Vulnerability is the second before the joke registers. Or maybe it’s dreams of arriving at work in your underwear, naked from the waist up, fielding imploring glances from casual acquaintances who tilt their heads out of their cubicles. It’s the fat lady’s name on the fashion show roster, the chalked out diatribes and impressionist’s genital depictions on public bathroom walls. It’s “hello class, my name is so-and-so and I’ll be your teacher this year,” or “Mom, Dad, I have to tell you I’m (gay, an atheist, dropping out, HIV positive, sad.)”
Maybe it’s saying “I love you,” or the soft plunk of fish in a bucket still waggling their silver tails in wet wild piles and flashing their glittering bodies in the blue. For the socially anxious, vulnerability is a chain of “hellos” that wedge in the throat, ghosts of scraps that might fly out at cocktail parties or over late-night diner counters, scarves that keep necks tied to heads on windy nights when it feels like all the trees are bowing down on pavement. It’s a stripper’s first day on the job, and knocking on the door of a new friend, glancing down to make sure your pants are zipped. It’s somehow crying in public although you never meant to, the bramble in your throat that you remember from age four when a dog got kicked in front of Target, yelped, and slunk away.
It’s the dog who keeps padding back after it’s kicked — toenails on hardwood, hoping with wet eyes for a pat on the tummy this time, or maybe a big slice of cake. It’s old men with skin like geologic maps who summon all their might to scratch across a room on vein tangled feet. It’s the big bang, the first grain for human love, the shove that spins the seasons from dark to light. It stirs coffee in clay mugs and cross-continental heartbeats, summons sailors to sea then back home again. It’s the reason people make smaller people and leave, or else it’s the reason they stay. In certain parts of the world, it carries the sunrise like a red balloon over sludge black strips of land.
I’m no expert on outer space, but I think vulnerability might be the remedy for black holes. Our sentimental typed-out addendums sucked into backspaced infernos, the bits we wipe with wash cloths and ditch in dish trays every morning on the way out the door as if to renounce ourselves over and over again, with gusto and mounting frustration.
Kathleen Radigan is a seventeen year old person, writer, and girl. Some of her previous publications include Hackwriters, Blood Lotus, The Newport Review, Innisfree Poetry, Pif, Prick of the Spindle, Constructions, and 13 Extraordinary Things. She hails from Rhode Island, where she spends most of her time doodling, drafting things, jumping on trampolines and trying to make it through high school in one piece.