The Tenderness of She
When she was a wife, the word was gentleness
in his mouth. She felt proud. Soft. Beloved.
He gazed into her eyes for a long moment,
and she recognized him from their nights together.
She felt full in her curves. Assured in her hair and heels.
There was never a question, but looking back
her husband’s screen flashed with men in dresses.
Her breasts were tender, and then she knew she was pregnant.
In medicine, tenderness can mean discomfort when an area is touched.
It’s different from pain. Pain is in your perception.
Tenderness emerges when you are touched by someone else.
Someone else elicits tenderness.
What does it mean to experiment with tenderness?
The phrase is used to emphasize how young you were.
The age is stated after “of.”
See also: tender, age, of
It’s related to the emotion of sadness, but distinct from sympathy.
It’s complex. It doesn’t qualify as a basic feeling.
She treated the children with great tenderness.
Losing the word, “she,” recalls the time we crumpled pages from a Bible
into rosettes. Each of us cutting petals, folding carefully until we made flowers.
Sometimes, you can treat it with rest.
Sometimes, you get relief from ice.
If she survives, the tenderness will be crushed out of her,
or crushed so deeply into her that she won’t be the same.
Either way, she’s gone.
Before the baby was born, her closet was full of dresses.
Lace and tiny ruffles. Bows for her hair that were bigger than her head at first.
There were shoes to match and little socks that folded down.
Barrettes and small gloves and so much pink.
The baby smelled of milk and laundry soap. Her eyes were bright.
She was beautiful, her mother’s soft spot.
She slept curved into her mother’s arms, a warm comma
between her parents.
He’s here now, and he may stay.
He’s not been kind so far, casting shadows as long as his father before him.
He smells differently – an oily smell unlike strawberries.
She’s given all she’s got, which is what a mother does.
She smiles politely now rather than with tenderness.
There’s a sense of soreness, a raw and throbbing ache.
A strange swirl of love, resentment, grief, and humor
as we watch our loved one transform before our eyes
and learn to live without us.
She’s pretty sure the universe owes her one.