The archeologist/my body in archeology
by Erin Ambrose
You kissed me hard – screwball hard – like you were digging for something. Have you ever felt searched like that? Searched and scavenged by lips that thrust through your skin like blood shovels, wrenching your gums, throttling your teeth, wrestling for gold? I waited for the gentleness to come, to settle. But you never had a gentle heart.
The sky was black and mottled with stars when we met, and I knew you were miscellaneous. You were bred from mismatched tribes and breakfast clubs, all the freaks and the idlings who chewed grasshoppers like gum in the middle school parking lot and were never picked for dodgeball. Now they were college kids and so was I, and so were you: grown up and too smart, unshriveled from eccentrics, unscathed by millennial boredom. You tell me your parents are doctors but you’re majoring in philosophy, to prove a point – your knuckles are covered in Nietzsche and you are cooler than me – and when you press your tattooed hands against my sheltered skin, it feels like I’m being selected. I need to be known by you.
You shoveled me like a past-time, take take take until your stomach ached and I was gasping from the massacre. Have you ever felt a shallow like that? We grew at the pace of something terminal, a feeding line of one-sided secrets between you, the human vacuum, and I, the human well. Secrets make people close, you said, so I give you all of mine. When did you first experience loss? Have you ever had an existential crisis? What is the most horrible thing you have ever thought? You ask your questions one by one – you are a ravenous thing, untired, persistently unimpressed – until your nails are ripped and matted with having clawed through me so fiercely. I wake up exhausted – secretless – and you are swelled to the brim with me.
That summer Sunday by the ocean. Do you remember it? Tell me all of it, you said, everything you can. We collected sand dollars and I wore my mother’s sailor-stripe romper and felt like Grace Kelly. The sun was hot and your hair looked soaked with every reflective color in the rainbow. Can we talk about the weather? Who won last night’s Jeopardy? No. Tell me something epic. Tell me what makes you cry. You are gluttonous. We curled our hands like tiny scoops to shovel out the sand dollars from the water. You forced them all in your pocket and said you’d never forget today.
On a road trip to Colorado, you tell me nothing and I tell you everything. Are you boring? I can’t tell. I am unstitched and open on the operating table. Your car is rolling through the mountains like a vampire feeding frenzy and there is nothing left to know about me. You want to make lifetimes out of this, don’t you? Of reaching down my throat to my toes and pulling me inside out like a sweater, of shoving me back in when the stitching isn’t right? When we get out of the car, I nearly think you’ll fall over – the wind could knock you down you’re so heavy with my secrets, my disappointments, myself – and when we hug we hug hard, hearts pressed in one and our limbs look the same. Two arms, one beat. I can’t feel the difference.
You shoveled me until the end. Have you ever felt ravaged like that? Never enough? I think of it when I’m feeling most alone: at bars and empty bus stops, in crowds of people I don’t like. I sink my nails into the heart-shaped hole in my chest and I think of when we were tethered – ed., past-tense, having happened but no longer now – and I think that I could teach a class on what it’s like to be a human wasteland for your lover. To have the vulnerability pumped out of you at a factory pace and swallowed whole by a stranger; to put all your cards on the table and never amount to 52. Shovel me, archeologist. Shovel me until I am the human wiffleball, until the metal trades my skin for golf ball-sized holes and my bones are shaking from the open chill. What is in your head? Your heart? Your thoughts? What were they? What are they now? What will they be? I think I could have choked to death on how deep you wanted to know me.
And yet, I think you should know this. Years later – when the memories have smeared and villainized you, and it’s all more dramatic than it ever really was – sometimes I reach out my hand in the middle of the night, run my fingers over the silky vacancy of the pillow beside me and wish that you were here (please be here). And when you’re full of me – when I am empty and gaping and have nothing left to give – know that sometimes I am struck by the strangely comfortable urge to be shoveled, to revel in the loveliness of having had everything taken from you by the one person who loves you enough to give it all back – and the utter relief of knowing that one day they will, when they’ve finally had enough.
Erin Ambrose is a Virginia-born writer from Los Angeles, California. She studies art history and creative writing at Loyola Marymount University, and she works as an editor for The Los Angeles Loyolan. Most recently, her short story “The Compulsive Adolescent” was published in Attic Salt, an L.A.-based interdisciplinary literary journal. After graduation, Ambrose plans to earn her MFA in fiction writing.