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He perceived the shape of letters and words, but couldn’t fit them to their sounds. He tried time and again to organize the sounds he spoke into understandable shapes. He couldn’t easily read the word “love.” Sure, he learned to write his name and the date, though even the date could take a minute. My nurturing side pushed to heal the injured warrior, though the wound turned out to be a defect. I so much wanted Josh and me to feed one another, to help each other grow, but after a point I could no longer meld my heart with his. He continued at a lower level, he could not cross the line. He could not even be angry with me. It’s my thought that if you can't express anger to your lover, you are never truly intimate. He never yelled at you either, Saxon, but you were not human. You were his first love, Saxon. He loved you like a child.
He rarely used the tongs to move you. He offered his hands, let them rest in your cage until you sensed their heat. You knew his scent well after all those years, as he tended you from neonate to snakelet to adult, Josh the gentle magician who waved his arms and manifested prey. I remember now his wide thumbs resting in the cage, drawing you out with his unique skin scent, his caresses and his patience, like he did for me.
When I met Josh, I had little in the way of finances. I never thought I’d graduate or qualify to be a teacher. I worked serving fast food to make ends meet, I lived in my sister’s rebuilt garage. Josh encouraged me to teach, because even though he could not learn himself, he loved the times I taught him. He went through the motions, syllable reading, vowel pronunciation, spelling rules. In return he drove me to school, paid for my books and tuition. That learning connection, and his faith, increased my confidence.
“You make me happy, Sammi,” he said. “You never give up.”
“Maybe I can be a teacher,” I told him.
“We teach each other,” he said, with that soft smile.
When he pulled me close at night, he smelled like the earth in the early summer just before sunrise. With a quick turn of the dawn, he’d always come, there for me fully in body if not in mind. He moved lithe and strong, his holding and letting go instinctually responsive. He knew what I needed, in that way.
I started tutoring other students. Their parents praised my skill. “No one else has been able to see how my daughter learns,” one said. “My son catches on much quicker these days,” another told me. “Samantha, you have so much patience.”
Our funds went to our rent, and to your food and shelter, Saxon. I managed the gleanings from bike shows and internet videos, the shows mostly Josh’s idea, but my doing. He had dreams but couldn’t organize them. I ran the practical aspects. All the while I built my separate career. Josh’s encouragement and hope gave us both success.
You kept growing, Saxon, you became far too heavy and strong. When Josh had to uncoil you from my waist that last time, he used the limits of his strength to force pressure on the snake tongs. We knew things were widening out of control. He unwound you from the tail, he knew the practical herpetological methods from YouTube. But even after the danger passed, he didn’t want to leave you. And he didn’t want to leave me. But I knew it was time.
We all do a dance to entice whatever it is we want. To bring meaning and centre to ourselves. Was it Josh conjuring me or was I the spellbinder? It works both ways. He always said he was impressed with the ways I invented for him to learn. I remained entranced by his willingness and perseverance. I took my gifts for granted. I could read a page in seconds, which would take him an hour, or never. Yet I envied him his strengths, how he could continue at reading, with no improvement, for months, never becoming discouraged, never giving up.