July 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Let me tell you, I was in love once.
 Her name was a dance of the first two fingers
 around the thumb and lower palm. To 
others, she was Hanna.

Hanna lost her hearing when
 she was sixteen months. Her mother
 widened a furnace valve 
and lit a match between her teeth. 
The explosion left a crater
 in the kitchen floor
 where Hanna was
 quietly waiting to be fed. 
Today, she continues to joke that 
the surface of her inner 
ear must look something 
like the moon.

Hanna was a noise-maker. The first time I met her, she was singing Norwegian folk songs on the city train, and at unreachable octaves that seemed to singe the hairs on passengers at the opposite end of the car like static electricity. It was not, however, because she could not hear herself. Her awareness of her own voice was exactly what ignited my interest.

At the time, my hands knew nothing about talking. That day on the train, I got her attention by stomping my foot on the rumbling floor to the rhythm of her music. And as though a string were tied from my big toe all the way to her ear lobe, through the synchronized swaying of standing commuters, through knocking elbows and the ruffling of newspapers, the string tugged and she heard me. She cocked her head with a grin, pointed at the door with a thumbs up over her shoulder and we followed each other out at the next stop.

I don’t think that I’ll ever know how to tell a girl that I love her in phrase. At first, we would assign mundane gestures to amorous expressions. A swipe of the forefinger under the nose followed by a pinch of the nostrils meant, “you’re beautiful.” A firm rubbing of the right eyelid closed meant, “I love you.” A slow sweep of the middle finger over an eyebrow said, “I want you now.” Sooner or later, though, our gestures could not be separate. Our hands would curl, fold, graze over one another until the movements were no longer decipherable. She would close her eyes and I would sign words between her shoulder blades; the letters of her name held the surface of her skin the gentlest, with the ‘h’ quietly traveling down her spine as the fingers tucked themselves away into the ‘a’, with all middle phalanges resting on her backside of her ribcage like cicadas. And then the ‘n,’ where the thumb barely lifts the forefinger to pass beneath, pressing her skin a little and then releasing. The lower palm shows and just hovers above her back. The finer hairs stand.

When we fought, our hands were noisy. They clicked and slapped the air with high velocity, undulating in all directions enough to make you seasick. But we never collided when we fought; we kept a distance and barely even looked at our hands. We let the short sounds hit us in the face.

We made up by dancing.

One day, we were sitting in her living room. We weren’t even speaking. She was singing Buddy Holly’s “Maybe Baby” and I looked up from whatever I was reading and watched her for a minute. She didn’t even see me. Her lips were moving steadily and her shoulders bounced. She was organizing old magazines on the floor. I started tapping my foot and there was nothing. I tapped louder and her head remained down. I got up from my chair and put my hand on her back and told her with my left hand, “hey, why didn’t you respond?” Her eyes moved up and as her hands fluttered to reply, my wrist hit the back of her hand and it flew to the floor. It looked like a dead bird.

I was in love once. When we fought, we always kept our distance.


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