By Olivia Stripling
Discussed: violence, abuse
When I was born, I didn’t have hands.
My father gifted them to me on my first birthday.
We held hands before dinner, kissed knuckles before bed. He held my wrist and he held my neck and he held my esophagus with expectancy. He made me promise to hold caverns of quiet in my palms.
But my palms are empty.
Never have they not been empty.
I trace earlobes and spines.
I try to grasp my brain and poke my own eye.
Nothing holds. No, nothing stays.
My father and I have the same fingerprints. They bleed together like inky residue. Often I feel the need to stick my finger into his skull and test the fragility of his brain.
A boy I used to know stuffed dirt under his fingernails. White hot knuckles pressed into my cheeks, burning away my tears. Clammy child hands fought wars with my own. His fingerprints were someone else’s. Mine. Or yours.
If the light shone too bright, he balled his hands into instruments of anger and punched blood into my nose.
He never thought of ripping his own skull out.
He would never think of taking his own eyes out.
Maybe he could if he tried.
When the girl I love is intoxicated she holds my hair and twists it into braids. Squeezing my scalp and passing drinks, her melting indignation encircles my own. We have only held hands once, but she holds my shoulders and cleanses my cheek with silk palms.
I wonder if her hands should be more scarred than they are.
I’ve borne witness to feet pulled, tugged.
To candles that softened into eyes, burning irises.
I’ve heard whispers of pain when her tongue licks salt off my palm.
And yet only during the inauguration of the moon does she threaten to kiss my ear, leaving it ringing.
My palms are empty, but not without pain.
Yours are forced to stay open, to catch and hold whatever’s near.
Still I think the pain comes all the same.
Your spine was cracked before mine was held. The words you write become my fingerprints, and Dad’s. Ink on ink on ink, until the corners of our existence spill onto the floor, and our spit is black with words and thought. Sometimes you can’t follow my footprints in the sand, so I’ll turn us around and follow you instead.
Follicles of breath tracing along sweating temples. Gushing blood held in sacred palms. The first drink is passed to my love, and I lick its sweet syrup dregs.
I imagine feet in silt.
I think of ink-born eulogies.
My father is left with my hands, as a parting gift. He is given a kiss on his knuckles. I can only hope the quiet caverns I so desperately clung to were good enough to leave behind.
My hands bury themselves into a memory, hollowing out my head and searching, quietly, for remains.
They find love in the deepest cracks of my brain.
I grab onto my mind, and it stays in my hands.
It fills my palms.
My body is mine.
Girls Write Now On the Other Side of Everything: The 2023 Anthology
Do you know what it’s like to communicate with your family across a salty ocean’s divide? Do you want the sun and moon to enter your home with stories written in embers? Do you seek voices that will punctuate the darkness? Welcome to the other side of everything. It’s the other side of silence, the other side of childhood, the other side of hate, the other side of indifference, it’s the other side of sides, where the binary breaks down. It’s a new paradigm, a destination, a different perspective, a mindset, a state of openness, the space between the endless folds in your forehead, hopes for tomorrow, and reflections on the past. This anthology of diverse voices is an everything bagel of literary genres and love songs, secrets whispered in the dark of night, conversations held with ancestors under the sea.
I started the idea for this piece while noticing how people hold the subway pole, and how this defines their character. A few pieces were written about my own hands, and I found myself drawn to how others’ bodies dictate our relationship, and how I see them. I focused on people I love, or desperately wanted to love. Originally I wanted this piece to be a narrative of life and death, starting without hands and ending with me dying, giving away my hands. But throughout writing I realized it was a piece about finding love, so I focused on that for the ending.
Olivia is a senior in high school and a first-year mentee. She loves reading and making music playlists (and makes a playlist for each month of the year!). Olivia is also very committed to social justice causes and helping communities and is in a teen activist program with the NYCLU. Some other passions include choreographing contemporary dance, reading Marvel comics and spending time with her two younger siblings.