Your Hands Were My Hands

by Christine Dormer


We are about to take off. When the plane turns onto the runway, my heart begins to shrink. It's as if my two hands find a tight grip around my chest, and ooze the strength out of my heart.

This strength breaks apart, like soft clay disguised as rock. It cascades down each rib bone until it sits in the well of my stomach, and dissipates.

We lift into the air; I picture a collapse towards earth.
My eyes are wide open; I cannot see a thing.

But I feel something. It is your hand on my leg. 

My brain fills with fog; the anxiety medication makes my body soft. I fear splaying into a million pieces as the plane gently rocks against the currents of air. Instead, my body stays intact. And your hand stays on my leg.

And you are not my boyfriend
You are not a friend
You are not family
You are not a stranger

You are my boss. You hold my power, and now my body. Your hand is on my lap and I am frozen. My voice goes missing—my windpipe dry like bone. 

I cascade from terror of flight to numbness of assault. Your hands are my hands. Your fingers move from my leg to closer corners: places you shouldn't go, and places you do. 

We hit turbulence and phobia penetrates my heart. Panicked, I fight for each in-breath. On my shallow exhales, you say you will keep me safe.

Drinks are served. I fall asleep, and wake up with you handing me more. There is a plastic cup of gin on my lips. There is a kiss. As the plane pulls through time zones and sunsets, faster than clocks allow, darkness settles.

My autonomy is gone before we had a chance to grieve. As the plane flies over the Pacific, I need another pill to soften the terror that grips me. But each capsule makes me more susceptible to your hands. The shame of my fear, my inability to protect, ignites in the well of my hips. 

Your hands glide under my shirt and down my back. The only thing I know to do is write: 

allow, and allow
she is bold, brave, confident
azure, to crush you

at the gate again
fasten your seatbelts, hold on
Trigger Warning: sky

everything is great
the skies are black, we can't see
why yes, this feels great

why yes, here's the thing:
an onslaught of fingertips
tread lightly, hold still

on planes we are trapped
so take some gin, sleep soundly
we'll land safely soon.

We land, like planes do. Your hands leave my stolen body; you need to get through customs. My hands return to me, but I struggle to breathe. 

We traveled 9,873 miles. I realize I've survived the flight. The wheels are down, and I am protected by the ground.

When I return home, I write:

The skies are boundless
the physics of flight, to float
but to fall like that.