Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Saying Goodbye to April

One hundred feet away I am an enticing splash. Two feet away I am slow drying cement. The grubby hands of uninvited schoolchildren fight each other for space, begging to declare they were here. This is my first taste of desperation.

In a December 2012 circle, I could not cry. New and naive, I still believed we'd met again. Who we are at seventeen should not define who we are for the rest of our lives. I imagine a prettier April. Lighting a cigarette in my parent's living room, I am careless, the coffin nail burning a perfect circle in blue sweatpants. Across the street, I climb atop a small horse. Galloping, my inner thighs bruise with familiarity. My pony calls this learning and all the men in the audience agree. Achey, I enjoy the pain of forced adulthood.

I was eighteen the first time I remember being mistook for a prostitute. In lilac cutoffs and a tie-dye t-shirt, my tips from a busy summer day spill onto a gas station counter. "Be careful out there honey. You are so young." Her voice quivers with pity as she beckons her co-worker. Afraid of my youth, the sweet nectar of a freshly untethered sexuality, the second store clerk scolds, "But you're so pretty."

A man, circles his car. "Where's your daddy, baby? You got a boyfriend?" Finger licking the shadow of a harness, my knobby knees carry me, sprinting, up a flight of white stairs until I am back in my room for the night. Climbing into bed, having nothing to grasp onto but myself, I pulled at my own orange hair and scream. An observer glued to a story in which I am not a character, a tragic symbol for a pain I've never known, I bend over to vomit. I should of cried when I said goodbye.

The Rabid

Read through every word you have written in the past eight months
blinking at yourself in the mirror, every night for eighty days
could you look at me and still declare, "Humans are very genuine creatures"

I was gritting my teeth and panting
when they examined my body without seeing me,
in their glances they said, "It's time to put her down"

Myself, I imagine pushing you down a flight of stairs
so violently, your upper lip splits
my fury petting me like a lap dog
howling in my ear

They found me, the perfect rabid
uncompromising and covered in drool
damning everything within reach

I have dreamt of pushing ten people
down a flight of stairs only to say,
I have arrived.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Fantasy of Uniqueness

Spring 2017.  

A woman I call mom always when I'm talking about her and never when I'm talking to her inquires about a new him. When I tell her I do not trust men who have not suffered, she knows I am lying. This time, I do cry.

Fall 2016.

Saturday night's look: eight months off crystal & dating a trucker. I'm embarrassed and too sober until a rich girl in glasses shoves a plastic cup full of a Celiac's disaster into my hand. You look real pale and smell like sadness. Rich girl won't stop talking; you take the cup. Clean shaven, he looks a lot like this musician I was really into when I was 15. I wonder how many people tell him that, but then remember the type of people with whom he surrounds himself. Your pop culture is not my pop culture.

No grit. No edge. Cliche, no - predictable. 15 year old me went on a walk; 21 year old me wants to go home, but doesn't recognize the way back to campus. Mutual disinterest. I'm switched out for a sorority girl whose blond hair doesn't come from a box. No longer giddy on a turquoise couch, traded in red Colorados for black Audis, pink ribbon laced creepers for black booties and called it a recovery. How scary it is to think I've healed.

Through an SMS screen I learn that you're "terrified" of making moves on girls.

January 2017.

So terrified that your loneliness becomes my responsibility. So terrified that you remind me that my body is too woman to really mean anything. Too woman to be considered a threat. Against a '06 Pontiac Grand Prix my arms blossom into the dead wings of a cork-pinned moth. My PTSD, your victory lap. Through torn stockings and a semen stained dress that now resides at 201 West North Street, I learn that you are what is terrifying.

Do rapists remember the women they rape? Are we hand selected and groomed for meeting some sort of baseline criteria? Or is it like a video game, with our various identifiers equating to various scores? +50 feminist! +200 acquaintance! Your high score dependent on my tears, I am what must be conquered before entry into the next level.

February 2017. 

A bored and exhausted woman asks for what feels like the hundredth time, "Are you going to class?" What a privilege to be annoyed rather than petrified. I begin to wonder if I have an identity outside of academia, but the thought is fleeting. "I believe something happened to you," and like that, I remember exactly who I am: a series of holes waiting for a baseball bat. "In high school I used to shoot two grams of heroin a day and here I am." That shuts her up. Attendance, as if that's the ultimate indicator of one's sincerity.

In the library, I pretend not to be afraid of you. "You're smarter than the other two. I've got a special plan for you." My spit on your face is nothing compared to your cum on a red chiffon dress. Shame that I wasn't wearing blue. Monica Lewinsky jokes make better punch lines than rape poems.

A new man, older, wearier, leans over a porcelain sink, thick hair pouring into the basin below. It’s like I have ADD, only for people. "Why do you always look like you have a question?" Why does all sex taste like breaking and entering?

Blondie calls to say me too.

March 2017.

I am walking into work when I become a stock character in a story that will always be yours. Most days I am more victim than survivor. A drain clogged with too much emotional baggage, I spend more time in the Title IX office than I do being conscious. There are days I want people to believe me more than I want to be alive. I'm making yet another scene in the mouth of trauma.

April 2017.

I spend a weekend in Detroit responding to a report of an incident you'll tell your mother never happened. To my twenty six pages, you'll spend 12 minutes misspelling my name in a series of nine sentences.

I fell in love with every pretty thing, but now know better than to pursue it. That makes him a hero & me a tragedy.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Woo! The aftermath.

It's 1:58pm on a Tuesday and I'm not late when I see one of my favorites out of the corner of my eye. I'm fumbling with outdated technology and am too ashamed to acknowledge his existence. When a woman with whom I have worked for four years suggests I only like two things I want to cry, but upon further consideration, realize her statement is more a reflection of herself than it is of me.

"You should think of what it does to a person when you tell them something like that."
She's afraid she's offended me and wedged behind nervous laughter, declares that she's convinced I like her too. I suppose she has allowed me three things now. Switching between two armors, I am distracted by my own daydreams. There are so many beautiful ways to die. Like a tipsy schoolgirl, I nearly trip, and giggle myself out of the room.

In an office with two black bags, she asks what I think of a new him. I tell her I do not trust men who have not suffered. She says I don't trust any of them. This time, I do cry.

Freshmen year, a roommate who studies frogs, "You're always angry and you smoke too many cigarettes." Same year, but this time a boy, on two different occasions, "You'll never be happy." and "Stop internalizing." This inspires me. I stop smoking so as to not be like him.

Two summers later a Navy brat confirms, why yes, he has not seen me smile all weekend. I tell him perhaps he has not given me anything to smile about. He considers himself charming.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

my sister, the mean one, pulling my hair

Wake up. Go to class. It's critique day and I'm not an art major. Sad boys grow up to be accountants. Meanwhile, I'm in the bathroom cutting the string off a tampon. "Oh wow, you deal with disasters." He talks in speeches. I laugh too loudly. Car air always feels more fake than non-car air. No one seems tired and I am reminded that I have so much more life ahead of me. "Once you were seventeen. Now you are not." Somehow I have fooled the whole room into believing in me. Sweaty in a new space.

I can't walk home alone at night. There are so many other things to sing about besides being lonely. Or cold.

En route. A woman with ten butterfly tattoos on her back. I spend the next two weeks spitting out gossamer wings. I wonder if my uncle goes to strip clubs and what type of patron he is.

In a dream, Lauren calls, "I'm proud of you for being everything I'm not - everything I'm afraid of." Why does every holiday feel like the last supper? Look oily; smell peonies. Sitting next to her in a car that reminds us both of our father, she is seven months pregnant, but I take up more space somehow.

"Keep him still," an operator spits.  

"I know what you did Carol! I have an attorney. You better watch yourself!"

I am barefoot on summer grass and he is not still, so when I ask myself how I got here I already know the answer. As always, in the film version, they love each other. Hand holding throughout suburbia. Move your lips and say nothing. I edit out their voices and place my tongue in their mouths. That way no one can disappoint me.

In my dream, the love doesn't run out. In my dream, I am not barefoot on the lawn.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

My name's not Blurryface and I do not Care what you Think

It's December of 2015 and I have officially been back in this country for a week when I declare out loud for the first time, "I've got to do it. I can't take it any longer!" My friend looks up from where she sits and warns me of what happens when girls end things with their long-term boyfriends: They start sleeping with randoms from their past. We both explode at the intrepidity of such a suggestion.

"Hey, whatever happened to that sad sap that hit on you when you were a literal baby?" she drags out the words, emphasizing how long ago this must have been.

I pause, completely unaware of with whom she is referring.

"Grog Shop." "Andrew Jackson Jihad." "L.A. Grange." She probes me.

"Ohhh, dude I don't know. Probably lost his hand in a warehouse accident."

"I just sent him a friend request," and she bursts into a roaring fit of laughter.

I smile at her sloppily, half smirking, half you better-be-kidding. This babe's probably the most prude person I could comfortably associate with and the thought of her hooking up with a random dirtbag is well...exactly the type of behavior I perpetually encourage her to participate in, historically to no avail. Not to mention, I am utterly in awe at my girl's ability to retain this asshat's name for so many years.

So, a few days later, when my phone chirps with a new friend request I nearly slap my friend square in her face. You didn't I want to scream. But then I remember, my bitch is back in California and punching her in the face is isn't really an option at this point, so I proceed asking myself only, "Will this make a good story? Will this be interesting to deal with?" There's this perfect two week window before school begins again and between working full time in a *gasp* office job and applying to every internship known to humankind, this presents as a comical fourteen day distraction. I saw his band play (an inaudible discombobulated mess) and spent a night in an unfinished bedroom where even the darkest of dreams go to die. Staring blankly and unable to identify why, I remember declaring, "I feel weird."

Then, something truly strange happened. My phone chirped yet again. It was a text from...him. Frankly, I was confused. Why can't guys understand when a scheme is well, over? Did I not specifically ask you not to remember me? But in his hasty abandonment of stock character behavior, I was overwhelmed by the few endearing traits I had collected the previous night, or as Margaret Atwood reminds us, "How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation."

I made some joke about T. Swift's "Clean" being about finally washing the Lorain grime off your bod and slowly my fourteen day distraction became erm...more than fourteen days. I was going to be in town for a sewing job and we talked about the possibility of meeting up again, but when that blew up into insane proportions, I wished you well, went back to school, and was on my way. So, imagine my surprise when I walk into a local concert venue to see a whiny band that a friend from high school used to play with and I see this punk. Actually, my first thoughts are that I am hallucinating because somehow that seems more likely. We went three years without ever running into each other before, why now? When you sleep with so many men (sorry mum) they all start to blur together. Was it you who declared a love for the band headlining this shitshow? Why did their name sound so goddamn familiar?

And suddenly it hits me. Why I had felt weird the night I spent in that bed; fucking him was like fucking my high school self. And no, I do not just mean in the awkwardly timid way in which his gangly body moved, but in the manner in which fear dictates every single aspect of his human existence. Fear of navigating a new city. Fear of economic insecurity. Fear of forming new relationships. Fear of unscrewing the bottle cap of years of emotional suppression. Cozy in a twenty mile radius of his hometown he wrote songs about detachment with the same ol' cronies he grew up with. Shrugging apathetically in a perpetual declaration of indifference, he actively avoided opportunity and instead choose to trade every last drop of potential for a guaranteed lifetime of misery. Although music was the one thing his eyes semi-lit up for, the sheer possibility of unrecognized effort left him completely unwilling to devote any time or ability to anything. His band barely practiced, avoided promotion and was in a near constant lineman shift. Fail proof ego protection, sure, but I wondered if such doubt paralyzation had him biting his fingernails in the shower or waking up beneath steady streams of cool sweat. The whole chain-smoking habit made perfect sense now.

Like any opportunity presented in the last three-four years, he tiptoed around, actively avoiding eye contact and pretending not to see right through me. I did not really experience any surprise, for he essentially did the same thing months ago, hiding behind SMS screens and unanswered plans, but I was thoroughly amazed at his awkwardness, his institutional inability to behave like a cordial adult. Although an apology was far from what I wanted, “I’m sorry I made you unhappy,” were the only words he could fumble through trembling teeth. I did not feel embarrassed or humiliated or burdened by wasted time, I just felt sorry. Sorry that there are 24 year old men who have not dated since high school, who are controlled like puppets by the supposed horror of uncertainty, and who stage run-aways to avoid having to confront any sort of raw human emotion.

"I feel sorry for you," was all I had to offer.

Perhaps I am the one who owes you an apology. Sorry for seeing through your defenses. Sorry for believing in you. Sorry for having expectations of basic human decency.

Ten days clean, you were the first man I locked lips with in sobriety, and three years later, you were the first fuck after the official ending of arguably the most unfulfilling relationship of my lifetime. The beauty in such a cosmic continuum juxtaposed next to the reality of your fear made this whole experience exponentially more tragic. How foolish I was to believe you would allow me to do for you what you have done for me.

Two cars pull away, driving in opposite directions, each filled with a gaggle of laughing single-sex adults. I imagine the conversations that pour over, men foaming at the mouth, each eager to offer a misogynistic joust. Crazy. Bitch. Our car only shakes harder at the audacity. Sometimes when men are so incomprehensibly pathetic in their cowardice, all you can do is laugh and put on a lil’ show for your gal pals. Here’s to being fearless, aye?

Thank you for saving me twenty bucks in bleach and blue hair dye because why dye your hair blue when you can scare men away with your heart alone?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What I Learned from Falling in Love with Drug Addicted Men

It's a Wednesday afternoon and I have just slammed down my cellphone after yet another conversation with one of Ohio's most heavily sought-out treatment facilities for chemically dependent men. Elliott's on the other line, filling out paperwork and reading through counselors' emails. I worry that as a poly-substance addict who abuses just about anything besides benzodiazepines and alcohol, insurance will not cover the five-day detox. "Your withdrawal is not deadly," they'll say. But then again, I worry that insurance will only cover detox, and not y'know...actual treatment.

I am worried Elliott will die.

It is terrifying, yet a sensation eerily comforting in its familiarity. As a twenty year old, I have been through this before...thrice. This treatment facility, the one in which I have just spoken with, is the same one I visited Hudson at, what seems like now, so long ago. Even though Northeastern Ohio seems completely littered with addiction, I know there's more to my dating record than coincidence. After the first man, a tattoo artist I started vibin' with in high school, I cleaned myself up with the promise of never dating an addict again.

I lied.

As a recovering addict and aspiring clinician myself, friends and family repeatedly told me I fell victim to the thrill of addiction - the thrill of naively believing love can cure.

But really, I fell in love with personalities that just happened to have addiction checkered pasts...err...presents. One was actively using and dealing when we first met; another was in medical school, had been sober for years, and relapsed; and Elliott, oh Elliott, experimented with cocaine as a teenager, ran away to Europe for a couple years, and came back with a heroin addiction and baby girl. But all of them were fiercely passionate about their love for me.

I glorified such intensity - such rawness. They were hard-on-the-outside, complete mush on the inside types. Bad boys in stolen leather jackets, who said fuck a lot, drank Blatz beer, and were utterly unpredictable. They were outgoing, well-liked, fun. As a catastrophizer eager to abandon the comforts of my suburban girlhood, their adventure-seeking ways drew me in. As if experience can serve as some sort of protection from my curiosity, I sunk myself in again and again.

What I mean to suggest when I say these men were mush on the inside, is that they were well acquainted with pain. Naming him after the city in which he was conceived, Hudson's mother worked as a sex worker to support her own heroin addiction. As a child, he fell asleep to the lullaby of a steady string of men beating his mother to near death nearly every night. Liam, as an eighth grader, walked home from school to find his mother's body swaying within the grasp of a tightly wound rope. Elliott lost his father at four years old and kept a horrible secret for thirteen years. 

They prided themselves on pushing their pain away, suppressing it with swollen crack pipes and clogged syringes, but they all had such starkly peculiar insecurities that made them so goddamn sensitive - a quality I ate up greedily. So often I have been compartmentalized by lovers, burdened by conditions, aspects of my identity and reality excluded from their affection. Their love was different - overwhelming in its inclusivity. They were uncomfortable people who had mastered how to comfort others.

Friends and family said that I - a college-bound suburban-bred feminist activist with Ph.D dreams, was too good for them.

"He is not going to change," everyone told me, which only infuriated me. I don't know that. He doesn't know that. So, how are you to know that? Millions of people have changed. Heck, I am one of them. What if everyone said that about me when I was using? Wait, did you say that about me when I was using?

I cried in the shower. I cried in bed. I cried in the car driving to school. I cried in the car driving home from work. I could not find a single person who would listen. He's an addict? Dump his ass!

No one, even other recovering addicts, was willing to accept that I was in love and fighting for my partner's health, just as they would if their significant other were ill with some other less stigmatized disease. I was not better than my boyfriends and I had long known that, but what I learned was, neither were these people so eager to offer their advice. These people who disregard my relationships fail to recognize that what they have is not inherently better just because their partner's screw-ups are less stigmatized. When I think about my friends' and family's relationships, I am far from jealous. 

I never worried that these men would cheat on me or that I was just the best option at the time. I never worried about falling into routine, growing stale and becoming boring. I never worried about a lukewarm love because mine engulfed me in flames. They were addicts for Christ's sake. They knew devotion. They knew obsession. This kind of ride-or-die commitment was riveting. Goddamn, why do you think young women swoon over Lana Del Rey songs? Sometimes, this commitment was haunting. Beneath a loaded handgun, passion can quickly become a threat, "Five, four, three - are you leaving me for good? - two...."

Don't fret. I know that was not love; it was manipulation. I have since learned the distinction. 

There were other lows, like the time Liam and I went to see the Desaparecidos. Freshly out of Suboxone, he spent the night curled into fetal position on a bathroom floor. I remember driving back to school as he spewed vomit out the passenger side window. When he refused to go to an urgent care or hospital, I drove him to a shooting gallery instead. I am parking, the car is still in motion, and he is flying out the door. I recall looking in my rear-view mirror, unable to locate him. I bawled my eyes out as my imagination painted a vivid carousel of every awful thing that could have happened, only for Liam to return with a smile strewn across his face, gas station coffee (my personal favorite) in hand.

I am certain I spent more time on drug corners in my first year of recovery than during my active use. I have threatened to slaughter drug dealers, and followed men straight-up grand-theft auto style to ensure their attendance at 12-step meetings and/or counseling appointments. I have phoned mothers and sisters and parole officers. I have spent hours researching treatment facilities and Suboxone prescribers. I have looked through phone records and urinalysis screenings. I know that the real reason so many government agencies exclude former drug users from employment is not due to security risks, fear of relapse, or just general hate for addicts, but because we would be too thorough at our jobs. Our investigative skills are unbeatable and only strengthened by years of loving other addicts.

I know of no pain deeper than watching someone you love suffer with such intensity. To hold a grown man, trembling and shaking with hysteria, unable to solve the singular puzzle that was destroying their lives. The torture in loving someone who hates themselves. All I wanted was to convince them that someday, somehow, if they put in the effort, they could learn to feel okay, and with time, maybe even better than okay. You could be happy without drugs. Look at me I'd say, as if I was speaking to myself. I would light candles and play delicate dream pop, staying up for days caring for them as they detoxed.

But sometimes love is not enough (sorry 'bout the Lana references, last one I promise). They could not put the crack pipe down long enough to visit their mother's grave on mother's day or say goodbye to heroin long enough to earn the degree of their dreams or to cheer their daughter on in her school's theatrical production. They could not would not quit for their families or themselves and they certainly could not would not for me either.

I find myself in different circles these days and something tells me my pattern of romantic involvement will shift, but I have not one ounce of regret for the moments I have spent wrapped up in love with drug addicted men. Loving these men taught me how to fight for those you believe in, not to abandon something because it is not ideal, and perhaps most importantly, demonstrated the extent to which the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but human connection. 

My heart grew bigger because of them. Perhaps too big, but what a small consequence for the opportunity to love so deeply.

*All names have been changed.