BY SHAWNA BOWSE
It seemed to roll off the teachers tongue without leaving an accurate description. The phrase left behind a meaning that wasn’t literal, but figurative. “Cold shoulder means to ignore or disregard someone” she spoke. See, I never quite understood the phrase ‘cold shoulder’ until I felt one, a few actually.
The first was from my mother. I was a child then. My mother was a short frail woman, with sun kissed skin that lived among beds of freckles. Her eyes were somedays green and vibrant with color, but other days dimmed and had a greyish hue. Her lips are what I remember the most. I can’t say I miss them though, I can say I remember them because I longed for them. I wanted so badly for them to press up against my forehead and speak the soft words ‘it’s okay.’ I took value in the word okay, because life never felt that way. The lips themselves were thin, but had a sense of fullness and life to them, the same fullness I think every mother’s lips carry.
On the outside she carried herself with beauty, on the inside she couldn’t carry herself at all. She had mental weights and chains that embodied her mind. Imagine a gentle stream. Imagine a few koi fish swimming swiftly from side to side through the calm flow of consciousness. Now imagine a few more fish begin to swim, and more, and more to the point where they are piled on top of each other struggling to gasp for air, and unable to breathe. My mother’s mind was nothing but a disrupted stream, which simply could not flow correctly. Her thoughts constantly struggled to breathe, as did she trying to differentiate them from reality. I’ll never forget the day her mind flooded and I couldn’t be the dam.
We were staying with her boyfriend at the time, something that was always a temporary visit. The usual routine happened that day. She tried to help him with something, do something for him and he snapped at her instead. I knew things would get intense real fast. I knew there was going to be a climax, and then a fall which included us packing up and heading out like usual. The yells kept getting louder until suddenly I heard a door slam, and everything became so quiet for a moment. I slowly walked out of the room and looked ahead through the screen door to see my mother sitting on the front step of the porch, with her face buried in her palms. Her body was quivering trying to hold back her mind from flooding more than it already did, and her mind was trying not to expel the water through her grey eyes. I slowly opened the door and began to approach her, as she began to try to avoid the fact that I was even present and remained unmoving.
Neither of us spoke. However, I still started a conversation somehow. I raised my small innocent hand and placed it upon another bed of freckles acquainted by golden skin that stretched across her shoulder. I will never forget the feeling. The skin was so round and smooth. There was a slight softness given from the bleached tiny hairs on her delicate shoulder. Underneath her skin was an icy chill. It was mid-July in South Carolina. It was the time of day where the golden orange sun ever so delicately kisses the tops of the trees before it tells them goodbye. And yet, her shoulder, her being still remained to have a frigid feel. She so gracefully took my hand off, and put it back at my side, while still leaving words unspoken.
Years later, I have felt other cold shoulders. I have felt them from past friends who have parted, a boy whom I thought I loved, and lastly, myself. At night when my arm sticks underneath the pillow and I lay sideways with my cheek pressed against my smooth, soft, but chilled shoulder I feel loneliness. I mumble the word okay to myself as I drift asleep to remind my flooded mind, as well as my cold shoulder, that things are just that, okay.
To hear the phrase ‘cold shoulder’ is simply just to hear it, but to have it felt underneath your fingertips and within your being is to define it.