A correctional officer is microwaving popcorn, using the appliance a couple desks away. The room smells like buttered joy, pops like a treat. The sergeant barks an order, “Good grief, stop that. This woman just lost her husband. Have a little respect.” The microwave is immediately stopped and I hear the bag deflate in the silence of the room– sad leftover pops now chiming their sorrow, a slow firework show in mourning.
I like the kind of tenderness that stands in front of the broken, hides it in its looming shadow, and roars like a bear. I like when broken knows it does not need to use its voice or teeth for anything but the rebuilding.
“There simply isn’t anything we can do for you. We can’t bother him.” the officers say. They’re at my doorstep and my stalker is across the street. I live in a public space and, for some reason, because of some judge, this is a caveat.
As they turn to walk away, the woman turns back and reaches her hand out. Unsure, I put mine out, and she folds it into her palm. Her skin is only just slightly darker than mine, and our nails are exactly the same color, and I feel suddenly that I am four-armed like a goddess.
She releases my hand, hops down the steps, reaches into the police car, pulls out a piece of cake, and sits down on my stoop.
“What are you doing?” her partner asks.
“Just taking a quick break.” she says.
As she sits and stares forward, and chews through her cake, the stalker scurries away.
I like the type of tenderness that women have for each other. The firm handhold of an army we call to rise every single day that any other army fails us– which is to say, the army we call to rise every day. I like the way it tells us– you are not broken, you are healing, and I will use my breaks to stand guard for yours.
A child walks past my table in a coffee shop. I have a tiny pink frosted cake in front of me. She immediately reports to her mother, complaining that she does not have a cake, and that she is sad because of it. And then a realization hits her. Perhaps it is my birthday.
She looks around the room. She sees that I am alone.
Tapping the table, she smiles brightly at me. “Happy Birthday!” she says.
“Thank you,” I say, but it is not my birthday, I am just charmed.
I like a child’s tenderness. How quickly the ego drops, how it taps lightly to get your attention anywhere you go. I like how it tries to catch a whole thing before the breaking, how it slides under you like a safety blanket, still believing it can stop the shattering.
I have to use a straw at school because the dog attack cut my skin over my lip straight through to the teeth. My hair is long and never combed, always tangling behind me and around. I can’t fill my water bottle because I can’t see clearly through the bramble of hair. Water is spilling everywhere, and finally, out of nowhere, at the smallest obstacle I’d faced all year, I gave up.
It wasn’t a loud thing. My ten-year-old body didn’t collapse or even cry. I just stepped away from the fountain and looked up at the sky.
A teacher I didn’t know walked past me. She stopped. Turned around. Walked back.
She lifted my chin and looked into my eyes for a second before taking my water bottle and filling it up. She pulled the hair out of my face, and quickly braided it.
“It won’t last.” I told her, thinking about the braid, but also, maybe everything.
“No,” she said, “but that’s okay too.”
I like the type of tenderness that can look you in the eye. The kind that lifts your chin. The kind that turns around and sees you even when you’ve pressed yourself up against the wall.
I look at myself in the mirror, and say everything is going to be fine.
I like my tenderness. How it sprouts up so certain even when its roots are shaking in their soil. How it thinks me surrounded by heroes and the miracle of strangers, how it thinks my blood is made of hero and miracle.
Take a little nap, it says, it is safe to do so. I like how I trust it, how I tender it. I like how it gives me something to rest on.