occupied with their own adventures, so they were left to walk. He knew of a small diner not too far away. A few blocks down the road.
December was in a foul mood that night, and the winter chill was their uninvited companion. She kept her slight body huddled up against him until they made it to the diner. He couldn’t recall what they ate, but he remembered the waitress had a coffee stain and what looked like mustard smeared on her blouse which bothered him. When he’d been kind enough to point it out, she gave him a quiet glare before asking if they wanted desert.
Oh, wait, he remembered the girl kept running to the bathroom, always saying ‘be right back’. Half of her food remained on her plate. The other half… what a waste. No point in getting desert.
After the diner, he offered to escort her home, and so they wandered to a bus stop. While they waited she offered him some prescription medicine, and he couldn’t recall the name. He only remembered that by the time the bus pulled up his feet weren’t on the ground anymore, and they floated their way up the steps to the back of the bus. She started to fall asleep and so he pulled out a flask from his pocket and told her if she stayed awake he promised he would too. They shared the flask, passing it back and forth, and he could taste her cherry lipstick on the rim. They rode the bus until she had to get off, and he got off with her, still floating.
It wasn’t a far walk, and they barely felt the cold anymore, but even still the wind slapped their faces out of spite. She guided him to her small, studio apartment, inviting him in for some coffee. He couldn’t recall precisely what they talked about, but they talked for hours, and for some reason she had started crying black tears. He’d taken her hand in his –envy snuck up and stabbed me right in the gut and my foot began a rapid bounce on the floor- and he spoke gently to her.
And they kissed and that cherry flavor became his drink for the night. And they were in love and they loved and everything was right in the world. There was no pain. No sadness. No concerns of the cold, cruel outer world just beyond her door. There was only goodness.
His hands tightened in his lap, reflecting the bitterness in his voice.
And then the morning came.
This bit he remembered clearly. How aching his head was. How terrible his hair looked, and the stubble growing along his face, and how the mask he’d worked so hard to put together the night before now looked polluted. He looked at the girl still asleep in her bed. A scrawny girl, with ribs he could count from across the room, with eyeliner smeared around her eyes and on her cheeks. The radiant glow she once had was gone. The love they’d had was gone. The feeling of goodness was gone.
The morning had taken it all away.
He remembered getting dressed to leave, her waking, words briefly spoken, and the ice once so warm turned so cold.
He left shortly after.
Did you ever see her again? I don’t know who asked this, but I was both glad and anxious they did.
No, he answered. He said he didn’t want to. Her heart was too heavy, he could feel it when they kissed. He wasn’t the right man to try and lift it. He would’ve thrown his back out first.
This was a cycle that had repeated itself for a long while. He wasn’t sure what started all of it. The reasons just faded over time, leaving him to wrestle with the misery and monotony day by day when morning came. His only escape had been the night time, and the pleasures which came with it.
And now that was gone too.
And now every day, all day, it feels like morning. Sleep is the only reprieve he gets.
‘But I know it’s better this way. I don’t want my family to worry about me anymore.’
The group leader thanked him for sharing and offered words of wisdom which fell deaf on my ears. Eventually he moved onto the next person wanting to speak. The rest of the session went on, and all I could think about was his hand holding that girl’s hand. My foot didn’t give up its relentless bounce against the hardwood. When I crossed my feet under the chair to subdue it, it jiggled instead.
I could picture it perfectly, could imagine those long fingers wrapped around those slightly smaller digits. Warm and safe. If it had been me instead of eyeliner girl, I would have just let him hold my hand all night.
Only when the scraping of chairs reached my ears did I realize the session was over. The rain had gone too, taking its musical beat with it. I stood up mechanically, my legs stiff and my butt numb from sitting so long. I saw him leaving, and I followed him. I walked hurriedly past, bumping into him, hands brushing and I felt my heart leap. So that’s what his hand feels like. Just a sample, but well worth the effort.
I uttered a shameless apology and continued my brisk walk.
I stopped, taking a large gulp of air before I turned to look up at him and he stared at my face for a moment before smiling.
‘So that’s what your eyes look like.’
Yep, that’s what they looked like.
He offered his hand and I thought my heart would jump into it before my hand ever made it there. I reached out and took it, my fingers trembling. He brought my fingers to his lips, a warm gentle brush on the knuckles. Nice to know some guys still practiced that.
‘Jeremiah,’ he offered.
I already knew his name, of course, and he already knew mine. Still, I returned the formal exchange out of courtesy.
‘Join me for coffee?’ he asked.
I opened my mouth to accept, but hesitated. After hearing that story, I knew what I was likely in for.
I told him to ask me again in the morning.
Then I left, legs wobbly, but a smile on my face, feeling like I took my first step forward.