Something, But I Don't Know What

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My lids blink to the sound of each foot going down the carpeted stairs.

I'm still in his bed, under a thin layer of sheets that I've pulled up to my chin. The footsteps stop, he's at the bottom of the stairs. I clench my eyes shut.

All my muscles grow tense and my spine becomes rigid with fear. Why so nervous? He'll be right back.

Abruptly, I roll over to my side and sink, curling my back down and drawing my knees up. The edge of the sheet rests draped atop my jaw, and my head lies below the pillow. My askew hair is still stuck in loops to the pillow.

My eyelids contract again and I strain my ears, trying to figure out what's going on. I can't hear anything. Except the sounds of my own haggard breathing and the rustle of the sheets rising and falling as they cling to my chest.

But then his voice becomes audible. He's saying something, but I don't know what.

Even my breathing gets silent as my ears search the air for something I can grasp. It's only noise. Like static, present and noticeable, but meaningless.

Then, it connects. It isn't English. As unclear as it is, I wouldn't know it if he whispered it in my own ear.

Another voice, a deeper pitch. His father starts to babble away like running water in their tongue and even I can feel something that doesn't belong in his voice. It's dark, thick, coagulated and clotted.

He responds, and his father doesn't like it. Their tones rise to a bicker and my curled spine gets tense again.

I start breathing as loud as I can so I don't have to hear the sounds of him and his father beginning to argue downstairs in that language I can't speak. Their messy words arrive loudly from downstairs. They pound on the door and beat in winding circles on the walls. Each syllable echoes in my chest. The tension scuttles up my back and along my shoulders.

I don't know what I should do. Should I pretend I understand? That somehow, I can make sense of their meaning? Like I know exactly what they're fighting about? My mind races with possibilities. I think, I think they're fighting about this country. Or these American customs. The language, yes.

Why did you come to this country if you won't learn the language? I mentally pretend to translate a snippet of his voice as it enters the room, muffled and meaningless. His father muffles back, except I don't know what his answer should be.

No, then. They're fighting about him.

Of course. What other things would parents fight about? They're fighting about his behavior, his schoolwork, his opinions, his life. They're fighting about me.

With that, my stomach sinks.

Maybe I am better pretending I'm not even there at all. I'm invisible, and this bed is really empty. I don't exist in this moment. All my molecules have disintegrated, the tension is gone, and I've sunk through the mattress and into the fibers of the carpet with a refreshing sigh. The sheets are still warm where I used to exist.

The sounds are still there. I breathe in sharply. So am I.

His anger is apparent, engulfing those words. At least I know his feelings. My heart quickens for him.

To think he hopes, he thinks, he dreams in a language I don't understand frightens me. To think that the words that come clearly out of his mouth, not these strange cloudy ones, are the only true piece of him I'll ever understand.

If I love him, I should understand him.

I think about his dreams, full of words like these. Even in a restless sleep I wouldn't understand them. Full of undulating shapes and sounds that don't make any sense.

Maybe I'm no good at all.

I hardly notice their voices crescendo with their arguments. I can't bare to think anymore.

His footsteps are heavy back up the stairs. I blink hard with each thud, as the rigidity fades. Still hidden under the sheet, as invisible as I can get. My heart is heavy too.

Full of something, but I don't know what.





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