by Tara Suess
if you had told me that my office—
the one with the ambient whirr of air conditioning
and the gendered bathrooms
and the supply room filled with boxes of cardboard tampons, neon highlighters, note pads, rollerball pens, and packets of generic aspirin…
the one with the coffee machine that was always broken
and the fridge packed with forgotten lunches
and the paper printouts of wi-fi passwords stuck to cinderblock walls with scotch tape
and the colleagues who’d pass in and out of conference rooms like ships
—would one day become an archaeological site...
a snapshot of life as it were
on the precipice of global disease and devastation
i would not have believed you.
we were meant to return in a matter of days
but my last memories in this place were raw and sour
often, i would slip away unnoticed
to the handicapped bathroom that smelled of musk and bleach
or the mothers room meant for feeding milk to machines
or the corner near the stairwell where others had no reason to lurk
a quiet place to hug my knees
and listen intently to the ringing in my ears
to feel the salt dry up on my cheeks
maybe that’s why i didn’t balk at a break.
a few days when grief could bubble up at odd hours without shame
days that stretched into weeks
weeks into months
had we known, our site would not have existed
belongings packed up in boxes
transported and re-homed with rightful owners
a clean break;
rather, i found our former lives suspended in time.
then and now
a corkscrew on the counter
a sweet, sticky spot where the wine splattered
depleted condiment bottles and chips grown stale
keyboards collecting dust in their crevices
wires sprouted up from the floor like vines to nowhere
coffee cups dried up, brown stains dotting their rims
sweaters lain over ugly ergonomic chairs
it was winter then.
the familiar click and rattle of the heavy glass door,
the lights were off when i walked in.
i traced the same footsteps
toward the place where the ghost of my former self sat
waiting inside that ugly ergonomic chair
her pain was mighty and engulfing
it struck me in a moment when we merged
a familiar affliction
like the obstinate ache of a once-broken bone that never considered retreat
or stubborn wounds in grooves that split along their seams with each minor bother
she is there.
i am here.
she is with the staling chips
and the lifeless wires
and the distant echo of voices that once reverberated against those cinderblock walls.
a fixture of an archeological site
that cannot be extracted
her world is not my world.
the one where seedlings push through ripe, wet soil
and flowers unfurl their petals to drink in sunlight
where cheeks are dry
and new skin grows over stubborn scars
where hope is abundant even when it’s not
and we hug our knees in consolation with others.
isn’t it remarkable how lives occur in shifts?
love and then loss
then love again
strength and then weakness
then strength again
those who pick you up when you’re down
are lifted when your vigor restores
a perennial exchange of energies
we carry each other through
like the ebb and flow of the tides
that trade fluidity and stability
the brawn of the shore against frothy surf
the force of the ocean against sweeping sands.