I ask for the strength to be independent enough to let go. I typed up this entire thing myself. It was just that good.
When I said I'd give my right are form you, I didn't think you'd ask me for it, but you did.
You said, Give it to me.
And I said OK.
There were lots of reasons I gave it to you.
First of all, I didn't want to be made a liar of. (I had never lied to you.) So when you reminded me that I'd said it and asked me if I really meant it, I didn't want to seem like I was copping out by saying that I'd only spoken figuratively. (It is an old saying, after all.) Also, I had the feeling you didn't think I would really do it, that you were testing me to see if I would, and I wanted you to know I would.
Also, I believed you wouldn't have asked me for it unless you really wanted it, and needed it.
But then, when you got it, you bronzed it and put it on the mantel over the fireplace in the den.
The night you took it, I dreamt of arms. I slept on the couch in the den because I was still bleeding, even through the bandages, and I knew I'd stir during the night and need to put on more bandages and we didn't want me to wake you up. So I stayed on the couch and when I slept, I dreamt of arms: red arms, blue arms, golden arms. And arms made of jade. Arms with tattoos, arms with stripes. Arms waving, sleeping, holding. Arms that rested up against my ribs.
We kept my arm in the bathtub, bleeding like a fish. When I went to bed, the water was the color of rose water, with thick red lines like strings. And when I woke up the first time to change my bandages, it was colored like salmon. Then it was carnation red, and then maroon, then burgundy, then purple, thick, and almost black by morning.
In the morning, you took it out. I watched you pat it dry with my favorite big fat terry cloth tower and wrap it in saran wrap and take it out to get it bronzed.
I learned to do things differently. To button my shirts, to screw and unscrew the toothpaste cap, to tie my shoes. We didn't think of this. Together, we were valiant, brave and stoic. Though I couldn't quite keep up with you at tennis anymore.
In a way, it was fun. Things I once took for granted became significant. Cutting a steak with a knife and fork, or buttoning my fly, untying a knot around a bag, adding milk while stirring.
After a while, I developed a scab and you let me come back to bed. But sometimes in the night, I'd shift or have a nightmare, jolt, and suddenly, I'd open up again, and bleed all over uncontrollably. The first this happened neither of us could go back to sleep. But after a while, you got used to it and you'd be back asleep in a minute. It didn't seem to bother you at all.
But I guess after a while it started bothering you, because one day when I was washing out the sheets I'd bloodied the night before, you said, You sleep too restless. I don't like it when your bleeding wakes me up. I think you're sick. I think it's sick to cut off your own arm.
I looked at you, your sweet brown eyes, innocent as a puppy. But you cut it off, I said. You did it. You didn't blink. You asked me for it, so I said OK.
Don't try to make me feel guilty, you said, your pretty brown eyes looking at me. It was your arm.
You didn't blink.
I closed my eyes.
That night I bled again. I woke up and the bed was red, all full of blood and wet. I reached over to touch you and to wake you up and tell you I was sorry, but you were not there.
I learned more. To cook and clean, to eat a quarter pounder with one fist, to balance my groceries on my knee while my hand fumbled with the front door key.
My arm got strong. My left sleeve on my shirts got tight and pinched. My right shirt sleeve was lithe and open, carefree, like a pretty girl.
But then the novelty wore off. I had to convince myself. I read about those valiant cases, one-legged heroes who run across the continent to raise money for causes, and paraplegic mothers of four, one-eyed pool sharks. I wanted these stories to inspire me, but they didn't. I didn't want to be like one of those people. I didn't want to be cheery and valiant. I didn't want to have to rise above my situation. What I wanted was my arm.
Because I missed it. I missed everything about it. I missed the long solid weight of it in my sleeve. I missed clapping and waving and putting my hand in my pocket. I miss waking up at night with it twisted behind my head, asleep and heavy and tingling.
And then I realized that I had missed these things all along, the whole time my arm had been over the mantel, but that I'd never said anything or even let myself feel anything bad because I didn't want to dwell on those feelings because I didn't want to make you feel bad and I didn't want you to think I wanted you to feel bad.
I decided to look for it. Maybe you'd sold it. You were always good with things like that.
I hit the pawnshops. I walked into them and they'd ask me could they help me and I'd say, I'm looking for an arm. And they'd stare at me, my empty sleeve pineed to my shirt, or flapping in the air. I never have liked acting like things aren't the way they are.
When I searched all the local pawnshops, I started going to ones further away. I saw a lot of the country. It was nice. And I got good at it. The more I did, the more I learned to do. The braver ones would look at me directly in the eye. They'd give me the names and addresses of outlets selling artificial limbs, or reconstructive surgeons. But I didn't want another one, I wanted mine. And then, the more I looked for it, the more I wondered if I wasn't looking more for something else besides me severed arm. I wondered was I really searching for you?
It all came clear to me. Like something hacked away from me; you'd done this to me as a test. To show me things. To show me what things meant to me, how much my arm was part of me, but how I could learn to live without it. How, if I was forced to, I could learn to get by with only part of me, with next to nothing. You'd done this to me to teach me something.
And then I thought how, if you were testing me, you must be watching me, to see if I was passing.
So I started acting out my life for you. And then I felt you watching all my actions. I whistled with bravado, jaunted, rather than walked. I had a confident swagger. I slapped friendly pawnshop keepers on their shoulders and told them jokes. I was fun, an inspiration they'd remember after I'd passed through.
I acted like I couldn't care less about my old arm. Like I liked the breezes in my sleeve.
I began to think in perfect sentences, as if you were listening to me. I thought clear sentences inside myself, in trying to convince you, that I had never had an arm I'd lost.
Soon I didn't think the word inside me any more. I didn't think about the right hand gloves buried in my bottom drawer.
I made myself not miss it. I tested myself. I sat in the den and started at the empty space above the mantel. I spent the night on the couch. I went into the bathroom and looked in the tub. I felt nothing. I went to be.
I thought my trips to pawnshops, my wanderlust, were only things I did to pass the time. I thought of nothing almost happily.
I looked at my shoulder. The tissue was smooth. I ran my fingers over it. Round and slightly puffed, pink and shiny and slick. As soft as pimento, as cool as a spoon, the tenderest flesh of my body.
My beautiful empty sleeve and I were friends, like intimates.
So everything was fine.
For a while.
Then you came back.
Then everything did.
But I was careful. It had been a long time. I had learned how to live. Why, hadn't I just forgotten what used to fill my empty sleeve entirely? I was very careful. I acted like nothing had ever been different, that you never ripped it out of me, then bronzed it, put it on the mantel, left with it. I wanted things to stay forgot.
And besides, it was so easy, so familiar having you around. It was nice.
I determined to hold on to what I'd learned. About the strength of having only one.
Maybe I should have told you then. Maybe I should have told you then. But then I told myself, if you knew to leave it alone, then good. And if you didn't know, we needed to find that out.
So we were sitting in the den. You looked at me with your big sweet pretty brown eyes and you said, you whispered it softly like a little girl, you said, Oh, I'm so sorry. You started crying softly, your lips quivering. Can you ever forgive me? You said it slow and sweet like a foreign language. I watched you, knowing you knew the way I was watching you. You leaned into my and pulled my arm around you and ran your pretty fingers down the solid muscle in my sleeve. Just hold me, darling, you said. Just hold me again.
I ran my wet palm, shaking, on your gorgeous back. Your hair smelled sweet.
I looked at your beautiful tear-lined face and tried to pretend that I had never seen you before in my life.
Why did you do it? I whispered.
You looked at me, your eyes all moist and sweet like you could melt anything in the world. You didn't answer.
What did you do with it?
You shrugged your shoulders, shook your head and smiled at me sweeter than an angel.
Say something, I whispered into your pretty hair. Say something, goddammit.
You looked up at me and your sweet brown eyes welled up with tears again. You put your head against my breast and sobbed.
You made me rock you and I did and then you cried yourself to sleep as innocent as a baby. When you were asleep I walked you to the bedroom and put you in to bed. You slept. I watched you all night. You remembered nothing in the morning.
In the morning we had coffee. You chatted to me about your adventures. You cocked your head at just the right places, the way I remembered you did. You told me you'd worked hard in the time you'd been away. You told me you had grown. You told me how much you had learned about the world, about yourself, about honor, faith and trust, etc. You looked deep into my eyes and said, I've changed. You said how good and strong and true and truly different you were. How you had learned that it is not our acts, but our intents, that make us who we are.
I watched your perfect teeth.
I felt your sweet familiar hands run up my body, over the empty sleeve that rumpled on the exposed side of me. I closed my eyes and couldn't open them. My mouth was closed. I couldn't tell you anything.
I couldn't tell you that you can't re-do a thing that's been undone. I couldn't tell you anything that you would understand. I couldn't tell you that it wasn't just the fact that you had ripped it out of me and taken it and mounted it, then left with it then lost it, how it wasn't only that, but it was more. How it was that when you asked me, I believed you and I told you yes. How, though I had tried a long time to replace what you had hacked away from me, I never could undo the action of your doing so, that I had, and only ever would have, more belief in your faulty memory, your stupid sloppy foresight, than in your claims of change. How I believed, yes, I believed with all my heart, that given time, you'd do something else again. And then I thought, but this was only half a thought, that even if you had changed, no really really changed, truly and at last, and even if you knew me better than I know myself, and even if I'm better off than I've ever been, and even if this was the only way we could have gotten to this special place where we are now, and even if there's a reason, darling, something bigger than both of us, and even if all these even if's are true, that I would never believe you again, never forget what I know of you, never forget what you've done to me, what you will do, I'll never believe the myth of forgiveness between us.