…He turns the pages like this on purpose and it sounds like the loud screech of a crow’s claws sliding down a wall of freshly rained-on metal—that kind of sound that makes you want to cover your ears and slap someone all at the same time. He sits there reading “All the Light We Cannot See” while mouthing along to the words. His upper lip moving much slower than the bottom, he smiles at certain parts, clears his throat at others. Occasionally, he will stop to bite a piece of hanging skin by his nail, say “hmmm” then glance out the window and take a monstrous sip out of his giant mug of over-creamed coffee. He returns to his book, furrows his brows as if he doesn’t know what the words on the page are trying to tell him, but really, he’s probably just trying to look intense. Or maybe, it’s just a really good book. But what can be said about reading a book? There’s so much more to be seen that no one notices, but I notice. I notice the steady but slow rocking back and forth and the way he holds the spine of the book in his hands like one would cradle the neck of a new born baby and I wonder just then, what he’s thinking. I realize how beautiful he is and how the whiteness of his skin looks so soft from here and how I wish I was the spine of that book, that holds together all the pages that make him mouth along to the words.
The above is something I wrote while staring at my boyfriend while he read his book in bed with a morning coffee. I sat across this room from him, on the floor on a Saturday morning and simply watched him turn the pages. A simple act. A blink of the eye type moment. Something that would normally go unnoticed to most.
I have always struggled in relationships. There was always a fear planted, watered, and wedged deep in the back of my mind. This fear was like a hand-written sign, painted in blood-red ink that said: You’ll never be good enough, you’ll never fit the mold, you’ll never be what they’re looking for. Now whether or not race places a role here, I do not know for sure. What caused me to label myself as “not good enough”? Did this have anything to do with the confusion I felt growing up mixed-race? Again, I do not know for sure, but I did this in every relationship I have been in because I was never allowed to be myself… until now.
Something is different this time around. The things that I cannot answer, are wrapped in the comfort of my own understanding that for the very first time I am not worried about mixed-race relationships, or being in one because no matter who I decide to be with, it will always be a mixed-race relationship. I am not worried about how people see me, or what they may say about me, or us because something feels like it goes a bit deeper. For me to sit and write a description like the one above, to free myself from the clutter and blur, and see the details, from just glancing across the room, must mean something has changed in my life. Something must have clicked, or fell quietly in to place like a lost puzzle piece that was hidden under the bed for the longest time leaving that 10,000-piece puzzle incomplete for years. I feel like I found that piece, without ever realizing it was missing, or that I was looking for it.
Even though that description was written about him, I was only able to write it because I am seeing myself for the very first time, in all my entirety. I have all the pieces and I know exactly where they go.
I’ve judged myself and allowed others to judge me based purely on my exterior appearance for so long, that I began to paint—and even write—a distorted image of what I see every time I look in the mirror. I realize that what I see will always be different from what he sees, and different from what everyone sees, but he has helped me to de-blur and to look deeper. He has helped me to hug the details, cradle the spine, and shown me that I can turn the pages as loudly as I want and mouth along to the words—just as long as they are my words.
Chelene Knight lives in Vancouver, BC and is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio 2013 in the poetry cohort. Chelene is a Library Assistant at the Vancouver Public Library, and Managing Editor at Room. Previously, she worked as a Manuscript Consultant through SFU, and as a proofreader at Montecristo magazine along with other editor gigs with a poetry focus. She has been published in Amazing Canadian Fashion Magazine, Sassafras Literary Magazine, emerge, The Raven Chronicles Literary Magazine, and in Room 37.4. She just finished her second manuscript, Dear Current Occupant, a collection of sonnets, prose poems, and letters which is forthcoming with BookThug in 2018. Chelene is now dabbling in short short SHORT fiction. Her first book, Braided Skin, was published by Mother Tongue Publishing in Spring 2015. Find out more about Chelene at cheleneknight.com and @poetchelene.