happiness

May 16, 2010

my writing desk. my small blue water bottle.  my glasses.  the click-clack of my favorite black shoes.  moments of hyperfocus.  a good discussion.  the feather pillow lamb left at my detroit house 7 years ago. erasmus. deven saying my name.  steven’s sarcasm.  anju’s kindness.  the blanket with the fishing village on it that my father took in trade for installing a new door on a woman’s house (i took this blanket with me “on loan” when i moved to dc.  it saw many of the traumatic events of those days yet is still something i can go back to for comfort). forgiveness. alex and i’s shared history.  evan walking down alice’s stairs. andrea’s sound advice. meredith’s talents.  wooten’s wootenisms. everything carrie and i have ever been through together or apart. alana’s motormouth and supreme loyalty.  brittany giving me a chance to be her friend. gabriela and david’s unwavering support. shaun and i’s millions of crazy ideas and quiet moments.  lb’s fierce friendship. forgiveness.  singing with abandon.  two-armed hugs.  bike rides.  detroit. columbus. cleveland. fancy hot dogs. the buttons on my jeans jacket. our routines. connections. phone calls to those i love and those who love me. the impossibility of the city where i was born.

this is abridged, a portion.  i am going to continue it, here and in real life.

We watch as the woman makes two drinks and uses the last of the ginger ale.  This means water for us.  Water is okay.  We are made of water.

Up the stairs is the installation by the small artist I hit on last winter.  I am embarrassed to see her.  When we pass each other we give one another courtesy nods.  “There you are,” she speaks down to me from her perch on a stool.  My friend, Andy, assures me that this is the same way she was greeted by the artist. When I see the small artist’s on-again-off-again girlfriend I feel real dread. Girlfriend greets me enthusiastically, her eyes shining through the darkness, catching the light from the bonfire.  I actually had a crush on the girlfriend first, but several drinks will make anyone magnetic for a couple of hours. Last winter the artist told me she liked me because I am who I am and I do not try to be anyone else.  Right now  the girlfriend’s voice is so reassuring I forget about the water, the strength of the drink.  I chug.

The installation is a big worm like fabric tube that crawls up the back stairs.  At the beginning is a seat and instructions.  “Write what you most wish for in the coming year on a pellet and put the pellet in the pellet pouch.”   The pellets are made of pressed garbage and seeds.  Your wishes and dreams will grow out of these.  My other friend, Apple, sarcastically calls the pellet pouch “the fisting pouch” as it looks like a vagina and all of us apart from Andy are intimately familiar with pouches other than our own. To oblige, I stick my hand in and take out ALL the night’s pellets.  I read them aloud, each falling in my lap.  Some say things like “hope” and “love” while others we laugh at say things like “for our own baby” and “my marriage.”  I wonder if reading them out loud like this will make them nil and void, like birthday wishes repeated after the candles are blown out.  “You are just the asshole to do this,” Andy laughs while writing, “I wish for a good cat,” on her pellet.

I need money.  Money is my main stressor right now.  It comes and it goes.  There is something else I want so on one side of my grey pellet I write “$ money $” and on the other side I write the other word, my want.  Andy looks at it, she is sympathetic. She knows my plight.   She is the ears to my mouth.

Andy takes her pellet with her, placing it in her jeans pocket for later. I put mine in the pellet pouch.  I stick my arm up to my elbow inside, placing my pellet on the very bottom.  “No one else is crass enough to take them out and read them,” Andy assures me and I hope she is right.  A part of me wants my dreams to grow larger than the peaks of the house, but most of me knows I am just drunk.  I am suspicious.  If I take my pellet home, plant it, and it dies I will give up.  I will call it fate and cry into my pillows.  I must not know what happens to that pellet.

We all sit by the fire and soak in the sing-along.  I complain about the smell of hippies, but it is all in good fun.  Andy and I share a cookie out of her boyfriend’s knapsack.  I do this with hesitation as I once saw him pull an unwrapped sandwich out of his hoodie pocket and Andy tells me his home is infested with roaches.  Apple talks about how repulsive she finds food and when I laugh she caves in on herself and refuses to talk anymore.  I take off in a fume of resentment, thinking about how it is hard enough to fight myself, much less other people.

As I am leaving, the artist and the girlfriend emerge from the bushes having buried the pellets at the appointed time.  “We are dirty,” the girlfriend says as she shakes soil from her hands.

Escape

May 13, 2010

Everything that was in the car when it crashed got thrown out in some Maryland dumpster, half of my life and all of it trash.  I hitchhiked back to DC with a Tolkien fan and his dog, sharing a hotel room over some passages from The Hobbit and a cup of truck stop coffee.  He dropped me off at a gas station in Tyson’s Corner where Christopher reluctantly picked me up.  We drove to the airport in silence to the plane booked for me.  I was calling my boyfriend in Detroit nonstop to no avail. I was alone and I knew it.  I was contented and serene, daydreaming of Lamb’s red hair mixed up in mine, back and forth in the truck bed on the road to Richmond, as I touched down in Flint.

Next on my list of things to tidy, my desk is the only place  I feel it absolutely necessary to keep clean by some unknown, unspoken, possibly cosmically inspired imperative.

My crib was located in my parent’s office between two clunky industrial desks and their second phone line.  Late night calls from tenants were the lullabies I learned to ignore.  I was relocated to the bedroom at the end of the hall, furthest from my parents at age 3 because of my habit of talking through the night.  I would pretend I was a radio DJ and record hour upon hour of incomprehensible babble into the small Sony Walkman my father had bought at Service Merchandise.  While the next room, occupied by my then teenage brother, was a cave like habitation reeking of sweaty gym socks, acne medicine, and the spit drained from his clarinet, my room was a bright explosion of toys, a canopy bed, and rainbows.  My mother had learned early to only put wallpaper on the ceiling as my brothers would lie in bed, peeling, and eating the paper like two glue starved addicts.

My childhood bedroom may have been friendly but three major drawbacks haunted me.  Outside my window was an ailing birch tree which, after a too-early-in-life viewing of Poltergeist, I was convinced was trying to kill me.  I would sit guard most nights, vigilantly watching for any movement from the tree’s peeling white trunk which I was sure would indicate its dark intentions.  Even when playing outside on sunny days I gave the dying tree a wide berth, always veering close to the protection of the ever healthy maple trees that spotted our front yard.  “It is no surprise,” I would try to get my mother’s attention as she was making fruit salad, “That in Scottish folklore, the birch tree is closely related to death and spirits returning from the grave.”  She would shoo me away, “You have been watching too much Scooby-Doo.”  She obviously did not take our Celtic heritage as seriously as the musty 1977 edition of the  World Book encyclopedia where I had gleaned this knowledge did.

The other two situations that irked young me concerned my brother’s room.  The lesser, but more sensible and practical, concern was that he possessed a window mounted air conditioning unit.  Our house had baseboard heat which crackled like lobsters (or so I imagined) every time it was turned on.  Baseboard heat made central air nearly impossible to install.  My mother insisted the lack of air conditioning would “build character” in me, but my brother was granted a loud and clunky a/c unit as a filter to the outside. He was allergic to everything in nature and had debilitating asthma.  That a/c unit acted as a ventilator to his room/bubble.

More vexing was the bloody skeleton costume my mother had stowed in one of my brother’s two matching closets.  These closets butted up to the north wall of my bedroom.  The bloody skeleton costumes was nothing more than a pressed plastic mask and vinyl tunic. The thing was more psychedelic than scary, the blood was neon pink and mounted on the skeleton’s shoulder was a goofy-faced mouse, on its head a day-glo candle.  On my insistence, my mother had bought it at the drugstore around the corner from my Uncle David and Aunt Mary’s house for $2.99, but the closer it got to Halloween the more I panicked.  I believed that if I put the costume on it would melt to my body and never come off.  She reluctantly squirreled it away in my brother’s closet, hoping I would change my mind and bought me a Velma Dinkley costume instead.  (please note: this past winter I decided to only dress like Velma Dinkley.  I now own ten wool skirts, a bunch of knee socks, and several orange cable knit sweaters)

Knowledge that the costume lurked one sheet of drywall away prompted me to move my bed to the south wall.  When I took a break from my nightly marathon conversations I would have nightmares in which the bloody skeleton costume would leave my brother’s room in search of me.  When I was finally discovered cowering under my rainbow cloud Pegasus comforter it would crawl into bed next to me, stealing all the covers, pushing and kicking me to the ground where, of course, the monsters that lived under my bed would have an easy go at my liver, spleen, and other internal organs.

Children who are scared of everything are very inventive and effective in the traumatizing of other children.  Around August, I would start setting up my haunted house ride.  Neighborhood kids would line up to take rides in my little red wagon down the hill in our backyard. Wake boards would turn into tombstones. Barbies would be decapitated, mutilated, and tortured for other’s enjoyment.  I would throw a mixture of berries picked from the bushes, red food coloring, and corn syrup on my unfortunate customers.   I would poke them with branches from the evil birch, hoping to entice the tree to take them and not me.  I would tell them horribly gruesome stories about phantoms in the creek, specters in the woods, and corpses buried in the walls of their bedrooms.

I was a bully of words and images early on.  The words I learned to speak came razor sharp.  When the other kids picked on me for having flaming red hair, I gave them a tongue lashing that peeled the paint off of our matchbox cars.  I belittled my peers for believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny while filling their minds with ghosts and goblins.  I swore like a sailor, not grasping the words I used, but knowing they were bad.

Besides fear, I was filled with rage.  I overflowed with unnameable, unfathomable anger.  I had words for every rotten experience an elementary schooler can imagine, but I could not unlock the reason for my hate and malice.

Words were weapons, but sticks and stones break bones.  My bullying came from being bullied.  My first default “friends” before school started were a set of twins who lived in a colonial catty corner to ours.  Often they devised games where I was their “slave.”  They would tie me up and hit me with jump ropes.  They would take my shoes and hide them.  They would pointedly exclude me.  This exclusion made me pliable, wanting to please.

At this time the girl twin, my sole female friend, favorite game to play was “Madonna.”  This game involved one of us being Madonna and one of us being Sean Penn.  The rules of the game involved whoever was Sean Penn hitting whomever was Madonna after which we would “kiss and make up.”  This meant simulating sex by grinding on top of her pretty princess bed.  My friend always wanted to be Madonna.  She argued that she looked more like Madonna.  There was no arguing about how I looked nothing like Sean Penn as I half-heartedly slapped her around.  I hated being Sean Penn, but I did not want to be Madonna either.  I hated the game.  When I said I did not want to play, did not want to wrestle around on top of the pink roses that dotted her bedspread, that I would not be Sean Penn she pulled her trump card.  “I will tell your mom,”  she said.

“Tell her what?”  I asked as there were a hundred things to tell her.  I had snuck a fishbowl full of tent caterpillars into our garage despite this act being strictly forbidden.  I had willingly and gleeful taken a dump that looked like chocolate soft serve next to the creek.  I had purchased a pair of molting, mounted stuffed geese from a garage sale and repeatedly ran over them with the banana seated bike I had inherited from Steven James and Mark, bending one of the wheel’s rims.  I walked up to K-mart and purchased useless doo-dads with quarters stolen from my father’s slot machine.  I crossed Farmington Road to buy candy from Efros.  I strayed further and stayed alone longer. As a child, my most frequent and debilitating nightmare involved my mother spontaneously combusting at school after being told that I was an ill-behaved and mischievous child, ie the truth.

“That you don’t even try to fit in.  That you talk too loud.  That you are weird.  That you spend too much time alone.  That the other kids don’t like you.  That you talk funny,” she was proud of herself, but I was sure these were things my mother already knew.  That I felt in her touch when she tried to brush my hair and I would pull away.  That I  saw in her face when she looked at me as a visitor who had stopped by unannounced, like a ghost, like a phantom, a mirage.  That I heard in her voice when she told me to just try, try not to stick out so much.  That there was no bloody skeleton costume trying to melt onto my skin, that trees do not move, that little girls should not say “fuck” and “shit” or pretend to be radio DJs and talk all night long.

“Fine,”  I said, resigned, balling up my fist, ready to deck Madonna real good. My  heart wasn’t in it though. I was just dreaming of that year’s haunted house.

——————————————————————-

This is part of a much longer piece centering around our house on Vicary which I wrote for NBV #33 and will probably never ever be put out.  Not sure I am ready to “unpack” some of this childhood trauma revolving around abuse from neighborhood kids, the death of Mark, and general emotional estrangement from my family.

Party Favors

May 10, 2010

I tried to remember when I started throwing up all the damn time.  When I started puking so often my friends began exchanging glances when I jump up during a meal? When was the first time I puked on my handlebars during a long bike ride?  Is it all nerves and exhilaration?

Walking back from the alley where I recently deposited  five thick cut french fries which I swear permanently scratched my throat, I think of Jen in Baltimore and the nights we went to the amateur wrestling matches.  This was one of her favorite activities. 19 year old us getting men to buy us buckets of beer.  These were not buckets filled with bottles of beer, these were beach pails filled with Natty Bo.  How many sand castles could we build tonight?  We asked one another as we leaned against the sweating gymnasium walls.

Jen was one of my only “friends” during the short time I lived in Baltimore.  After we met at a scooter rally, she started ardently pursuing a friendship with me.  She had tattoos and I had tattoos and she liked to tell me how great it felt to get tattooed.  She liked to pull down the waistband of her jeans and show me the poison ivy crawling down her crotch.  “I fell asleep while he was doing this,” could mean so many things.  I admonished the tattoo artist in my head.  Like with sex, in tattooing ethically speaking, you are not supposed to work on drunk people.

After years of teetotalling, Jen introduced me to a cavalcade of alcoholic inducements.  She cursed me when I pushed away the bloody mary she procured from a acquiescing bartender.  “I showed my tits for that,”  she cursed, “You fucking owe me.”

And what did I owe her.

After marking every Charm City doorstep with piss, Jen carried me to her stuffy attic bedroom.  We both lived in attics and this was a fact we bonded over.  “Men are so stupid,” she blurted, stripping her bed of the covers, “I fuck them and shit on them and they just take it.”  I knew when she said shit, she meant literally and when she said fuck, my eyes darted around nervously.  I gathered the bed covers and made a nest.  Jen was having none of that.

“Listen,” she said, pinning me to her bed, “I don’t eat pussy, but you can.”

Maybe it was the buckets of cheap beer, maybe it was the weight of her on my chest, maybe it was her words, her accusation, her homophobia.  This is the first time I remember throwing up with zeal.

With vomit, you have only two options – fight it or don’t.  The result is usually the same.  You usually barf and any fighting that is done just a delays the inevitable.  As a child, I was a fighter.  I fought everything.  I remember having a fever of 110 and lying on my parent’s bedroom floor.  “Stop fighting it!” my mother instructed as I thought, “A barf fountain would be so pretty.”  A barf fountain is not so pretty.  Such a thing does not exist.  My mother rolled me over as I started choking ala Hendrix.  Gravity beats puke every time.

After what happened with Jen I began to embrace my urge to puke.  Puke was telling me something.  My body and my mind caucusing and declaring, “We do not like this.”

I am thinking of my friend “the man who hates the number five” and his destroyed teeth and the smell of his apartment, Diet Mountain Dew and bile.  I am wondering, “Is it wrong to help yourself along every once and awhile?”

The answer is probably yes so I plead the fifth.

I puke all the time and it is something I have accepted.  Indigestion, puke.  Messy break-up, puke.  Coughing fit, puke. Puke puke puke.

I am pretty sure I am not bulimic, but I won’t swear to it.  I am never disgusted by the amount or variety of food I eat.  I stopped fighting years ago, after years of scuffles with random men who call my best friend “faggot,” with heroin addicts who declare “you don’t deserve friends,” and with myself – the most caustic of the bunch.  My body, so familiar and so foreign, is host to this party.

Meaningful Work

May 7, 2010

Jass convinced me it would be a good idea to work at the non-profit my last semester of undergrad with the promise of getting high every day and skinny dipping in the “old pool” no one used on campus.  Since I would have followed her to the ends of the earth these promises were just an added bonus.

My job was to drive the non-profit’s van to various known brothels and meet contacts who would tell me if anyone needed new clothes, medicine, a job outside the house, fresh needles. Jass got to work in the kitchen, steaming carrots and broccoli and green beans.

On the ride home in her station wagon, I would lay my head on her shoulder, listening to her kitchen jokes, and curse the fact that I lived only 6 blocks from the non-profit.

This happens at least four or five times a month, depending on how often I go clothes shopping.  I will be squirreled away in my private, individual cubicle and the words and thoughts of other women will accost me. Always, always, always these words are about weight.  There is something hideous about the mirrors, lights, and dimensions of those little rooms that sets the inner critic monologuing. It could also be wearing clothes that are not one’s own, a small grieving process, the loss of potential when one feels an article of clothing is not flattering to one’s person.  Women of all sizes, shapes, and ages running at the mouth about what they feel is wrong with their bodies.  As someone who aggressively identifies as fat and will challenge anyone who says I am not because they believe FAT is a BAD thing, the insecurities and fear I witness in women’s dressing rooms sets my teeth a grinding and my hair on end.

A woman’s changing room is believed, by most cis-gendered women, to be a safe place to commiserate about the woes of the womanly shape, be it too flat, too fat, too short, too tall, or just all “wrong.”  Communal complaining about one’s body “flaws” is acceptable when one cannot see who is in the other rooms.  One is sharing with everyone and no one.   We are all supposedly on the same page of self-hate.

Today the women who were discussing the best ways to lose weight were not in their own private rooms.  They were standing in the middle aisle between the sets of doors.  Each was in a state of undress when I exited my room with my soon-to-be purchased wears.  Immediately they saw me as one of their own.  I do not know what made them believe they could relate to me – is it my fat?  Is it that I present as femme and am assumed to be straight and non-threatening?  Is it that cis-gendered women are raised in a society where they are constantly and continually told there is something “not quite right” with them and these women assumed I had received the memo?  Is it just an assumed shared experience of body hatred?

For whatever reason, these women tried to engage me in their discussion of diet methods and body lament.  I was a deer in headlights at first.  I am often confronted with people I know, who claim to care and respect me, saying things like, “I have been eating so much, I am going to get really fat” or “I am having a fat day.”   To be confronted by a complete stranger, so obviously in pain and feeling alienated from the reality of their own amazingly functional, powerful, and unique body was a bit of a … excuse me … throw up  moment.

So I said, “I actually like my body and do not wish to change it.”

It was as if I had pulled a kitten out of my purse and bitten off its adorable head. The revulsion on these woman’s face was immediate and their bodies, the ones they disparaged so, moved away from me as if I had burst into flames.  I find that when I say something someone (who does not already know me) does not want to hear it is easy to set up boundaries and borders.  Before these women just saw a fat, feminine, probably straight ally. Now they registered that I was not wearing a long-sleeved shirt, I was wearing sleeves of tattoos and my hair is dirty and unbrushed and that arm pit smell?  It’s coming from this lovely body of mine. When you say something that someone does not want to hear, something that is an affront to their worldview, you become an enemy, the other, a crazy person. In this case I was a fat crazy person. A person of fat who is crazy.

There was a time, in the late 1990s when I thought “So Long, Suckers!” to many of the people with whom I had spent the past 6 or more years of my  life. To put things into perspective, in my graduating class of over five hundred (500), I was one (1) of two (2) students who did not attend the senior all-night party.  I remember the pathetically overzealous mothers who organized the event calling my house to ask why I had not yet bought my ticket.  When I blew them off, they called back and asked my mom, who answered, how she felt about me not attending the booze free jamboree which promised “one of those bouncy things you see at fairs, free cotton candy and popcorn, and all the soda pop you can drink.”  In the smokey voice all my male friends (even the gay ones!) thought was sexy, my mom hissed into the phone, “She must have a reason.”   I could not have dreamed of the social media that would allow these people access to 30 year old me.  Early in this millenium, before the advent of Facebook,  my graduating class made feeble attempts to contact me.  They sent postcards to my parent’s house emblazoned with the words “WE MISS YOU!” and “DON’T LOSE TOUCH!”  From the nation’s capitol, I instructed my mother to throw each succesive postcard away.  When I moved back to my hometown I sent them back personally, with the words “deceased” stamped across the address label. A former classmate of mine took out an obituary to increase the credibility of that stamp’s claim.

I have always been good at cutting people out of my life.  Phone calls will be ignored and go unreturned, emails will get lost in the digital garble, letters will hide beneath stacks of unreturned library books and silence will reverberate on usually unspoken mis/understandings.  This does not mean I do not think of the people with whom I have severed or lost contact, but rather that they are not privy to my life, my thoughts, a conversation, cutting remarks, or emotional exchange. It is not the person who ceases to exist, but rather the relationship.

A skill that comes in handy when cutting someone out of one’s life is avoidance.  I am the master of avoidance, nurtured in my childhood by a habit of “doing first, asking later.”  I have avoided such small things as picking up a spilled box of crayons to moderate things such as an account balance when I know I am overdrawn, and enormous things like life opportunities for fear of failure.  (don’t judge! you have done it too!)   The twin strategies of avoiding and hiding, hiding and avoiding, have done me well in my wish to not let people into my life who I do not want in my life.

Recently my life has been full of surprise and uninvited visitors.

Visitor #1 – “the most beautiful girl at the party,” a woman whom I share meaningless words once a year. She contacted me to share a revelation – she is in love with me.  She has always been in love with me.  The reason we had such a tumultuous friendship (and the reason whenever she was drunk she would shuck her clothes) was that she was madly and deeply in love with me.  While this news comes to me at a time when I am spatially and emotionally very distant from ever thinking that even kissing “the most beautiful girl at the party,” much less loving her, is a good idea, it still rocked my world.  It changed most of what I have called reality for the past 8 years, many of my modern perceptions of myself, my relationships, my failings, and my strengths.  While I would not say I have low self-esteem, like most living, breathing, thinking human beings I have enough neurotic energy to power a small yacht.  The idea that “the most beautiful girl at the party” want/ed me made me flip my shit.

At the same time I was contacted by Visitor #2 – “the man who repeatedly and systematically raped me in my late teens, beat me up and left me on the side of I-95 when I refused to be assaulted one night driving between DC and Richmond, only to begin ruthlessly stalking me, sullying my good name to anyone who would listen, and scaring away any potential friends or lovers  I dared to seek out for support and/or protection.” Not to be too dramatic or anything, but maybe someday I will tell you the whole story.  At that time, those of you who are victim-blamers can ask why I didn’t go to the police (or tell the police the night I was taken to their cop shop after being left on the side of the road), why I continued to “be friends” with him after the first 20 or so assaults, how a tough, mean, abrasive lady such as myself could allow such an obvious scumbag into her life.  We can do that some other day.  That is a different conversation all together.  This story is about finding out he has moved away from where I found him and that all the people who shook their heads at me and thought it was my fault now want to congratulate me on “emasculating him” once and for all.  Bullies have the power we give them is what I type over and over again, fingers cramping, mind melting, soul throwing up all the cosmic fuckery I have bottled and served cold for ten years.

This vile being dared to write me an email and ask how I am.  To ask about how I am doing in school .  To ask if I am seeing anyone.  To dare ask if I am gay or straight. After all these years, even when he is on the run, he is trying to exert control over me through shame and intimidation.  Even so many miles away, it feels like he can reach out and touch me.

I am reminded that there are times when even the expert cannot avoid and hide. There are times when I must reach out and strike.

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