“I am so ready to be done with this stupid Vulnerable word,” I blurted angrily to Tony, as we were making the five hour drive back from a Kansas City bike race.
“Then be done with it. Walk away from it,” he said with shared disgust.
“I’m afraid it’s not that easy. It’s like it’s grown gnarly roots and wrapped them around my insides and now it’s hard to distinguish what is me and what is Vulnerable.”
“I’ve had enough of my word for this year. I’m not sure if I would have picked it had I known everything it would require of me,” my girlfriend said, as we weaved our way out of her neighborhood, headed towards our impromptu lunch destination.
“Tell me about it!” I said with shared passion.
“And it’s made me a little hesitant about picking a word for next year because I wonder what I’ll be setting myself up for.”
Oh, Vulnerable. What have you gained me? You and your insistent cries for me to be okay with my unanswerable moments, my occasional people-eating, under-bridge-dwelling troll like tendencies, and the rawness that comes from making choices not based on winning any popular vote.
Oh, Vulnerable. What have you gained me? The moments I have bled out whilst following an unearthed desire to put my nose to the ground and follow my own bloody scent back to the place where flesh was first pin pricked and life allowed to trickle out like a swollen water balloon that has sprung a leak. What good did it do to sit with bloody hands and to be asked to look into the eyes of those pin-prickers and realize they too were simply doing the best they knew how to do.
Oh, Vulnerable. What have you gained me? You and your refusal to give patches. No duct tape. No super glue. No flannel square of cloth stitched sloppy at the edges. No shoes for running far, far away. You who do not give handouts, nor recognize the language of avoidance. You who knock holes in my walls and stare through the gaping-ness with wide, unblinking eyes. You who are steadfast in that resolve to be present in my nows, that resolve that some have described with their own words for the year: abide, unafraid, undaunted.
Oh, Vulnerable. What have you gained me? You who toss shoulders back, chin forward, as a spirit of resilience wraps around me like a rising fog, from foot to head, the energy seeping through fingertips and big toes, saying in a voice that is far too calm for all this internal writhing, “You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.” Expecting. No. Demanding. No. Beckoning me to relax into the love fog like a young woman once relaxed in the cupped inlet of a river, floating on her back and letting the wake take charge while the sun touched her cheekbones and made its mark with freckled whispers.
Oh, Vulnerable. What have you gained me? Throwing me out like a red carpet, spinning faster than I was prepared for, faster than my stomach could fashionably manage to maintain its breakfast. Tossing me and my vomit out like a fly-fisherman tosses line, into unsettled waters, ignoring me until I tug at you hard, gulping for air and saying, “Have you abandoned me out here where I cannot swim?” And then reeling me back in, slowly, so slowly I thought I must be imagining the movement.
Oh, Vulnerable. What have you gained me? Giving me so much freedom and so much exposure that I having nothing left to do out here but touch the places of my body where skin folds over, and joints creak and thirst sings, and passions pulse and bald spots make me suck in air and dryness flakes off of me like snowfall, fluttering like a freak flag, the parts of me that are out of my control, the humble flesh that wants to return to earth. You expose this. You expose this to everyone, and then you say, “Be okay with this.”
Oh, Vulnerable. What have you gained me? Giving so many pieces away and then (oh, the audacity!) and then handing them back to me and asking, “This time around, who would you give them to and to what degree?”
“But I thought, but I thought…”
“Nevermind what you thought. Everything that has come in the past few months was only preparing you for this moment. This is your moment. You are the fisherman. You are the fish. How much line do you throw out? Where will you let the water take you? Which waters are public beaches, littered with swine casting their lines as they please and which waters swell safely in hidden mermaid caves? You have access to both as you so choose.”
I am silent. For as much as vulnerable has invaded my body like a cancer, spreading to organs I had once thought were mine alone, that cancer is not destroying me, eating me away from the inside out, but rather it is lining my walls with a resilient resin that visits me in the form of white snowy owls delivering wisdom in my dreams and feminine images of cups that overflow, waters that never run dry and a net that catches what is just for me. “Some things,” Vulnerable whispers, “are just for you.”
“Vulnerable, oh Vulnerable,” I whisper back, to the once violent cancer now turned resilient resin. “Why, now I see, you have gained me everything.”