For one season, a springtime, Susa lived by herself. This was before she married H. She lived in a small studio apartment on the ground floor of an old house. She got a patch of yard, a front stoop even. And every single morning she was alone. There was both beauty and danger in this independence. She sometimes wondered: what if she would never feel as happy with someone else as she felt with herself? This was the threat, the lurking worry that she pushed away but felt like a piece of shrapnel buried deep in her skin.
Susa’s father was a veteran, an old, silent man; he contained more pieces of shrapnel beneath the skin of his chest than he could count, although as a child Susa had sometimes asked him to try, and he’d begin, touching his chest through his t-shirt as he stood half-shaven before the bathroom mirror, Susa standing on a stool next to him. He’d try to count the way one tries to count the stars; you’re lost before you’ve begun. He felt the pain of the metal shards still; they were almost like living things when he became overheated with work or worry, suddenly taking it upon themselves to find a way out. Her father called the shrapnel ‘prisoners’ in his joking moments, his own prisoners of war from his time served. The pieces didn’t want to be in him, his native body; they hated being in him as much as he’d hated being in their homeland, too. As a child, Susa couldn’t understand, and would live most of her early life envisioning rebel armies of human-sized bits of shrapnel (for she’d seen some of the pieces up close—those that did manage to work loose and be pried free, sharp and thin as shards of mica) until her high school history book set her right.
Like shrapnel, she envisioned her own secrets: loving being alone more than being with other people; a distrust of powerful women and Europeans; a daydream of becoming a famous singer; the threat that one day a nerve ending would snap and she'd lose all composure, wiping a restaurant table clean with a single angry sweep of her arm. The secrets tried to surface now and again, and she’d feel their attempt at freedom, and again stifle them until they were hidden safely within her.
Living alone, Susa never got lonely; there was no one around to forget about her, so there was no attention to long for or feel insecure about. Living alone, she felt that she became a powerful woman herself, and out on the street she walked a bit differently; she felt less guilty about answering no. Living alone, she could sometimes drink too much wine and sing in the bathtub, pretending a concert. Her waking moments were colored by a feeling of greatest luck. She painted the small bathroom in her apartment a sunrise orange, brought home a small spotted cat, bought herself seeds and flower pots for the windowsill where the slowly strengthening spring sun came through. She cut poems from the papers she read and pasted them to the cupboards in her kitchen. She played records loud or soft, went out when she felt like it, came home to sleep heavily, sprawled across her bed, to wake to boil water for coffee, take in the morning news, ready herself for the day, taking as long in the bathroom as she pleased, and all of it alone, alone, alone. Nothing, she felt, could equal freedom more than this, and when Susa thought the word ‘freedom’ she thought war, and with war came her father, and with her father, shrapnel, caught and fighting beneath the surface.
Her father wanted that shrapnel free; he would sometimes cry, during a bad spell, though he tried to keep this hidden. Some pieces did get free, slowly, and as a child Susa envisioned them traveling back to their homeland, pulled there by some magnetic force. Freedom, she wanted to write in a letter to her father in that season of living alone, freedom is what everything wants. Her mother would have sighed and asked her if she’d met any single men, but her father would have understood. He would have sat beside her on the front stoop of her apartment on a dark night, looking up and trying to count the stars.