The Noisy Water Review


Carly Sandberg

It’s that familiar itching on the shallow skin of your cheek. Or the urge brought on by the hair escaping from the confinement of your ear. You’ve got to run the flat bottom of your front teeth over the grooves of your bottom lip. You can’t help but ensure the hair on your brow is flattened and in place. No matter how hard you try to keep your arm at your side where it belongs—its vertical, intended home—you’re helpless to stop it from raising like yeasty bread, intent on replacing that hair, feeling for crumbs there, smoothing over that spot, and scratching the skin that’s not even itchy. But once your arm and hand do their defiant deed, the urge is staved off for a moment, delegating your extremity to be content to hang obediently at your side until the longing decides to begin again.

I try to care less when I’m swaddled in my cotton pants and loose t-shirt, my hair a mess and greasy in the confines of my home. But walking down a busy street, with strangers on looking, I feel the need to fit and fidget, to keep busy to keep my eyes from theirs. I’m always sure they’ll see the seam of my pant leg in disarray and declare I don’t belong. That my place is poorer and private. Even reminding my mind that I have rights as much as they, I’ve still got to frame the hem of my shirt so it curves just-so on my waist.

But then there are times when I’m all alone, with no prying eyes or ears. I still graze my touch along the bump growing on my chin and tap out a rhythm on my knee. I don’t trust the hairspray that claims “extra hold” to keep the mold I’ve set my tresses in. I know why I do it, why I just can’t seem to help but keep moving. They’d called it Generalized Anxiety Disorder when I asked what was wrong with me, and they said that it explained my broken record of a brain – why it wouldn’t stop spinning around those unrealistic worries and common occurrences and just take a tiny break. They said that GAD helped push my grating thoughts to outward actions, so my brain wouldn’t ruin me. A self-comforting practice to keep me functioning like every other normal, well-adjusted person. “You mean not everyone thinks about that call they have to make a week from now every minute of the day?” I’d asked in disbelief. “It’s just me that can’t help but think every person walking by has noticed how pudgy my fingers are?” It simply wasn’t possible. I’m medicated now, but the fidgets haven’t left. Call it habit, call it hobby, it’s still a comfort when I’m supposed to be still.

The pencil in your hand is too perfectly balanced to not spin it, to wrap your index finger around its body and let the weight fling it in circles. The ring on your right middle finger would really feel better on your left one, even though you just switched it to your right twenty minutes ago. Your heel springs up and down of its own accord, nearly silent on the carpet, with your knee grazing your elbow on every bounce.

My mother doesn’t fidget. Her palms are anchors at her thighs. They’re not pulled to straighten the colorful hooks she wears in her ears, or to flatten the hair she’s just splayed from throwing her head back to laugh at the neighbor’s stupid joke. The miniscule bit of lettuce stuck to the edge of her mouth goes undiscovered, her tongue and the pads of her fingers in no hurry to go probing for its presence.

Her fingers actually do what she tells them. They don’t clamber to skin and hair to calm the twitches and twines. While thousands of people are spreading their individualized, finger-printed inches to their wrinkles and spots, hers clasp together tightly on the table to rest completely content. She’s not anxious, she doesn’t displace. The coffee she drinks doesn’t send her knee a-bouncin’. Her attention’s not deficient.

Why’s it so easy to feel as though our skin is not our own, that our bodies are something for us to shape and revise to fit the mold that no one fits? To use our extra energy to fix our imaginary flaws? To even keep our minds occupied so we aren’t tempted to think of the eyes that might be judging us from the table across the room or from behind the check-out register in Rite-Aid?

When I’m at work, with my wrists aching from chopping onions, and I mistake a pound of butter for four instead, the redness of my face just won’t lighten or forgive. The rash on my cheeks reflects my necessity for perfection, reflects the pain I feel at just the slightest hitch in my plan. I’ve never bought blush and doubt I’ll ever need to. To rouge my cheekbones all I need is to think of the shaky words I spoke at school the day before.

My mother makes mistakes all the time. She never really stops. She calls her boyfriend by her ex-husband’s name and her face stays pale as ever. She’ll smile wide and crinkle more wrinkles by her eyes as she lets her error streak off her tongue in wheezing laughter that makes it hard to not laugh along with her.

My mother must care not for pretense or presentation. There’s no need to fictionalize the façade to fit what people idolize.

She’s firmly her with no alteration or edition.

The mold she fills has give. It doesn’t crush her down and in. It moves with her and follows with no judgment, no appraisal. The cast I have lets me bounce up and down somehow. Lets me tug on my ear lobes and re-cross my legs. Why won’t it let me push and pull it when it allows me my unnecessary fidgeting?

Spandex, Lycra, rubber, that’s what my mother’s must be comprised of. My mold’s cement, when I tug it to be a me that everybody might not agree with, my palms and knuckles are scraped, red, raw, and bumpy.

I fear my skin will satisfy. Will turn prison into home. A home that judges me when I snort while laughing, that reigns me in with warning. A home that’s safe in all the wrong ways, it’s got security, it has minimalized risk, but there’s no chance of winning without a gamble.

I want to find a way to crack it now, either piece by piece or wholly, so I’m not later sitting at my child’s graduation, too ashamed to cheer them on, their name a weighted and waiting exposure on my tongue. What if his gaze finds me in the crowd, his face pale with his resignation? What if he learns that I’m more attached to my timidity than being proud of him? His excitement will fade, his shoulder may slump, and surely he’d no longer be surprised. He’d be used to my reservations at his birthday parties, his baseball games, everything that should be lively. What if he learns to animate like me, to reign his emotion in? What if the plaster slowly grows?

What if it shapes and encases him in, like his mother taught it to?

I’ll need a chisel and a mallet, maybe some acceptance and less scrutiny. I’ll use practiced swings of new perspective to carve out small cracks and holes. The mold that I’ve allowed to harden, I can’t let it keep me rigid for much longer. Of course the thought is scary, to have my shelter chipped away, but I can’t help thinking how cramped it is in here, it might be nice to stretch my legs.

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