Hidden rooms

Someone told me once that all the answers we could ever want are locked away behind the strange gateways of our minds. Everything we will ever need to know is sitting there, waiting for us to knock and ask nicely.

We’re sitting in a bar, of all places. His blue eyes – the color of faded denim – are fixed on me. He’s drinking Guinness, laughing a little too hard at my jokes, bestowing compliments a bit too thick. More small, unsettling things in an evening full of them.

The way he showed up out of the blue, smacking of clandestine urgency. Radiating a vision of someone vivid, eager, lost. I’m wistful and faraway tonight – certain I don’t want to be here, ridiculously vulnerable. My mind traces and retraces thoughts of someone else. I had been hopeful about that man, the “someone else.” Now I just feel stupid.

Really, the only reason I am perched on this barstool – surrounded by the subtext and emotional cross-currents of too much booze – is because the man I’m with knows me. He’s known me since before my spry frame sprouted curves and my world fell apart. And anyway, how do you say no to a childhood friend?

He’s babbling on about people we used to know. Despite my best attempts at staying focused, I still end up lost in an underwater hush. Faces and phrases and phone calls and fields, all running together in the stale, cold light of hindsight. I miss the man who reminds me of incense and dying flowers.

I can’t seem to stop the slide down into dreamy, nonsensical tangents. The rustling of the sheets. The soft warmth of his skin on mine. The savoriness of him in my mouth. His pathetic shadow of a smile. I wanted to be the girl in the stained-glass window, forever seen in the best light. Those afternoons colored nearly the whole season for me. Months later, the memories are worn thin from overuse.

He said he always liked me best because of the hidden rooms and locked chambers in my mind. He called it a nearly invisible elusiveness. That I give the impression of being startlingly open. What you see is what you get. But the reality is, you wouldn’t be able to guess at those spaces and dark corners inside, let alone enter them.

Questions unanswered. Topics discussed only in the abstract. Try and pin me down and I’ll skirt away laughing. The enigmatic – the long, rambling paths through the wood – appealed to him. That’s what made him different, unique, to me. He was the guy less interested in the gentle sway of my hips. And I loved it.

Back in the bar, this man is grabbing handfuls of popcorn with the glacial concentration of the very drunk. I am no puzzle to him. Normally, I might find this kind of absurdity entertaining. But tonight, I’m the tiny, ethereal type, surrounded by a tide of strangers. I’m pissed off. I’m sad. I need to get the hell out of here.

How can I ever make you understand? I’d have to walk you down every path of our secret, shared geography. To this day, I hear his name and it sends something through me – something fast and primeval and dangerous. Maybe I don’t want to let that go.

I tell my companion goodbye, grab my jacket, and head through the fog-shaped crowd without looking back. Losing someone that way – the way that man left me not long ago – is a tricky thing. It’s an earthquake that triggers shifts and upheavals far too distant from the epicenter to be predictable. Any nagging, little half-remembered thing shimmers with a bright aura of hypnotic, terrifying potential.

All these private, parallel dimensions, underlying such an innocuous little smile. All these self-contained worlds layered onto the same space, mere inches above my hazel eyes. The answers are so close, I can hear them scuffling and twitching in the corners.

A furious, spring-loaded tension coils inside me as I step outside. I look up at an enormous black bowl of stars overhead. Bustling to the car, each step winding me tighter. I stab the key in the ignition, and the radio comes to life. There’s something in that voice. A deep, accustomed undercurrent of nostalgia.

Nobody knows you like the people you grow up with. And sometimes, that’s a very good thing.

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