I didn’t ask for this.
I didn’t ask to know what the contents of your mind were. I didn’t ask for the ability to read every body like a goddamn book. I didn’t want this ability or need it or even find it useful.
I can’t forget about it. I can’t just turn it off. You get too close and suddenly I know everything about you and I. Can’t. Turn. It. Off.
Mother realized when I was young I had the aptitude. The ability, like her. People have more than just five senses, she said to curly-haired me, sitting on her lap as she painted jewel-bright birds on tiny teacups.
More than five? You mean like six?
No, she sang back. Perhaps a dozen or more. And we can all use them, but we just aren’t. She paused, painting the tiny eye of a bright green bird. Aware.
She smiled down at me, and I felt something. A strange stirring in the back of my head. Almost like someone was ruffling my hair, but no one was there.
And then it started.
I would go to school, and everywhere I would look all I would see were colors. Everyone had a color attached to them, a color that changed every moment and every time I knew and I couldn’t help but stare. I tried to touch them. I would reach for the fuzzy colors and I’d miss every time, sure, but that didn’t stop me.
People began to notice. Father began deflecting questions and Mother insisted nothing was wrong. She began to teach me to be still, to listen and not see. My days were spent in deep meditation, learning about the world around me by mind alone. I couldn’t see, but I could feel and that was enough for me. The colors began to fade, and one day, reporting back to Mother, I told her the colors were gone.
They aren’t, she replied, taking my hand in hers. They’re there.
No buts, she said, dropping my hand. They’re there. They always are.
She said I could move on to the next stage of my learning. That it was time to learn what else I was capable of.
The mind, she said, is like a house. There’s a door that most people don’t even know, a door that can be opened and closed. Most people leave it closed, she told me, gently probing the back of my skull with her fingertips. You and I can open them. We can do great things, that way.
I had to probe. I had to sit in deep meditation and try and try to find the door, but I think the inside of my mind must be a Wonderland and I am Alice, because I was only ever lost.
Try harder, Mother said. It’s there.
And there it was, because Alice fell down the rabbit hole, and took Mother with her, because one day after school I came home and she was gone.
Gone. Father’s voice echoes from their room. Gone and not coming back.
Rage. Rage is in the pit of the stomach, slowly boiling up and over, crawling up your spine, through your fingers, curling your hands into fists and melting your face into a scowl. But I had no rage.
It wasn’t mine. It wasn’t mine to feel. I ran to Father, wanting a hug, but he pushed me away.
Not ever, it would be.
I learned too late I’d left the door open, and I had no way of closing it. Sadness is in the hollow of the throat, happiness in toes, jealousy metallic on the tongue. Loss in the eyes, grief on the sternum, nerves will tickle your lungs.
I feel what you feel, and I can’t turn it off.
I was fourteen, when Bobby Michaels learned what desire was. Fourteen, head in my books (more often than not, on them too). He feels it in the palms of his hands, the soles of his feel, the tip of his tongue. In short, fourteen year old Bobby Michaels felt desire everywhere. Shelly Graves was the target. Revulsion tastes a lot like jealousy, I learned. And jealousy also tastes like love.
I learned the hard way.
Feelings began pushing in everywhere–weighing down my sternum, my heart, my head. I bowed my shoulders and curled my neck like an ancient tree, trying my best to stay afloat.
But these aren’t my feelings to feel and I don’t know what to do with them.
The human body can barely handle the emotions produced by a single brain. We get overtaken by our own hormone-induced pity parties–lethargy in shoulder blades, irritation in fingertips, sorrow in the heart. I feel like an empty shell, emotion in, emotion out. I lie on the ground and feel everyone else moving around me, rising, falling, shifting.
The colors aren’t gone, like Mother said.
My younger echo catches up with me. Why are we like this?
Why do we have to be like this?
Why do we have to understand?
Deborah Yensen is getting married next week. She has a hole of guilt in her stomach. Thomas Anders loves Betty Hansen, but his hands won’t respond to the desire and she’ll never know; she’s got nerves for River Weber, whose caramel hair is always impatient. Gregory Beaucoup’s heart is wallowing in sadness, but no one knows, he sits at the table, drinking his coffee…
And I know it all. I know every miserable, joyful, stagnant detail of your emotions and there’s not a thing I can do for you. If I say something I’m not supposed to know, you react. You get scared, you try and remember.
And panic makes the brain stop working. Panic makes you stop.
Makes me stop and struggle.
I lie on the floor of this old art studio. You lie in your bed at Seventh and Main. The cat lying on your chest is known as Curiosity, and every now and then it lifts its head and meows. You aren’t indulging it though. Not enough for Curiosity to care. I can feel it kneading your chest, plaintively purring.
A bit of wonder, wonder in the eyes and in the lungs, touches your brow, and suddenly, the house lights go out.
And for just a moment, I breathe in relief.