She shaved her hair so that it no longer draped over her apple-green eyes, so she could finally look at who she was speaking to. They were alone together for the first time in such a long time.
Naked, in front of each other.
She hesitated, then she spoke, so quietly, like the first bird of Easter, so timid.
“I want to love you…” she said.
Her words trailed off like they always do whenever she knew she couldn’t say what needed to be said next. It was her way of protecting herself and other people in her life from the dragon that lived inside of her, a dragon that breathed truth instead of fire. A dragon that always had so much to say.
Six months ago she was asked to give a eulogy at her cousin’s funeral and all the words she wanted to say trailed off into the microphone like they were animals in a herd following each other off of a cliff.
“Elizabeth was always such a positive force in this world…”
“I wish we could have had more time together…”
“Heaven just got a new angel…”
All of it was just half of the story. She knew it. Elizabeth knew it. And so did the dragon inside of her. She was just trying to get through the moment. The thing is, sometimes “just getting through the moment” eats the back half of sentences — which I have discovered contain the most truth.
“Just getting through the moment” is often a ravenous beast and it devours periods and question marks like they were goldfish crackers. She had been trained to keep everything open-ended to keep the dragon in its cave. The words trailed off before she was ever tempted to add a “but” to all that she wanted to say next on that terrible day behind the microphone in front of the coffin with her cousin inside.
What she really wanted to say was:
“Elizabeth was always such a positive force in this world, but that was before she started injecting all of that shit into her veins to the point that she only saw darkness.”
“I wish we could have had more time together, but she decided that she couldn’t trust me enough to ask for help, so we don’t.”
“Heaven just got a new angel but that doesn’t make any of us feel any better, now does it?”
She could never get the words “but” to be formed by her tongue. She had conjunction dysfunction. She could never let the dragon out of its cage because she was terrified that it would burn the whole world down. She had to only speak in half-sentences because the truth of how she really felt seemed like it was an agent of the apocalypse.
Saying the word “but” was forbidden since she was a child. Focus on the good. Ignore the bad. Keep it all in. Remain kind. Keep your conjunctions to yourself, young lady. That is how she had made it through the first thirty years of her life. Her script was just a series of half-sentences. She was fluent in the language of sapless words that never really said anything.
And even in this moment six months later as she stood naked in front of the person she hadn’t spoken to in such a long time and had so many things to say, even now, she still felt inclined to only say the safest words with her newly shaven head so she could speak without her hair covering her eyes, so she could speak without feeling hidden. So there she was in front of the stranger that she used to know so well, her words were just as half-spoken.
“I want to love you…” she repeated.
She wanted to say everything that needed to come next. All of the words were right there. They just couldn’t get over the wall of her fear.
She tried again:
“I want to love you….”
The rest of it didn’t come. Maybe it didn’t matter. The person she was speaking to wasn’t saying anything back. They never did. Everything she had to say was like a fat pill stuck in her throat.
She tried another time like her voice was a car with a faulty starter.
“I want to love you….” she said. Then without warning the word came.
It felt like a water balloon exploding inside of her, like her prison walls transforming into cool whip, like a knot that becomes a string. The unspoken flowers she had been holding onto poured out of her mouth like red rose petals caught in a hurricane’s gale, like a caged dragon let out after a lifetime of captivity.
Unsure at first, then a couple of weak flaps of its wings, and then….freedom. And then….fire. And then… truth.
Finally, everything she needed to say out loud spilled out of her mouth in a flood of flowers and fire:
“I want to love you…BUT I don’t think I can until you forgive me for everything that I’ve done to you.”
“I want to love you…BUT I need you to remind me how beautiful I am.”
They didn’t speak back to her but she could see them shaking just like she was shaking as she placed her hands on the face staring back at her in the mirror. Then they both began to cry, the naked woman and her naked reflection.
Then her reflection spoke back to her for the first time in years:
“I forgive you.”
“You are beautiful.”
And then added:
“I love you… I have always loved you.”
That was when the woman and her reflection who she had always spoken to in half-sentences held each other from across the glass and everything that needed said became covered in dragon fire and flowers.
So many flowers.