At the end of each visit, I leave something behind. A scrap of memory. A knot of sadness. A shard of fear. A sliver of longing. A block of anger. A slice of pain. A piece of me that carries the heaviness of loss and grief, surrendered to the man in the wingback chair. The man with the wisdom eyes. He holds out his hand and says, “Here, let me take it for a while.”
It’s not easy to give the thing over. Tangled roots run deep and coil around my insides, like a hundred year old tree. Most times, we have to dig for the thing, the dirt wedging beneath our fingernails, and pry it loose. Pull it to the surface. To the edge of light. And sometimes, this digging and prying and pulling tears into flesh and leaves the thing and me bloodied.
Heat blooms on my cheeks when, in the light, the mess of the thing is exposed. Hesitation rises quick and trembling. I try to cover it. Clean it off first. Squeeze it in my hand. Feel the burn on my skin. I shouldn’t be giving this thing to anyone. It is my ugliness to carry. But the man leans closer. “It’s okay,” he reminds me. “I can take it.”
I remember. Mine is not the first ugly thing he’s seen here. In this room designed for truth-telling, mine is not the first ugly thing he’s reached for. The smell of earlier secrets still lingers in the air. Traces of things others have left leaking out from wherever they are stored. I do remember. The man does not turn away from ugly things.
Even after all this time, I have to will myself to trust him. Force my fist open, peeling back my fingers one by one, and let the thing go. He does not flinch when it drops into his open palm. Does not bend to its weight. Does not wince when its jagged edges press against his skin. He cradles it. So, so careful. He knows how fragile we are.
I stare at the man’s hand, trying to solve the trick that makes the thing smaller. Less threatening. The emptiness now filling the space where the thing once was pushed from my inside out. Its newness scares me.
“What if I want it back?” The fear tumbles from my lips. A worried question beats against my skull. Can a person without all her pieces still be whole?
The man knows my fear. “It will be here if you need it,” he reassures. “I’ll keep it safe.”
But how? I want to ask. Where will you put it when I leave? My eyes scan the contours of the room, searching for the box that shelters all the things. A futile effort. It’s hidden well. My gaze returns to the man. For the first time, I notice the dim lines that scatter his exposed skin. Uneven ridges disrupting the texture. Scars barely visible.
And then I know.
There is no hidden box. The man does not, cannot, discard the thing I give him. The things others give him. They become his pieces. Sewn with careful stitches into his fabric. He accepts the added bulk. The extra pounds. For the others. For me. So we can be lighter.
In the quiet of the moment, a swell of gratitude waves up. But, I stop myself from speaking. The man is not looking for thanks. This tying on of things is simply what he does.
My minutes end. I stand, not quite so bent, and step back out into the world. Not quite so frightened either, I leave the thing behind.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Ron Paul