I See You

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Many minutes passed before I noticed her. She sat, still and quiet, on the edge of the bench. Oblivious to the post-class bustle around her. The toilet flushed. Someone sprayed deodorant. Doors slammed, a water bottle dropped on the concrete floor, and I continued my call at full volume. Everyone in the locker room that Wednesday morning knew that I would be having a massage, a deep tissue massage, at 11am. With a male therapist. Which was not my preference, but it was very last-minute and I would take whatever I could get.

Still she sat.

“Ohmygd. Jess* are you okay?” The scheduler had put me on hold for a minute. Booking a massage was more involved than I anticipated.

Her dark eyes looked deep into mine, as if there she would find the answer I wanted to hear.

“I’m having a really hard two days.” Simple. Honest. My heart ached.

I thought fleetingly about how she had looked when she walked into class earlier: disheveled, her top on the wrong way, still rubbing sleep from her eyes. I had helped her get her arms through the right openings before taking my spot in front of the mirror.

She waited for my response.

“What was that, sorry? Fifty or 80 minutes?” I repeated into the phone. “Hmmm, I don’t know…” I looked around the almost-empty locker room for someone to weigh in. The few women still there kept their eyes down. Nobody was interested in my dilemma.

“Eighty minutes definitely!” My eyes swung back to Jess. Her mouth was smiling (for me I thought) but her earlier confession hung between us, heavy and hard, like the aching lump in your throat that won’t go away no matter how many times you swallow. I know it wasn’t easy for her to admit to her difficult time… I’ve been there too, mired in the muck and messiness of snot and tears and sadness.

I felt like an asshole. Scheduling my massage, loud and bright for all to hear, voicing my preference for a female therapist, explaining my schedule… and now asking Jess, who had just bravely admitted to me her pain, whether it should be 50 or 80 minutes. Why would she care? But she did.

I don’t really know Jess. I mean, I know she likes to work out, I know her schedule is similar to mine (we often find ourselves in the same class), I know she likes to push herself through the hardest part of class (I glimpse her in the mirror, eyes closed, exhaling through lips pursed in determination… I know the girl in that mirror), I know that I like her. We say “hey how’s it going?” and “gees that was a hard class.” She wears tights and tops in matching shades of purple and green, and her monochromatic aesthetic appeals to my desire, my longing even, for order and decorum.

Thank G-d my phone call with the high maintenance massage scheduler was over. I wanted to give Jess my full attention, but it was 10.45am and I was almost due at my massage: 50 minutes (80 felt too indulgent and also I knew I couldn’t endure someone’s hands on my body for that long), deep tissue, male therapist (I had to get over this part – it would be fine). I was the high maintenance one.

“Jess.” I put my hand on her sweaty shoulder. She was still sitting on the edge of the bench and it took me a while to realize she was waiting for the shower and not simply staying right there for the rest of the day. Sometimes it takes all the energy you can gather just to show up.

Those dark eyes again peering into mine.

“I’m so sorry you’re having a tough time. If you want to talk, any time, I’m here. Really. I mean it.” I hope she knew I did mean it. I was still wearing my workout tights, the high-waisted ones that keep everything in and up, but sometimes I put my top on inside out. Or upside down. Sadness can be lonely, especially if it’s unexpected.

She squeezed my hand, told me she appreciated it. The shower was now free and I had five minutes to get to my massage.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Jess. I thought about her during the massage. I thought about her while I was driving, at the ATM, at the grocery store. I thought about her while making dinner, the barking dog and chattering kids vying for my attention. I was worried about her, wandered what had happened to make the last couple days “really hard,” and I wanted to help her. But I hardly knew her.

A few days later, I saw her again in the locker room.

“Jess! How are you?” There was so much more I wanted to say.

“Better,” she said. Her smile was gentle. Sincere.

Tell me what happened. Why were you sad? Do you often feel that way? Why then? Why do you feel better now? “I’m so glad. I’ve been worried about you.”

“Nicki.” Those eyes. Damn. “You helped me so much. Thank you.”

I had done nothing. Nothing. I had helped her untwist her top, and put my hand on her shoulder.

But those dark eyes had gazed with so much pain and sadness into my distracted green ones, and I saw her.

And she saw that I saw.

Inspired by a prompt from Linda Schreyer and this line from Rumi: “Look at yourself and remember me.” And by the song “The Less I Know The Better” by Tame Impala. 

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, where writers and bloggers gather together to share their versions of a completed sentence. This week’s prompt was, “I wish I’d known…” Hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee and co-hosted by Kenya.

*Not her real name. 

28 thoughts on “I See You

  1. Oh Nicki. This made me cry. I can relate to you and to Jess. The seeing somebody, thinking about them, wanting to ask what happened, why now, is it like that often for you? but not knowing them well enough to do so. I can relate to her, hoping somebody would see me. Sometimes, looking somebody in the eyes and getting a hand on our shoulder is enough. So much love to you, friend.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! I like to hear you have had similar experiences. I found this need to be seen a powerful one in my life some time ago, and to be on the other side is equally powerful.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my heart… this just made it swell up and tears came from my eyes. What a beautiful testimony to truly seeing someone, when they needed to be seen. Despite your hassle and hurrying pace, you stopped and LOOKED and she saw it- and felt it. Sometimes that is truly all someone needs… to be SEEN. Especially in their darkest moments, where they can’t manage things themselves. Just profoundly important for us all to know-

    Thank you for reminding me to stop and see people. Oh how easy it can be to not look and miss out on those precious moments we would miss..

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh, a flood of emotions going through me after I read this, all the times I’ve avoided, walked by, too much in a hurry. Nicki, you’ve painted an incredibly vivid and intimate scene full of empathy for another here. It’s amazing what words can do when artfully and passionately strung together like this. The girl on the edge of the bench, those eyes, your hand on her sweaty shoulder–these images are going to linger within for quite some time.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sadness can absolutely be so lonely, “especially when it’s unexpected.” So true. I’m so glad you reached out to Jess and that she answered you honestly. We all need more of both!! xoxo

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with you Em! Lately I find it easier (safer?) to turn inward, but there is so much potential in reaching outward… I’m beginning to understand the tremendous value of both! xo

      Like

  5. The power of human connection…even the smallest gesture of kindness or acknowledgment can make a difference. We never know how our actions may resonate with others, do we?

    We all need to be seen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was difficult for me not to ask, Lisa. But I reminded myself a few times that the why and what wasn’t important. Especially given that we don’t know each other that well. I hope she really is okay.

      Like

  6. This was a touching story. I loved the first paragraph. After that, I got a little bit confused with who was saying what, but after reading the whole story, I knew that this was one of those stories that could relate to almost anyone. -including me.

    Liked by 1 person

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