the boy on my lap
By Elena Lipsea
I let a boy rest his head on my lap. He was tired, we sat side by side on a bus, half delirious with
the exhaustion of three days spent hiking. Early mornings, late nights. The altitudes increasing
steadily then dropping without notice. And we were there. He and I, this boy now sleeping,
head fallen to my thighs. My own head turned left to the window while fingers grazed his rising
shoulder, then trailing up to unwashed hair and back down like a lullaby rhythm. His thoughts
lost to unconscious, mine to him.
I let this boy rest his head on my lap and it was one of the scariest things I've ever done.
The physical circumstances we faced on the trail had pushed our internal boundaries and so
guards were let down. Well, mine. My guard was let down. Mine was the one held high like
heaven. His, I am not quite sure where it settles.
The boy, he was not unaccustomed to finding his way into laps, pressed easily to shoulders,
lying against spines, intertwined in a tangle of arms and an existence where relationships made
no effort to be defined. They didn't seem to stand much, not to my peering eyes. They seemed
to float, drift, swirl, then evaporate until they were called back by him, like the wind.
For he likes people and the feeling their presence offers him, regardless of attachment.
He is easy like that.
I, however, am not. I finger for control. Those careful drawn lines, irrefutable black and white,
words spoken out loud dismissing the rapid voices, the crescendoed doubts in my head. I do
not do well with uncertainties or ambiguity. Or boys who rest easily, their heads upon laps.
It's a thing I've turned over like a questioning coin in my mind. The turns and hows of me, the
explanations and reasonings for my deep set desire for attachment, or at least fidelity.
Maybe it was the three years I spent without touch, save for a stiffened hug from one of a few
family members. The years before this boy and his rest here atop me. The years I distanced
from the world that hurt too much to live in. The years of aftermath, wreckage strewn like my
broken body from having moved to new cities once a year for four years long. Leaving people,
my only people. Watching my family untie itself through divorce and then the silent resentment
of children too broke open to carry forgiveness's capacity. The years of my body broken from
the abuse I paraded as protection. An eating disorder, depression, anxiety. The weight lost,
gained, lost again, and then gained and marred in its embodiment. The lines on my skin draw
narratives now not to forget. So this body and all it contains, I withdrew. Kept safe from loss
and the ache of revealing too much, like blurting pain when others merely asked How are you?
how was I to know they couldn't hold my answer, my truth, me.
So maybe these are the reasons for shaky trepidation guiding my movements around this boy in
my lap. Or perhaps it was the insecurity I hold as a secret: the want of a love that couldn't find a
way to stand secure in my own family, the want of that steady standby strength given in
moments when we are too weak to ask, to even breathe its name. The wrap-around I will not
break you and leave you, but hold your broken and stay while you come back to yourself again
kind of love.
Maybe these are the reasons why, despite my white-knuckled strain, I let him in. I let go. And
found his forehead on flesh I constantly called shame, these thighs, now meeting his body. My
eyes watching, unsure, terrified, gazing softly like quiet and begging for him to want to stay.
For I am no good at moving like willow and swaying without naming where I stand.
But he was, so I tried.
That day we traveled down the hip of a mountain and he grasped the flesh of mine and I made
the mistake of leaning into wearied hope. I remember feeling the settling of sadness, not quite
distinct enough to call by its name, but present in its dull ache. The days we were leaving
behind some of my best. Still they remain in yesterday’s rose-toned haze. These memories now
left to overlaps - regret, circular thoughts of replay, the remembrance of moments I can no
longer organize the way I would like. Not in the warm gold of sunsets atop breathing
mountains, but adjusted and moved back into a greying, fallen disappointment.
Because I let a boy, this boy, rest his head on my lap. And as he did I felt burdened by his
presence. The weight of him drawing the strength from me. For I knew his tendencies, his way
about hands and girls and sex and conversations whispered in the dark and I knew his drifts and
I knew this because I loved him and I wanted to absorb every atom with which he existed.
I want to absorb every atom with which he existed.
But I didn't and he couldn't, maybe just wouldn’t, wrap his arms around my breaking. And the
last night I stood with him he let me go and kept moving forward with his head turned away,
my lap disappearing as I stood long enough to compose myself.
So he no longer exists to me the way he did, every atom atop me.
He left and since then I've cried with a pain that wraps its possession of me in arms like waves.
He left and I held on
to the space
just below my beating, bloodied heart,
atop my thighs, against my belly.
I held on to this boy whose head once I let rest on my lap.
And now a girl a few hours from where I sit lets her hair fall onto his.
But the thing that feels the most like empty is that he defined it. Them. Clung to her, not letting
her flow as wind; he made them stand. He said monogamous and I thought you but he rests