The Hummingbird Danced
“It doesn’t hurt like you’d think it would, but I guess things rarely do,” I tell my therapist from atop his worn in couch. Once again, I have a new tattoo; something he never ceases to comment on. I twist my elbow inward, giving him a better glimpse of the freshly inked hummingbird still setting in my skin.
“It’s beautiful.” he whispers, “I’m sorry, tell me again, who this one’s for?”
“My grandma,” I answer for the third time.
“That’s right,” he remembers. “Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I recall you saying last time that you like the way it feels, didn’t you?”
The pain, he means; and I did, I do. You have to like pain to go to therapy, I think. You have to like hurting.
“Yeah, I guess so. Not in a weird way, or anything, just… I don’t know.”
He nods understandingly, “I don’t think it sounds that weird at all.”
Of course not. He never does.
“Were you nervous, though? The first time, at least?”
I try to remember but can’t, exactly. Instead, I recall the night before, studying my reflection in the thumb-stained mirror of my studio apartment, cataloging every inch of naked flesh. As a kid, I would stare similarly into the bathroom mirror, a hot shower running behind me, fogging the glass. In my eyes I would find this person I didn’t recognize. This figure I’d been told was me, but wasn’t. This thing. This it. This nothing. If I focused long enough, I could lose myself completely, but most nights steam would cloud the room before that happened.
“I don’t know, really. Probably.”
I shrug, lost in myself, and he nods again, the same way he always does, even when I tell him something outlandish like how I fantasized about fucking the first corpse I ever saw. Tim was the guy’s name; an old family friend from church. He must have been around fifty when he passed. I was fifteen, working some menial summer job at a local theater company when my mom called with the news. I sobbed as she spoke through the phone but I couldn’t tell you why. I mean, it’s not like I loved the guy or anything; but he was dead, after all, and I suppose that warranted tears. Anyway, by the time I arrived at the hospital he was just lying there, lifeless, uncovered and bloated, circled by grieving loved ones still kissing him goodbye. It’d only been a few hours since he’d gone, but already his skin was cold, stiff, and sticky. Disturbingly sticky, in fact, as if in dying he’d worked up quite a sweat. Of course, I didn’t know what to do so I ended up just sitting there, holding his hand beside his weeping wife and children. His touch, however, offered no warmth. How could they? There was nothing left to give. No laughter, no love, no future, no anything. Death had taken all that. All the shit that really made him. What remained was just this cold, stiff, sticky thing. This it. This nothing. And for one reason or another I pictured myself fucking it.
“So why a hummingbird?” my therapist asks, still glued to my tattoo.
This is the part I hate most — the explaining. I start to answer, then stop just as quickly. I was five when my grandma died. Young, but old enough to understand, somehow, what that meant. My mom sat me down on her knee, one day, after bringing me home early from kindergarten. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and I knew, already, what it meant. My grandma was gone. My grandma was gone and I was never going to see her again.
She’d been sick for a while. That much I remember. The rest, though, is hazy, her face rendered real only in photographs. Her bedroom, too, feels foreign to me now. There’s a bed, of course, but not one I can picture or place. It’s position alters with each remembering. This time around it’s in the corner, beside a large, sun-stained window. My grandma is lying there, bedridden, in her favorite violet robe. It’s moth-eaten and desperately needing a wash. Her cheeks are marred by wrinkles. Her eyes betray a lifetime. I’m small and alone with her, this dying woman in a lifeless room. Outside, dangling perilously from the gutter, is a bird feeder, just beyond the glass. It sways rhythmically as a hummingbird approaches, wings dancing chaotically in the breeze. Its steps are mesmerizing. Delicate. Precise. Its colors are rich and vibrant. We sit paralyzed in silence as it waltzes before us, the two of us together, entranced. In its performance we forget that it, too, will die.
“No reason,” I mutter.
A few weeks later, death would take from my grandmother all the shit that really made her. What remain are just memories. Fragments. Like images of her bedroom, of her robe, and of a hummingbird, dancing. If I focus on them long enough, I can lose myself completely. When I do, I’m five again, sitting alone with her in that lifeless room I can’t recall. It’s beautiful, now, in a strange sort of way. Not like it used to be. And it doesn’t hurt anymore, at least, not like you’d think it would. But then again… things rarely do.