I've Been Feeling Much Bigger Than I Look Lately
essay - nonfiction
I’ve been trying to write a poem. I’ve been trying to write a short story. I’ve been trying to write about art. Something about art. Anything. I’ve done it once, it was an assignment. Ekphrasis. Take a thing, an art thing, anything, and write about it objectively. Look at it, take it in, describe it. What is it? What does it do? What do you do? What did I do.
I found a picture in the gift shop, an Andy Warhol sketch from a collection of drawings he did for a children’s book. Two red dogs: one is little and one is bigger. You are so little the big dog says to the small dog in cursive. And you are so big says the little dog back. I was flipping through prints and I found it and I wanted to have it and for some reason I felt like crying.
The piece isn’t complicated or advanced; I could replicate it myself easily, except for the cursive font, that would be harder. When researching this period of Warhol’s work, for the assignment, I uncovered that the artist created lots of whimsical pictures of cats and dogs during this period of his life. “An exploration of sweet and whimsy” one site said.
I couldn’t figure out what was pulling at my heartstrings, really, about this picture because I am not sweet and I am not whimsical. I like animals but I am not a child. Why would a drawing of two dogs make me want to cry? I ended up not buying it.
Sometimes I am so tired. I don’t feel like barking, I don’t feel like fighting. But these big things keep coming out, they’re scarier than I anticipated. It’s difficult to find someone big enough to understand them. This is part of what I wrote, my ekphrasis. I don’t know whose voice it is.
I wanted to buy the print for Chris, because I love him, because every time I notice something that is kind, something that is just really, really kind, I think of Chris. But I also thought that if I bought it, I’d have to frame it, and we wouldn’t agree on where to put it. Or maybe he wouldn’t like it, or something like that.
You usually want to hold a little thing. You want to pick it up, you want to coddle it, keep it safe. Little things need protecting. This is not so much the case for me. If you could climb inside the crevices of my heart space you would see that it’s not so scary in here. Maybe if I was somewhere between this little and this big, it would make more sense. I wrote this then.
I think when I wrote about this piece of art, the first time, I wanted to write a story to Chris. I wanted him to know that I see him and that I love him, and that his kindness makes me cry. I have a really hard time writing about love and writing about Chris because there is a lot of pain there and I don’t know where to put it.
If you happen to see Chris’s right arm without a long sleeve on it you will probably notice lots of scars all the way up and down. Something like 108 stitches sewed Chris’s arm back together after a boat propeller chopped it up. It’s kind of hard to look at because the skin is all different colors and the scars look like Frankenstein scars. Sometimes when it’s cold Chris holds his arm up to his chest like it’s in a cast but he’ll never complain about how much it’s hurting him.
I can’t hold you because I’m so little. I really want to. You don’t need me to hold you, you’ve made this clear. You’re a master of physical pain. I can’t save you from anything. You don’t need me. I know. I wrote this then.
Sometimes, when we are together at home I will take big goops of tiger balm and I will rub his arm and I will try to make him feel better, even though he never asks. He never asks for anything. Rubbing Chris’s arm kind of feels like grabbing onto a nylon stocking that has been filled with random toys and stuffing and things from a junk drawer. You can tell, if you let yourself, that things weren’t put back together the way they were supposed to be. I always ask him if I’m hurting him and he always says no and smiles at me. Sometimes he touches my shoulder or my hair.
I’ve been wanting to write about Chris’s accident, but it’s not my story to tell. I come from a place where people talk about everything and want to heal everything, and everyone’s hearts are on the outsides of their body. Where Chris comes from things are private, and you put them away, and you keep your heart inside where it belongs. I don’t want to push him.
If I can hold on to these big feelings, I can grow softer, I’m thinking. Most of the time I’m prickly. I know this about me. I can’t really hurt anyone, I can’t. I’m too little. But the spikes can grow, can’t they? How do you, with all your pain, stay so soft and big? You’re keeping the spikey parts little, it’s almost like they’re disappearing. How do you do it? I wrote that then.
It’s not that I forget about that accident, it’s that I don’t know how to talk about the accident right. All of these things, these terrible things, these things that Chris says are not terrible but to me are so terrible, happened before me. They happened long before I arrived. And I don’t have a say, and I can’t do anything. I can’t fix it.
One day I was sitting in an office chair and I was trying to explain the accident, and I kept crying. I said it wasn’t fair that I got to sit here and cry, like it was mine. He never cries. He never got to. And every time I cry about it, like when he said he’s been to so many doctors that can’t do anything, or when someone makes a joke, or when he can’t remember something that most kids do because it happened right before, he always comforts me. He always holds me and says it’s ok, it’s not a big deal, everything is going to be ok.
I’ve been feeling much bigger than I look lately. My insides are filling up, there are good things and bad things swirling around in there, making me fat and full. You are not that big either, not on the outside. To me, though, you are the biggest thing. The best thing. I wrote that then. I think it’s my favorite part.
Sometimes I have to wonder if pain makes you capable of these sweet things. I want to take all of Chris’s pain away. I would make it mine, and I would hold onto it so he didn’t have to. I don’t know why I think about all of these things when I see the drawing of the dogs. I don’t know why.
I don’t know how to explain what it’s like to love someone so much that it makes your insides ache. Some nights I stay up and I make sure that he is comfortable while he sleeps. He doesn’t that I do that, but I will rub his hair and tuck him in tighter and maybe even in his sleep space he knows that someone is looking out for him in these little ways.
And even though I see him everyday, even though I don’t deserve to, I get to, and I try to understand how a world that isn’t fair and isn’t kind and doesn’t make any sense to me at all made this person. I don’t know why Andy Warhol drew that picture. I don’t know anything about art. I am not kind, and I am not soft, and I don’t like to write about love. But something about Chris’s arm and a drawing of two red dogs makes it seem like I am capable of feeling every single feeling in the world.