slow burns of lit cigarettes building into forest fires; i feel like i was put on this earth to write about your love.
and i think- just for a split second- that i would wait for him in every airport for every year just to see him smiling at me from the other side of the glass. he is so beautiful to me in this heartbeat's space of time- this tiny pause between valves closing and breath catching, creating a freeze frame of suspended hope. and i forget for a moment that i'm nervous and uncomfortable in these stupid plastic yellow flats, ludicrous and slippery on frozen winter sidewalks. i forget that i am always so awkward and graceless and second-guessing every movement. all i know in this moment is this unexpected capture, this instance my brain casts memories in amber glass, frozen forever in warm light. and this feeling- this feeling i have always lived with- that i will carry this snapshot in time for the rest of my life.
his hands wander trepidatiously below my waist and i push away immediately. it is a reflex test i pass with flying colors, the practiced body geometry of an obtuse angle formed to keep my body shielded from contact or visibility.
please don't touch my stomach.
after he leaves i stare at myself in that unforgiving bathroom mirror throwing harsh light in sharp chiaroscuro off the swells of my body- the only angular lines on this humilating canvas. and i realize i haven't felt the texture of my clothing in five years. i've been swaddled in shapewear, cocooned and contained in lycra and latex and nylon and spandex, living in a state of constant compression. i have adjusted to a baseline discomfort that follows me from day to day like chronic pain, the omnipresent background noise of being uncomfortably warm and tattooed by seams. the physical complement to a mental malaise.
and i think that all the literature in the world about self-love and acceptance can't change the reality of my reflection, the instinctual animal fear that sends ephinephrine slamming into my bloodstream when the threat of physical affection reaches the dangerous boundaries of embarrassing flesh. please don't touch me. please don't look at me. no matter how i reframe it, the photo is the same.
it is four years and ten thousand dollars and half a million deficit calories later and there are still days i think that maybe i will never have a normal relationship with my body again. that i owe an apology to the boys who've loved or endured it over the years. that i will always be searching for confidence and comfort in the hollows of my collarbones and the peaks of hipbones, searching to remap this terrain over and over again. that there is never an endpoint, a goal weight, a final measurement that keeps me calm- just an ongoing circuitous journey that brings me back in front of the bathroom mirror, paced to the beat of that enduring mantra. good enough isn't good enough.
neon green light suffusing tables in a sickly glow, sparsely attended bar, cowardly cup of malibu & pineapple condensing in my sweaty left hand, my right one preoccupied with two part time jobs- texting barely restrained bitterness / wiping away the hot surge of unwanted, unwarranted tears- unwarranted in its predictability, in its contextual familiarity that i had set myself up for the fall in the final act of this lousy play in this empty theater just me alone on stage with a monologue read solely to my dog and a bottle of hydrocodone prescribed solely for my disappointment to be summarized in the weird and uncomfortable moment my voice broke across a tinny skype call to a stranger 2500 miles away as i said i'm not okay, i'm not eating at all- so then on that night awash in the green light my heart collapsed in a palpable, visceral way while he told me between measured responses in cold gray bubbles that there was another girl spending the night and then i felt the weight in my chest finally giving away and collapsing hard through the stopgap measure of nightmares and netflix, dragged down with interminable velocity and the gravity of realization- the sickening epiphany that the worst brand of heartbreak is a self-inflicted one, that i was never swimming closer to shore but treading water while the landscape drifted further away, that i was out there on this ledge by myself the entire time, nursing a small fire i kept burning in the back of my chest cavity (a small and shuttered space leased month-to-month) for him in stubborn defiance of meteorology.
but then you held my hand quietly and drove me home, and for the first time in our friendship there were finally no jokes or quips to exchange. and this is why i clutch on to a memory that once burned with humiliation. because the narrative shifted that night, the photo reframed itself, the gray bubble reassembled itself to that text you sent that i still read and reread so many months later- the only love letter i have ever received. this memory is like your apartment in las colinas suffering from an architectural flaw that cracks the front door open when the bathroom door slams shut- in the same night i finally nailed a coffin closed, a warm light turned on somewhere in the distance. i followed it to you and i am finally home.
another year end, another retrospective.
another topographical shift in the art of personal cartography.
there is a theme here that falls halfway between joke and intent, a process of evolution within a specific timeline. the premise is simple: reinvent myself every two years. and it feels like there's a fragile cube labeled new life stashed carefully in the back of my closet, that i move from place to place- in case of emergency, break glass.
in april 2012, i wrote this. it is december 2014, and i am back there again but reincarnated, so far gone from two years ago or four years ago that i am beyond recognition in my bathroom mirror. and this time i am not a monster in the glass (that diametric shift from martyr to megalomaniac), or a caricature of the person i wanted to become-
- but the rough draft, the work in progress, of the person i am becoming.
and if two years ago the focus was wresting control back to an internal locus, of reclaiming my own territory and remapping my own desires, then the shift in landscape now is a perceptible outcropping. i spent so long struggling with the idea that it was never about him, and now i am faced with a similar realization: it was never about me.
(the obscurity of these revelations isn't intentional- it's not as simple as assigning names or quantifiable values, because the concrete examples are ancillary landmarks on a bigger map. if you zoom in closely, you can identify markers along the way- half my body weight lost, new friendships gained, academic and career accomplishments, yet another round in the ring against cynical romanticism- but these are small pit stops in a lifelong journey of self-improvement.)
but the fact is that the most important part of my year in review has nothing to do with a facebook status update, a number on a scale, a pill count in my palm. it is the circuitous journey from a dark place to a warm patch of sunlight, the slow and steady unboxing of a brand new life. the happy reconciliation between two concepts that drive my every waking thought- good enough isn't good enough vs everything will be okay. the understanding that becoming a better person isn't about how i take care of myself, but how i take care of those around me.
so 2015 isn't about lighting a match and burning it all down, and it isn't about some bullshit thought catalog article about self-improvement in a new year. there are no bad habits to break or new hobbies to take up in order to coax myself into becoming a different person. this reinvention is a fine-tuning of perspective and communication, the continued forward momentum in the velocity of self-awareness.
put more simply (and as an epistle)- i want you to know that i am the happiest and most peaceful i have ever been. i want you to know that my gratitude and love for you extends far beyond my comedic routine of self-deprecating quips and simpsons quotes. you are important to me, in a way that my frenetic, solipsistic writing can't fully convey. it is my hope (and intent) to become the person you deserve in your life.
because in the immortal words of drizzy drake, i'm only 27 and i'm only getting better.
almost twenty years later, i can still remember the mortifying half-standing, half-crouching stance my seven year-old body froze in, hovering helplessly above that orange plastic chair. most video game devotees can identify a vague trend of slowly exchanging their social lives for the immersive captivity of gaming, but i can pinpoint the exact moment i branded myself a social outcast in pursuit of the top score.
third grade should've been the best year for me. sure, i was still not white or popular, and my mom did still dress me in those hideous purple corduroy pants from china that made me look like i was wearing a giant crown royal bag, but i was slowly starting to fit in. i had a great teacher- mrs. king, who wore cheerful reindeer sweaters and was a top-notch storyteller. i had these awesome new white shorts with pink pockets on the back. best of all, i had not just one, but two very cute boys in my class who vacillated daily for the #1 spot in my neverending list of crushes.
but that third grade classroom also came with a shiny row of macintosh computers that commanded my undivided attention above all else. here were the promises of entire afternoons spent creating artistic masterpieces in kidpix, writing the next great american novel in storybook weaver, or else tracking down that elusive minx carmen sandiego. i embarked on dozens of failed expeditions down the amazon trail, and routinely died of dysentery on the oregon trail. but nothing captivated my devotion as much as a simple, grid-based educational game featuring a poorly illustrated green frog creature- word munchers.
the objective was simple- guide your deformed little muncher frog across a grid of squares, consuming only the words that satisfied the grammatical criteria in each level while avoiding deadly troggle monsters. enemy movements accelerated and time limits decreased as the game ramped up in difficulty. there was a frenetic, addictive pace achieved at the highest levels that had me constantly coming back to munch more adjectives. nevermind that it was secretly an english lesson masquerading as a knock-off version of pacman, i was an addict to the muncher life.
that hapless wednesday afternoon brought heavy rainclouds, and as a result of the gloomy weather, the students of washington elementary were confined to indoor recess. my peers weren't as thrilled about this; the socially well-adjusted citizens of mrs. king's classroom looked forward to the playground. for them, it held promises of kickball games, freeze tag, rambunctious afternoons of trading beanie babies. for me, a girl so dismally underperforming in gym class that the coach banished me from games so i could read logic puzzles instead, indoor recess was mecca. thirty whole minutes at any computer i was fast enough to commandeer, thirty whole minutes to munch all the adverbs. and that fateful rainy afternoon, i was determined to not just improve my grammar, but to achieve the very highest word muncher score yet.
there was only one catch to my plan- indoor recess bred boredom, and boredom inevitably meant high demand for computer games. once i had put on an uncharacteristic burst of speed to lay claim to my chosen macintosh, i knew i had to stay put to defend my territory. a vacated seat, no matter how briefly unattended, meant giving up the computer for the remainder of recess. so i stayed firmly planted in that orange chair, despite the threat of increasing pressure in my bladder. if i gave in to the call of nature, my word munchers quest would've been forfeit. i had reached level 16, a hitherto unknown achievement that sent me frantically scrabbling across the grid in search of words with / o͝o / sounds. i couldn't just quit, couldn't just give up this newly plumbed depth of munching. not until i saw the high score. i kept my legs crossed, squeezed so closely they might as well have been superglued together. i wanted to be in that word munchers hall of fame so badly, as if seeing my name emblazoned across the screen in pixelated font would change me in some way. i was seven years old, and my crowning achievement would be spelled out by a little green frog thing. i would get the top score or die trying.
and though every humiliating detail is as clear and nuanced as if i have been living the experience groundhog day-style for the past twenty years, i still can't remember if i truly did attain the high score or not. whether it was from the triumph of accomplishment or the resignation to the unbearable need for a toilet, i finally stood up.
before i had even fully risen from that uncomfortable plastic chair, my bladder gave up. i froze, paralyzed by my own incredulity. this wasn't happening, this couldn't be happening. i wasn't an infant, i was a grown-up third grader wearing very cool white shorts, crouching in the presence of two boys i routinely fantasized about marrying, surrounded by all of my classmates. i was a word munchers champion. i couldn't possibly be urinating on myself.
a mannish girl with broad, tanned shoulders named emily noticed first. pointing at me, she shouted in disgust, "are you peeing?" the next five seconds caused a ripple of heads turning from every inch of the classroom. my crushes stared. i knew at once what my sunday school teachers always warned us about; this was hell, and i was almost certainly dead and suffering the cruelest eternal punishment. total abject humilation. the laughter rolled in like a crushing wave, and my eyes filled with tears as if my body couldn't wait to create more embarassing liquid. the boy at the computer to my left, eric, let out a horsey, braying laugh and i yelled "it's not funny!" at him before tearing out of the classroom as fast as my legs could carry me.
mrs. king must have called my parents to come to the school to bring a change of clothes for me. i cried in the girls' restroom, wishing i could take up residence in the stall and live there until my third grade class graduated. i knew i'd have to explain to my teacher, to my parents, and to my fellow classmates what had happened. i knew i had to come up with a pitiable, persuasive circumstance that would shame the onlookers into feeling sorry for me instead of disgusted and uproariously amused. and most importantly, i would never explain my word munchers frenzy. what if mrs. king decided i was not responsible enough to ever play computer games in her classroom again? what would my parents think if i told them i peed myself in a quest for grammar?
i would have to invent a medical condition. i would tell everyone that my stomach felt like a washing machine, and i had no awareness or control of my bladder whatsoever. this plan brought me back into focus, gave me resolve to finally vacate the protection of my restroom stall. i was a seven year-old with a quest again- a goal to perpetuate a lie to shirk responsibility for my poor decision. i washed my legs with wet masses of paper towels, mopped up my no-longer-awesome white shorts to the best of my ability, and stepped back out into the hallway.
my mother was there to meet me. she brought the horrible purple corduroy pants.
where the blood meets the lymph, it looks like a glorious sunset is drifting through my drainage tube. i tell myself this, pushing this red-tinged golden fluid bracingly away through my new plastic appendage. i tell myself this, as it drips sickeningly into a suction bottle that clips against me like a blood grenade. as it clings stickily to long strands of clotted blood like macabre red yarn. as it leaks out of me from a wound spilling forth its sloppy black sutures with the threat of complete detachment.
i am removed from my body. i do not recognize it anymore. i am not quite sure it belongs to me.
"you deserve this," says my plastic surgeon, somehow managing to talk and beam simultaneously. his smile is blindingly white; perfect, even, promising a better life with every glint. "you've worked so hard to lose all that weight, this is just the next step."
his wife stands beside him, her hair coiffed in huge, lush waves that belong in a shampoo ad and not this sterile office. her waist is possibly the same circumference of my calves; her breasts redefine the center of gravity. the two of them side-by-side are beautiful, and i am the clumsy outsider, awkward and uncomfortable in this black apron draped uselessly across my shoulders like a superhero cape. mediocrity girl.
the next step.
my father attempted to dissuade me, of course. he reassured me that the most important qualities i possess are talent and intellect in equal measure- my gifts from genetics, he reminded me. "as far as beauty," he concedes, "you are good enough."
and maybe that was the final push. good enough is not good enough.
my struggles with beauty, with weight, with body image. these things are not new or revelatory to anyone who has ever had two x chromosomes. i've never needed to chronicle them because i can read my own journey in any given sentence written by a female after puberty. the pressure to be desirable, the privileges of beauty.
and a thousand shared image macros promoting the importance of inner beauty and body acceptance couldn't erase the echo of one friend carelessly opining that i'm not at my "full potential." every mile i ran couldn't take me further away from the memory of an adolescence spent living as "ugly mimi." and i thought when the pounds came off the self-loathing would too, but it's never been far enough behind me. it has followed me to this day, to this couch, to this moment as i am sliding a sunset between my fingers and contemplating the cost of unattainable beauty.
i deserve this.
it doesn't hurt anymore.
and i think sometimes that maybe it never happened, and i never met you, and it was just a nightmare that lasted longer than both world wars-
-or it was just a moment in time. it was just a calendar date. it was just a long disappointment. and it never meant anything at all.
all you need to know is that there is a scar on my face, i'm starting a new life, and i have a friend who is helping me.
today i read a love letter written by ronald reagan to his wife, commemorating 20 years together.
the whole article in question focused on the art of writing love letters, the importance of communicating romance with pen and paper. the author wrote 52 notes to his wife over the span of one year. and i couldn’t help but feel like a spectator at a zoo, fingers pressed against the glass, outside looking in. a mythical creature behind inflexible walls, dragged in from the wild to be watched but never known.
then i looked up the term “cynical romantic,” because i can think of no better description for myself.
there is always this part of a person, after crushing defeat, that says i will never do this again. and you think you might have lost this capacity to believe that love is ever anything but an illusory compilation of desire and fear. that everything eventually becomes water in your hands. that there was never a lighthouse in the storm, just a desperate mirage that pulled you in to become wreckage against unknowable cliffs. and you know that if you stop romanticizing it for even a minute, the gold paint will peel off slowly to expose nothing but lead- a broken and cheap imitation that fooled you for years.
so i realize that men who get close to me have always wanted something from me. and i think i could give myself away in pieces, and never think twice about being hollowed out by loss. that i could feel nothing, and treasure nothing, and never be fooled again by the ruinous perception of need.
and this is why i am cynical.
then, there is this other part. this part that excavates itself from me in truetype fonts.
i have been writing love letters my entire life. i have penned poems, verses, stories about this one person, this phantom love. boys have pressed against my body, and their fingers have interlocked with mine, but no one has fit the prose, not truly. no matter how much i wanted them to.
i remember a time in my past life, when i said “i want what i write.”
and he sneered, “fiction?”
my heart broke then, as it always did, as it always has. and i stopped writing that year because everything i typed felt like a codified lie. the one about a girl who has been searching for love between dog-eared pages in a library book.
but deep down- and certainly bruised, so much worse for the wear- there is a fire still burning in that hollowed-out space. i know that i will wake up one morning beside the man whom all these love letters were fated for. and he will not be fiction, but flesh-and-blood, an imperfect human capable of perfect love.
and this is why i am romantic.
dreaming those nightmares again. of being pressed against him, our fingers intertwined, while he says the words that puncture wounds in my vena cava. and then i'm mimi from my previous life- bewildered, hurt, wanting.
but now i wake up without cold sweats, without the fear of loss. i just wake up alone and think about getaways. think about traveling somewhere- anywhere- just a plane ticket in my hand or the gas pedal beneath my feet. think about leaving the imprint of my body against hotel room sheets, kissing strangers, weak light through cold windows in the mornings. i want to go, go, go. i've been hearing people say "i need a vacation" my whole life, and now i finally understand. fifty states don't seem like enough space to weather my restlessness. i want an ocean at my back and a long road at my feet.
sometimes i don't even recognize myself in the bathroom mirror. a different person in a different time. happier and more free that i could have ever been. disentangled from a life of being rooted, stuck, and always wanting. now i am a monster in the glass, and i will never have those chest pains again.
these are times that can't be weathered and we have never been back there since.
my dreams are always gut-wrenching or panic-inducing.
there's nothing in between, and i'm surprised i haven't opted for insomnia.
almost every time i lie down and close my eyes, i am back here in this bed. hearing his voice harden as he says "you have no bearing on my life." hearing mine crack as i say "please don't leave me." i have bought new sheets, a new blanket, but i am still back here with a stranger's arms around me for the very last time, my body pouring cold sweat as i lie awake and feel my chest collapsing in.
sometimes i wake up and want to scream as loud as my lungs will let me.
instead i put in my contacts, i get dressed, and i leave my room to function like a normal adult. i go to work, i go to school, i see friendly faces and i can smile and talk and feel like a complete person devoid of trauma. then i go home at night, crawl into bed, carrying this gaping chest wound to sleep with me. dragging around the landscape of my life like an invisible corpse, this fucking scarlet letter tattooed across my mind. A is for abandonment.
and then i am back here once again, rib cage torn wide open, viscerally aching with every single word as this stranger in bed says, "this is harder for you than it is for me."
they say true love only comes around once and you have to hold out and be strong until then. i have been waiting. i have been searching. i am a man under the moon, walking the streets of earth until dawn. there's got to be someone for me. it's not too much to ask. just someone to be with. someone to love. someone to give everything to. someone.
i have been writing for you my entire life.
i know that you are there, and you have been there, and i will wait through another thousand lonely nights to be with you.
there are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
my recovery has become synonymous with my self-improvement. my life is changing and pain is with me every step of the way. it puts a special burn on every sunrise, waking up and knowing that i am becoming remade with scar tissue every minute. it follows me when i am sweating, my heart pounding, my arms shaking. but nothing worth having ever comes easily, and i will not be stopped.
do epic shit. take no shortcuts. be absolutely fucking amazing.
how memories lie to us. how time coats the ordinary with gold. how it breaks the heart to go back and attempt to re-live them. how crushed we are when we discover that the gold was merely gold-plating thinly coated over lead, chalk and peeling paint.
burn every bridge and never look back once. don't ever stay earthbound and weary, don't ever think of someone you knew as someone you know. they die along the road and their graves lie unmarked across the chasm. their corpses molder and crumble to dust. don't ever look back.
cut your losses. keep calm. carry on.