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On Intimacy


There is intimacy, and then there is this: Take off all your clothes on the porch.

He stands in the doorway, light streaming from behind him. I want him to hold me, to press my cells together and make me whole. He does not touch me, but takes my phone and keys. It’s alright, he says. Gingerly, he puts my clothes in the washing machine, as I briefly dress in his sweatpants. We try not to wake our sleeping child: we do not stand over his small bed to marvel at his curls tonight. I do not dare kiss his sweaty cheek. I do not want my poisoned rebellion to tarnish him.

My love speaks in whispers, and I barely speak at all. There is fluency in glances. We know what to do. Home is a miracle, even if safety is an illusion.

He runs the shower and I wash the tear gas out of my hair. I scrub it from behind my ears, from under my shabby fingernails, from the places it couldn’t have reached. I slough the shouting from my skin.

Don’t run. Don’t talk to the cops. Remember: you didn’t see a thing.

The inside of my brain is bright with flashbangs, the reflections off their helmets. I let the water run hot across my body, bracing myself against the wall. I let the water shake the sound from my cells. Against the cold tile, I still feel the helicopter blades slicing the sky. I feel the hum of screaming asphalt.

Our years together are a series of small intimacies like this.

In fifteen years, he has been late for dinner exactly once: he was on a bus headed to jail. My friends told me not to worry. Their boyfriends would rather be late than in jail. But I called the hotline and yes: kettled and arrested, they said. I spent the following day eating barbecue tofu outside the concrete tower, waiting for my beloved’s face among the newly liberated.

One night, we took the freeway, dancing with our friends like we were free. I come to bed and he holds my spine against his beating heart.





© by Molly Kate Photography 2021

Christy Tending (she/they) is an activist, writer, and mama living in Oakland, California. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Ms., The Citron Review, trampset, and Milk Candy Review, among others. You can learn more about their work at or follow them on Twitter @christytending.