I wonder why it matters so much to me that they’re watching. When I picture you, pulling up at the side of a cobbled street after all those years apart, I picture them too. Watching from the windows, noticing how your eyes linger over my face, how long we hold each other, how the silence between us seems weighted with emotion. I imagine their comments to one another, about how we’re really, truly in love, their eyes fixed on a scene of epic proportions. And what’s worse, much worse, is that I imagine their inner monologues, the wistful twinge within them when they see something they wish they had, something they can never share in. Something that is ours, yours and mine, mostly mine, something that they desperately ache for in their all-too-human souls, just as I have ached, just as I have screamed and writhed and sobbed with frustration, just as I have slouched hopelessly and let my fire die, die and resurge, always with a desire to eat something –
It’s not that I take pleasure in their pain. I don’t think. So what is it? It’s the sense of peace that comes with the close of a door which was slightly cracked open. It’s knowing that they understand the thing you always wanted them to understand. That you are not worthless; you are a real, valuable human being, you deserve to be seen, and what’s more, some people do see you. Proving that you exist and that you can love and be loved. Because when you don’t know whether they know that, when you suspect them of glazing over you like they do every other inconsequential acquaintance they happen upon, scattered patternlessly throughout their daily lives – well, it leaves you screaming. Writhing and questioning. What am I? A face within a teeming mass of faces? God, God, no.
But when you did drive up shakily in some old blue car, taking a little too long to park, on a day that came with an uncomfortable mix of strong wind and feeble rain, they weren’t watching from the window. And you didn’t hold me like I wanted you to. You were thinking about other things: the weather, the luggage, the practicalities. It wasn’t just me.
Of course, it was me. It’s just that it was also you. And it was a thousand other people and their thoughts, their swarms of love and worry and passion that don’t live to justify my existence, or any existence, not in full at least. Nobody watched us as I helped with the bags, as you told me about the trivialities, the way the roads had been, the way you’d had to carefully manoeuvre it all to ensure you weren’t more than half an hour late. And yet I was glad they weren’t watching, because all of a sudden I felt unsure. I couldn’t let that uncertainty be cemented in the minds of others.
You can’t make an identity out of imagined things.
Nobody was watching us later, in the warm darkness, when the light of a candle brushed against your strawberry blond hair. Nobody was watching when your hands on my shoulders burned me up with deep bodily pain and light, other-worldly pleasure. Nobody heard the things you whispered in my ear, the things I had to write down later and keep forever because they were so damn beautiful. I wonder what I whispered back. I wonder how you remember it, how you remember it all.
Yet I don’t worry that you’ve forgotten. No, you can’t see through other people’s eyes, can’t understand the significance they place on certain things, can’t see exactly what you mean to them. But there are times when you know. You aren’t completely alone. There’s a reciprocity somewhere down the line, there’s the closest you can get to what they call understanding, seeing. It’s not something you need to build an identity. But it can help, on the days when you feel a little shaky, when you’re screaming somewhere. Pacifies the hunger.
Nobody was watching as you were leaving. Maybe they were, but by that point I no longer cared where anyone was looking, except for you. I wished I hadn’t been so critical at the start, that I hadn’t wasted energy longing for a sky without rain and a version of you that could read my body without effort. Because every stupid, oblivious thing you did that morning we knew was the last, like talking about your plans for later rather than telling me what I meant to you, like playing a song I’d never heard rather than the ones we’d listened to together on the cusp of a gentle sleep; they were all the most perfect things you could have done. And only I was watching. Not them, not even you.