I know what joy looks like.
I've seen the wide smiles that spread over the work-lined faces of parents as they watch their child score a goal at a soccer game. I've gazed upon a freezing, poverty-torn woman as she dons a brand new, down-feather jacket, and I've noticed the tears that cling to her eyes as she raises her head and her hands upwards. I've looked into the impartial eyes of infants, their irises sparking jewels set in a pale pink hilt, unadulterated happiness seeping through the pores of their yet untainted souls. I've watched the peacefully sleeping faces of exhausted women, their faces streaked with sweat, and I've snuck a glance in the direction of the men that sit beside their hospital beds, eyes dancing at the prospect of a son or daughter. I've seen the beauty and wonder of joy.
I know what loneliness sounds like.
I've heard the gentle, steady drop of tears that fall silently onto a sepia photograph. My ears have known the breathy sighs of a young boy with no one but a stick and the earth for his playmates. The thoughts that beg to be spoken ring in my ears; whispered wishes to be heard and cared for drift into my head. I've listened to crinkling paper as a maiden slits open a letter from her beloved, and I've heard the gasp of relief that graces her lips as she discovers that the war hasn't yet taken him under its menacing wing. I've listened to the wails of stray cats out in the alley, mourning for something that can't be comprehended. The distant melody of loneliness has echoed in my soul, and I know the tune by heart.
I know what pain smells like.
I've smelled the stale salt of tears and sweat on the pillows of those suffering in secret. The bittersweet tang of blood wafts into my nose and paints a red-and-white picture on the insides of my eyelids. I know the chemical stench of oversterilized hallways and countertops that tries to mask the foul odor of death. I've detected the lingering aroma of flower petals and candle wax on the skin of a man, and I've smelled the fire that burns in the fireplace as his wife stares aimlessly into the flames and wonders if he's happy with the other woman. The breathe of a silent shriek is a sour scent, and just as a misty cloud of wet exhaled air fades into the chill winter sky, so the sickening scent of the ghost of a scream dissolve and mingle with the pungent smell of nighttime. The metallic stench of grief has been forever imprinted on me with an invisible rubber stamp.
I know what love tastes like.
I've tasted the heady flavor of lust on the lips of a beloved. I've had the soft surface of flesh under my tongue; the most succulent place lies beneath the jaw, so I have been told. My mouth has tasted the sugary laughter of close friends, and also the fresh taste of a smile with lips that have long forgotten the trade. I've sampled delicious words. Sincere words, like pieces of chocolate, melt on the tongue and fill every crevice with warmth; false words slide smoothly over the teeth like watered wine, but stop at every surface to gnaw at the sensitive flesh in which the traitorous pearls are set; harsh words assault the taste buds and leave an aftertaste that nothing can wash down. I've taken a bite out of love, and it tastes of crunchy apple and sour grapes and heaven and hell and you.
My foreign sense is feeling.
I have worked hard to strip life down to its essentials, to sweep cluttered nonsense and meaningless obstacles beneath the rug on my kitchen floor. I have seen and heard and smelled and tasted.
I have no frame of reference for feeling.
I may speculate as to what joy feels like. Joy may feel like arrogance, where nothing can go wrong and everything is perfect and I am perfect. (I know what arrogance feels like.) Joy may feel like satisfaction, when I know I have done my job and accomplished things I didn't know I was capable of. (I know what satisfaction feels like.)
I may speculate as to what loneliness feels like. Loneliness may feel like listlessness, when I find no motivation to move my two feet even an inch, let alone stand up. (I know what listlessness feels like.) Loneliness may feel like numbness, where I want to feel something but I can't bring myself to. (I know what numbness feels like.)
I may speculate as to what pain feels like. Pain may feel like anger, where my blood boils and burns my skin from the inside until I rise to action. (I know what anger feels like.) Pain may feel like dejection, where I feel like I am the unlucky victim in a game of chance in which Life holds the high cards and I'm left with deuces and threes. (I know what dejection feels like.)
I may speculate as to what love feels like. Love may feel like lust, when I'd like to kiss you until my head spins and my vision goes black and I see stars. (I know what lust feels like.) Love may feel like kinship, where I know one's emotions and one's thoughts and I can love him as if he were my own brother, because he is my body in structure and mind and soul. (I know what kinship feels like.)
But I do not know what joy, loneliness, pain, and love feel like.
And if I want to die knowing I lived my life to the fullest, I am hereby making it my goal to discover these wonderful, mysterious, impalpable, unbearable essences of life itself.
I will sing with joy.
I will cry with loneliness.
I will collapse with pain.
I will live with love.