I felt a bitter envy; how simple it must be to have a body that makes sense, that needs no explanation…
(Malcolm Conner, “The Physics of Forbidden Love”)
may 9, 2017.
I felt a bitter envy; how simple it must be to have a body that makes sense, that needs no explanation…
(Malcolm Conner, “The Physics of Forbidden Love”)
may 9, 2017.
This alone is what I wish for you: knowledge.
To understand each desire has an edge,
to know we are responsible for the lives we change.
There are no curses–only mirrors
held up to the souls of gods and mortals.
And so I give up this fate, too.
Believe in yourself,
go ahead–see where it gets you.
Rita Dove, Demeter’s Prayer to Hades
I think you must have died, my dear, alone and long ago.
was this what you spent months striving to say, to let me know?
that years before I strayed across your gravel-scattered path,
you’d gorged yourself on groveling, starved even with the fact?
how your affair was only with my falsities of health:
an excuse to consume your crude inconstancy of self?
what searing subterfuge crammed you amid the ribs and chest,
until it stuck within you and you gasped for grotesque breath—
all viscus then reviled, like an oaken, oath-bound death?
I still relive the sylvan-tinge of every bedroom scene,
I strip down each grim facet to a cold celestial gleam:
the cloying light of stars that burned out long before our birth,
the empty words and bare mattress and writhing curves of earth.
I pressed my tongue to your heart’s mouth and every nerve within,
I learned the salt-fine shoreline of your sycophantic skin.
at yawning, yearning hollows of each womblike, wounded shriek:
my knuckles pressed against your throat, I made those chasms speak.
you knelt among the rattlesnakes, a name astride my feet,
your tongue like a communion that you’d ground between your teeth.
but you clenched wrenching hunger far too long against your jaw,
and rancor trickled from your lips against the hawkish maw.
now, in an absence of the flesh, your incoherence grows—
ingrate, you apostate, you write like a carrion-crow.
I wonder, who will feed you now, or will you still gnaw bones:
old cartilage of catharses whose geneses I owned?
these eyes of mine are not mere oak, but cedar and cypress:
the long-suffering crucibles of blood-enamored bliss.
ciphers, which you still infect, affected and immersed,
slip sighing now across the hearse-like wreckage of your verse.
where once you would wax phrases like fresh phases of the moon,
rose-blushed ivy, sweet and damp, its ichor still in bloom—
where once you were Diana to each climbing silver vine,
now you only mutter, ramble, perjure, profess, pine.
where is the poet of Golgotha, every word imbibed
with caustic notes of Calvary all carved out and contrived?
or have you always been just this, a vagrant parasite:
a vice with nine false lives and an indecent appetite?
were you only as barbed, then, as your subject’s own shrewd mind,
when you subsumed a cast of unearned clauses—namely, mine?
bright-betrayed each Judean day, I knelt to kiss you still:
your countenance was skull-like then, a torment wrought at will.
every new dark dawning was a murder you obeyed:
and any longer then to live, my resolution swayed.
I bedded a serpent and a faithless one at that:
you left me for the vultures, quite ruined and yet intact.
and so I’ll make you rue it, now—not finishing the act.
for half-famished idols you sang hymnals of remorse,
but ate of my flesh freely all the while in your course.
look now at the knot you wrought, in contrition or sin:
these sinews bared in intimate intricacies of skin.
embracing the false lance as though a lover or cross,
impaled on sweet emaciation like a promise lost.
rotting fruits of your vows hung like carnage as I writhed:
a travesty to rival fallen Tantalus, revived.
some Mary found me on my hands, all wrenched with vitriol:
a stillborn child of her heart, upon a seventh soul.
the house of self-undoing, where I cleaved my mind to hers:
your perjury is inconclusive: I am purged quite pure.
her flames deform the body, yet they render me near-sane
and so I give my life to this most recent Gethsemane.
you are a kind of nothing now, abhorrent and effaced—
would you were as easy to forgive, as to replace!
but you know this as well as any litany you sing:
there is a vow you failed to keep, a horror that still clings.
you understand, in ending this, we will be quite alone;
still, you offer old lies to the histories I own.
I do not fear memories, those vows are yours to break:
even so, may Lethe save the lover you next take.
I still dream sometimes, these days, of your false carnage-cries
and of your starving arms about this spectacle entwined,
we were not alike, not in the slightest, you and I—
but were not Janus and Judas each foremost of their kind?
Let these be your desires…
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
I turn the pages over in my mind, this forgotten volume, my crypt for the living. I see a name on one folded corner, a riddle in emerald ink. The excitement flickers and dies: a glint of tenderness slinks away into nonbeing. I hate the sight of words unread, of all love’s language lost. It feels oppressive, arid. It is the heat on my bare shoulders in Southern California: the salt and sweat that slid like crystal down my neck, the desert sky dimming, its ocher cast yawning, Sagittarius gripping the sun.
You were a suicide in seven stages, swelling and breaking like the sea. The currents ebbed, the ichor-floods receded. I opened a vein and the truth poured out.
Springtime arrived, then, that harbinger of sordid thrills and half-formed resurrections; of dark intricacies and melancholy glamour; of glimpses of bone and bloodstained soles; of burning reminiscence and aimless capillaries of stillborn thought. Unfolding beneath the earth, warm and damp with its own remorseless carnality–Spring, the undone lover, can never be meant just tenderly.
All the same, I etch away at old scriptures in the soil, wretched or restless, harboring shreds of humanity in the depths of my brass-knuckled soul. April, my oldest catastrophe, recalls a violent beauty, but I no longer know its lost way of loving. Because a life is not a thing to take or give or sacrifice. It does not belong to us. To live is to share, to take part, to bear witness. So flood the world with kerosene and shards of lightning. Learn to conjure moonlight where the stars have all gone out.
It has been so long since I felt anyone gave a damn.
Tennessee Williams, Five O’Clock Angel
Last week, spring stayed smothered beneath the New England frost, with Venus in retrograde and the new moon encroaching, when I made a twelve-hour bid for new surroundings. I was feeling isolated and irritable, paranoid and passionate, oracular and obsessive, and bored as all hell—in short, quite the same as always—when I decided to jump a last-minute Greyhound to a distant city encrusted with filth and blank possibility. I found an old friend, fifteen minutes from the station. We picked up beer and cheap lipstick and matches. We wasted hours treading on the past. Over the last cigarette, she asked, “So, how are you doing?”
I glanced up at her, tapped ash into an empty can of Budweiser, and replied, with complete honesty, “I’m great.” We both laughed a little in spite of ourselves. Because when the hell, after all, was the last time I could say that?
Before mid-January, I had not been all right for a very long time. I say that it happened this November, but the truth is that it probably had been happening for a while before then, maybe even since the very start. Certainly from last April, at least, when I entered my own bedroom to find someone else’s blood on my sheets. The madness blossomed from there, and the circumstances got stranger, and people broke promises, or lied to me about whatever they fancied, and then the pressure was too much and I started to bend and break and blame myself, began to lose my then-tedious grip on reality, made all kinds of decisions that I might regret until the day I die. Then memory goes dark until late summer, when I forced myself through clinical treatments and resolved to try again.
But November was the most painful month, because a very specific wound had been reopened; I had been so sure that rusticating, taking this year off from university to focus on my health, would help me immensely. And maybe it would have, I’ll never know now. Because I listened to the pleas of all of the same people who were scaring me. I listened when they promised me that things would get easier and they loved me and would always be there for me and I should just give the coming autumn a shot—
And for a while, in October, things really did get better. We all tried harder. It honestly could have worked. We still had our dark moments, but they were nothing compared to what had come before. And as I felt each bump in the road get smaller, I could sense myself healing: it was only a question of how fast it would happen. I was starting to feel happiness, in brief but wonderful flashes, for the first time in almost a year. My dissociations were less and less frequent. My sense of self was coming back. I became more confident in asking for help. One night, not realizing how the sentiments might be construed, I felt ready to be candid with the people I loved about my occasional relapses into self-medication and self harm, and the fact that I was still considering going home for a few months if my conditions, though improving, were less stable than what I felt comfortable maintaining.
And then they gave up on me.
I never stood a fucking chance. They did not even give me a full month, time to find my footing or a new therapist—three weeks in their immediate company was all that I had, then I woke up one day and they were gone. That is not hyperbole, not metaphor. They were actually gone. Absolute, radio silence. I had experienced it before, from my father, and then again, from one absent lover, but never from my closest friends, and never from so many people at the same time. I nearly lost my mind in that first week. I felt like the most toxic thing alive. I wanted to grovel, I wanted to sob, I wanted to tear my teeth out. It was just so goddamn unfair. No one would tell me what was going on, and then a week later, with one false and frigid message, they purged their worlds of me entirely, never even permitted me an oppurtunity to speak with them.
So when did I get better? When did it stop hurting? Truth be told, I am not sure. But it has stopped hurting.
Don’t get me wrong: I still have more than my fair share of bitterness, of frustration, of the discomfort that comes with inevitable proximity. I still want to scream out at the world, because now that everything is said and done, I want you all to know what happened to me. I want you all to understand how unjust some of the treatment was, how one of my former friends laughed in disdain when I cried in front of him. I want to publish all of the messages. I want some explanation for the fact that I was branded “too unstable” for their company—until it was more convenient for them to reside where I was, and then the brunt of their accusations against me unraveled sardonically under the competing pressure of their own self-interest. I want to take every single one of you through my side of this horror-show: through all of the desperate attempts to understand, all of the people I reached out to seeking advice, all of the bids for “forgiveness” I made before realizing I was not the fucking problem.
Because whatever else you may think of me, I know what really happened in November, and I do not feel shame or remorse. Not in the slightest. Everything I did, I did because I was genuinely trying to make things better, or at my very worst, because I was resisting being shoved into a corner by a hydra-headed cluster of people who invented a false grave and expected me to crawl into it. Even now, I would accept some shred of their remorse, use it to bury as much of the hatchet as one still can, if they would only acknowledge the distress that they caused. But they are unwilling, or incapable. At any rate, perhaps it is more fitting for this to have ended in disrepair, because what they did was ugly and irreparable.
I used to wish that things could be different, that there could have been forgiveness or understanding before we parted ways, but I do not wish for that anymore. Hell, at this point the only thing I wish is that they had walked away sooner, or that I had walked away first. I spent so much time wondering what was wrong with me, or that place, that I never even stopped to consider how goddamn tired I was getting of watching people project the consequences of their actions onto everybody but themselves. I was completely numb to this way of living, blind to the absurdity of our actions. I forgot what it was like to be treated with real compassion or honesty or respect.
So at the end of the day, have I lost anything? Is it a “loss” if you are better off without the thing that leaves?
God only knows. It is almost unsettling, how much better the world has become since I stopped caring. After all, January came, and for all of its tragedies, it saw me through to new and better days. I found people who give a damn—or more accurately, they found me. Is there anything more refreshing than learning, after so much time, that there were better people out there all along? The ghosts of November have made their choice, and I will comply with the savagery of it. Yes, and I will fight back if I have to, tear each new accusation or indication or sidelong glance to shreds. I will not be crossed or criticized, they will not have my shame when they have not earned it—and I’ll be all right, I’ll always be all right, because I know that I am not alone anymore.
But this is something that happened to me, something I still have to face. This is something people should know about, because I have to deal with it every single day. I would not be surprised to learn that the others have forgotten or disregarded most of the events of November—safe as they are in the confines of their collective and collectively incorrect psyche. But truly, this is not about them. I mean that. It is not an indictment, or an accusation, or a confession (even though it inevitably contains elements of all three). This is just what happened. It is what I need the people who love to me to know about the past year of my life.
I am tired of writing in metaphor, of lending the subtleties of language to such mundane events. So here it is plainly: in November, my greatest fear was realized. I was left, without warning, by the people I loved the most. Just like I was when I was fifteen. Just like I probably will be again someday, in this lovely but unreliable life. And I fucking hate being left on my own—all I ever really wanted was to be the kind of person they would stay for.
But in the end, as I have said, it was for the best. Because I think I have a better shot this time around, with these new people, of forging friendships not animated by trauma, and so shielding myself from the fallibility of human love. But for those of you who have read this through, who have heard me out, I do ask one last favor. When you see me flinch at certain names, or shy away from certain people—please do not pretend any longer to be ignorant of the history behind this pain, which for a while was so real that I thought it was going to break me. I only hope that those of you who have professed your support of me and my health can acknowledge this critical fact. Because I want my voice back. I’ve earned as much.
‘You are a petty, selfish, manipulative, disciplined psycho bitch—’
‘You are a man,’ I say. ‘You are an average, lazy, boring, cowardly, woman-fearing man.’
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Just last winter, a feminist spent evenings in conversation with a man whose voice fell across her like rain on tinted glass. She used to sit on the windowsill of his bathroom: one foot jammed in the wooden frame, flicking cigarette ash out onto the street below. They would share stories until the sun glinted above the horizon, and as they talked, he would run his fingers along the leg that was keeping her steady–not the smooth expanse of inner thigh, where his own pleasure might be found, but the strip of flesh that ran from knee to ankle: the shins that she had not bothered to shave since long before she met him.
Now, when he talks about his untidy love affair with this not-quite-woman, this feminist, when he makes jokes about her body–does he remember how tenderly he once learned to love it? When he laments how demanding she was, does he think of all of the times she scraped her knees against his bedroom floor, because she did not want him to have to ask? When he calls her cold, or hard, or unfeeling, does he recall how often she thawed and then scattered like a rainstorm, felt everything crash over her at once: elation, despair, desire, grief? When he speaks of her madness, her instability, has he forgotten how he, himself, used to break apart in incoherent ecstasy at the feel of his body beneath hers? When he says that he could not provide support for a woman who left half of her mind in a hospital, does he remember the nights he spent telling her every fear and regret: laying the weight of his head and his words upon her bare chest? When he deems his time with her a mistake, does he not realize that she is a universe, alive and unfolding? Does he not understand that the precious months of her life were not, could never be reduced to, so small a thing as one man’s regret?
Once, she was a living, breathing person to him. Now she is nothing but one more reason not to date a feminist with illnesses and ideals; unshaved legs and half-shaved hair; freakish hopes and tarot cards; perfectly positioned indifference and woefully misplaced love. She is a cautionary tale for him to tell to other men.
Until recently, I erected the near-entirety of my being on the foundation of affection that I never received: walking some inane tightrope between woman and man, gay and straight, sane and raving, narcissistic and self-loathing, unabashed and ashamed, alive and not exactly so. Of course, then, in writing the disappointments of the summer, the specter of my first, last love, the oldest memory that I have, weighs inevitably upon me: the man who used to tell me stories, fill my mind with visions of a life beyond what I had known.
When I say that my father taught me nothing but apathy, why do I not mention that I learned to read with my head on his shoulder? When I reflect again and again upon why I no longer speak to him, do I ever stop to remember the long hours spent in reverential silence, in car rides from cities to mountains to shorelines, while he played old rock albums, and taught me to really hear them? When I swear that I never needed his approval, have I forgotten playing the piano while golden afternoons passed like arpeggios–hand over hand, hour over hour–and I checked the mirror to catch glimpses of him listening in the other room?
If you are the sort of person that I am, then you will already know that it is not easy to love men, in any way at all, without impaling yourself upon them in the process. In fact, it is pretty fucking close to impossible. This does not mean that the converse is easy, that loving women is easy–because of course it isn’t. It can’t be. As a matter of fact, one of the cruelest things in my entire life was done to me, this November, by women that I loved. But still, the question remains. How can you love and trust men (or love and trust yourself) when every tongue you allow between your teeth could hurl the words “crazy bitch” at you, cut you to size, reduce you to your sex and your psychosis in half a second?
The problem is, it never seems as if it is going to be that way. For us, every new touch seems more promising, more thrilling, a kind of Russian roulette: get bored, or fall in love. We cling to the hope that surely, surely, this most recent effort will not be in vain. Maybe this one will be gentler, maybe this one will respect me, maybe this one will understand why I am so messy-guarded-demanding-impassioned, maybe this one will just give a damn, maybe–
But time and time again, we are left empty-handed, heavy-hearted. Do we know, somewhere deep down, that it is always going to end like this? That some worlds are too far apart to be bridged, that some people are not meant to meet at all–because one will inevitably go back to her words and solitude, and the other to his stories of that bitch he used to know, and neither will mention how the smirking man, and the half-mad girl who loved him, were each once the best part of the other’s half-formed world?
It’s strange. I felt less lonely when I didn’t know you.
Jean Paul Sartre, The Flies
Life between fingers, sound beneath flesh: warm hands, searching tongues, memories slipping with grief. The clenching jaw, the scream, the loss that howls, then flickers, like a glimpse of your wrist on the knife. Empty concrete buildings grind their bared and broken teeth: abandoned, unbidden, recalled. Unforgotten insubstantial moments, forgotten once-substantial people: we were the ones who almost got out. Broke and unyielding, but shattered quite completely, we met beneath fading streetlights in evening’s grim embrace. We salvaged stale liquor and confession. You were always quickest to leave.
We chased our last chances to an old Motel 6, to watch sullen men and the girls they were with. Frayed fishnet stockings and skin, skin, skin; torn by the night air, shivering thin.
We glanced, unaffected, from our windowsill-altar, altered the night with graffiti-stained souls: making love in strange places, or on shadowy floors– waking just sometimes, to the waxing of the moon. Damp sheets clung to the outline of us, cold knuckles twisting through my muttering spine. Fingers colliding with notches of bone, these jaws to your throat: adoration unfaded.
An ashen grey gradient grapples with sky, smoke tumbles from your mouth, pale and bone-dry. Your eyes are wide—you’re still mine.
This is my vision of not getting out. I walk across the railway tracks, asphalt underfoot, my family and denim jacket fraying at their seams. The conflict and chaos and televised wars–how could I have left this unchanging place? Crunching gravel, broken windows, jagged-edge shards of empty bottles in the streets: unfinished promises beckon me home. I pause in the entrance, I linger on the last step. For just an instant, I catch my breath. I close my eyes. I remember what remains of my half-fictive past.
I am the last thing this history knows: a shadow in the doorway–it opens, I close.
it has been a beautiful
Charles Bukowski, cornered
Midwinter draws to an iridescent close, and the spring snarls slowly, like a promise, from the soil.
A mirror is shattered, and formed. My could-have-been brother still sleeps beneath the thawing ice, and I speak a language that you cannot understand. I know that you tried, I know, but even so, you became a thing that wasn’t. Murmuring half-truths in the half-light, I swear–I thought you were a life beyond living. But this monument to discontent, this damned Babel-tongue, the hushed, rolling, coil of words, of cowardice and false comfort, of burgeoning disquiet–do you choke on every once-promise made? How could you not give a damn? Why on earth did you lie?
I thought that I loved her, because she lives like an echo: every word that drips from her mouth or her pen is just the better part of another being. She reflected my best, and my worst, back at me, and I loved her for it. I mistook her deficiencies for virtues, her weakness for resolution. I did not recognize what she was, because I could not recognize my own self veiled beneath the skin of another. The mistake is mine; the catalyst is her. If she is anyone, beneath that groveling artifice, then I must confess that I have never truly known her. That body was merely a mimesis in which I learned what not to be. There are no secrets between us anymore.
Her imprint, desirous and desirable, in this bed we used to share, is so far faded now. It belongs to others, of course, to the dark-haired reminiscence, her roiling moors and strains of a rough, nascent tenderness, the way she tugs one pearl-smooth thumb across my lip—she steadies and thrills in one fluid motion: she tastes like a breaking wave. And of course there are others, so many others, the woman with the name that runs like rain through the streets, each assertion working like volition between the margins and gaps of my soul. And the one like a world beyond what I have known: enchanting, radiant, seraphic, capricious—I love her as I love what could never be. I love them all.
This absence that you manifest is nothing to me now. Because the vacated space belongs to others now, yes, as they come and go with the rising of the moon—but mostly, it belongs to myself. The people I loved left in cowardice and cruelty. I am the best thing that I still have. I am beyond your false providence. I have healed with such brutal precision, with so little mercy, that often I wonder what I have become. But I love, and I feel, and I trust again. So I am content.
Sometimes I wonder. If she stays any longer in that garden, will she endure? I know the place where she erected her tomb. The weeds will curl around her throat, like cigarette ash in our mouths, my flesh—she will hurt like I have. I want to save her, spare her, but why worry? This was her choice, not mine. She has already been crucified, half a dozen times over, for her salience and her sins. No one is to blame but her: she climbs each oaken cross herself. Why should I be privy to this most recent Fall?
At times, I wish that I could still make myself care. I wish that I could feel that affection, that adoration, just one more time. But again, as always, the passion becomes disgust, the emotion slips into unreality, and I wake to the vast, frigid expanse of apathy. I feel nothing. I feel nothing. I do not even remember what she tasted like. I do not care. She has become real nothingness, like she always wanted. She has passed away like a shadow. All I can recall is my own wasted time.
I loved you, I loved you, I hardly knew you. You were a mirage. You were mimetic despondency. And so it goes on. Terrors, like clockwork, burn through the milk-white flesh of the world, and when the memories fade away, I am left alive.
Whatever this feeling is, whatever our memory entails, I will endure beyond the irrevocable collapse of your burning artifice. Do not write of me anymore. Do not sing. Do not care. Forget me, please, and leave me alone. You were the last lie I will ever live. You are the last broken promise.
My scars are yours, my love. May you wear them well.
Now hear, you blissful powers underground –
Answer the call, send help.
Bless the children, give them triumph now.
Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers
Midnight finds me solitary and reminiscent, enshrouded in the hush of morning’s soft-footed approach. The canals are silent and utterly still, wisps of vapor hanging low above their dark waters. I sit cross-legged on these muddy banks, imbibed as they are with rainwater and memory, and listen for half-forgotten voices on the wind. It is on such evenings that I begin to miss my home: the russet-tinged mountains, the sprawling earth, the always changing seasons. But there is a rare beauty to this ancient city, its Stygian currents and blind alleyways, its many bells that chime and toll like shattered crystal in the streets. I hear the low, musical crying of the birds. I know the dim truth of their sorrow, because it was mine once, too.
I recall, even in spite of myself, the strange, sad sickness that moved through us like a frost. These months have made a ruin of my sanity, my recollection, but even now, I remember her. Were it not for love and language, those twin prophets of calamity, could either of us have lied? How has it come to pass that I am haunted by their sins, carry the burden of that reckless disavowal? I never wanted this. I would have done anything to prevent it. I learned to turn away, to close off, to disappear. But I cannot make it stop hurting. I can never make it stop hurting. So let your candles burn to nothing–allow each stanza to flare out and fade. They have no meaning now. Feel a deafening silence emerge, and betray no image of its expression. This is the sound of missing you.
But even as I write this, the winter howls itself away into springtime, and we all begin again. The evenings pass in warm flushes of pleasure, a rapture that breathes through the twilight of my body. Hours slip by with the sweetness of honey or blood. I have learned a new life, and new people to love. I was found, at last, in my misery-dimmed wanderings, the desperate capillaries I carved through this lonely place. I was forsaken, apostate, left for dead: they took my body home again, sheltered me from solitude, forged life from the wreckage of my mind. I am too full of hope now to suffer as I used to.
They loved me at my darkest, my most dismembered, my most disturbed. They loved me when you, my dear, would not. I don’t know how it happened, these months have passed with such swift strangeness: all I know is that I woke, one day, to the blinding knowledge that I was no longer alone. I do not roam those silent streets. I am not the ghost you are to me.
When I was still a child, I learned the double arts of loss and love, of desperation and desire, of the lingering hush that imbibes a blind and abandoned heart. I wander back into that suffusion of warmth across unblemished skin: I am four years old, and my father is bathing me, telling the stories that made me wish to write long before I could. But bodies change and break like promises: the desire that once filled each margin of my still-breathing flesh has been replaced now by glistening scars and spilled ink and little pools of Garamond font.
There will always be a horror now, another slow, defeated sorrow in the edges of my waking mind. In spite of myself, I sometimes still count ways back into the darkness, break my mind against the stories in the soil, press my ear to the ground and dream of returning to you. But each flash of thought grows fainter with the thawing of the earth: the world is turning and changing again, and I must not yearn for the irretrievable past.
I can feel the terror of that long catastrophe ebbing away, the madness and misery, the horrors of a year that I yearn to shed like a dying skin. I am a wound that is healing now: not a mutilated absence of matter but a real and unfamiliar woman. I am learning to live again: it has been so long that I scarcely remember how. Some things are lost to me forever, of course, and I feel each passing like another incision, born of that familiar surgical knife. But their deaths engendered a kind of dark beauty: a vindication, a coherence, a resolve. I have to finish what was started so many years ago, in the sanctuary of my mother’s arms. The absurdity of this life is my conscience and my calling. I have to live. I want to.
And my god, how the world has altered since they made their unforgettable, unforgivable choice. The carnal sweetness of new affections, another figure sprawled in this bed beside me. Her pulse is quickening, the sheets dampen with exaltations, my knuckles are knotted in the dark tendrils of her hair. In the pale fires of encroaching dawn, I can trace each curve of her form, every tongue of brilliance illuminating her bare skin, all the notches and impressions of her spine. I cannot feel love like I used to, but I have learned a new sort of ecstasy all the same.
The finding of this life was worth the burning of the first: these moments, I imagine, are the raw beginnings of joy. The contours of moonlight, the sacred memory of strange new souls, the possibilities that gleam like chips of glittering arsenic–I do not cower beneath disbelief or misery now. This is the scared art of outrunning the past, of enduring despondency, of surviving your own madness. I have raced my darkness, and for once, I have triumphed.
Let me keep this moment, just this one. It has been so long since I have felt like anyone, or anything, at all.
None of us suffers as much as we should, or loves as much as we say. Love is the first lie; wisdom, the last.
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood
We spent the spring together in our solitude, our uncertainty, our grief. The room was a crypt for the broken but still-living, a printing-press of sorts for the reams of fabrication that we spun for an outside world. The fibers of our being could be found in book-spines and memories, in scar tissue and chips of glass along the filthy floor. There were empty bottles and fraying bed sheets, shivering limbs and bloodshot eyes. We were young, we were broke, we were violent, we were restless–and by the end, we were jaded as all hell.
Survival is a savage sort of thing: it is always the rats that run first, the wretched who endure, and I have never been the kind to die. I gnawed marrow from the bones of discontent, sank my teeth into the throat of my own misery, left claw marks in the concrete of the blind and listening walls. I promised I would survive the summer, and whatever else you may think of me, I was steadfast in this. I loved them, I loved them beyond my own description, and so I wrestled health from the ashes of a life I longed to abandon. In the end, I was the one who endured.
There was so little good left in my world to squander. I thought her the most beautiful thing to cross my path in a lifetime or less–she was the last, best thing I had going. Sometimes I still peruse the strange sinew of her desire, still run a cold finger across lines of early poetry, still hear her voice break like a rainstorm across the underside of my mind. She was the most wonderful goddamn part of my salvaged world. How could she prove such an absent, mundane love?
But the vitriol was imprecise and meaningless. There was nothing left to miss. And so I stopped wondering, and then, it stopped mattering. Those lovely, strange, and sorrowful days, when the sordid evenings wept and murmured into rust-stained tides of dawn, have left me now forever. Whatever I am, or am to become, there is scarcely a history to recall. I know that I should not have given myself so easily to such faint echoes of desire. I should not have loved him, or her, or them, whose worth was as that of a slowing pulse. I would have done better to have loved myself instead.
Now I exhale the recollections of that year like celestial dust. Disillusion wrenches soft, sweet yearnings from my skin. I undo each memory of ill-founded love like a bandage from my arms, my hips, my ribs. I pry the knowing fingers from my mind. I am still wading through the dark, still waters of quiet endurance, the faint dream of purpose. I am wonderfully alone amidst the tangle of lips and eyes, the trail of promises that yearned to be broken, the shadow in the doorway when I turned, at last, to go.
To live is not an easy thing. To live in the state that I too often have is still more damning, more inane. I am a disconsolate aggregation of shrewd and disparate parts. I feel them in succession, like slow fragments of a suicide. Entropy. Apathy. Liquor. Cigarettes. Coffee. Self-absorption. Bloodlust. Real lust. Disinterest. Sanctimony. Desolation. Shame. There has been a note taped above my mirror for three weeks now. All it says is, Stay Alive.
And yet, I am more than alive now. I am burning. I am striving. I am not afraid to be. The future unfurls without form or composition, an iridescent expanse of possible meaning, a darkness that longs to be shaped into a world. Through the veil of a nascent conviction, I have learned, at long last, how not to care: how to seek pleasures that are not penitential, how to sell an affection that ebbs away with the morning. Sometimes I still feel the dull pull of catastrophe, like a far-off shriek in a forgotten life, but the immutable vanity of the present has already bled through whatever remains of the inexorable past. There is nothing left for me to fear. I love sparingly, I live viciously, I trust no one at all.
I once endeavored to tame my heart, but it does not know itself anymore. And so, I suppose, I am untethered at last from the bonds of an earliest yearning. The astringent energy of desire is murmuring beneath the surface of my conscious mind: I think that I am coming back to myself once more. The best and the worst of my days are still to come. I live and dream by the rising of the moon. As its pallor wanes, I see shadows on the surface, and there lingers, in that dark brilliance, the final image of those I once loved. But they are fading now, dwindling slowly into nothing more than another set of bones to lay to rest beside my father’s.
Perhaps I was meant to survive this after all.
Let me glimpse inside your velvet bones.
Edgar Allen Poe, The Collected Letters
It has been months since I have felt the urge to write anything at all. This should not surprise me: my life has been a half-defined hellscape of burials and burning eyes, or dim evening flights back to those who have ruined me. Where has my mind gone since? My body moves like Orphean music and I see glimpses of a self in glass panes. How changed I am.
Where once I stood inexpressible, half-starved, all eyes and prominent ridges of bone, I now see a woman. Nothing more. I am heavier now, almost as heavy I used to be in childhood, my countenance always exhausted, or expressionless. The ink on my skin falls differently, for the curves of my body have altered. It is not unlovely, no, but certainly unfamiliar: this spray of flowers across the flesh, these living, growing memories of a wound.
But the scars, the scars look different: the new ones are thick and sinewy, they draw my eyes and mottle my arms. Every time someone asks after them, I am mutilated anew. The cuts crack fresh open, like trauma, like a birth. They used to fade so softly beneath the new skin, like barefoot impressions on alabaster shores, like constellations fading with the silver of dawn. But these ones will stay. I cannot outlive them. Someone turned the knife too deep.
Where once I was all love and affection and gratitude, a child still seeking solace, now I am colder than ice. I really do feel hatred. This is worse than anger, and yet, less personal: this is the pure acrimony of contempt, of disdain unmarred by remorse or even personal affront. I am finally learning what I so long professed a desire to know. How to walk “carefully, precariously”: I carry myself like something rare. I feel nothing but precise, controlled disgust. There is no sorrow. I have suffered no loss.
I have only really known three people, so far, who have looked at me like the most beautiful thing in the world. The first of them was a catalyst: the worst was the last. It still sickens me, to watch that razor-edged frame. Shall we talk of rapture or raptor talons, of jaws or viper’s tongues? That sickness that devours each of us from within, unfeeling, flesh-eating, was only an echo of what she was capable of. She watched them tear me apart, watch me tear myself apart, and she fed on that, when I never could. Her tongue and her voice sicken me now: that I ever succumbed to such infected neglect. What must it feel like, to wield the vices of apathy, of self-vindication, of carelessness? Avarice and artifice, the audacity to feign some normalcy: the very sight of her spreads like a cancer across my form. The sound of your breath sparks the ceasing of mine. I could not starve myself long enough to expunge the toxins of your cowardice, your skin. Your heart, your mouth, like a Janus you were halved, and I hate you for it–someday, you will know this feeling. You will.
But here is the beauty of the thing. You think you know who I am writing about. You, love, think you know who you are. You are mistaken. You are blinder than the narcissi. You are not the woman of whom I now write. This is not about you. It was never about you. You aren’t you. You’re an absence. You’re a wound. You aren’t. No one knows who I write of now. You’ve never met her. Not one of you.
And so I am clean. Amazingly, unfathomably, I am clean. Not unscathed, of course, but finally, finally, I am something close to blameless. Because it was not me after all, they all just kept on dying without me. I am not like them. I am entering into existence again: like an iris, the lid unfolds. I am in pain, I suffer beneath their eyes and lingering accusations, but I am deeply alive. And I don’t self harm anymore.
I do not mutilate my own body because I will not make the job easier for them–for anyone who wants to see me sick or scared or hopeless. I don’t cut. I don’t burn my skin. I don’t medicate beyond recompense, don’t drink to kill, don’t take risks chasing worthless shadows of affection. I used to think that to undo myself was to find a way out. To be impaled upon the living world. To be heard and found and saved. But I know better now. I know how little this life cares, I know that if I continued to carve the cruelty of others into my skin, I would only waste away in some room somewhere, friendless and purposeless and alone. No one will ever save me, and seldom will they even choose to stay. I have been taught the lesson too many times. I need not learn it again.
There are people who want me gone, who do not care either way, who would rather spare themselves the trouble of my existence. I will not make their lot any easier. I will not comply. Instead, I live. Absurdly, I live. Out of pure, undesirable spite, I still live.
I don’t self harm because when they left me, they took that part of me with them. Just look at me now. I think I died sometime along the way. Dead in the beginning. Did not die when I should have. I lost my father, my lover, my best friends, my could-have-been brother, my purpose, my memory, my pride. I’ve felt blood expunged like life from between my legs (or was it the other way around?) and I’ve seen the underside of a mind that was my grave. One after another, they picked like vultures at my rotting flesh. But the mutilated mass they all left there, sliced and shivering, had not yet submitted entirely.
Consider me in what fashion you will. But whatever clambered from my corpse is still living beside you, I see it in the mirror when I stare and I stare. Asphodel burns away, with thorns and Irish roses: my funeral rites. I am flint, I am ash, I am cypress and bone.
I am the child of a possibility long since passed. They buried my hope with his body. They only left this carcass: a seraph fallen to earth on the knife’s edge. My mind is smoke and diamond, and that thing in my chest, the burning core that nearly killed me, the writhing darkness I once exhaled with all my willful, wild ways–it no longer howls. It knows me. I welcome it. We are one.
Apathy and loathing, I waver between the two like a detuned radio, and contempt is the closest thing to love that I know. Sometimes I still feel the dark glamour of desire: the woman with the water streaming through her opal hair, the figures flickering on my periphery, who were kind to me, who kept me from worse than dying, who are trying to care. But it hardly matters anymore.
I am no longer afraid of solitude. I am not afraid of being denied love. I have faced both and found my breath again. I have buried the people I cared for. I have bruised my own heart and fractured my mind against the unending question, where did they go, why did they leave, why will they not answer, why—
It has all passed through me like memory through a living mind. These things cannot hurt me anymore, because I cannot make myself love the way I used to. I will never feel that way again, and so will never open my own skin to see pale blue capillaries or crimson rain-showers or dazzling prisms of light. Farewell, the lovely promises. I do not self harm because there is no longer anything or anyone worth harming myself for. There never really was.