A Certain Rotten Sweetness
I don’t make a habit of lying to my friends.
Which is why I was surprised at how easily this one rolled off my tongue. It’s funny, too, because I started with the truth. I hesitated, the knife in one hand and the mango in another.
“Yeah it was weird timing, because he texted me last night asking if I wanted to go out to a bar with him and some of his friends. The first time in two months, and yesterday of all days,” I said, beginning to saw into the fruit, my eyes intent on the catch of the knife in skin.
“That’s such weird timing. The exact day you went out on your first date. Did you go?” Sara asked.
“No,” I didn’t falter at all. My response surprised me. I hadn’t really thought about whether I would tell her or not, because I always did. My eyes flicked up into my bedroom, open to the studio apartment. My clothes from the night before still lay discarded on the floorboards.
“That’s good,” She said, nodding her head sympathetically, squashing what should have been my next words. No, but he did come here. I peeled back a bit of the mango skin. Much of the flesh had rotted, even though I’d just bought it a day or two before.
“Yeah,” I stretched out the e and made it hard, making the word sound very insincere indeed. But Sara did not seem to catch on. And then we just. Didn’t talk about it? An entirely novel phenomenon. Normally, we would spend much of an hour discussing my choices, and in the process of saying the words out loud to a friend I would become ever more indecisive, perhaps even full of regret, until I couldn’t remember my half-formed resolutions.
In that moment, I felt the true beauty of keeping things to oneself. Afterall, I already knew what I was doing. And I already knew what she would say. And I had grown so tired of talking about it that I couldn’t even imagine how it must be for my friends. Now, I had broken the cycle. No longer did I find myself trapped in the patterns and circles that had plagued my racing thoughts.
Here, a certain relief accompanied not speaking about this old concept. It made it okay that it had happened. I felt none of the anxiety and pain that I had felt before. A good thing, right? An okay decision? Indeed, the decision was mine alone in the end. And I was at peace with my actions, just worried about how my perceptions could shift with a word from my loved ones. It’s all in the mentality, and I don’t want to ruin my own, I told myself. That’s how I justified it.
Still, as we sat and ate the good parts of the mango, I couldn’t help but wonder.
How secure should I be in a choice I couldn’t share with a friend?
The Age-Old Question
I knew much of who I was before I met him. That’s not to say I loved all of the parts of myself or had come to learn to accept my own shortcomings. In many ways, I was naïve. I was secure in my self-worth, but too sure of putting myself first. An arrow pulled back, a planned trajectory that I didn’t have to attend to. The path was already decided. And that path included only me. Perhaps friends, family too. But romantic love? Without having tasted it, I had already decided that to be a flavor I did not need nor desire. I told my friends I was asexual and aromantic. I had sat them each down to tell them the news and the revelation had given me a new license on my identity. I had felt free.
Then we came to be with a passion and assuredness that took the unsure me and pushed her into a scale of emotions previously not privy too. I saw the extent of my own mistaken thought. Even so, I quite often looked for all the ways in which I could take little steps backwards. Afterall, this, this was not in the plan. This was not in the plan at all. And I was scared.
But he would grasp my hand firmly and he would look at me with those eyes filled with knowing, those eyes that held no hesitation, and he would say, “I am sure it’s meant to be.”
With my palm in his I first trailed behind before walking with him side-by-side as, over the years, I learned how to love the way he loved. Without fear. With conviction. With the words, love is not only about emotion, it is about effort. So that I grew to also believe even when feelings changed, the foundation of the relationship did not. That foundation that depended on the belief that things were overcome as one and that nothing was a threat to the overall.
Within the comfort of his love, I became like one of Ainsworth’s securely attached infants. I explored myself and my world to an even fuller extent, to a layer deeper than I realized existed.
Many parts of me changed, through time or the relationship. I embraced it all and saw the growth without acknowledging the sacrifices to quite the same extent.
I would say, often, “It’s great, because we are two whole individuals who decided to come together. It’s not two parts of something complete, it’s more like when 100% and 100% become 200%.”
Things ended with “I am not sure I love you anymore.”
What just happened? Screamed within my mind, bouncing back and forth, over and over, demanding to be answered. And the words were so loud that I couldn’t hear the other softer, but no less pain ridden question.
Who am I now?
I couldn’t hear that question for a very long time, even past when I had answered What just happened and How did this occur. I couldn’t hear Who am I even as I grew to accept that there was no answer to the simple Why, the question I thought would haunt me the longest.
I had gotten too used to that hand in mine, to being moored amongst the universe by another. So much so that when he suddenly let go, I both no longer possessed the skills to orient myself in this chasmic swirl nor the instincts to realize that which I did not have. Independence, true independence, wasn’t something I had encountered for quite some time.
At first, I reacted wildly to my unaccompanied state. I didn’t realize a person could cry like that. I didn’t realize I could cry like that. I lost ten pounds in as many days, as fat and muscle wasted away without movement, without sustenance. The gnawing in my heart afforded no room for a physical appetite.
In the presence of other people, I still felt alone. I thought I would collapse under the weight of that awful loneliness. There seemed no way to alleviate it. At times the feeling would press down all the heavier with no warning and I was quite sure it would kill me. With a certain amount of learned helplessness, I fell victim to its pressure.
Even so, I still had some fight in me. I swung in the other direction, embracing my newfound single identity like a weapon. I went on dates with other men, telling myself that it was an effort to erase him from my mind as I constantly maintained his image there as a reference for comparison. I called myself the ice queen even though rather than feeling nothing, I felt everything to such an extent that I became habituated to the white noise of my emotion.
In reality, I likely needed someone to share the burden, but having been burned once it felt I would never trust again.
“Love is a lie.” I would say to my friends. And some would laugh because the jibing tone served as enough of a social cue while others let out a sharp bark as they faced their own embittered hearts once again.
I had chanted you are who you are silently to myself, growing rapidly in tempo during the darker hours, without considering exactly who that might be. It is ridiculous to so wholly and suddenly become strangers with yourself.
Caught within the core of this chaotic, ubiquitous sadness I did not realize I had lost my personality until time weathered away the all-consuming, overshadowing broken heart. The crack is still there. It will always be there, but it gets a little shallower and the injury less life threatening every week.
Now, I can be alone again. To do that, I had to relearn to live life by sharing things with myself. To no longer hold my pain in my hands and offer it to everyone around me in a desperate attempt to make it something other than mine alone. Instead, I gather that pain to me. I sit with it, and acknowledge it, and I thank it for all the ways in which it has nudged me to both ask and answer questions. Then I let it go. When one loses the tether of love, it can be quite compelling to anchor with pain. But to do so is to refuse to answer.
Who am I now?
Modern Day Witches
Her hair is greasy but not coarse
She doesn't feel the need to wash the world off quite as often as others
And her nose is bent but not hooked
The rain gives her energy
She finds patches of forest
To run, dance, play
She crouches beside yellow rivers of pollen
bewitched by the swirl of pigment
watch as it sticks to the rock
She loves the tangle of flowing dresses around ankles
And dirt, barefoot, between toes
She asks herself
where our paths will wind
of where we might go
She studies humanity
And cries for its ugliness
Still, she knows its beauty
and brings it out around her
She’s often lost in pages
That teach of inner energy
and connection with the universe
She cannot work when the sun is out
because good sunlight deserves a good walk about
She lights incense and meditates
To further understand herself and her unlimited power
She walks with the memory of a tiny hand in hers
And fights for not her future, but the future she will pass on
She teaches others how to live and let go
Yet reaches out to everyone
And clings still to those who need
We are antiestablishment
We fight for our womanhood
We aren’t afraid to ask for things
We assert ourselves, hear our voice on the streets
They cannot burn us again and so they may try to bury us
But we won’t stay down
We are modern day witches
modern day boss bitches
Looking for Love
“Hate is stronger than love.” I said it with spite, the car ride was taking too long. I was worried about my tests and at that point all of the bad feelings inside were becoming too much and I needed to say it in order to let them go. I almost believed the words, but not really.
“That’s not true,” my grandma said with a conviction that only served to rile me up further.
“It is!” I insisted, throwing myself back in my seat. “With all the things I’ve seen, I know it is.” I said it with all the weight of my seventeen years. In my efforts to convince her, I’d talked myself into it.
“Well, with all that I’ve seen, I can tell you it isn’t,” my grandma said and hers had the weight of some 240 seasons past mine behind. She rubbed the front of her vest with her fingers. It doesn’t make sense to have coat sleeves if it’s not below forty, she’d mentioned before. I didn’t agree. For me, it was always full-coat weather or no-coat weather. “Love is the strongest thing of all, you must know that.” My grandma had twisted in her seat to look at me with anxious eyes. My dad, who had been driving silently, nodded.
“How can you know?” I asked, not without a certain amount of hopelessness, having really gotten into it now. Across the news I saw school shootings and fences and domestic violence. I did not see love. I saw the divide between the rich and poor and black and white and brown. I did not see love. My grandma was silent for a moment, which was distinctly uncharacteristic of her. Finally, she turned to look forward out the window shield.
“There’s a boy in fourth grade in Florida, who couldn’t afford a University of Tennessee jersey for college color day at his school. He took an orange T-shirt, instead, and drew out a logo on an 8x10 piece of printer paper. He safety-pinned it to the shirt and he wore it to school. He was very excited to be able to participate and very proud of his design. Until a group of girls from another grade saw him at lunch and teased him about the quality of his shirt, so much so that he went back to his classroom and cried at his desk. His teacher asked him about it and then posted it to the internet in a bid for support, which is how I know of it. The University of Tennessee also heard, and that boy’s design went officially on sale, blazed out in white on orange shirts at the campus gift shop. Thousands of strangers wrote letters of support, and put in orders for these shirts, and the boy was even offered a scholarship to the University of Tennessee in 2028. All of the proceeds from the sales are going to anti-bullying campaigns. People are kind and love is stronger, you just have to be ready to look for love instead of hate. Afterall, you’re likely to find what you’re looking for.” My grandma finished and patted me on the thigh before turning back around in her seat.
“You still can’t know it for sure,” I said it for the consistency, because I’d been such a poor sport earlier. This time, however, I didn’t believe myself quite so much.