"Stay," I say to my six-year-old Charlie, like I'm talking to a dog or something, my voice harsh and jagged. I know that I should do that breathing thing or count to ten, which is all well and good in theory -- when your kid is not pulling on your last sleep deprived nerve -- but it's a whole other story when you're in the midst of it. It's like one of those sudden squalls out on a lake that you don't see coming and by the time you do it's too late. You just gotta hang on.
I leave Charlie in time out -- sitting on a kitchen chair that has taken up permanent residence this summer by the corner of the house. It allows him to be outside where there's the chance of a breeze instead of being cooped up in our tomb of a house, which is what gothim into trouble in the first place. At six years old, Charlie is fascinated by how things work. Give him a broken clock or toaster or just about anything and you won't hear a peep out of him for hours. It's like he's made it his mission in life to try and mend what is broken in the world. Or at least in his world.
The window in the kitchen has been stuck all summer. We rent this place that my husband Wade often calls a shithole, leading me to point out that at least it's a roof over our heads. A roof that isn't attached to a car, which is my way of never forgetting those few weeks when we were forced to live out of our little blue station wagon just before summer started. Weeks that Charlie thought of as one long day at the carnival. Wade had gotten laid off again, then he broke his thumb playing softball and the bone popped right though his skin so he couldn't do much of his back-up handyman work. The bills just piled up until we found ourselves crammed into our car, the back stacked with boxes and the stuff of our life. I tried not to think of ourselves as homeless. Just temporarily between homes. The nights were so hot but we couldn't crack the windows for fear of becoming a bloody feast to the mosquitoes, especially baby Emma whose skin was just so sweet and pure that it swelled into glaring red mounds until her arms looked like lumpy pieces of sausage.
Standing in back of the house, I lean my head against the screen door. There's a hole in it that I patched up with some duct tape. A thick, ragged "X" right smack in the middle of the worn mesh. Like the map at the local strip mall. You are here. I trace the frayed edges of the shiny silver tape with one fingertip. Right here. This is exactly where I am. In the middle of nowhere Michigan, not one neighbor in sight. At first I imagined the isolation might be romantic somehow. But having to trek thirty minutes one way for groceries and mail soon lost its appeal. I push open the screen and let it clang shut behind me. The hammer that Charlie used to try and fix the window lies on the floor surrounded by bits of glass. I tiptoe around the mess. I try to have patience. Really I do. But when I saw that window smashed to bits and that hammer dragging his skinny little arm down toward the ground, this static started humming in my ears, behind my eyes and I grabbed his arm, not caring that the hammer fell near his toes and I yanked his body halfway off the floor and out the back door. Emma started crying, awake way too early from her nap and I knew she wouldn't settle down again until the sun set. So, yeah, my patience was about as thin as a soaked paper towel when I plopped all thirty-nine pounds of him onto that chair.
I avoid the plates caked with dried baked beans and crusty macaroni and cheese stacked in the sink from last night. The piles of laundry by the washer. The unmade beds. I pick up Emma from the crib and carry her out to the swing that hangs in the doorway between the living room and kitchen. Leaving her to suck on her fist, I head straight back out of the house again.
Stalks of dry grass stab at the tender skin inside my ankles. When we first met, Wade loved to circle my ankle with his thumb and forefinger, amazed at the delicate width, placing a whole lot of importance on what that supposedly said about me. Dainty ankles equaled dainty spirit or something. I should've done something to pop a hole in that theory of his but his hands felt so warm, so firm, keeping me grounded somehow.
Now I don't even look him in the eye much less let him touch my ankles. I sink down in the grass, hearing it crackle beneath me. I pick a random, yellow blade and twist it between my fingers, tracing an invisible path down my leg, poking the tip against my ankle, tiny pinpricks against that soft indent of skin, imagining that I'm creating microscopic holes that let all the ugliness out of me. The ugliness that makes me say mean things to Wade. The ugliness that makes me scream at Charlie until my throat feels like it's been scraped with a rusted rake. Only Emma gets the good me. But already she is starting to show signs of independence. Of what my mama calls defiance. Signs of wanting what I just can't give. Then what?
An empty white heat looms overhead. Vast and endless. No blue to soften the edges. No blue to escape into. This yearning to escape into the sky isn't new. It started when I was nine. After Grandma Rose died. She was always on my side. When I sent in a picture I drew to the local kid's show of a clown standing between two big trees and the host called them two giant ice cream cones she shook her head deeming him without the sense God gave him. She assured me that I had a gift for the world. Something amazing and totally mine. If it wasn't drawing then it was something else. When I told her that Ronald Frink said I French-kissed a dog she said that I should pray for him. So I prayed he'd get lice. Or chicken pox. Or that a softball would hit him in the head causing him to forget that he even knew me. None of that happened which did little for the feeble sense of faith I had cobbled together. I lost even more after my daddy left. When I was six he ran off with Gloria, the Mary Kay lady, in her pink car down to Boca Raton. That's in Florida where the sky is always blue and palm trees are as common as oaks. I told my friends and teachers that I'd be joining him as soon as they got settled. But really I'd only gotten one postcard after he left with a hasty scrawl that read "The weather is here, wish you were beautiful- Ha-ha, Dad." No "Love." No kisses and hugs. No mention of me going down there. I folded it in half and slid it under my mattress, not able to throw it away but not wanting to look at it either.
Since church never made it on either of my parent's to-do lists Grandma Rose took me under her religious wing. When Grandma realized that I mostly I pictured God as the usual white-bearded old man high above us, doling out rewards and punishments like candy on Halloween, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She arrived every Sunday at the same time where I waited for her wearing a dress, tights and shiny black patent leather shoes that she bought me. They were my church shoes. She would tie my hair in these perfect braids, tight to each side of my head, which I'd leave in until about the middle of the next week.
I just loved Grandma's outfits. They matched from head to toe. Skirt, blouse, jacket and a hat all the same color. Tangerine. Pink. Turquoise. Bright colors. Mama said she needed sunglasses just to look at her. I thought she looked like Sweet Tarts, my favorite candy. After church we'd go to the local burger place for lunch where she'd fill a napkin with raw onions and pickles from the fixin's bar on our way out, nibbling on them as she drove. The odors lingered for much of the week. I didn't understand all the ritual of the Catholic service but found it comforting even though Mama thought her mother was crazy for going in the first place. They were Lutheran, not Catholic. She claimed that Grandma just wanted to copy Jackie Kennedy. I didn't care why we went. The whole day gave me a certain structure that I apparently needed. A structure that I missed after she was gone. Sundays went back to being these black holes of time for me to fill. Grandma dead. Daddy off in Florida. Mama asleep in her room, pulled into a tight knot of darkness.
That first Sunday she was gone I grabbed a bruised apple, a hunk of cheese that I cut the mold off of and a can of diet Pepsi and took it outside where I lay on the grass, staring up at the chalky sky. Weak rays of sun leaked out of a faint blue patch. I imagined myself flying up there somehow, being carried up into that tiny opening and slipping into it, away from the cold gray into an infinite blue warmth. For a moment I could almost feel the heat against my skin. Please please please. Then my eyes flew open and I pressed myself upright. No. No no no. That little opening up there had to be Heaven and the only way to get to Heaven was to die. And as much as I wanted to see Grandma Rose again I didn't want to die. I sat there repeating no no no in my head until the sky turned dark.
Today there is no such opening in the sky. No such escape hatch and I sure could use one out of my life. Not that it's horrible. At least we have a house to live in. Wade is working again at the paint and wallpaper store. He's able to pick-up some extra handyman work from some of the customers, mostly out-of-towners who've bought vacation homes up here. Wade can't get over how some people have a second home nicer than the house we rent. And the fact that we rent means he won't lift a finger to make it look nicer. When we first saw this place I knew it needed some work but I had this vision of it being home. Of it being the thing that would finally make everything all right. I imagined creating a vegetable garden out back. I imagined using those fresh vegetables in homemade pots of soup or stew. I imagined picnics by the pond in the summer, midnight ice-skating in the winter. Instead I find myself waking up each morning to this heaviness pressing on my heart, like a huge boulder has made a home there. Instead of homemade soup we have tomato soup from a can. No garden either, just two acres of crab grass rampant with dandelions.
Every morning starts out the same with me taking a deep breath and holding it for a full minute, touching the thin layer of cotton at my throat, before letting it out in one slow hiss. It's become a ritual almost. Today will be different. Today I will be the kind of mother I dream of being. Today I will open the curtains, get showered, take the kids outside, get some fresh air and sunshine, play with them, maybe tag or hide and seek. There will be laughter. There will be light. I promise to be a different kind of mother like most women promise to start a diet on Monday.
This morning, like most mornings, I heard Wade shuffling around, getting ready for work and I knew I should get up and make him some breakfast, sit with him, get myself showered before the kids get up. But I didn't. I stayed in bed, the darkness a blanket I wrapped myself in until I heard Charlie out in the kitchen getting his own breakfast of dry Cheerios and I thought what kind of a mother am I? But then he sat down in front of the TV giving me just a few more minutes before I had to face the day. I lay there in this groggy limbo until cries from baby Emma pulled me--as if defying gravity itself--out of bed. Most days I don't even shower until after Wade gets home. I see him look at me, at the house and I see the question in his eyes, the same question I ask myself: What the hell have I done all day? Right now he's letting it slide, chalking it up to the baby blues. Female stuff. Out of whack hormones. But Emma is over a year so how much time does that give me to get my act together? To get myself back "in whack"?
Now the white sky glares on the flat surface of the pond. The pond where Charlie can sit for hours with a fishing pole catching nothing at all, content to just be. I envy him that. Even though I worry there might be something missing in him, he also has this thing that lets him be just totally there, wherever he is, whatever he is doing.
The pond sits so still. I stand up and walk to the edge, wanting to disturb it, letting my feet sink slightly into the muck. I wriggle my toes, sending ripples that mar the perfect surface.
After Grandma Rose died when I was nine, my tenuous link to God went with her. Mama didn't believe in force-feeding canned religion to herself or her child. The only time I saw her in a church was at Grandma's funeral. She fidgeted the whole time, worse than a little kid, glancing around like she expected someone to come right up and haul her straight to Hell. Since then, my mama has turned over a new leaf. She now attends a New-Agey church in the basement of some woman who has christened herself Honor Truth and who preaches that your thoughts create your reality. God help me if that's true. Every Sunday night at 7:30 our phone rings. Wade doesn't even bother to answer it. He just rolls his eyes and says, "It's your soul-sister-mama." I sit slumped in a kitchen chair feeling like I've been put in a timeout myself as she murmurs these one-liners, designed to free my soul, into my ear. Choose happiness. Peace is a choice. Truth is empowering.
She even changed her name from Phyllis Pratt to Lavender Peace which Wade thought sounded like one of the paint colors he sells down at the store. She says she always hated her name. That it sounds ugly whereas her new name sounds soft. She claims that purple is a spiritual color, which is why it's the only color she wears. She even painted the outside and inside of her house in various shades of purple.
Luckily she lives in Ohio, a good eight hours away so I don't have to deal with her up close and personal. Besides, her concern, her prayers, her compassion--it's too little too late. Where was she when we got stuck living in our car? I'll tell you where. Cocooned in her cozy, purple, one-bedroom house--with no room for visitors. When I called and asked for a small loan she said that the Universe will provide for me when I feel I deserve it and if she just forked over the cash then I would never learn that lesson. I left the phone dangling by the cord in the booth outside the Seven-11, her voice chirping as I walked back to our car.
Emma's squeals drift down to me. I step back out of the water, grainy bits of mud clinging to my feet. The blade of grass drops from my hand and floats, silent and effortless.
I walk around to the side of the house, ready to let Charlie out of his timeout. Maybe I'll play Go Fish with him. The chair is empty. Dammit. Why can't that boy sit in a simple timeout like he's supposed to? But nothing about Charlie is simple. On the surface maybe. On the surface he seems calm. Mild. But there's something more complicated underneath. Something he keeps at bay by fishing for hours or tinkering with broken appliances. Even when I yell at him, he remains unfazed. Not a tear. Not at single tear or even a pout. Wade says he's our even keel and God knows this family can use one of those. But me, I worry there might be something else going on. He lets me hug him, but it is only ever initiated by me. Never on his own. Never out of love, fear, sadness or anything like that. Wade says it's because he's a boy. Calls him "Little man."
Back in the house Emma dangles in the swing, her bare feet occasionally brushing up against the dusty floor. Her cheeks are pink and plump and glistening with fresh drool. I crouch down and brush a damp clump of hair off her forehead.
"Hey sweet sweet Emma. You seen our Little Man? Huh? Is your big brother hiding in here?"
I stand up and start looking in all his usual hiding places. "Is that it Emma? Is your big brother trying to get you to play hide and seek?" I peer into the cabinet underneath the sink. It is in its usual state of disarray. After sweeping through the house twice without finding him, I stop and look out the window toward the pond. I've always imagined that as a mother I would know instinctively if something ever happened to one of my kids. I thought there'd be this tingling sensation all under my ribs, like someone tickling me with a feather from the inside on the raw bloody part of me, trying to get my attention.
Standing there, looking at the pond, my stomach feels nothing. My son is missing, probably just down at the shed, tinkering with some broken relic left behind by past occupants but I don't know that for sure and all I want to do is lay down and take a nap. If I drank like my mama did after Daddy left, I'd have an excuse for napping all the time. I'd have a reason to lay down in the middle of the day. But I hate the taste of liquor, which is probably one of my few saving graces.
I'll go look for him in a minute. Soon. Soon I'll go. I'll try putting Emma down for the rest of her nap and then I'll clean up the kitchen, sweep up the glass, maybe even take some meat out of the freezer to add to the hamburger helper--actually helping it for a change. While Emma naps and the food cooks, Charlie and I can color and wait for Wade to come home.
Emma starts to whine so I go over and lift her out of the swing. Just then I hear the dense crunching of gravel on our dirt road. Perfect. Just what I need. I glance out toward the shed and see a small shadow bob just inside the door. I should be angry. I should go out there and put him back in the time out chair. Follow through with his punishment or his "consequence" like the books say. But really, I don't have the follow through to follow through. If I let him be, he'll stay out there much of the afternoon.
A voice at the door calls out. "Hello? Clare? Clare Matthews?"
I go to the front door, holding Emma close to me. "Yes?" I say through the screen.
"Clare? Hi there, I'm Cyndi Greene. Cyndi with a "y-i". Like Cyndi Lauper? My mom is an eighties music freak."
I stare at her blurred silhouette, shifting Emma to my other hip.
"Don't tell me. You have no idea who I am do you? Wade didn't tell you?"
Hearing my husband's name in her mouth sends a jolt across the surface of my belly but I find myself opening the door. "No," I say, letting her in. "No he didn't."
She shakes her head and the long gold earrings that hang down below her jaw line chime daintily. "Men. My husband forgets his own birthday. Can you imagine? Forgetting the day you came into this world."
Cyndi's voice seems to careen around our living room like a pinball, clanging against the walls and my ears, leaving me a little off balance.
"Anyway," she says as she smoothes her skirt across her legs, "I'm your own personal Avon lady."
Avon Lady? I didn't realize they still roamed the suburbs of middle class America determined to beautify every last woman. "Oh, well, I don't really wear make-up." I touch my face lightly with my fingertips, almost in apology.
Cyndi frowns and leans in closer, inspecting my naked skin. I take a small step back.
"Well, you have beautiful skin. I can see why you don't wear make-up. God, I'd kill for that skin."
Emma smears her wet fingers all over my cheek. I gently pull her hand away. "Well, I guess it's one of my few saving graces."
Cyndi leans in close, patting Emma's back. "This must be Baby Emma."
Hearing this woman utter my child's name so intimately makes me hold Emma tighter, squeezing her close even as she tries to wriggle free. Not exactly conducive to the Madonna and child picture I long to portray.
"Yes," I say. "This is our Emma. And she really needs to go down for her nap now." I try to shrug my shoulders to give the air that of course I'd love to sit down with my Avon lady and get a complete make-over. But what can I do now, the baby needs her nap and her needs must come first because that's just the kind of mother I am.
Apparently Cyndi isn't able to interpret that whole interior monologue. She goes back to her suitcase and clicks it open. "That's perfect timing. While you get her to sleep, I'll just get us set up. That way you get a bit of pampering while she naps."
Emma's wet fingers smack against my face. "Okay then. Perfect." I take Emma back to her crib, knowing damn well she will not sleep at all so I grab some toys and books and throw in a sippy cup filled with fruit punch, along with some dry Cheerios, praying it is enough to keep her occupied long enough for Cyndi to smear some color on my face and that Charlie stays put until she leaves.
I sit on the edge of the edge of the couch while Cyndi leans into me, her breath a soft mixture of mint and coffee. I can see every one of her eyelashes, each a thick, separate entity coated with black mascara. Her fingers are soft and adept, dabbing at the skin around my eyes, my cheeks, forehead. I let myself go, closing my eyes when she says. Look up. Look down. Press your lips. These simple commands a relief. So easy to follow. If only I had her voice leading me gently through the day. Get up. Pat Charlie's head. Kiss Emma. Hug your husband. Eat some protein. Breathe.
"There," she says. My face feels almost abandoned as she leans back creating a cavern of space between us.
Cyndi holds up an ornate ivory rimmed mirror. I take it and see a framed version of my face staring back at me. A version of me that looks like she could be president of the PTA instead of the kind of mother who lets her son escape his time out. My lips, normally a faded rose color, now glare at me in a bright fuschia, all shiny and slick. The same shade as Cyndi's. It's disconcerting to see her mouth on my reflection like those images they put in the back of magazines sometimes, merging two celebrity faces into one. Familiar yet disconcerting.
"Well," Cyndi chirps. "What do you think?"
How can I tell her that as much as my mama gets on my last nerve, this all feels like some kind of huge betrayal? After daddy left with Gloria, Mama dumped all the free make-up samples she had gotten from her supposed friend over the years and vowed never to wear any make- up ever again. And she apparently passed it on to me. The most I ever wear is Chapstick. I hand her the mirror. "It's nice. I mean, great, really. But I'd never have time to do all this. And besides I have nowhere to take a face like this."
Cyndi puts her hands on her slim hips as if about to scold me. "Now Clare, this is all about you. It's for you, not for other people. Not even for Wade. Wear it to make yourself feel better. Transformed even."
I feel a slight flutter in my chest. Transformed? How can she know that that is exactly what I wish for every single morning? To be transformed somehow into a different kind of mother. A different kind of person. I don't have many friends. Any really. Not since we moved here. Not since I was a kid actually. And Mama's always telling me to look for signs. That they're all around us, telling us what our next move should be. But it's up to us to make the move.
Cyndi begins snapping and twisting the lids back on all her products, her hands so efficient, no wasted gestures. Suddenly I don't want her to leave. I imagine us having lunch. Out conversation meandering in and around our life stories for hours until we glance at the clock amazed at the time, laughing at ourselves.
I clear my throat. "Do you want to stay for lunch?"
Cyndi smiles. "Oh, that's so sweet but I have more calls to make this afternoon. I blocked out the whole morning just for you."
She hands me a bag, filled with her products. I peer into it, my face flooding with warmth. "Oh, we really can't afford this Cyndi. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to waste your time."
"No waste at all. It's all taken care of. I worked a deal with Wade. He's helping my husband with the deck and part of his payment is this. For you."
She smiles, her bright pink lips stretching in front of absurdly white teeth. "Yes, that man sure does love you."
I hug it to my stomach. Would love me to look just like Cyndi, is apparently what he loves. "Thank you," I say, folding the edge of the bag down.
Baby Emma's contented noises turn into cries of complete discontent. Perfect timing sweetie. I set the bag on the coffee table.
"Okay, so thank you for driving all the way out here. For this." I fan my hands in front of my face like a model advertising merchandise on a game show. "But motherhood calls."
She finishes packing up, clasping her suitcase in one hand, a tiny purse in her other. "You are so welcome Clare. You look beautiful. And the house..." She glances around at the barely controlled chaos of my life until she finds the most polite thing to say. "It's nice to see it being lived in again. Hopefully we'll see you and the kids at church soon with Wade."
The make-up sets on my face like a mask. My lips press into a thin line that I hope passes for a smile. I nod and open the door, her crisp scent of citrus and hairspray lingering long after she has left.
I carry Emma over to the back door and stand there, staring outside. Church. All these Sundays when I thought he was earning some extra money he's been going to church. That explains a lot. One night about a month ago, hunched over the sink, I scrubbed at the charred remnants of dinner. Wade stood next to me; towel in hand, ready to dry.
"So," he said, " I was thinking that maybe we should get the kids baptized."
"Why?" The Brillo pad grated against my fingertips.
"It can't hurt."
I looked at him. "It's not a safety net, you know. Either you believe they need to be baptized for their so-called eternal salvation or you don't."
He sighed. "It's a nice thing. It's a ritual, like buying a Christmas tree. Or like getting married in front of all your friends and family. And it's a way to bond with the community."
I snorted. "I don't need a church to bond me with the community."
"Yeah, because you're doing such a good job on your own."
Scrubbing the pan harder I said, "Sure Wade. Sure. Let's add church to my list of things to do. No problem. It'll be a real treat to wake up early on the weekend and get them bathed and fed and dressed and out the door to go to goddam church. Yes, by all means, that will certainly lighten my load."
I thrust the pan at him, still coated in a thin residue of soap.
"Jeez, Clare. It was a thought. An idea. Lighten up already."
Clenching my jaw I just shook my head at him and walked away, staying in the bedroom for the rest of the night, pretending to be asleep when he crawled into bed next to me, staring into the darkness long after his breathing settled into its own private rhythm.
If I close one eye, the "X" of tape erases the tiny shed out by the pond. The door is slightly open. A small shadow bobs just inside the shed. I watch as Charlie pokes his head out the door of the shed. He squints at the brightness, raising a hand to his eyes. I find myself holding my breath, as if that might make me invisible, even though I know he isn't even looking at me. Or for me. He darts to the side of the shed, hunched over, stark knees bobbing beneath faded denim shorts. His thin arms, all angles and edges, carry something clasped in his hands, alive or dead, I can't tell from this distance. But he carries it with such reverence. Just how I remember my grandmother holding her hands after receiving communion, her face serene as if she had just been touched by God, while the wafer sat dry and light as air on my own tongue as I waited and waited to achieve the same sort of sacred state that never came.
Charlie's white tank top is covered with chocolate stains that now resemble an inkblot test. He refuses to wear any of the new shirts I bought him from K-Mart, insisting that his old one has the "perfect touch of soft" and who can argue with that? His head disappears into the shadows of the shed and my breath sags slightly.
Sometimes I blame myself for what seems to be missing in Charlie. I wasn't even sure I even wanted to be a mother myself, when- bam- there I was pregnant. After a few weeks of crying and trying to imagine myself as a mom I decided that this might be my gift to the world that Grandma had promised me. I've never been spectacular at anything. Never took piano lessons as a kid or played any type of musical instrument. Never had any kind of special talent unless you counted daydreaming. My mama used to say that if they gave out a medal in daydreaming I'd be a contender for the gold. She was always telling me to go outside and get some fresh air as if the mere presence of sunlight and oxygen might just wash away all those hazy daydreams that clung to me like cobwebs.
Not only did motherhood turn out not to be my gift, sometimes I feel like I do more harm than good. Look at Charlie. He was stuck floating around in that murky ambivalence before I even decided I wanted him. Who knows what he could've absorbed. How that changed who he might have been if only I had been a different kind of mother.
Baby Emma's weight shifts in my arms, pulling at my shoulders. She squirms as I try to hold her, gently swaying, my bare feet scuffing against the gritty floor littered with dirt and crumbs. I press my cheek against hers. Please please please.
"Shhh..." I whisper, sounding like a tire leaking precious air.
She arches her back away from me, her cheeks flaming pink and I see a smudge of tan and pink on her skin, my make-up bleeding onto her. I feel that static starting in again behind my eyes. My swaying motion becomes more insistent. More harsh. Her cries start out soft then get more indignant until I finally just put her back in the swing, my teeth clenched tight, counting to ten over and over in my head. Leaving her in the middle of her own little squall, I walk over to the sink, my fingers clenching the edge of the counter. The clock tells me it's not even eleven o'clock yet. Not even time for lunch. Not even through half the day yet. Wade gets home around six o'clock but tonight he has some extra handyman work, apparently out at Cyndi's with a "y-i." She and her husband are the ones hosting a lake party to show off their new deck.
Emma's cries wind their way around me. I push away from the sink and gaze beyond the confines of this house where the pond glitters through a kaleidoscope of fractured glass. I raise my hand, the broken design of the flat sky still shimmering behind my closed eyes. With one finger I trace the jagged map as I feel this warmth pooling behind my lids. My knuckles graze the unfamiliar pointed landscape of lashes as smears of black chart a watery path on my skin. I knit my hands together, as if loosely cradling a fragile egg, trying to breathe deep, hoping to let that breath transform me somehow, tears warm against my face, both air and salt joining together in a silent communion.