The Sound of Goodbye

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    Art by Felicia Wahlstrom

By Rachael Whitlock

The machine’s steady beeping was the only sound I had heard for the last week. Everything else, the other machines, all the voices, the scuffling in the hallway, I couldn’t focus on any of it. I could only focus on the rhythm of the machine. This sound kept me from getting lost in my head. The rhythmic beating was all that kept me grounded.

I couldn’t touch her. Her hands were so cold, and I couldn’t bear to reach out to her. The blue veins crawling up her arms were sickeningly prominent; the chipped red nail polish on her fingertips was a painful reminder of our life before. Every time I summoned the courage to rest my hand on hers, I drew back as soon as I grazed her skin. Every time, I looked at her face afterwards there was no movement. Not even so much as a flutter of an eyelid escaped her body.

Her still face was smooth and, although her cheekbones were sharp underneath her skin, she was still beautiful. Her once-soft skin was pale and took on a bluish tone, her honey-blonde hair was no longer there, and there were small clear tubes that snaked into her nostrils. To me, though, everything about her was still perfect.  Even though her eyes were closed, I could still picture them: a light blue the color of a tranquil sea hiding beneath those dark lashes. What I would’ve given to see those eyes bright with life one more time.

I knew, though, that seeing that sea again was impossible because about a week ago, an insincere doctor had said so. I didn’t understand most of his words, but I picked up enough, enough to lose hope. After this news, I started focusing on the beeping.

Even with the machine’s calming rhythm, though, I was not calm. I couldn’t help but stare at the wedding band wrapped tight around her finger, and that was more painful to look at than her still body. The way the diamond mocked me as it glittered, and the gold metal took on a rosy tint in the pale blue light. The scene reminded me of what our life used to be. The ring that once symbolized love, hope, and progress was now nothing more than an artifact with the capacity to drudge up painfully sweet memories. I stared at the diamond until it was just a blurred shape in my vision, and my thoughts took over. I was no longer in the hospital room, but in a memory, I would give my life to go back to one more time.

I stood under a giant oak tree with the wind whipping my dress around my legs, and I was smiling as I watched her walk towards me. She was absolutely stunning- white dress glittering in the sun, honey-colored hair falling in rivulets down her back like a waterfall, red lipstick outlining her smile- I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She walked down the pale blue aisle slowly while holding an overflowing bouquet of wild flowers loosely at her chest. After she reached me under the oak tree, she read the vows she’d written nearly a month before she had even proposed, and then I read mine. Her smile got larger with every word, and tears began to spill down her cheeks behind her veil. Before I knew it, I gently lifted her veil over her face as she threw her arms around my neck. Then, her red lips were on mine, so warm and soft–

The frowning man with the lab coat pushed the door open to break me from my thoughts. He opened his mouth and sound came out, but I was trying to focus on the noise of the machine to keep from hearing him. I knew why he was here. I had signed all the paperwork yesterday, but I just couldn’t bear to hear him say it again.

The doctor continued to speak until I finally heard what I’d been waiting for: It’s time to say goodbye now. Right then, the crack in my heart that had been slowly growing the last few months broke open into a giant abyss that left me teetering on the edge. I took a deep breath and, with a shaking hand, finally reached out to her. I grabbed her icy hand and held on like I would never let go.

The slowing of the machine’s once-steady beeping threw me off rhythm. After a minute, the sound was replaced by a single drawn-out flat-line. Then, silence ushered its way into the room as the doctor turned the monitors off. He walked out.  He had left me alone in the room with nothing more than an empty shell of the woman I once loved. I stared dumbly for what seemed like an eternity before finally standing and wiping away the tears that had begun rolling down my cheeks. Without the machine, I had nothing left to focus on, nothing to hold on to, and nothing to keep the thoughts at bay. The silence was deafening.

Homecoming

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By Joseph Cox

The wind wisped through the tree in an eerie flow and whistled through the depths of my hallowed soul. The willow hung dreadfully over me, as a fitting blanket for a lonely day. The table on which I sat had aged. When I was here last, the polished tan oak stood in contrast of the olive-green grass, but the graying wood now fades into the deepness of the green. I’ve faded too over the years, for time is rarely kind to the body. I had not wanted to come here again, but here I sit with the splintering wood jutting into my tailbone, as I helplessly prop myself on the table top. I slump over with my feet stamped into the seats of the table, and stare at the horizon. I do not know what I was looking for, but I knew this was the only place that it could be found. I cannot see my breath in the fading daylight, but I know it is cold. The air is much cooler than the last time I was here. It has an icy thickness to it. I took comfort in its steel embrace, for it reflected what I held back.

She didn’t take long to arrive. I heard her coming, as the wind wiped the moss along the bed of grass behind me, but I did not bother to turn around. She sat down behind me. Her body filled the small space left in the old table, and it creaked beneath the weight of a new wandering soul. At first, she sat upright to let me savor my final moments in the chilling tranquility. Soon, she would begin to pry her way in, and I played into her hand. I pushed my body upright, clenched my eyes, and felt the air seep into the goosebumps on my skin.

That’s when I felt her touch again. The contact was nothing more than a graze. She had pushed herself into me, but only to the point that her back lightly met my own. I could feel only the wool of her sweater, but that was enough. In just that graze, she had cut through the cold. She had ice picked her way inside me again, and I forgot why I had ever let her go. The chill within me melted down to the bones, as if my muscles had become rigid from ice. I could not remember the last time I had truly breathed. Everything felt limp, and I seeped into her, as I had done years before.

We sat back to back now. Our breaths in sequence with one another, and our hearts beating with the new-found freedom. Her head rested beneath mine, and her hair weaved its way onto the back of my neck. Amid this winter evening, she was the breath of spring. Her scent dug into the air around us, and encompassed me. I was caught once again, and had no desire to let go.

Here, in this warm embrace, we sat for what felt like hours. The time I had spent without her seemed distant now. The setting sun eclipsed on the horizon, and I felt tears well up in my eyes. I felt the warm water drift down my chilled cheeks, and began to breathe in bursts of exhalations. Weight escaped my shoulders with each passing moment, and each breath brought decompression to my constricted lungs. I thought I had lost her for good this time.

“Why did you come back?” Her voice wisped with the fairness of the wind. For a while, I did not answer; I just smiled, like a parched nomad that had finally found fresh water. Part of me did not want to reply, but bask in the glory of the moment. “Because I thought I had lost you for good this time,” I said to her between my deep exhalations. “I could feel my heart beat, but did not know if you were still there.” I had been broken, but with her I could heal once again. I could be free once more.

Words Not Spoken

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By Jade Jacobs

Stolen glances, racing heart, and the desire to speak but how do you start? How do you spark a conversation when your heart’s full of elation, and there’s such a strong temptation that the words don’t leave your throat? Sweet desire fueled by fire, that draws you in, but not again. The heart may have forgiven yet the brain has not forgotten what it means to succumb to this feeling that leaves you numb and reeling.

You opened up once before, but they purged the pictures of personality, skewed what was reality, falsified hospitality, and left you in catastrophe. They changed the locks on all the doors until your heart was no longer yours. Months passed before you decided to move out of the poisoned place that had been so familiar, but turned foreign floor by floor. Months still before the barren walls of a heart bereft began to bedeck themselves with recollections worthy of reminiscence.

Finally, you settle in, and then a stranger comes again just waltzing in and makes you feel a whim of something you figured you wouldn’t have anymore. Maybe they could be the one to make your light shine bright again, help you learn to fly again, so you forget what made you cry again. If you let the craving go could the confidence begin to show you what you’ve known all along? Another glance, it’s a risk but it’s a chance worth taking for a heart afraid of breaking will let thorns blind them from seeing the beauty of the rose. But how do you spark a conversation when your heart’s full of elation, and there’s such a strong temptation that the words don’t leave your throat?

The Price We Pay For Being Gay

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Artwork by Samantha Ellis

By Samantha Ellis

Growing up, you are taught to love many different individuals. You love your parents, your family, supposedly your siblings (but you are not always sure). You love your friends, your mentors, your pets. If you are a girl, you are supposed to find a nice young boy to bring home to the family. If you are a boy, you are supposed to find a kind girl to start a family with. Traditionally, this is taught to us as love. But what happens when your love deviates from the traditional? What do you do when you find yourself in love with your best friend? She was loud and brash with a brain that far excelled my own. Her hands were always cold but warmer than any other I held, and her eyes, they were beautiful. They told far more stories than I had ever remembered spilling from a boy’s mouth. In this situation, what do you do?

I buried these feelings, far down where I did not have to see or feel them. “This isn’t normal.” I said. “This isn’t how the world teaches you to love your friends.” I would argue. But somewhere along the line I forced myself to accept it. But what was it exactly that I was accepting?

That I was gay.

I have known that I liked girls since I was 13, came out to friends years later, and when I turned 18 I gained the confidence to be able to call myself gay. I told my parents soon after, and luckily, they love and support me regardless. But they stay worried. “Are you sure?” They ask. “It is a dangerous world out there.” They remind me. Being gay comes with a risk, a stigma, a long line of other queer individuals that have died fighting for the rights I have and are still denied. This love has come with a price.

I, as well as many others pay for it daily when it comes to holding our partners’ hands, ignoring slurs and those who believe our rights have not been deserved, mourning those who we have lost to years of homophobia and racism. None of it is deserved, and it takes its toll on all who experience it. My love is not traditional, but is more authentic than any other I have experienced in my life.

This love has created me, fueled my passions, and wakes me every day and reminds me of who I am. This love has given me friends, crushes, and worlds I would have never explored otherwise. But the taboo around it has taken as well. It has taken connections, opportunities, loved ones, and potential friends. When a close friend’s parents would not accept who she was, they had to learn to accept her death. The price of this love is steep. I miss her every day.

But when given the option, I would pick my love every time. My love will change our world, and it is changing our world, one day at a time. One day, these prices will not have to be paid.

I am gay, and I am full of love.

Exhibiting Love

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Artwork by Hannah Mizell

By Hannah Mizell

Theses are far from an uncommon topic to cover for Infinite Wisdom. After all, it is only human nature that we love to talk about ourselves. In this case, I understand the need to prove that our hard work is worth it to those who have no idea what said work entailed. As someone who is just starting work on her own thesis, I had not planned to write anything about it until later in the semester, perhaps the year. Infinite Wisdom’s transition into doing themed months changed my plan.

My thesis is love exhibited in material form. It is the concept for a travelling museum exhibition of American art created in reaction to the November 16, 2015 Paris attacks and the French art created after we, ourselves, were attacked last June in Orlando. Though some may argue that the motives are incomparable, I still believe that both incidents were attacks meant to obliterate the concept of love.

In Orlando’s case, the concept of love is clear: Love is the connection between two people, regardless of race or gender. The connection that makes going deaf from pulsating beats and blind from the strobe lights that dance across the floor insignificant when that person, that single soul in your life, is present. That joy you feel when your hands touch and your eyes meet simply blocks everything out. Psychology could probably point you in the direction of why that happens, but, in my opinion, it’s one of the last bits of magic left here on earth. Unfortunately, anyone with a minute experience in history knows what kind of reaction people have to magic. In some cases, the powers that be try to boil this wonderful phenomenon down to a science. Some closed-minded people compare love to a recipe, as if it is successful only if certain ingredients are mixed and added in a certain way and baked for a certain time. Others go the extra mile by destroying any dish that does not meet the bigot’s qualifications to be considered food. The Orlando attacker, whose name I refuse to acknowledge, was one of those people.

With Paris, the concept of love is harder to see in just one place or time. The love that the attackers destroyed more than a year ago was not between two people, but between hundreds of thousands. The love of Paris is the roar of a thousand strangers when a soccer player makes a goal. Here, love is the shared, excited gaze of two people who share nothing in common except the colors of the jerseys they wear, and the war paint they have dutifully smeared across their faces in support of a team. Further down a Paris street, love is the silent thanks a customer gives to a chef as they savor their first bite of a delicious meal. Even the waiters and waitresses, who have worked endless hours on their feet, show love through the way they balance countless plates on one hand while never spilling a single drop of soup. Even further down that same road, love is found in an undulating mass of hundreds in the dim light of a concert hall. Love is the supportive cheering at a group of musicians who have devoted their lives to a craft so many appreciate but so few understand. When two people keep bumping into each other while dancing to whatever beat they wish, love is their silent understanding of each other’s clumsiness and musical immersion. But, even this love could not protect that November night’s casualties.

My exhibition, Convergent, displays a form of love that those men could not destroy: solidarity. The pieces exhibited within were created to say, “I support you. We may not share a home, but I support you.” Some pieces are detailed and some consist of a few strokes of a marker or pencil. Their complexity does not matter, but their existence does. On that note, it is important to remember where these works were first posted. They first reached the world’s eyes in the form of social media. In some cases, I will agree that social media has created unneeded societal divisions. In this case, however, I think that sites like Instagram and Twitter have given us the opportunity to bring love back to places where it was once obliterated.

Though I stray away from politics in my actual thesis, I will admit that politics is what brought me to this keyboard in the first place. Regardless of who tries to divide us, be it men in the capital or close to home, please remember that love can never be truly destroyed. People will try to hide it, suppress it, and punish those who dare defy them, but love will always find a way back.