Underneath Your Skin

“When they’d been married for thirty-one years, and unhappy in each other for most of them, my grand’maman and my grand’papa stopped speaking. They wrote each other letters because it was easier to stroke the contours of a B than the contours of a face, they broke pencil nibs with the brittle becoming of their love, they signed their names with anger and pain and careful crossings of the Ts. They wrote letters like hello please take the girls to the store thank you and letters like would you please take the chicken out of the freezer and defrost for dinner thank you until the only way my grand’papa could explain that he was dying was through a letter dear Colette I believe that I am very sick and I think that I am dying I am afraid thank you.

 

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I have tried over and over again to answer the question of what these letters mean, these unlove letters written by a pair of people who also wrote their bodies into mine. In the hitch of my shoulders and the arch of my nose and the bend of my waist I can read them and their inherited bodily text. And I’ve been told I clip my Hs like one of them did, so that the word human sounds more like singing when I say it.

 

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But I’ve looked in the mirror and wondered if the unloving is in me too. I’ve wondered, in quiet moments of all kinds, if I love to write because my grand’maman and my grand’papa passed the why of why they wrote down deep and low into my blood, a kind of septicemia.”

-Gabrielle Hick, published in the INDY

Take a look at the literary piece above. Read it slowly. Let the words melt on your tongue, taste their sounds word by word. The story “The language of unloving” published in the recent edition of The College Hill Independent, needs to be read like this, slowly, word by word, and is paradoxically beautiful. It talks about the unadorned ugliness of routine in old age; the tragedy of two lovers, two souls becoming alienated from each other and no longer living with, but solely existing next to each other.

The ingenuity of the text lies in the way the language used is as unexcited and everyday as the topic itself. The writing imitates the light hearted, weightless style of a love story which subtly destroys the unlove story’s gravity leaving nothing but a narrative that I could almost hear whispered through the walls of the apartments of the unlovers next door. And as the story lost its sensational character that could have come easily with it, it truly gives us a glimpse of the downside, the sadness of humanness, of falling for comfort and monotony, without superimposing a morale. It is this paradox of the light, flowing writing style that creates beauty in a lyrical context that generally allows for no beauty that creates tension in the text.

Without asking for it, the text demands to be felt. Even though the author reflects the unlove letters on her specific journalistic career, at the end of the piece I leave the story’s world troubled, wondering whether I myself, or we all, are doomed to suffer under the septicemia of unloving.

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