I leaned forward and tried to listen. I strained my ears to hear what might be there. They ached from the effort and yet I leaned in farther. Please, please, I begged, tell me what I’m missing.
I sat back and pretended not to care. I crossed my arms and looked to the side, my eyes anywhere but there. A little voice inside my head still begged, please, please. I still couldn’t hear.
He sleeps in my bed, a soft snore his blanket. He holds me when I cry and delights when I laugh, reminding me that my emotions are not too big after all.
All the other men gather in a circle around me, poking at skin they touched and pulling at my loose t-shirt. They take turns laughing at their memory: a hotel in Puerto Rico, a dorm room in Massachusetts, a hot tub at a party, a shuttle bus from the fair, the staircase in my childhood with a belt in hand for scolding.
Years had gone by and I didn’t allow myself to cry.
He cooks dinner for me and pulls me close to listen to my heart beat against his shirt. His laughter mixes with mine like a sweet wine and we start to drown out the circle of other men. Together.
I puff up with a strength which has only just introduced herself to me. She says, This happened to you. This is part of your past. This is not who you are today.
The laughter from the circle begins to fade, even though I see them in the distance. Strength raises her arms and gathers me in them. He sleeps in my bed and I crawl in next to him.
I hold onto Strength and I give into her scent, forgetting how to beg, no longer needing to strain my ears when I ask the world to tell me.
I am free.