To Mani, With Love

This year I’m struggling to temper the bitterness of grief from the absolute joy of knowing you. Every new ache blooms from this wound – an echo of this day.

Mani, I wish I knew earlier on that healing can feel awfully close to dying if you sit still for too long. I wish I knew that dissecting my feelings won’t stop me from feeling them. This year has wiped me clean. Purity through complete carnage. I don’t know what’s coming next and I’m scared, but I know I’ll find you there. Whenever I head in the right direction, there you are.

I finally designed your tattoo, a little living memorial for my skin. I always keep my word and now I’ll always keep yours.

I love you, kid. My heart is always within reach of you.

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loaded gun

I wish that we didn’t expunge recovery of its grief. Here’s what I wish I knew when I was younger:

Above all else, you will live.

Survival is messy; it’s cruel. You will lose near everything, again and again — and yes, it will force you to cherish whatever in your life is strong enough to stay. You will have friends who stay awake with you all night when you’re too afraid to sleep. You’ll have people who know you so intimately they remember the foods that you dislike. There are beautiful parts that only strengthen in times of turmoil because you and your tribe put in the work. You will feel so intensely grateful that at times, your love for them will bring you to tears.

But there are years that give and there are years that take. Every time you say that you can’t take any more pain, something new and horrifying will round the corner. You won’t understand why it happens this way. You never can guess them before they happen — then once they happen, you won’t understand how you didn’t see it coming. And you will sit there for days on end, fading in and out in your grief, the world a radio you can’t quite tune into. Pieces of it stick out in the static, so bright it almost makes your eyes ache. You will wonder how to rebuild everything, again.

somehow, you will make the choice every day. you’ll spit the blood from teeth and stand up. they’ll tell you it’s brave. it won’t feel like it, not at all.

it feels like loss.

and yes, they’ll tell you that it won’t always feel this way, but you never manage to get the last taste of grief off your tongue before the next bomb drops.

intrusive

on my way home from work i pass a hawk
its talons crushing some animal i know i
would’ve loved. a turkey vulture glares into my car – i blocked his view of the
carnage and the world will always
be hungry

i sob through the traffic on Parker.
no matter how loud the radio, i can still hear the squelch. talon meets
meat meets bone. i’m exhausted.

if it gets too quiet i feel my lower jaw crumbling
three pieces, teeth inward.

Five Days from World Mental Health Day

There have been many conversations sparked recently by assault and honestly? I find it exhausting.

Don’t mistake me – survivors’ stories, especially high-profile survivors of multiple genders, are incredibly important. It is the public reaction that tires me.

“But she got in the film, so she traded her integrity for her career. I don’t feel bad for her.” and “but he’s a huge, buff guy. There’s no way.” and “I don’t see what the big deal is. All men in power are like that, they should’ve known better.”

You know what fucking sucks about assault and rape culture? If we speak out against it, if we explain our experiences, then we’re told we

1) should’ve said something sooner.
2) asked for it.
3) can’t possibly mind the attention.
4) are lying.

But if we don’t say anything for a long time because we’re afraid – of the repercussions, of the blame, of opening the floor for everyone to comment on one of life’s darkest experiences – then nothing changes.

There is no winning. Where do we go from here?

I’ll tell you where I’m going. I’m writing for other survivors, through and through. I’m not writing to convince anyone of what’s happened. I fucking know what happened. Your boyfriend, your brother, your sister, your son, your daughters – every hand that’s ever laid on me without my explicit consent? They know what happened. And I’ve already learned that it’s a lot easier to be angry at the woman who tells you she’s been assaulted than it is to be angry at the assailant – especially when it’s someone you love.

I get it. No one wants to believe they’re getting in bed with a monster. But that doesn’t mean I won’t raise the alarms – that doesn’t mean I won’t draw explicit, angry boundaries to ensure my safety.

Everything

It is always tempting to spit out stories and say, “here, this is everything.”

I’ve never met a writer who could do that, though. There are always bits that we lose to time, to perspective, to the relentless inner scrutiny. It is terrifying to record the moments of our lives – sometimes because reliving, recounting, re-inviting those memories back is painful beyond measure. And then, once you’re finished, you string the lines in your front yard and invite everyone home.

Here’s what I can say and it is not everything.

I never dreamed of having a life where I woke up feeling grateful. This morning, fall cupped my cheek and welcomed me back – to what, I don’t yet know. But I know that I’m excited to be here. I’m thrilled to see what comes next. I look at the work ahead of me, the essays still lingering behind my lips, and I know that I am heading somewhere new.

So, in short – There is still work to do and I will continue to build a life that amazes me. Thank you for being a part of it. xx

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24

here’s the truth
I have never wanted to be permanent before you

my first love held me only by the fingertips, my eyes
cast outward seeking sunlight. distant,
he called me.

but you are so close.
your breath lulls
my hummingbird heart
I settle into solid amber – calm, dark

and sweet.

How to Fix Your Face

I was eight when I first discover how to close the gap between my private and public face.

It started with cold, damp paper towels pressed against my eyes in the school bathroom. I sat on the toilet, face to the sky, letting the water pool along the swollen skin. It stung. By the time I can leave the stall, most signs of my panic attack had slipped into my normal features – save the swollen, cherry-colored downward crescent of my mouth. I quickly learned how to escape from rooms while drawing the least attention possible as I ran away – to bathrooms, to empty classrooms, to my mother who had to rearrange her life and work in the school office for my health.

From there, it became an art. I prided myself in putting everything back together – in rearranging my face to hide the roaring distress – in settling the surface of the water and allowing the piranhas, with their snapping jaws and glassy eyes, their freedom beneath the stillness.

But fuck if it doesn’t get harder. Maybe it’s that the wounds got worse, the damage more visible.

A bad hookup led to covering bruises, hiding burst blood vessels along and inside my eyes. It looked like someone had thrown paint in my corneas. When I caught others looking, despite the hours I had spent with ice packs over my eyes, I tried to smile. I can’t remember if my lip was split or if something else made my mouth ache. No one asked about the red-tinged bruises lining my throat. But I remembered them every time I swallowed.

I covered the raised, patchy mess of my face with plain Greek yogurt. I left metal spoons in my freezer, then pressed them against my eyelids. I wish I could say I had seen stars – instead I saw nothing.

When I opened my eyes, the room struggled to take shape before me.


I’m older now.

My private face has shifted almost entirely inward – the river has frozen over just enough to allow safe passage. I swallow panic and it is sharp against my tongue. But sometimes I find myself locked in a bathroom stall, chin tilted skyward, cleaning the saltwater from my cheeks – reducing the swelling with paper towels as cold as I can handle. I feel so small in these moments… as if I’ve stepped out of time and I’m eight again, somehow equally privy to the horrors to come and surprised when they arise.

Seasons

Today I am picturing the year like a long table and each month is a different body, a different person who sits beside me.

January slipped her hand in mine. February brought me flowers, the snow from the petals melting into a puddle. I can still trace my name through the moisture left behind. March was loud, booming, his hands punctuating every breath and I found myself biting my tongue when he asked how I felt. April was softer – April brought me soup in a bright red bowl but no spoon. May watched me drink straight from the bowl and only laughed when some dribbled on my chin. June sunk into my arms – June asked for coffee, for time, for the sweet light of morning to shine forever. July kissed my cheeks and braided my hair and invited me home. July asked me what I was missing.

The days are peeling slowly, with anticipation, as I wait to uncover August. She is beautiful and still, not unkind but precise – every movement building.

I don’t know what’s coming next. I sit at the table with my palms up, open, waiting for the harvest of fall.

Look ma, no hands.

don’t touch me. please.

stop.

but you won’t stop. I know that about people like you. Rarely do I even get a chance to say anything before your hand is grating against my body – unwanted, unwelcome.

I don’t know why it keeps happening. I don’t know what about my body makes it seem like communal property. I just don’t understand. But it always hurts, it aches, I feel every single goddamn hand from every motherfucker who violated me before you. I don’t sleep for awhile. I leave a little too often to get sick in the bathroom. I cry in my boyfriend’s arms and try to piece the night together.

Maybe it’s time for a change.

Maybe this time, when you touch me and my skin burns and my mind goes blank, maybe this time I’ll repay violence with violence. I’m granting myself permission.

If your hands are on my body without consent, I will take them. I will unhinge my jaw and swallow you whole, I will yank you into the nightmares that keep me up at night – of hands and loss and fear.  I will take no prisoners. And then, when I have made myself unforgettable, I will fucking leave. Let me crawl the road to your childhood home with your hands in tow. I will bring them home to your mother, all skin and tendons and blood, and I will tell her about the monster she has raised – that she will bury. And I will go home and I’ll sleep soundly at night.

let this be your only warning.

don’t

fucking 

touch me.