He Could Not Touch Her Worth
I don’t talk about H. I wrapped her memory up and tucked it gently in a corner of my body, somewhere between my lungs and my stomach. Sometimes it rises up and gets stuck in my throat or plummets down and buckles my knees, but it never leaves my mouth.
They found her body, murdered and set on fire, in an alleyway behind a Waffle House. My brain can’t reconcile the gap between H’s worth and the way her body was treated, so the information has to be cushioned somewhere lower instead.
Before I hid her memory, when my empty stomach couldn’t dry-heave anymore, I had one last thought: thank God for that summer.
I met H just a few days after she got off the streets. I remember because she said something that changed who I am. We were on the couch in the safe house, going through an exercise about letting go of things. I partnered with H, but found it hard to speak and started to cry.
“I have so much shame, even about things that weren’t my fault.”
She shook her head. “You have to let that go. You have to drop all that shame at the foot of the cross. It’s not yours to carry.”
“I don’t know if I know how to do that.”
“You just have to do it,” she said. “I did.”
“You did?” I looked up at her, startled.
I thought, if H can drop her shame, I can drop mine. And I did. It’s why my head is half an inch higher these days, the skin of my back stretched a little farther along my spine.
We loaded up a van one day, and instead of driving to another support group or testing facility, we drove to the beach. H said she was nervous, and excited. She had never been to the beach.
As we stood on the shoreline, I could see her eyes reaching for the farthest point on the horizon.
“Didn’t you live near the beach for a couple years?” I asked.
“Right across the street. He never let me out of the hotel room, I was always kept drugged.”
“Oh.” I stared at the sand under our feet. “H?”
“I’m really glad I get to be with you on the beach today.”
She wanted to collect shells. When I brought one back to her, she already had too many to carry. She had picked up all the little white shells, the ones people pass over because they’re too common.
“Aren’t they beautiful?” she asked, smiling at her cupped hands.
“You can make a necklace out of this one,” I said, pointing to one with a small hole in it.
Her eyes brightened. “Really?”
As we loaded back into the van, I asked, “So, what did you think?”
“It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” she said.
I could hear that — unlike when most people say that — it was not hyperbole or a phrase carelessly thrown.
We held a banquet at the end of summer. Everyone chose a new outfit from the program’s thrift store. When H arrived we cooed how beautiful she was. “I know,” she said, standing a little straighter.
When she hugged me goodbye, she said, “You know we love you.”
Thank God for that summer, I thought. What once seemed like mundane and often difficult days now seemed like the most valuable moments I had ever spent.
We told each other, with words and time and gestures big and small, you are worthy.
And I knew that the man who tried to turn her body into ash didn’t know that truth. He couldn’t comprehend her worth. I also knew that nothing he did to her could take away that summer spent saying, again and again, you are worthy. And I knew that her body was fragile but her worth was untouchable.
I think about time a lot. Mostly I worry that I’m wasting it. But H made me want to break the hourglass and pour the sand out at the feet of each person in front of me. To try to use every grain to say “you are worthy,” as if it is not hyperbole or a phrase carelessly thrown.
As if it is the truest thing I have ever said.