Monday, November 14, 2016

Hold Me. And Don't Let Me Go. - An Election Story - Part One

When There Are No Words: 
An Election Short Story – 
Part One

Peter Richards laid in bed with his wife in his arms, feeling more helpless than he could have imagined feeling before this moment.

He didn’t understand it.

Kat had been fine twenty minutes ago.

Well, as fine as she could be, after tonight’s election results.

He sighed and gave a small shake of his head. He hadn’t seen it coming.

No one had.

In the shadows of the bedroom, Peter couldn’t see much more than the barest outline of the top of Kat’s head. But he knew her body better than he knew anything in this world. The slim length of her limbs. The sweet curve of her hips.

The beautiful look and feel of her amber-colored skin against the pale balsam of his own.

And, for the first time since he’d met her, the full weight of that contrast hit him. The fact that, even in this day and age, in this country, her darker skin meant the world could be crueler and more dangerous for her than it was for him. And there was so fucking little he could do to protect her from it.

Sometimes—most of the time—it was far too easy to forget this. To look at her pretty, petite form and think that there wasn’t anyone in this world who would see anything other than innocent beauty. She was this slim, sweet, five-foot-nothing slip of a thing. Who would feel threatened by or feel hate toward someone like her? 

To be honest, he didn’t think about her race often. It wasn’t like he forgot that she was of Cambodian descent—how could he forget, when he looked at her everyday—it just never really mattered to him. It was part of her, full of beauty and culture unlike his own that he found alluring, but so were many of her other qualities. Like she had a way with words that he didn’t, that could stitch sentences together to make stories out of nothing. It often let her see the world in ways he couldn’t and certainly allowed him rare and precious glimpses of her insight. She was Asian American, of course, just like she was a storyteller and a wife and a woman. To him, she was his Kat, richly complex and could not be boiled down to one thing.

And, even though she’d told him that she’d met people who looked at her and never saw past the color of her skin— had dealt with things that seemed inconceivable to him—it’d never seemed to stop her. To weigh on her. To change or harden or beat her down. It had always seemed like some distant part of her past that no longer affected her.

Hell, she’d been cracking jokes tonight and laughing. She’d smiled and acted—for the most part—normal, even as the results came in. She wasn’t even much of a political person. He knew that she’d voted, like him and everyone they knew, against Tom Rosen and his promises that “America Will Rise Again,” a message that echoed Confederacy romanticism, harkening back to a time that had been cruel to people like her. He knew that she’d, like everyone they knew, rejected and mocked Rosen’s invitation to “Rise With Us,” not that the candidate’s words had really been meant for people like her. No, Rosen had promised his followers to lift them up, while he cleansed the country of those he considered undesirables—people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQIA community, feminists, and anyone who didn’t think like them. Kat had been disgusted by his supporters’ chants to take his opponent—Kevin Wu, who’d had both their votes—and “Raise Him Up,” which could have been inspirational, as the Rosen campaign had claimed in the press, if it hadn’t been for the noose imagery that too often accompanied the slogan.

And, sure, Peter had heard her talk about the election and about the direction the country was moving. He’d read the blog pieces she’d written, cautioning people against this kind of hateful rhetoric and the casual racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and general disregard for people who didn’t look, live, love, and believe like Rosen. But he’d never seen her get angry or upset over it, like he had with his other more politically active friends. She hadn’t gone to Wu rallies. Hadn’t campaigned for him. Hadn’t seemed terribly passionate about the whole thing, even as they’d watched it all unfold tonight.

But then, when they’d gotten home, when he’d gone to climb naked into bed with her less than half an hour later, she’d wrapped herself so tightly around him. Holding onto him as if he were an anchor keeping her from getting lost in the rapidly shifting world. Even now, after holding her for what felt like forever, there still was such desperation in that embrace. 

He didn’t know what to do. Peter was a fully-grown man, there wasn’t much he was afraid of—it’d been decades since he’d let the dark or its monsters frighten him—but the strength of her fear sliced through him with chilling terror, leaving him weak and powerless.

He was her husband, her lover, her Dom, for God’s sake, but there was nothing he could do. Nothing he could tell her. It felt so wrong, but it was true. What was there to say? What words could fix what had happened? What could he do as the world around them shifted?

Then she started to cry.

At first, he didn’t know what was happening, just noticed a strange change in her breathing. In the dark, silent room, he heard a hitch—a small catch—as she inhaled. Somehow, it served to emphasize how forced and controlled her breaths had been a moment before. As if it’d taken all she had, all night, to maintain this façade of normalcy. As if every thought in her head must have been in, out, smile, laugh. It hurt to think that she’d felt, even in the middle of a home full of friends, even as she sat in that room next to him, the need to hide.

And he hadn't even really seen it until now. He bit back a castigating groan, feeling so blind. 

Lying in bed, he held her tighter and watched her try to cling to that control. But the harder she held on—by burying her face deeper against him, by holding herself as still and tense as possible, by holding her breath—the more her grip on the act slipped. He frowned and felt her tears soak his skin. Felt her shaky hiccupping sighs turn into wracking sobs. And every time she held her breath in a vain attempt to hold the tears back, his heart ached as he waited for her to exhale. It was as if he could almost feel her breaking apart in his arms and it was all he could do to try to hold her together.

He felt so useless. So helpless. He wanted to tell her that things would be okay, but how could he do that when they very likely wouldn’t? When the hate he knew she’d faced before, the they’d both hoped was part of her past, must feel right outside their door. When he could literally feel the fear she never let show—not even to him—shake her. When her world felt so unsafe and there was nothing he could do to fix that. What could he possibly do in the face of that?

He kissed the crown of her head and held her so tightly the breath she’d been holding huffed out on a staggered sigh. “What can I do?” His whispered voice sounded so loud yet so weak in the quiet night. “What do you need?”

Sniffling, she wiggled a bit, putting space between them to wipe her nose. She shook her head. Then shrugged. “I’m sorry.”

He would have laughed, if he didn’t feel like crying. Of course, she would apologize for the last thing she should; that was who she was. She didn’t want to burden him with her fear and sorrow, but tonight it was just too big for her to contain. He wanted to tell her not to be sorry, to tell her that she was never a burden, but he didn’t want to be one more voice telling her what she had to be or not. So he just pulled her closer and kissed her again. 

He panicked for a moment when her tears started back up in earnest. He almost let her go, worried he’d done something wrong. But she wrapped herself around him again, tangling her arms and legs inescapably around him.

Cupping the back of her head, he held her with her tear-streaked face buried against his shoulder and sighed. “I’m sorry.” He shook his head, rubbing his cheek against her hair. “I wish I was better at this.” He wished he knew what to do. Had the perfect words or actions. 

She sniffled. “Just hold me.” She took a shaky breath. “Just be here.”

He could do that. “Always.” He leaned down to kiss the top of her head again, but she tipped her head back and met his lips with her own. At first, shock made him pause, but then hesitation held him still. She’d been so overwhelmed tonight already; he didn’t want to add to it. She didn’t need his need—his fear and worry and desire to make her his, to make her safe—to add to her own. Tonight wasn’t about him. He just wanted, as she’d said, to be here for her.

But then she grabbed his face in her hands and pressed closer, licking and nipping at his lips. She tasted of her tears, but also of heat and need. He cupped her cheek and gently eased away. “Are you sure?” 

Read Part Two Here

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