Kind of Like High School

first published by great weather for MEDIA

 

It is similar to when you are in high school. You are in the cafeteria and the smells of imposter pizza and imitation chicken nuggets lead you to almost forget about your deafening hunger. You’ve got your lunch and your over-stuffed backpack and your quintessential post-pubescent pimples and you’re ready to search out a table to sit at.

Usually, you’d be sitting with _______, but you are no longer speaking because of _________ or __________, but probably because ___________ said ______________.

So, you sit elsewhere and pretend that person who you used to call your best friend simply no longer exists. This friend who knows that you used to pick your nose and then eat your findings. Who knows that you had a crush on Judith Light from “Who’s the Boss”. Who knows that you sometimes forget to brush your teeth and hair. Who knows simply all of you (thus far).

You pretend to easily digest your lunch even though you ache. Even though this friend who was like part of you is like a stranger now.

It is like that.

Except this isn’t high school and the friend who held the other half of your BFF charm is your body. Yeah, it’s like that.

But here is the twist.

Cut to twelve years later or fifteen or twenty and you see this friend and you don’t know how to act. Can you just say hello after all this time? Do you pretend you didn’t spread rumors about each other and that most (if not all) were true?

Somewhere in my twenties I had a massive fight with my body and banned it from sitting at my lunch table. What I mean to say is: I ignored IT. Gave IT away to strangers. Handed IT over to people who didn’t even care enough to learn how many vowels are in my name. Dressed IT up, even though the lace was itchy and the push-up was too pushy.

It doesn’t matter why (that’s another month/another poem/another story), but what matters is I let go of IT. I stopped addressing IT, asking IT questions: Does this feel ok? Am I mispronouncing you? What is off limits?

After years of the silent treatment, I started to call my body QUEER. It felt slanted, but not exactly toward anything specific, just away from WOMAN. Away from GIRL. Away from SHE.

I covered up the parts I gave away. I ripped off my pronoun. I cut my hair. I grew out my hair. I asked my breasts to stop addressing me. I grew attracted to those who slanted too. I liked the ones who understood what it was like to be engaged in bouts of silence with their bodies. I liked not having to explain why I cried every time I was touched.

For me, I just wanted to erase everything I had done to IT. Hide the parts that had been broken into (by others and myself).

And then. One day—it happened to be a Saturday—I saw IT. We sort of made eye contact, but both immediately turned away. I almost didn’t recognize it; it had been so long.

*

When I was old enough to get a tattoo (18), my friend and I (who shared the same birthday) went to a small shop on route 9 in a strip mall in New Jersey, and got inked. She got a fairy on her lower back. I got the WOMAN sign.

I was not yet OUT (lesbian) but a FEMINIST and excited by my breasts which were finally growing on me. I wanted to look like her and all the other girls in my school.

Eighteen years later, I added to that woman sign because it didn’t quite speak the truth of how I saw myself. So, I added a MALE to the FEMALE and suddenly I felt a little better.

On this Saturday, where my body and I began to slowly break the silent treatment, I wasn’t quite sure what to say. So many years of reticence. I had forgotten how to approach it.

 

ME: It’s you, isn’t it?

MY BODY: Yeah.

ME: I…I’m not sure if an apology is—

MY BODY: There’s nothing to be sorry about.

ME: But I stopped talking to you.

MY BODY: And I stopped listening.

ME: Is it too late?

MY BODY: Why don’t we go for a walk?

ME: Can I…can I hold your hand?

MY BODY: As long as you don’t let go this time.

happy |ˈhapē| adjective ( happier , happiest ) 1 feeling or showing pleasure or contentment

She stops me while I am breathing in the first steps of morning. Aftertaste of coffee and cold on my tongue. Asks me, “Are you happy?”

I hate this word just like I’ve grown to hate the words Facebook and gluten-free and No offense, but

Even so, I do not hesitate to answer, “No, I’m not.”

It felt refreshing to be asked this question, especially when she waited to hear what I had to say.

Especially when she confessed that she wasn’t either.

Especially when we stood inside each other’s words of fear, hopelessness and loss.

I tell my students that it’s important to talk to strangers because once you share words, then the strange is gone. And invisible is seenAnd you start to recognize the similarities in each other.

I’ve recently located a drawer inside my body that has torn open. Warped and wooden and wild, this drawer is. Loaded up with anger.

I’ve run out of pillows to scream into. I don’t own any punching bags beyond this piece of paper I keep jabbing with my gut. I don’t know how to diffuse it.

I look up synonyms for happy because I just can’t commit to that word: jolly, untroubled, blithe, chirpy, on air, pleased, tickled [pink].

After there were no words left, she hugged me. I inhaled her scent of essential oils: jasmine, frankincense, myrrh mixing with my patchouli and caffeine. I wore her smell on my dry, dry skin all day.

I’d settle on feeling okay, these days. And sometimes I do. I may never get to happy or elated or even beatific. But as long as you stick around to hear my answer, I don’t mind you asking me if I am.

What is the Diameter of your Mouth?

My mouth is having an affair. It has let a non-degreed dentist inside it, stretching it far past its ability and now I have the aftertaste of sore and bothered.

My father always knew when I relapsed because my nose would be cracked and red. Eventually, he stopped asking. Instead, we’d meet at our regular lunch spot, talk around addiction to remind each other there is more to life than pain.

When I go to the dentist, the other students gather to try and understand the trauma of my mouth. The professors ask questions; my teeth become a pop quiz for what happens when one flosses with stolen pill carcasses for too many years.

Once, my father asked me why I kept putting holes in my body (reference chapters eighteen through twenty-three: The Piercing Years). He’d wince at the hoops and studs and glare of jewelry distracting my skin. I never really knew how to answer. To let the screams out? 

My mouth is called child-sized. They need to make an impression of my teeth and no mold is small enough to fit inside me. They stretch and stretch and I wonder if this is what childbirth is like.

Eventually, I stopped taking drugs and cleared my body of jewelry. The addiction will always remain, but all the holes closed up.

I want to tell my dentist that I like the way his facial hair grows and that if I could wake up with a beard, I’d leave it alone. But one day, I woke to find a long, blond hair growing from my chin and it seemed too lonely, so I asked my spouse to take it away. Maybe I have a difficult time committing to the in-between of things.

The last time I consumed “the bad drugs”, I was watching a friend’s dog for a weekend. It was her way of thanking me. The calendar called it Valentine’s Day and I might have preferred chocolate, but it didn’t stop me from consuming.

I tell my father that I have been writing non-traditional love poems. He asks me what that means. I say: the kind of love that runs away from flowers and announces the beauty in mouth sores and cavities. It hurts when I laugh because my mouth is still healing. It hurts when I laugh because I am still learning how.

On Kathy Acker

The great great great writer, j/j hastain, alerted me on a submission call for essays on women-identified writers and I immediately thought of Kathy Acker. I’ve been a fan of her words for many years and sometimes words just fall out.

Thank you to many gendered mothers for publishing my essay on Kathy Acker.

Read it HERE!

kathy-acker

Friendship Fact-Checking

How much do we really know about each other? 

I know the airbrushed version of what you did last Saturday. You were wearing a sweater I never saw you in before and your hair was free. You smiled that smile you smile whenever anyone is taking your photograph. It’s a mixture of slight vacancy mixed with the knowledge that you know far more than the person clicking you into the LIKEmosphere. You were at a bar/overpriced restaurant/in a field of terrified poppies/camping/singing/dancing.

I haven’t heard the sound of your voice in many months, so I can’t verify if it has changed. I only know what you still look like, your diet (you seem to enjoy memorializing your lunch these days), who makes you #grateful, and that you recently got bangs.

I don’t know if this weather shift has caused your nose to leak or if you cry more because of the political climate. I have no idea what book you are reading and if you read anything recently that made you feel more alive.

And you don’t know that I have gained some weight and have a difficult time with zippers. You have no idea that I am terrified to leave my apartment most days. You don’t know about the cancer scare, how often I think about collecting pills beneath my tongue. You don’t know about the night police officers knocked down my door or that I have a mouth full of cavities now. You don’t know that I am researching countries to move to. You have no idea that I’ve already left.

How much do we really know about each other? 

A Story About Luggage

first published by great weather for MEDIA

When you are carrying all the baggage around from childhood and a mismatched set from adulthood as well, it’s really hard to get around. Everyone is tripping over your teenage years and let’s not even mention ages 24-27, 32-34, 35 too. You can’t fly because you can’t afford the extra fees for the weight of what you carry around with you everyday. People (before meeting you) think this is a metaphor. Oh, right, baggage. But this is inconveniently heavy with zippers and hidden pockets and it all looks the same so if you left it alone, you wouldn’t know it’s yours and this is when you realize other people carry around baggage too. Lots of the same shapes, but some a little smaller and (yeesh) even bigger than yours. There are dull colors coding these bags, but bright ones too. You swear you can see a leopard print in the distance.

Now that you start to see other people’s baggage, you realize you aren’t alone. So, you start to walk more, sweating and grunting a little by the weight of it all, but while you’re out, people start to ask if they can help.

“That looks heavy,” one says. “Can I…can I carry something?”

Your eyes grow wide like your hips when you went from girl to woman and you say sure. You give them a bag and suddenly you feel lighter. Just a little, but enough to notice the difference.

You keep walking and notice someone else. They have tied all their bags together with hemp string and masking tape, carrying the whole lot on their back.

You approach them because you recognize the pain in their face.

“Hi,” you say.

“Hey,” they shoot back.

“Looks like you’ve been carrying all that for a really long time.”

“I have,” they say.

“See that water over there? They call it the East River. Think we could walk over there together and just…let our baggage go? If not all, then some?”

“OK,” they answer.

So, you and this stranger walk to the East River where the birds fly just above the water and the secrets down below carry their own version of baggage and you each choose a few bags to let go of. There are moments you each cry, dropping tears into the water like soft stones creating hints of rings swelling the salt. There are no words spoken between you as you lift and let go. Lift and let go.

When you are done, you notice what is left. Still a significant amount, but some of the heavy ones are gone, doing a limbless breaststroke away from you. The stranger beside you has walked away, with only one bag left.

*

Now, you step outside more. venture inside new places. Your arms still carry this baggage around but you have enough breaths in you left to speak and even sometimes laughYou thought you saw that stranger again, though you almost didn’t recognize them by the width of their smile. And when you looked down to note their baggage, all that was beside them was the comfort of others.

You still have your bags. Far less and not as cumbersome to carry around. You’ve since met others who you’ve walked to the water with to let go of some weight. It makes it so much easier to live.

a dangerous shadow

She called everyone a misfit, wearing the city like a cloak. Fire eyes. Field of poppy lashes. “No one expects anything from us,” she said, “which makes us more dangerous like unidentified alphabets.” I started rummaging for what hides in my shadow, finding a grocery list for ends of times. “Nothing is quiet anymore,” she added. “Our wrists harmonize with the wind.” “Don’t forget our tongues!” someone shouted. “Yes,” she spoke quietly. “Our tongues are the synthesizers to our souls. And we’ve got entire albums hoarded behind our lungs. So, let’s turn up the volume and dance!”