Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cracking My Fingers

Now and again, someone draws your attention to an unconscious tic. More often than not, intimacy over time reveals such behaviors, and thus romantic partners can be best attuned to recognizing them, and particularly well positioned to alert us to what we're doing.

Such is the case for cracking my fingers.

For both of my middle fingers and sometimes my left index finger, I tend crack the middle knuckle. More than a simple crack, it’s more of a crackling not unlike sound of a bonfire or twisting a sheet of bubble wrap in your hands. Whether it’s an actual physical need or psychological compulsion, I feel my fingers aren’t properly stretched without the cracking.

I never really noticed this behavior in myself--how often I did it, or which fingers I did it on, until Heather pointed it out to me. And expressed her disgust.

She claimed that it sounded as though my finger bones were shattering with each motion. That the sound was akin digging my fingernails into a chalkboard and dragging them downward as hard as I could.

Thus, I tried to stop cracking my knuckles. Or to do so softly. Or to do so as aggressively as possible when were entered a bout of teasing one another.

But then there came one night when we fell asleep on the couch, amidst watching a series of episodes of Modern Family. I spooned her close to me with my right arm, my chest to her back, my right leg pinned between her knees, my left shoulder tucked beneath my head, hand in her hair. When I woke, I could vaguely recollect running my fingers the curls of her long brown hair.

I felt the need to stretch the joints in my left hand--more precisely to crack my middle finger. I made the familiar motion to do so, touching my thumb to the top of the knuckle, poised mere inches from Heather’s ear.

And I stopped.

She would wake soon enough. And the two of us would migrate to my bed. Maybe stopping to brush our teeth first. Maybe to pour glasses of water to keep at our respective sides of the bed. Certainly to pee. Maybe she would wake when I coughed, or when she roused herself from one of her habitual nightmares, or when one of the neighbors cried out the way they had a tendency to at all hours of the day and night.

There were any number of reasons she might wake.

But in that moment when she was warm and still and her breath was shallow and the world was quiet, I let my hand fall limp. I closed my eyes and smelled her hair.

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