Shards of blue fought through the overcast sky. Here and there a sunny patch might break out. But, despite its best efforts the sky was still gray and it threatened rain. I was exhilarated, finding beauty everywhere: in the artful composition of spilled litter, the down-trodden couple pushing their child in a shopping cart instead of a stroller, the peeling paint curling like petals wide-open to the sun. The city is vulnerable in the moments before rush hour. Its lacerations uncovered blistering pink then red then white sunrises in the skin.
There was a burn-victim who used to frequent the video store I worked at. The skin on the right half of his face was raised and bubbled, crisscrossed with scars and burns. I didn’t know where to look at first; my eyes felt like a weapon and I desperately didn’t want to be rude. So, I would sneak glances at him out of the corner of my eye as I rang him through until one day he caught me and held my gaze grinning. God, he was beautiful: the cracked pink of his lips, the glistening surface of healed flesh, the experience mapped out on his face for all to see. Not all of us have our wounds so clearly visible nor our past so impossible to hide. Not all of us would let a stranger pry into every hole and corner of our face only to come up empty handed and gasping. We were frozen there for several minutes–searching–and then just as quickly as the moment had occurred the intimacy was suddenly broken. Stammering and blushing I passed him his videos by the door and let him go. Afterward, he would visit sporadically cracking jokes and smiling flirtatiously. Often, I would give him his movies for free. He would always exit backwards–broad shoulders to the glass–waving the movies in salute. Then one day he stopped coming.
I quit soon after that.
Sometimes I do wish hearts could be pinned to your jacket and worn bravely on your sleeve. Then, we wouldn’t have to risk getting so close in order to see each other’s wounds. Without exchanging names, or email addresses, or late night phone calls we could map past heartbreaks and trace future intentions. We could turn back if the path looked dark and twisted. We could more fairly balance the good and bad–the right and wrong-without falling victim to cloudy judgments or personal bias… or love. We wouldn’t have to be vulnerable in our heart-pounding ignorance, because we could just look down on our sleeves and already know.
But, when it comes to relationships we don’t have clear signs. Signals are mixed and misinterpreted and lost in the shuffle. We are navigating blindly in the flames, eyes squeezed shut, hands looking for something to hold on to. Someone to lead us out of the fire.
Unfortunately, with all of the chaos, every once in awhile we get burned.