Can anyone deny that we are haunted?
What is it that crouches under the myths we have made?
Jeanette Winterson, Gut Symmetries
Sunrise, cold sweat, chemical haze. Bare branches caress a chrome-smooth underside of sky. I am restless, trembling, iridescent, obscure: I am dreaming in the morning light. Has this garden been rendered obsolete or desirous, violent or sublime? How long has it been since I left it untended? Ivy garnishes crystal-shards of feigned remorse, found, shared, scattered, lost: hidden scores of half-gnawed bone that underpin what has been sought and then forsaken. I forget what you have done to me, how very much I still hate you. My mind is tangled in holy catastrophe, whatever lingers of your skin. And of course it is not real, but it does not matter, it does not matter—I am down in your arms again.
So I wake up, I draw back, raw sensation limps away again. It is the only way for me. Because I am dead tired, you know, of mourning these mistakes. It is terrible to be the one who remembers, who grieves. It is mortifying to admit that this still matters, to know that I still linger here even though all the rest has gone. Rinse, repeat, I scrawl. If they act like they care, they’re humoring you. If they ignore you, they’re being honest. Close your eyes and pretend it isn’t real.
One last evening breathing this in, especially that one that I might have loved—though he was never one to understand, to recognize the implacable desire that snarled beneath my topography of skin. I said goodnight and stumbled to bed, my tongue still swollen with words I have long forgotten how to say. My final night was lovely, sanguine, but there was something unsettling, even disturbing, in my farewell. I was laboring on the cusp of that deep, lost tenderness when I realized how long it has been since I have properly felt anything at all.
We, all of us, live within a glance. People look, and see themselves, see what they want or fear or expect to, see only a relation to themselves. But a self in a mirror is organic, pure: the only unadulterated gaze. When I try it myself, I see an almost-girl, all ruined makeup and exhausted, myopic eyes: she glances back, almost smiles, and it is plain that she will never be right again. I look at myself and every time, as if for the first time, I see the damage that was done to me: first in my childhood, and then again in this past year. I see the shell of the self that I could never truly be—not if I want to survive in this world. I understand that the reality of my past is that I can endure it, perhaps, but I will not recover from it. Not ever. Not really.
These weeks have been brief, drunken, avid, beautiful. I regret that they are over, and I regret that people in a distant past have left me so damaged, so deadened, that I mistrusted so many clandestine moments of now. But the truth is that I did not believe that I would make it this far. And now I have to find out what to do with myself, this improbable body, this could-have-been corpse. The wounds open with arbitrary impulse, the ichor drains, but I am not empty. I am never empty. I am alive and alight with confused sensation.
If I flooded my past with kerosene, took a match to the manuscript, would I be able to feel again? And if so, could I survive it? I cannot be sure. Before, I only wanted this, the oblivion of immolation, a somnambulist’s darkness tinged by tongues of crimson, a fire by which to erase my own name. And, after all, I had a talent for the craft. Now, I want the opposite. I want to remember everything, I want to be known. My skin is spidery with scar tissue, the rhythm beneath it is strong, but the sensation is lacking. What could possibly have changed since, but that apathy replaced my self-appointed amnesia? Is it worse to feel everything, or nothing at all?
Sometimes I think that faith is a symptom of those who are weak in their minds or hearts—but other times, I wonder if maybe everything that has happened to me was leading me here. Because at least I know now that the most authentic, effective form of survival is remembering that what you love will always eventually leave. Because I would rather be sardonic, impervious, then suffer again as I have. Because I am not much, but at least I am alive. I am more and less than a miracle: I am a result.
And already, the new recollection dawns. All I can do is rise to meet it.
I am spacious, singing flesh, on which is grafted no one knows which I, more or less human, but alive because of transformation.
Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa