do not think
you are safe because
you love her.
do not think
she will not stain her mouth red
with your blood too.
Madeleine Christie, Atalanta
The first tinges of earliest winter work their way into my skin. Sometimes, I am all right. I am awake. I am engaged. I am efficient. I am resolved. It does not matter that the hours of silence have stretched horribly on into days, into weeks, until a month has passed and I have shared the time with no one. It does not matter because I am fine. I promised that I would be, so I am. I am fine. For a month, I have done precious little other than endeavor to prove just how mistaken they were; just how capable, how fine, I am.
Other times, it has not been so manageable. I am lost and confused, abandoned and alone. I am the child who cannot find her father, who cannot keep a friend. I do not have an adequate language for what those times feel like. I come so tantalizingly close to surrender. On evenings when I see these people, I commence a ritualistic communion of sharp whiskey, cold showers, little pills that blunt the edges of my grief. I spend nights wandering through empty streets or emptying bars, entire days pass where I cannot face the sun. I have broken down a fair few times. Have retreated. Cried. Sliced my knuckles on shards of plaster. Written long, impassioned letters, nonsensical apologies and half-hearted farewells, tucked them away within a pile of birthday cards, polaroids, drawings, and memories, and burned them all in wordless exorcisms of a reality I cannot face.
Even at my best, my strongest, there can be no denying it: I have had a miserable time. Each day has dawned like a deferred suicide, faithless and forlorn, and there is no consolation that anyone can offer. I have tried. I have tried. So in the end, I have resigned myself to apathy, replaced my appetite and empathy and affections with stale packs of cigarettes and hours of painstaking academic work, with bitterness and solitude and some reluctant purgatory between devastation and disgust.
Sometimes, I find that I cannot withstand it anymore. So I recommence my wanderings, find a love to sell within the confines of dim vanity and a handful of stolen hours. I shivered, last night, back into the familiarity of an ancient, sacred art: those burning moments of sanctuary, of unfettered life, of knotted limbs and hair, of hands, of hips, of knees, of tense and tangled words. And suddenly, fleetingly, my life was shining again, my pulse was strong, its rhythm was welcome. I was laughing as I have not laughed in weeks, a cigarette locked precariously between my knuckles, ash dispersed across the stained mattress, as we moved in ways that I can scarcely recall, my heels pressed hard against his waist, the pleasure running hot and fast, like blood or breath or constancy. The teeth that I had sharpened on discontentment were good for something now, tearing sensation from the savage flesh of November, and my desire was a triumph, I was feral, I was alive, I had managed to recall some final, defiant echo of the willful, half-wild person that I used to be.
Always, the specter of his absence remains, when I try to feel in these ways. Yes, yes, I hate myself for it, but in truth, I have missed him quite sincerely of late. After all, was he really so much worse than what came after? Rejection, the silence, it is always the same– he was just more honest about it.
I am learning now, albeit slowly, what I expect from the people I care for. I have no patience left for weakness and apologies, for half-hearted defenses of others’ cruelty, for those content to watch mistreatment and the infliction of suffering so long as they, themselves, remain unaffected. I do not accept, should never have accepted, the professed affections of anyone who would sanction and witness my misery rather than defend me. Caccianli i ciel per non esser men belli, né lo profondo inferno li riceve, ch’alcuna gloria i rei avrebber d’elli.
If there is some other side to this, to all of the interspersed vitriol and cowardice, then I am having trouble seeing it. And is that really so surprising, so reprehensible? I challenge anyone to live as I have these past four weeks–cowering in my bedroom, too frightened to answer the knocks on my door, feeling unloved, unwell, unwelcome, unable to escape the radio silence as it cleaves my mind like a knife’s edge, abhorring my very existence–and not feel the uncompromised contempt that sustains me now.
What a wretch you all made of me. I cried. I begged. I crawled. Every night for the past four weeks, whenever I lose consciousness and vision, I am visited by the same nightmare: reliving my history as warm blood drips down my arms and from between my shaking thighs. I stagger through the silence, seeking respite. I see them, I call out, I implore them to answer, I tell them I need help. A lock clicks. My fingernails break against the door, leaving claw-marks of crimson and gouges in the wood. I wake up shaking. So now, I hardly sleep anymore–I lost that, too.
But not everyone was taken in. Just a week ago I spoke with a figure who could have said nothing, who could have remained impassive, who could have dismissed or ignored my pain, but he simply chose not to; he chose, instead, to care. I winced with realization at a single word he used, as he dragged the dark hair back from his eyes–“It isn’t fair. You’re being dehumanized.” Dehumanized. I loath those connotations, those undertones of victimization, but I could not deny or reject the phrase. He knew. He saw. And he was not the only one. I have felt alone, yes, but I have not entirely been so, for a handful of others have enacted those efforts towards empathy that their predecessors withheld. What a life I find, however fleetingly, however inconstantly, beyond the narrow binds of rejection. How many people have reached out to me since then? How many drinks and confessions and cigarettes have we shared? Reams of advice and tattered books of poetry, comfort and patience and moments of fleeting happiness, contentment, even belonging; in some ways, I think that I am finally found.
And when I ran away again, it was into a wonderful haze of smoke and sunlight, into the company of a woman who knew I was still worth something. In the lilting taste of Spanish wine, in azure waters suspended in perfect stillness, in rich patterns of shadow across glints of burnished gold, in foreign tongues and flavors of thought, in haunting dreamscapes of lamplight and mist, in her lovely hands and softly burning eyes–I sat in silence, the resplendent city blazing far and bright below me; I chewed on the end of a cigarette and swore never to allow a person to hurt me again.
These people, these places, have loved me at my darkest. We share no history, no obligation, but they have done so anyways. Heaven knows what it means when strangers and strange places are kinder towards you than those by which you thought to establish your long-desired home. But there is, always, a world elsewhere. And I am finding it now.
There will be no more postcards, no more tears of consternation, no more belated explanations, no more prying eyes. You will not waste whatever time I still have. The photographs have peeled like raw flesh from my walls. The images and letters have all been burned away. The broken glass is strewn softly across the threshold of my door. The room has been stripped bare, reduced to a pale, watchful iris of exposure, and your scalding words and fabrications, the livid tapestry of accusation that you wove, are all I will keep to remember you by.
You should be afraid of me. I do not forgive you.
I was worth more than this, and you could not make me forget that. You could not drive me away from this place. You never had the strength, not any of you, to bleed me out. And you will never again have my yearning, my commitment, you will not even have my hatred. I will strive to feel nothing. But for as long as I live in this strange and violent place, this city of entropy and stone, I will remember what was done to me. And I am not the only one. My continued efforts to communicate, to survive, to heal, to hold myself accountable, have not gone unnoticed. I am a walking testament to deficiencies that are not my own. It never had to be this way–but this is the choice that you made.
So I accept it. I accept it all. I have no sympathy, no willingness to understand anymore. And I am not sorry for generating, on my own terms, the discourse that I have lately been denied. I have faced a month of silence, of denouncement, of ludicrously imagined false crises, of inexplicable narratives that would have damaged most people beyond repair. I have faced, for the first time in a long while now, a horror-show of instability that emerged not from my own troubled mind, but from the callousness and cowardice of others. I hope that they feel every promise they broke, every lie that they told. No, I am not sorry for writing this. For a month I have faced the wrong side of their whims; they can deign, now, to face the wrong side of my pen.
And does it really matter, anymore? Does any facet of me still truly care, except for, perhaps, the part that bristles with frustration to remember that I ever believed that I deserved such degradation, such disrespect? I think that it is time to write of something else. I have done it. I have survived. The treatments must have worked, because even at my worst, I endured. And I have my work to show for it, and my writing, and the bonds I have forged with so many brilliant, fascinating people who I am so eager, so privileged, and so excited to know more fully in all the time to come.
I am alone now, they have made certain of that, but I will not always be. And I am ready, at last, to see this all for what it is: to condemn, to atone, to resist, or walk away. It took their every effort against my health to remind me just how badly I want to live fully, to be whole once more. On the underside of my ambition, my disillusionment, my contempt, there emerges the inscriptions of real possibility. I think I am finally awake again. I feel remorseless. I feel strong. The obscurity of my own regret is lifting. I am inexorable. Complete.
My father has taught me so well.