Tag Archives: violence

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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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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Some say fire, some say ice.

I do not know how to love any differently, but I almost wish I could.

First, light linguistics. Then, the way it all falls apart and comes together.

When my friends share their troubles, I am always the first person to offer my fists. “I’ll fight them,” I say, and most laugh but some pause. It doesn’t bother me – I don’t know if I’m joking either. I offer to fight at least three people a day. There’s a clear connection between love and violence, as if the damage I’m willing to dole out is somehow demonstrative of the depths to my love.

I’ve never understood that in myself. I try to wrap my brain around it, try to reframe it, but at the end of the day, I offer my fists as love more often than not.

Recently, life has forced my perception of love to the forefront. I have an urge to tidy my thoughts, tailor them to one of the following statements:
a) I love you so much I would burn this world to the ground for you.
b) I love you so much I would rebuild this entire world for you.

I can’t decide which is a healthier love to give or receive. I just can’t. Every time I lean into one, life pulls me toward the other. And maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe it’s just another jumble stuck in my head, but I can’t escape these thoughts. How do I want to love? How do I want someone to love me?

In quiet moments, I recognize that I don’t respond as well to love that threatens, that punishes, that growls from between clenched teeth. I can’t feel whole that way – and yet that’s the type of love that leaps from my stomach, all fists and knives and wide-eyed panic.

Some days I am soft – I am all slow touches, calming statements, validating conversations. But that course brings vulnerability, closely pursued by anxiety. True vulnerability feels akin to manipulation, as if the expression of my feelings could unfairly sway someone else. I fear the resulting resentment. And so I try to pack away the sweetness, the breadth, the depth of love. I pack it between clenched fists. I push it into combat boots and walk around town with a scowl when I’m alone.

This weekend marks the end of a beautiful journey in terms of love and I’m still afraid that I’ve ruined it somehow. I’m afraid that my emotions are too wild and heavy to hold and that, when I express them, I will drive away the very person I desperately want to keep close. I am petrified by the complexity of my heart, the way it starts and stops. It hurts, to feel everything so deep. It eats away at a person – even when it’s lovely, even when it’s beautiful. It hurts, but it matters and so I try not to wince.

It gnaws on my ribs, hungry, and I can’t beat it away. It echoes in my chest. I don’t know how to love any differently, I don’t know if it’s better to destroy the world for someone or to rebuild it for them, I don’t know, I don’t know. All I know is the dull ache beyond my lungs never stops, not fully, and I don’t know if it ever will.

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