By some accidental sequence of thoughtless actions, I discovered the possibility of disappearing into a man’s life for a day, a week, a short time, burrowing into a shared warmth, a stillness away from the ever-moving surface of everyday life.
I was 19, then 20. I had little experience with men and collected this experience haphazardly, stumbling from one encounter to the next. At the time, I never questioned my motives or stopped to take a good look at myself.
I did not feel a pull toward any man in particular. My desire was faceless. It was an urgency to escape at all costs the shadow of a lonely evening or a quiet bus ride home after a night out where no one noticed me.
In those days, I dressed to be noticed. In shoplifted heels, I followed strange men into the night. I slept in their beds as they cooked, hung around their apartments all day in bare feet instead of putting on my shoes and walking home.
How lucky that I was not harmed. I look back at the men with a strange sort of gratitude. They were older, kind faces below hairlines beginning to recede. They held me gently, whispered sweet words.
In the years since that time, I have experienced the ugliness that can suddenly be shown at such intimate moments. I look back at my younger self, untouched by certain things, her trust not yet betrayed.
I have grown up and learned from experience what I once did not know. But how can I condemn the choices I made back then when I can still remember the joy I felt in those moments when I was held, the closeness with kind strangers that gave me brief respite from my worries, my fears?
These encounters taught me a new way of running away from my problems. They taught me to instinctively trust men, to see masculinity itself as a symbol of safe refuge from the turbulence of life. How painful to see the emptiness of this promise of safety with the passing of time.
I look back and see the pain that came with burrowing. The gentle closeness was never permanent. I often wept in the arms of some man or another, not yet knowing how to put into words the feeling I had that he would leave me soon. It would be time to wander out into the night again to find another hiding place.
Have I been cured of my urge to burrow?
I know myself better than I did back then. I want to keep myself safe, surround myself with people who truly care about me. But I am still learning how to sit with loneliness. I am still learning how to sit with the longing that sometimes comes, in lonely moments, for immediate closeness, for the touch of another human being, however brief.
Ciku Gitonga is a fourth-year creative-writing minor who enjoys reading fiction and ruminating about the past.
Published in Volume 77, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 23, 2023)