by Aki Schilz
When I was little, I looked for God in the hiding spaces I carved out for myself, for those times when the world felt too big and I wanted to crawl into somewhere that fitted me snugly, that held me securely. But when I tried to go back to them in later years, there was nothing in those now too-small spaces that couldn’t grow to accommodate my own bone-stretch, sky-tiptoe, backwards falling hurtle into adulthood. And when I pushed my fingers into those spaces – the only parts of me that still fitted – each and every space was cold with unremembering. It was as if I’d never hidden there at all. Later, I stopped looking for God. But I never stopped looking for hiding places.
They say we leave traces. I don’t know if that’s true. I know that I have smeared my signature on so many things. This is true. I’ve run it hurriedly across the backs of memories that whoosh away from me breathless and starstruck, and it feels as though I’m always glancing the abstract shape of them rushing away into the past; me sat on the back of a train that carries me, my back to the thing we call the future and sitting hands outstretched into the past, grasping at the present which is always slipping backwards out of my hands. And I’ve smeared my signature on other things, more slowly, on freckled shoulders, on the soft parts of necks, on the knuckled backs of hands I’ve held with reverence, hands that have nursed me, that have fluttered like wishes at my cheeks and at the tip of my nose. Hands that have pressed fingers into the spaces between my ribs, that have pushed tickles under armpits and stroked the soft place behind my knees, that have played shadows over my belly and caressed me into trembling, or into stillness. I have pressed my signature, too, glancingly and lingeringly, onto lips, hoping to make a mark, leave a trace of me, make an impression that will become part of the living architecture of boys who have tried to love me, or who have loved me, or who have simply pretended to love me; all of whom I have loved, in many different ways but always with the same heart-flutter fullness and hope. Because I don’t know any other way. If I have kissed you, I have loved you. However briefly. That is simply who I am. And I make no apologies for this. But have I left a trace? No. I suspect I haven’t. Not on everything I have touched. Certainly not on everyone. Because people are not like pigment. We cannot drop ourselves lightly into a vast body of clear water consciousness, in the knowledge that we will stain the whole with the colour of us. We cannot even drop ourselves heavily, and guarantee that the furthest ripples will reach as far as the next boy with his back turned, walking away while I shout his name into an open space that will close up around him and become another too-small hiding space for the later time, the time after the words have run out and there is nothing to do but want to crawl away again. To crawl somewhere that doesn’t bear my name, that doesn’t remember the smell of me, the weight and heft of me, but knows how to carry me anyway.
These are my hiding spaces. They don’t know me. But I know them. I always have.