there were always times i thought about writing more spoken word, open words, for an open stage- just remembering the weight of a microphone in my hands and the weakness in my kneecaps while i stood in front of an audience and spoke fiction masked by facts but the truth of the matter has been clear for ten years, that my keyboard spelled out lies whenever inspiration ran dry- propelled by an uneasy fear of loss, translated with no rhyme or cadence- and now i owe apologies to the boys i've loved for having wasted their years and mine with these long-term leases renewed by aimless disregard for time because it seemed easier to settle and i was always committed to the grind, to the vague satisfaction of what was functionally good or indifferently long and maybe all the writers through all of history got their stories all wrong- what if romance was a mirage (just a synonym for dysfunction) and what if love was designed to meet loneliness at each junction and what if the best of relationships functioned like reliable employment- so i showed up every day and waited for the check; but it never came and they always left and the language of my cover letter became increasingly bereft and there were nights i sat across from strangers exchanging rote pleasantries like alms but then i'd drive home right after and add 10 more milligrams to my palms and now i've been thinking but it hurts me thinking that those nights that i spent drinking, that they never got us anywhere with all those wasted times you drove me home and all that wasted time i told you no but now we are finally here and it is always getting clearer that there was no one else before you and there will be no one after because i've been in dress rehearsals for a decade with understudy actors and i think we're getting deep now, shit i'm talking might be too true but i know that i have been waiting my whole life for you, for this fire in my chest and the certainty in my step and the sincerity of your text and the milestones we have left and i know that i would do it all again just to know i got it right, that i would reread every chapter because you make me want to write.
slow burns of lit cigarettes building into forest fires; i feel like i was put on this earth to write about your love.
it is not the discussion- not the overly gentle tone or the bracing hesitancy, the carefully cultivated bedside manner balancing on a tightrope between no-nonsense diagnosis and the trepiditious weight of bad news breaking- but the scenery that shifts my gut and sends a dull weight plummeting to my feet. because uncertain numbers and unclear images wouldn't necessitate a field trip into his office space, to these soft chairs and hard shelves and sunlight streaming in through floor-to-ceiling windows with a tollway traffic jam on display. it is the space in between the words, the omnipresent ghost of the unspoken noun cancer following closely behind the clinical terminology that he picks and weaves his way through like checkpoints that must be crossed to finish out this conversation- non-hodgkins lymphoma, b cell count, primary extranodal, high ldh, aggressive. he sandwiches that last word in between platitudes like some options and still very treatable but it sticks out like a red flag and carves me out into a hollow shell of disbelief. and so i sit very still and wait for the part where the alarm clock jolts me out of this falling arc or the fourth wall is broken and it turns out to be fiction all along but the sunlight is slanting across his desk in a slow and steady progression that tells me this is my life and my narrative and the inkwell is abruptly running dry. my mind shifts bizarrely, unbidden, to the perspective of patients and victims and casualties of war who must always think immediately prior to the killing blow- this can't be happening to me, i am the protagonist! and it occurs to me that the deus ex machina is not coming for me, no bag of chemo cocktails or radiation will exonerate me from this plot device because unbeknownst to me this was always intended to be a story about disease and the chest pains and cold sweats and persistent coughs were just built to spill into the denouement.
and then someone says something about the stages of grief mirrored in the acceptance of disease and it seems that i have bypassed every emotional high and low in the space of seconds to flatline at zero. there is no more left to write and my story is ready to be shelved in dusty, forgotten stacks to be referenced on rare occasion for research about prognosis.
file under: terminally ill or terminally numb.
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.
you know what i'm talking about. you know this feeling too.
it's that geometric space your neck and shoulder form, how my face fits there like an elementary school puzzle. there is no guesswork, there is no discomfort, there is only an anatomical magnetism that seven years' pursuit of bioscience still cannot explain. i am not attractive, but i feel beautiful in that space. i am not fragile, but i feel delicate against you. i have never been quite feminine, but i feel like the first woman in the world when i feel you breathe beside me. and i am not carved from your ribcage- i start where your clavicle ends, and my fingers find their homes between yours. we lay there in the dark, listening to bob dylan on your record player. hey mr. tambourine man, play a song for me. i'm not sleepy and there's no place i'm going to. i am here and i am safe and i am at home in your heart.
you know what i'm talking about. you lie there at night with the one that you love and you are happy in a way that you cannot define. you are unsinkable in their arms. it is not vocal, it is not sexual, and there are no doubts to be had. it is the space where you are welcome, the body heat that keeps you warm, the forms you take as if your bodies were born with muscle memory for each other.
this is how i know i am meant for no one else but you.
later, much later, i will eulogize you faithlessly.
i will tell everyone you were a mercurial force of nature sweeping into my life with the sheer, violent force of waves crashing recklessly against weathered stone. i will paint those years with wide, vivid brushstrokes of color, overlapping the boundaries of reality as carelessly as you slammed doors and scattered cigarette ash. i will get drunk in dive bars and trace your name in watery rings, slur my words and my memories in my retelling of our romance. i will rewrite the late nights and sunday mornings in iambic pentameter, glorifying the way your body moved against me, the color of your hair in sunlight that bled through broken blinds, the thrill of your uninhibited laugh reverberating in my ears. that you were a woman with a passport inked as heavily as your arms, a wild and unbreakable spirit fired by jet fuel, destined to roam through uncharted territory. that the ligature of my mortgage statements and the 90 degree angles of my ties created spaces that trapped you, intersecting lines of banalities like bars on a cage that kept you pacing like a restless tiger. i will tell your parents that your strengths were my weaknesses, i will tell your friends that you were designed for adventure, i will tell myself (when i find a pillowcase that still smells like your perfume, when i crumple up mail catalogs still faithfully addressed to you) that you would not be contained, could not be contained- because the only way to handle it was to romanticize it.
because the truth of it wasn't poetic panacea or a bittersweet revelation, because nobody wanted to read a story about a selfish, irresponsible protagonist. and the facts of it laid bare against paper would've read dry and bitter, encyclopedic recitations about a bored and vapid woman who chased adrenaline and refused accountability, teenage vices stoking a junkie's mind. and the years we spent together were only a poorly calculated mistake, some unfactored algebra carrying you over the threshold and propelled by inertia, the mundane day-to-day like your habitual, jittery chainsmoking- forgetting your keys, forgetting your phone, forgetting to leave. and it was always more fog than storm, your temper waxing and waning to leave an exhausted, blurry cast to the canvas. you were blues, grays, yellows in a small and mean watercolor better left in storage than framed.
but later, much later, i will stand beside your casket and invent a narrative better suited for your long hair and tall tales, i will stand at the crossroads of fact and fiction and choose the path of least resistance- that same path i chose ten years ago when i first met you at a house party and you purred take me home with you in my ear. i took you home, and you took me down, but i have one last kindness left in me to rewrite both of our mistakes- the final act of the final play.
i eulogize you as a tempest.
what a joke, that even the dictionary definition of this word indicates choice, judgment, control. that the meaning of the thing has been corrupted to helplessness, a vague shrug with directionless blame- to exculpate ourselves from the weight of incompatible decisions.
it’s not you, it’s the timing you said to me once, running your fingers through your hair distractedly, halfway checked out of the conversation even as you propelled it forward. as if you were a bus stop slightly behind schedule, or i showed up a little too early for a meeting, as if our lives were two calendars 10 minutes or 10 years out of sync with one another. maybe sometime in the future.
but we both knew it was never just a trick of the hourglass, an uncontrolled lag between clocks. timing was a metaphor for the things that could not be said, would never be said-
i do not love you.
you do not love me.
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.
the normal heart is a machine in flux, readjusting and recalibrating in feedback loops to level its expectations. the weather changes. her phone number changes. your pulse changes. the heart remains in homeostasis through tiny mechanical clicks that shift you into place, one beat at a time, so inconspicuous and well-oiled that you forget to micromanage the oscillation.
but i have never had a normal heart.
it will only ever multiply by one to bring me back to you.
you wake up (not to your usual alarm not that collapsible travel clock with the peeling backlight button and the tinny morning wailing shattering the icy stillness of winter mornings) but an unfamiliar beep-beep-beep that faintly reminds you of a tv show you used to watch together but you don't know why it's so hard to open your eyes or why every muscle fiber in your face must rally and strain to do this but they are opening now with agonizing slowness to a light so white it blinds you and then above you there is a face and you think that it might be him hovering in to kiss you through those sunday afternoons you slept in late but the light is rearranging itself into crystalline points and his face is falling into anxious lines that belong to a stranger this man above you wearing a surgical mask and his gloved hands are cold probes against your skin and you try to find some words to form but there is a tube in your mouth and it stifles every question and somewhere distant a woman’s nasal voice complains oh it’s raining i better check my car windows and then a memory collides into you with astonishing speed a nightmare of wet roads brake lights his sharp intake of breath a stranger’s screams in your throat but the beep-beep-beep of your alarm is getting faster now and the man above you shouts she’s going tachy as sleep fills the corners of your vision and drags you back into the dark
he tells me i have always loved you and i don't know how to respond but the truth of it is so simple, so effortlessly lined up against the edge of my teeth, an inescapable fact breaking through the hulls of reality-
i have only ever loved control.
i'm calling it, you said on our first date. we were each 4 cocktails deep and wading through a mediocre chocolate lava cake. you're gonna end up breaking my heart.
it is a small, superficial measure of comfort to know that you finally got something wrong.
her fingers reach and grasp for me- but no, not for my hands, never for my hands again- she grips my hair and pulls hard, drawing sharp and shallow breaths, riding me with an urgency that weakens my knees. she is drunk and i am not drunk enough; this night washed through with city lights, wistful jokes, soggy napkins weakening beneath cold glasses, a four-hour lifetime in this strange space between familiarity and trepidation as our shoulders inch closer by millimeters and our knees bump together shyly and i am close enough to smell the perfume you once knocked over into the laundry hamper, infiltrating my boxers and bath towels for weeks. and it's that scent that takes me back now with your mouth searing my skin and your glorious hair spilling across my chest and this is not the dizzy, clumsy dance we initiated the first night we met- it is eight years later and we have never forgotten the choreography. we perfect it now, as if every tryst before was only a moment in the dress rehearsal but this is the real deal, this is the primetime debut, and we are flawless actors performing for a solipsistic audience- lust on stage, desire made solid, the innate muscle memory of sex between two lovers irrevocably etched into anatomy. and so you bite down on my shoulder and i plant a trail of bruises across your throat, and our pulses drum furiously in perfect timing but then you whisper- i think i still love you
and then my heart fails completely, punctured by this fatal misstep, this unplanned improvisation. you told me after your sister's dinner party, that december evening we spent arguing bleakly in a snowdrift, can you stop being so fucking analytical. but i couldn't stop then and i can't stop now and i am parsing your words even as the feeling of your hot skin against mine threatens to drive out all out other thoughts. and i don't know if it is the i think or the still that burns raw against an open wound but i know with the certainty of death and taxes that i have never stopped loving you-
or at the very least, loving the idea of you.
1. the ink dries on our signatures hastily scribbled on this notice to vacate, this lease transfer agreement, the final page of our divorce settlement; black ink sprawling spidery-legged and indelible, sketching out the framework of loss. irreconciliable proof that death is paperwork and curt decisions. your hollow voice and my hollow heart empty out our home, strings of memorabilia that threaten waves of nausea and i pack it up, i pack it all, i keep every photo and every ticket and every scrap of paper your handwriting ever graced and i think that i would die without them but the first death is always like this, it is always a trick of the light, the words that can't be unsaid, the tears that can't be undone, the space of a few missing heartbeats that terminate us- and the u-haul pulls away in a gaudy funeral procession and we hug for the last time but it is a meager consolation for a loss that swallows me whole.
2. the body in love dies next, a slow and undetectable attrition. my skin renews and the imprint of your fingers across my hips erodes to nothing; the cellular regeneration makes me new, another unmarked, uncharted territory washed free of your conquering trails. the history of your mouth rewrites itself with new speech, new drinks, new women with foreign tongues vandalizing a place i once called home. my hands forget how to feel for fevers, how to stroke your hair; my fingers forget how to interlock with yours like puzzle pieces finally reunited after years of being lost between the couch cushions. we lose muscle memory from nights of sleeping implicitly in practiced art forms so your arms forget how to reach across to me and my face forgets how to find your chest and so my bed is a blank canvas stretching on for miles while my body remakes itself in new and lonely forms on the side that was never even mine- the blue period of my love.
3. one day i pause to say your name, and it feels like a stranger in my vocabulary, a half-forgotten linguistic crutch. one day you see a photo of me but my face is washed in wide, monochromatic strokes of memories- and this death is the slowest, the hardest to bear, the final parting at a train station filled with estranged lovers who revisit one another in dreams, in wistful conversations, in the painful significance of missed anniversaries. and we have long since lost the details and here we will finally lose the photograph- leaving nothing but an empty frame, a placeholder for years of our youth, a generic exhibit or tombstone template-
- loss of love, nothing more to see here.
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.
his fingers trace the curves of my ribs, and he tells me that i am beautiful.
and then i tell myself, i will not eat today.
there is a perverse pleasure in these moments when i catch my body forming anatomical topography where it used to be an unbroken landscape swollen with only soft hills and low rises. a deep valley here, where my waist hollows out beneath a crest of costal cartilage; a sharp mountain range here, where my hips thrust skyward in bony peaks. the secret caves surrounding my clavicle; the visible landmarks of my spine. the cartography of my body carved out of oxygen, water, black coffee, sugarfree gum.
and although he maps me with his hands, lifting me with extraordinary ease, i am still waiting to feel lighter. light enough for my bones to hollow out,
hollow enough to finally take flight.
bastard, cutter thought, tearing up, trying to speak. bastard to say that to me. you know what you are to me. bastard. he felt his chest hollow, felt as if he were falling inside, as if his very fucking innards were straining for judah. “love you, judah,” he said. he looked away. “love you. do what i can.” i love you so much judah. i’d die for you. he wept without sob or sound, furious at it, trying to wipe it away.