We used to break the stalks of dandelions to taste their bitter milk, trying to make perfect circles of sap on our tongues. We would sprawl out together, stomachs against the earth and grass, plaiting stalks into bracelets and feel the prickle of new shoots against our bare stomachs and thighs. She taught me how to pick stinging nettles, a hard pinch to break the glassy hairs, and when we failed at that I taught her to rub dock leaves to soothe the skin.
Now we do not spend our summers outside together, I wonder what drew us to the plants that hurt. I think I was trying to fill something, a lack – of emotion or closeness or sensation – but at the time it was just a private game between the two of us. It didn’t need explaining. I do not know if either of us could.
I still have the hollow now. Hollow, or hollowness? It is an absence, a lack so much a part of myself that it feels solid and real. It moves around me, sometimes in my head, my abdomen, my legs, my heart. I can try to fill it with words or learning or movement or food or the want of it, with company or with solitude. It (or the thing that is not there) is never sated.
I wonder if this is the whole of me, hole included, this unquiet drive I can only picture as a negative sphere that runs through me, scattering like sunlight over water that is flowing. It will not stay in one place, it is a restlessness. I am classifying again, that was the other half of the game. It is a thing and not a thing. I should attempt to explain.
All of those days we spent in the woods and the fields, we worked on sorting. We did it to try to understand. Sometimes we picked up things just for pleasure – a glossy jay feather, a tactile stone that fits in the palm – and other times out of curiosity. New holly leaves were soft and pliant, waxy smooth bright-green. Old holly leaves were dark, stiff, spines curving
around each other, bleaching towards the points. They are the same, but how can they be? She was happier than I was with this; I could connect things but there were gaps, and I wanted everything to be continuous.
She picked up the beautiful things, and I ruined them. We had an argument over a feather. It was so soft and perfect, but I wanted to see how it was the way it was. I stroked it the wrong way – I looked it up later, I had detached the barbules that hold the structure together – but the important thing is that it would not go back to the way it should be. She did not speak to me for the entire day and I stroked stinging nettles gently and let the hollow settle deep into my chest.
As we grew older our classifications diverged. We were looking to fill the gaps that had fixated me, to re-order what we felt into something that could be measured, qualified, neatly slipped into a taxonomy. The more ordered in our approach we attempted to be, the more differences we found. Similarities became binaries, things that did not fit were discarded or discounted. We froze fluidity in favour of reproducibility. She was faster, taller, more beautiful. I was messier, quieter, less popular. We were friends and then we were not. There was no possibility to be simultaneously one thing and the other.
They call it completed suicide.
That is what the people said, in the rooms where I had to listen to the things that happened, it is a process rather than a single action. Our childish classification was far better than what we thought we had refined. The strangest thing was the hollow did not grow. In my web, I moved her gently from one place to another, and the threads that held our childhood stretched and settled more comfortably elsewhere. She was not a gap, she just moved. I could hear her voice and talk to her internally, so she wasn’t an absence, she was just shifted elsewhere. I should have put nettle flowers and dandelions on her coffin. I left lilies instead, milk-white and acrid.
Sylvia Warren @sylvswarren is an editor and works in academic publishing. Her work has been published in Burning House Press, The Island Review, OX Magazine, Minor Literature[s], and The Radical Art Review