Something had changed.
I couldn’t tell what, exactly, but seeing them after all this time wasn’t anything like the million other times I’d seen them. It wasn’t anything like the last time I’d seen them. But then again, I hadn’t seen them in a long, long time.
My gaze scans their body. I want to take it in, slowly, carefully. The long legs, the skinny arms, the white scar on the collarbone that has been an identifier for longer than I can remember. The straps of their favourite top that the sun has burned into the skin. The long sleeves that nonchalantly provide cover. The pants that hang loosely around the waist.
They’re thin. Too thin. And yet I know that when the confrontation is there, the numbers read are too high. I also know that the sleeves hide nothing. But at least they offer protection against the thoughts that begin to swirl again when the silence comes. I know it all too well.
It takes a while before my eyes dare to find theirs. There. The Change. In a reflex I squint my eyes, eager to zoom in, to focus on what is different now from the last time I saw them. But the big blue eyes I stare at betray nothing.
“How are you?” There’s a lump in my throat and for a moment, I think my voice will break. But I stay strong. The sparkle I thought to see just a few seconds ago lights up again. They don’t answer.
It’s silent for a few minutes. Silent as we stare at each other. Silent as I look at them, really look at them. It is silent as I can feel my chest starting to contract again. Silent as my lungs struggle to draw in breaths. It’s silent, even as my breathing is ragged and even as the sound of pounding blood fills my ears. It’s silent as the thoughts begin to swirl again, just like they did the last time I saw them.
This is why I left. This is why I stopped looking at them. This is why I haven’t seen them in a long, long time. Because every time I did, every time I was confronted with the sight that seemed to prove the swirling thoughts right, they got worse.
I let out a shuddering sigh, the only sign that my lungs haven’t completely given up on me. Not yet, anyhow. Looking at them now is the same as it was the million other times I looked at them, with tears burning behind my eyes and with whatever food I did eat forcing its way up. I am disgusted by them, annoyed with them, afraid of them, just as I was last time.
And yet today is different, too. Because something has changed. Something about them makes my lungs determined to expand and let in air. Something prevents the tears from rolling down. Something keeps the food inside. Something keeps me from losing control and sinking to the ground and giving in to yet another episode.
So, I keep staring at them. I hold my ground. I hold my gaze. I hold my focus, hold it on that Change, that sparkle, as I look at them for the first time in a long, long time.
I don’t have any poems for them, or chocolates, or flowers. Nor do they for me. Flowers make us sneeze. Chocolates make us nauseous. Poems don’t overcome the clashing between the silence and the swirling thoughts.
No, we don’t have any poems for each other, or chocolates, or flowers. But we do have our confrontation. Our eye contact. We do have ourselves looking at each other, really looking.
“Better,” I answer my own question. Not good. Not great. But better. Better than before.
Because even though the body is too thin and the numbers are too high, even though the skin needs protection and the lungs need freedom, even though the thoughts are dark and the change is small, there is a sparkle in the eyes. It hints at acceptance, it hints at love. It hints at better days. It’s small, but it’s there.
I smile at my reflection.
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