A high school ex-boyfriend once told me I have the ribcage of a hummingbird and it was the most beautiful gift, like a jewel he’d slipped it into my pocket. He had no idea what he’d done, but I still take the jewel out sometimes, inspect it under different impressions of light: Lime-white in a Texaco bathroom. Peached among the coals of an illicit campfire in Big Sur. The sealed tomb of a locked closet in a double-wide trailer off the gulf of Mexico turns it pitch as Vantablack.
An ex in my early twenties had a different way about him. He golfed Sundays in Los Feliz and bought me a used seven iron so I could join him at the range before he played, the savory bite of Bloody Ceasars on the wind, him telling me to sit in to each of my wild and fruitless swings. He would give me forehead kisses. He would say the word darling pronouncing every letter in the word so that it formed too many syllables. He also became consumed, at one point, by a tragedy in the WWE, some spinal injury due to a brave man’s swan dive off the ropes. He couldn’t let it go, obsessed to the point where he wanted to—had to—wildly demonstrate to me what he called a Bovine Suplex, which was a move that he and his brother had allegedly created when he was nine and his brother was seven and they lived with their uncle in Steamboat, Iowa. I told him not to, begged in terror that he would hurt himself. But he misinterpreted my concern as disbelief in his manhood and so became incensed and so did the move on me, lifting me in this contortion of dead weight and flapping arms. He yelped like a shot dog when his back gave out, undoing us together, our heads and elbows hitting the floor with four echoing cracks. He was rendered inert for the two weeks that followed—couched, in irony—though he carried the grudge of this event for what seemed an endless year. He would claim to me now and then that I should be mindful of the way I say things.
Another ex used to press his face next to mine and hold it there. Two lions from a shared pride. Though after a time, this instead became his way of telling me that he’d found the Wild Turkey I kept in the center console of my Toyota Camry, that he’d thrown out the travel size Tito’s stashed by the dozen in my makeup bag wedged carefully beneath the bathroom sink. His breath against my ear said that some day, I would be a crash site. Squealing tires through a neighbor’s lawn. A wrong step out of the tub, broken teeth against the tile. But the weight of him, closing in, said that he wasn’t the one who taught me. He knew nothing of Snakebites, or Dark and Stormy’s, or Mind Erasers. His job behind the bar meant that when he reached for relief, it was industrialized, precedent. And when his fist slow-knuckled hot into my back, propelling me through the darkened parking lot outside a divey saloon on a muggy, August night, I wasn’t hurt, merely informed that I was not safe to drink what he did not serve.
Sometimes I wonder if these exes are not the men as I remember them, so potent now in retrospect. I always thought they were Boyfriend because they wore the Boyfriend suit I’ve kept hanging in my closet all these years, a suit I bring out on nights after a new man sleeps over for the first time and, carefully in the dark while he dreams, I collect the suit from its hanger then place the man, limb by limb, into the sheer, flesh-colored lycra mesh and zip him up. It is a long zipper, running from the end of his tailbone to the crown of his head. I assumed this was what I did with every Boyfriend. I assumed this was why they’ve always described to me a vague and immeasurable suffocation at the end of things. I assumed it was because I forgot to cut air holes.
Once, I told another ex that I couldn’t do the dirty because I was on my period. He said, “I know.” He said, “I figured.” “How?” I asked. He shrugged and said the last time was after the beach and we were coming up on a month since then. He shrugged and said again, “I figured.” Then he said, “Just touch it for a while.” It was all perfectly reasoned, a blameless logic, yet I was so startled. A fleeting invasiveness followed by, I wasn’t sure, maybe shame, trepidation, maybe tenderness. It killed me, the intimacy of his personal thoughts, however clinical, having dwelled on the mapping of my currents, my flush of tides. Like he was an explorer noting the migration of exotic birds, or a solar flare. For a moment, I could imagine, I was not a woman. To him, I was a coastal storm, picking up speed over the Atlantic, gathering force, curving inland.
This new Boyfriend likes baseball games from the nosebleeds and double large sodas. He likes getting high before daybreak every morning on his sofa with me perched in his lap.
I know you want to judge me. When I take up smoking spliffs in my down time and attend amateur comedy night, shoot pictures of him through the din for his Instagram, his outline blurred in stage light, I know what you think of me.
But I still bring out the jewel sometimes. When New Boyfriend tokes up each morning, splashing flame against his pipe bowl, the light rips into my cradled hands and it refracts, throwing patterns against the ceiling. There’s a texture that emerges, then. A smear of brilliance, never settling, like the undulating pelt of a hummingbird.
There are many colors that you do not see, but I see them.
I know who I am.
Lindsey Moore was raised in the miasmic, urban swampland of the greater Houston area. She earned her Masters at the University of Oxford in Creative Writing and currently resides in Austin, Texas where she works for the independent book store, Book People.