My communication with Kendrae had fallen into a routine. We were only able to communicate while I was fully alone, which wasn’t often. This usually happened in the bathroom. I know, a strange place to long to spend precious time. But nonetheless, bathrooms were where I longed to be. They seemed to be the only rooms with locks. And they required others to leave you alone. Since my contraband phone’s hiding place was in my bra, I did not want the off chance for my chest to light up or vibrate. So I couldn’t just text Kendrae sporadically throughout the day. No, I had to be intentional in carving out time where I could just focus on texting him unsuspiciously. But we had to plan this slice of time out in advance so he could ensure he was free to send forbidden virtual love notes as well. The time that naturally worked out the best for both of us, was in the evenings after 9:00. I could use the bathroom without interruptions and without drawing any unwanted attention.
Like an unruly child who didn’t want to take her bath, I would let the shower water run, while I sat, back pressed up against a wall, and wrote my love. I had my routine down to a science. After turning on the shower water, I knew I had ten minutes. Ten minutes to catch up and reconnect. ‘How was your day’s and I miss you so much’s were frequent in the first phase of communication. Then, after ten minutes, I would jump into the shower and cleanse myself so furiously, that I almost worked up a sweat while rinsing. Shampoo first. Then body wash. Condition. Then face wash. Rinse. And I was done. I would step out of the shower, don my towel and pick up my phone in one rhythmic motion. It was an act of beauty. Now, if I had to shave my legs…that was a completely different scenario. I didn’t dare infringe upon my precious time with Kendrae. That would take place in a completely separate shower, usually in the morning. No, my nighttime bathroom rituals were sacred and not to be sullied with leg shaving.
The lapse in my end of the conversation was precisely timed so that my last text was sent right before stepping into the shower, and Kendrae’s response tended to arrive right before my shower exit. Next, I had five minutes before turning on my hair dryer. This phase of our conversation usually consisted of dreaming of the future. A time where we could be open about our relationship and live in the same area code. Where our conversations were face to face rather than screen to screen. It was a treasured time and one that kept us both encouraged about why we continued to jump through all these hoops. The distant light at the end of the tunnel of darkness that propelled us to continually put one foot in front of the other and walk forward.
Next was the hair dryer phase. This usually lasted around twenty minutes and varied every night. I would blow dry my hair while keeping my eyes peeled for the glow of my phone so our conversation could remain constant. I would keep the dryer on for about five minutes longer than necessary just to squeeze in a few more precious texts. This initiated the wrap-up phase of our conversation. The sad portion of my evenings, because it bookmarked my pain that would continue for yet another day. Another day spent apart. Another day wished away. Another day with a broken heart.
I would then move to the final stage of preparing for bed. Teeth brushing, flossing and mouth washing. The last five minutes together. Filled with reassurances that neither of us knew were really true. Usually concluded with tear-filled eyes. As I read the final text, my forbidden phone would find its nest, tucked away, safely. I would dry my tears, and stare into the mirror. Lingering fog still dancing around the edges. I would attempt a tight-lipped smile in an effort to shake away my sadness. But as I gazed into the eyes of my reflection, their flatness gave me away. No twinkle or sparkle or depth. Just listless pools of blue. That weak smile wasn’t fooling anyone, not even myself. I broke my own gaze and hoped no one would be analyzing my eyes anytime soon.
These brief interactions were the most riveting parts of my day. They kept me lying awake at night, running through every word, and gave me something to look forward to when I woke up in the mornings. I would play our conversations over and over keeping our love at the forefront of my mind. Resolve strengthened, I could go about my day with a more positive outlook. Future focused, rather than present-minded, I continued my march through the trenches.
This particular evening had begun just like all the others. 9:00 on the dot, I slipped downstairs and into the bathroom. My grandparents had gone to bed, and my brother and sister were watching television in the living room upstairs. I locked the bathroom door behind me and jiggled the handle just to be sure. Yup, it was secure. Removing my phone from its holster, I began typing out a message to Kendrae. I slipped out of my clothes and into the plush, blue bath towel that was hanging to the left of the shower. I turned the C nozzle first to get the water running. I then turned the H nozzle, just slightly though because I didn’t want to waste hot water. I turned it just enough to mix with the cold water to make a lukewarm shower temperature.
I settled into my usual position at the right of the shower, on the tiled bench. Back pressed firmly against the wall, feet up with knees drawn into my chest. I pulled my towel tightly against my skin as if insuring an added security measure. My eyes found the screen of my phone illuminated and my heart started beating faster.
As an individual whose present life experiences had just shaped her less than optimistic mind frame, I often found myself surprised and thoroughly delighted at every message from Kendrae. The thought that he might decide all this effort wasn’t worth an outcome that neither of us had much control over. Not that any relationship comes with a guarantee, but ours seemed completely unpredictable. So throughout the course of each day, my heart and my brain battled. My brain reasoned that Kendrae was an intelligent guy who would come to his senses and leave. But my heart reassured me that our love was different. And that he wasn’t going anywhere. And then my brain would concoct another doubt and the battle would continue. My brain had pure intentions: protect her heart. But my heart cried out: I placed it in the best hands. Tumultuous to say the least.
But now, for 45 minutes my heart would claim victory and my brain could retract its weapons and focus on connecting with my love. I opened the new message and absorbed its entirety quickly. It was brief. It was dry. It was different. My heart began beating faster, but not in a good way.
“Is everything okay?” I typed, “You seem a little off.” Talk about a loaded question. Was there a good way for Kendrae to respond to this? Or maybe I was too sensitive, implying meaning where there was none?
All I could do was sit there, with my heart in my throat. Trying to avert the focus of my gaze on anything but my phone screen. Chills coursed through my veins and I noticed that wall behind me felt like ice on my spine. But my skin radiated heat, and it was getting hotter by the second. My stomach was in knots. I felt like I could re-experience my dinner at any moment.
A glowing sensation paused my downward internal spiral.
A new message. I was frozen. My eyes couldn’t focus. My muscles couldn’t move.
Trembling, I picked up my phone and opened the message.
“I don’t know if I can do this anymore, Sarah. Your family is never going to accept us. You’ve been second-guessing everything. We can’t see each other or even talk. It’s too hard.”
Ringing sounded in my ears. Then progressively through my entire being. This was the kind of deafening ringing where the silence feels as if it will make your eardrums explode. Knocking the breath out of your lungs, forcing you to crumble. Tears gushed down my face and pooled on the bathroom floor. My body shook viciously as I pulled my towel up to my face to muffle my sobs. Heart pounding, I lay there helpless. An empty, broken shell.
The pain in my heart overwhelmed my mind, sending it into a state of numbing shock. My eyes in an ocean of tears, blinked and caught a glimpse of something. I focused on my left hip, at the upside down Latin inscribed on my skin. I ran my fingers over the faintly detectable letters. Amor vincit omnia: love conquers all. A tattoo I received before Kendrae was in the picture. A declaration that I believed to the core of my being. If what Kendrae and I had was love, and I believed it was, then we could get through this. Our love could conquer the fear manifested in his text. Our love conquered that same fear that hounded my thoughts on the daily.
I picked myself off the floor, sat down on the edge of the tile bench and grabbed my phone. I reread the text; this time through a different perspective, and I could sense the fear behind the message. This wasn’t Kendrae talking, this was his fear. The same fear I lived with so closely that I knew just how to send it on its way.
My brain passed the baton back to my heart and switched on the autopilot, a rare phenomenon in itself. My heart would know exactly what to say. A message birthed from a place of love, not a place of fear or panic. My heart poured out and my fingers took to the keys. I didn’t even know what I was typing, my fingers were just punching away. And when my fingers lulled, I glanced down at my screen, and read the message.
“I know that it’s been hard. And I know that it seems bleak. But, I love you. I love you, Kendrae, and that is more than enough to carry us through. This storm won’t last forever, and when we get through it, the other side is going to be so worth it. We’ll come out stronger, closer and more in love than ever before. Please don’t give up on us.”
I hit the send button, and set my phone down on the bench beside the shower. I dropped my towel, and turned the hot water nozzle up. I stepped into the shower and let the water wash my tears away. As I slicked my sopping wet hair back from my eyes, I noticed a bright light from my peripheral vision.
My phone screen was illuminated.