Tag Archives: spilled ink

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.

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Empty Girls Walking

I could never write again.

I could go the rest of my life without putting pen to paper. No one can force me to pour myself over essays or arrange stanzas for another sad poem or pick apart the meanings of words that I have yet to unpack.

I don’t feel like a writer. I haven’t sat down to work for ages – I write blog posts, sure, and some poems here and there. Words still tumble around my brain until they ache, until I have to do something or I’ll explode.

But there’s an essay that won’t let me go. I haven’t written it and I don’t want to do so. I don’t want to write down the thoughts – I want to pour them down the drain, light the sink on fire, and run away.

I don’t want to face this memory.

And it’s holding me hostage in the worst way. It has me by the brain and every time I get close to something else, it throbs in my skull. The words have come to me, angry and insistent, time and time again. It’s too much.

I wish there was a tidy ending.. a promise I could give that I’ll write everything down, that I’ll explain myself, that I’ll empty the vault and release the pressure building up behind my eyes.

I don’t know, man. I’m scared of everything I have to say. I’m afraid of how true it is, it was, it continues to be.

All I can do is look down at my hands and think, maybe someday.

maybe soon.

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Let the Monsters Die

I think we’re allowed to let the monsters die
and yeah, I know, it stung when you pried your limbs
from between its teeth – there are
bruises on your joints that still ache years later

might never stop
and you’ll carry that pain
wearing it like a name tag,
like a reason.

remember
you climbed out of the beast on your own
it might remember your taste but it can’t
bite down and
feel your skin against its tongue anymore

it is too old to chase after you
its teeth are rotting, sliding between chapped
lips onto the ground – unruly headstones – still peppered with
memories of you,

and you lived.

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The Parting of Clouds

I’m not one to complain about happiness, but I am bewildered by it.

I’m more afraid of the dust settling than I am of the storm, you know? There’s something comforting in the struggle – something familiar. Even the loudest crashes of thunder become white noise if you hear it long enough.

But now… life is quiet. Life is peaceful. I have a job that I enjoy, I’m in a healthy relationship, I finally found a space of my own, and no one who wants to hurt me has access to me anymore. And that should feel freeing. I’ve successfully run from every abusive situation. I got away. Not everyone does – and I’m so grateful. I never imagined I would get this far.

So why can’t I relax?

I’m still  scared. I wait by windows, watching the clouds, almost desperate to prove my happiness can’t last… almost wishing to dive back into the eye of the storm. It hurts, but it’s supposed to hurt.

I’m afraid of how badly it will ache when this happiness ends. It’s almost paralyzing. I look at the happy little details, the beautiful moments, and I don’t know what to do with my hands. They’re hungry – they want to seize every second, to feel the texture of my life scratch against my palms. But I worry that my grip is too tight, my hands too greedy.. I worry that I will ruin everything I touch, if only given time.

I have to keep going, right? That’s the only way forward, the only way to build the life I didn’t know I could ever have. I’m going to let myself be afraid until I stop flinching. It hurts, but it can’t hurt forever.

I’ll be okay.

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The Woods

the hands are mine – small and pale,
hungry. it is as if a seed has dropped into my
palms, stretching inward

seeking nutrients from a body I have never
understood. it is as if someone
has planted the last tree here,
inside me
and it’s urgent and important and
sometimes my anxiety peels back the
bark protecting my chest until
I can’t breathe
teetering against roots without
an anchor, always a jump away
from felling the forest —

then
he smiles at me

and I can feel the leaves press against my skin
from the inside, I open my mouth
and taste fresh air;
hand over hand, I climb out of myself.
I find the sun.

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Caricature

sometimes I dream of my baby teeth –
of rearranging the tiny white mounds into messages
outside his bedroom door

I can almost feel their smoothness against
my palm. it hurts but I
write on, spelling out secrets on the carpet
wiping the blood from my chin

the door, closed,
the lock pressed inward – he is afraid
of the bone. he doesn’t know
what it means

the man leaves me in silence

with my tongue,
probing the sore and weeping craters of
my jaw

with my tongue
held and tied and angry.

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Something Old

Here is where I was, two and three years ago. Simple pieces. Nothing too heavy or incriminating. But poetry always marks who I’ve been and where I’m going.

 

Bus #32 off Orchard

To the bulimic on the 9 AM bus –
I’m sorry heaven’s light burns the skin
around your chapped lips, I remember
how badly the sun can sting on mornings
like this
you slide into the hard plastic seat
as if slipping beneath a pinewood lid
your body sighs, collapsing inward,
and I wonder
how long you would be permitted
to sleep.

——————————————————-

we spill into the street
like milk flooding linoleum
and we know there’s no use crying

the sun has yet to claim its throne
seducing the last whispers of dawn
a frigid wind slips underneath our scarves
stroking the smooth napes of our necks

screaming metal materializes
girls clutching coffee struggle
to remember their own names
we file inside and no one says it
but we always crave the proximity.

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They Could’ve Been Dancing

I truly believe you’re either born a poet or forged into one – but I can’t decide where that leaves me.

I’ve been a poet longer than almost anything else – my love for poetry just barely predates my trauma and the subsequent illnesses it wrought. Poetry was my coping mechanism long before I understood what I had survived. Words just make sense in a way that numbers and figures never quite managed.

April is National Poetry Month, intended to expose the nation to the beauty and calamity of words. Poetry is where I began. My first poem was published in Highlights magazine before I was old enough to type. It was about the wind. There was an owl. That’s all I remember. But I dictated the poem to my mother and I was so proud when she printed it out. Proud, but nervous. Once it was sent to the magazine, it wasn’t my poem anymore. But we have the print in my closet, locked away under other little memories deemed soft enough to treasure.

And so I was a poet.

I won an award at Tattered Covers. It was expected that the winners would read their work aloud but I couldn’t, not in the slightest, so I trembled behind my mother instead. She read about the wind and I shook, face red, my words so separate from myself that I could barely stand to hear them. Then the crowd applauded! And suddenly the fear and dread melted into something different, something I have struggled to define in the years since.

It was like being heard for the first time.

I hope I smiled then, but it’d be true to form if I had cried instead.

 

 

They Could’ve Been Dancing

we’re packed into a storage house
past its prime, plastered with graffiti and
band stickers and my friend’s glitter
bombs from five shows ago that never
washed away

I don’t know any of the songs but
that boy has my heart in one hand
and my hand in the other and
I’m shouting beneath my skin, eyes open,
watching the men grab each other
and sway

it’s beautiful
tangentially speaking
as if music, like weeds, grew
around a structure and said

“yes, here,
this will be enough.”

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The Girl through the Wires

She found me in the strangest way.

I didn’t have many friends left by the end of that summer. I had been looking forward to the sun but even blue skies couldn’t pull me out of myself. Instead I stayed in my childhood bedroom, still processing bruises that had long since healed. I can’t remember exactly when Sydney appeared in my life – I only posting on my blog and saying I was unequivocably done with friendship. I was tired of being hurt, after all. Then this beautiful, vibrant Minnesotan crawled through the internet and offered me her hand.

“You can’t give up on friendship! I’ll be your friend.”

We’ve talked about our origin at length in the four years since. It wasn’t like her to write to people, she says, and it wasn’t in my nature to respond so readily. Somehow, we just knew to speak.

Sydney kept my heart open and hopeful, despite my best efforts to shut the world out. We messaged on Tumblr back and forth, back and forth, discussing everything from Harry Potter to human rights to teen suicide to our favorite bands. I’m still unsure how we fell together so beautifully. That fall, I met Sydney’s celebrity crush. I hugged Ed Sheeran and told him all about my best friend across the country.. the best friend I had never met.

When we finally stepped on the same soil, it was like coming home. I’d never felt instantaneously at peace with another person, but Sydney is special. She and I watched Ed Sheeran, our hands intertwined . I still remember her nails digging into my palm as Ed plucked on his guitar.

Sydney turned 23 recently. I am so pleased to say that our friendship is as strong as ever – and I can’t express how much I owe her. Sydney has let me lean on her on my worst days and she’s made my best days possible. sydney.png

I can’t wait for our future adventures, Squiddy. Happy belated birthday. xx

 

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The rules of hurting

We’re all going to hurt each other.

I’m not saying you should feel comfortable with that, nor should the notion grant you permission to hurt people left and right, but it’s true. You will hurt every single person you love – and every single person you love will hurt you.

The degrees will vary, of course. Not every pain is a death sentence. Sometimes it’s something simple, unintentional, like an ill-timed joke about your hair or forgetting someone’s anniversary when they were counting on you to make the cake. There are different levels of hurt.

Here are the rules of hurting:

  1. It is your job to tell people when something aches – even if you think they should know. Our thresholds for pain are so wildly unique that at times we must guide each other to the wounds that have been poked through our skin – even when you still see blood on their fingers.
    1. Rule one can be disregarded in two circumstances.
      1. If the person has committed bodily harm against you, there is no need to tell them about it. For example, if a man punches you in the face, do not return to him – even if he was drunk and claims he can’t remember his fist colliding with your jaw.
      2. If you have told the person before that their actions hurt you and they’ve made no move to fix it, you are under no obligation to tell them again. You can. It’s your life. But repeating oneself is tedious and hope can be most dangerous here.
  2. To paraphrase the brilliant Louis C.K., when someone tells you that you’ve hurt them, you don’t get to say you didn’t. If you have a strong bond, it hurts to find out you’ve hurt someone you love. But to trample over them and fill the air with excuses or reasons why their pain isn’t your fault is cowardly at best. We’re all going to hurt each other. That doesn’t mean we should allow our friends to hurt by our hand.
    1. Make amends, not excuses. If you can’t stop hurting someone you claim to love, please let them go.
  3. Just because you’re hurting doesn’t make you right. Those thresholds I talked about earlier? Those levels of sensitivity that guide us throughout life? They do not give you room to be cruel or vindictive. Your response to being hurt should not be to hurt someone else. And let’s be clear – having that drive doesn’t make you a monster, but acting on it does.

There are aspects of life in which you do not get a say. You don’t get to choose whether you’re chronically ill or disabled. You don’t get to choose where you come from. But it is my fondest hope that you get to choose who hurts you. It doesn’t have to be the family in which you grew up. It doesn’t have to be anyone who proved themselves unable to care for you in healthy, constructive ways.  I can’t wish you a pain-free life. But I hope you find yourself in the position to surround yourself people who will balk when they’ve hurt you, who will throw up their hands and hold you and make strides to never injure you the same way again.

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