No longer strangers, now once again.
My collar itched. I could neither tighten nor loosen it to satisfy the itch. Just the presence of my neck and the fabric so close to it, in that room, with those strangers, it created a discomfort that was insatiable. Every time I dragged my fingernails across the stubborn spot I felt sure every eye in the room, from pulpit to back pew, was aware of it.
I didn't want to be there. That much was clear. I had no bible, and no idea what they were talking about, only a sense that they were as curious about me as I was of them, for reasons I couldn't explain. Maybe because my dress was so short, and my hair was so weird. Or maybe because I had yawned thirteen times before the singing was even over. Strangers noticed these things. Especially strangers in small rooms filled with pews and hymnals. They don't miss much.
It was a slow start. I didn't make it easy, for sure. Several years of back and forth, round and round, dukes up and ready to fight before I surrendered and let them love me. And they did. They really did. I felt it every time I walked in. Sitting on those pews, the colors had changed and so had I, slowly morphing into something new and unrecognizable. And they noticed. With every changing shade, they noticed. The swollen eyes from a bad day or week or month, and me sitting down cautiously, avoiding eye contact and hoping to hide it, even then they would see. Every one in the room, they would see and respond with care and tenderness. Those strangers. Except, that wasn't right anymore. No longer strangers. They had become my own. My family.
Then they noticed the smile. How things changed and the upswing of life began, they were equally as attentive to the good as they had so faithfully been through the bad. When Spring came and the flowers began to bloom, they noticed. They saw the ring and rejoiced with me, and then the swollen belly, how we cried and prayed and planned together. They noticed and they celebrated me, because I was theirs. And I realized one day that I loved them, too. More than I ever knew was possible, I loved them because they were my own. My flesh and blood family. Not strangers. Not anymore.
There was a honeymoon phase I guess. Gliding across the smooth water, no waves or ripples. So much to be enamored with. We agreed on everything then and couldn't have imagined anything else. We just laughed and loved and encouraged, and felt certain that things would always be just so. But it wasn't so. I don't remember when the tide first came in and the fade began, by the time I took notice it had surrounded me. It was a struggle again. First against myself, then the battled turned upward and I warred with God. I screamed and wrestled, and for a while I thought I hated him for what was happening. Why wouldn't he stop it, why was he allowing it, why could he not just leave things alone.
It started with doubts dared to be spoken. I began to fidget again, sitting in those seats, stirring uneasily. Surely everyone noticed. Surely they felt it the same way they had felt the good times when things had been so easy. We were so intertwined, so connected, they must have known. It was hard to face. The truth I mean, it was hard to face the truth. I was conscious of it every second, I wore it on my face, in the lines that had begun to settle across my forehead. No matter how hard I tried to relax they were still there, stretching across the skin like a line across a map. I wore it in the threads of my clothes and the strange hue of my hair. I wore it in every forced smile and muffled scream. I wore it, and they must have noticed.
I didn't belong anymore. Still connected by love and blood and a desire to be a part, but no longer fitting. Like a piece of glass shattered across the rocks, meant to be together, but no longer melded onto the whole. The common ground that had bonded us was no longer there. Now unity meant all hands on deck, resolved to clench tightly around one another, never letting go. Holding on, not because it was easy, but because we wanted it and it was worth the fight. Not because every little fragment fit perfectly together, but because we loved in spite of the chips and breaks between us. But someone let go. Someone gave up the fight. Perhaps it was me. Perhaps I should have dug my heels in deeper and resolved to fight harder. To cling even when the shards cut me and I began to bleed. Or maybe my approach to the fight was all wrong. Maybe I should have sat down, shut up, pulled up my heels and become the meek and gentle woman my flesh rebels so strongly against. Either way, the battle was lost. And it hurt. On all sides, it hurt. A void was being left behind, unfilled and wanting, and the warmth of the body that had surrounded me was gone.
It is still gone. Months later, and we still drift along searching for a new spot. Re-learning the ways in a new place, surrounded yet again by strangers in someone else's home. Wondering what the heck they're talking about and feeling certain that everyone in the room is acutely aware of my awkwardness. I don't want to be there. Surely they notice. The strain across my forehead, the deepening lines as I force my eyes to follow along. Everyone must see. The tears that well up in my eyes as I look around the room at so many foreign faces, remembering my family. Imagining that they are there, in their same spots. I miss them. With every fiber in my being, from the skin of my teeth to the web of my toes, I miss them. The hugs and sighs and arguments, from the comforting to the frustrating, my heart aches for those people. No longer stranger, now once again. The home we shared is just down the road, I see them gather there, and yet I feel like they are a world away from me. I feel alone in a room full of people. Surely, this new set of strangers must notice.
And yet, maybe they don't. I'm not theirs. Not yet at least, and perhaps never. My heart is somewhere else, that much is clear. I am just a body in a chair longing to be at home again, somewhere. Just a wanderer on a road forcing myself one step forward. Once again, just a stranger.