There’s a shirt in my suitcase that I keep meaning to burn but I'm afraid of fire. I want to break something just to see if it’s everything it’s cracked up to be. I wake up and tell myself that it can always get worse. When I was little I thought success meant talking in a British accent. I love you like I used to set my clocks—ten minutes ahead of time.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
“Molly was never one for modesty,” my mother assured the nurse during my first visit to the gynecologist, when the nurse suggested I might feel embarrassed about being nearly naked on the examining table, my ankles hoisted out in front of me in what were called stir-ups—a word which made me think of the horseback riding lessons I’d taken years earlier. And my mother was right, I was not bothered about being naked—or nearly naked—so much as I was bothered by her words that made me sound like something other than the eighteen year old virgin that I was. My mother had been referring to the fact that I didn’t like to wear a bra under my clothes when I was home. She did not feel the phrase: “in the comfort of one’s own home” was applicable to what she considered “common decency.” I was always indecent, just ask my mother. I talked about my menstrual cramps in mixed company, I complained loudly about the discomfort of bras, and I didn’t believe in keeping secrets. Or, I should say, I didn’t understand the need for keeping the kind of secrets that she insisted that it was decent and proper to keep.
Later, after that first gynecological exam, when I noticed my underwear soaking with blood, and I asked the nurse if this was normal, the nurse looked down at my once lime green now mostly dark red underwear and replied, “Pretty common.” It was my mother who then responded, “Well if it’s so common, then why have I never heard of such a thing happening?” The nurse didn’t look up from the form she was filling out as she said, “You know us women don’t tend to go around broadcasting our female problems.”
I felt rage in my blood and I felt blood in my underwear, soaking through to my jeans. And I knew I was going to make a point of broadcasting what I felt.
Two months later, a surgeon sliced through my hymen with a scalpel. I woke up still bleeding, with fifteen plus stitches in my vagina. (That’s what they told me, fifteen plus, as if they had lost count.) A nurse reminded me not to have sex for at least 24 hours after the surgery, which she had previously assured me wouldn’t be as bad a childbirth. I felt like I was a product of a system no one was talking about. And I was going to talk about it.
I spent the following two years of my undergraduate creative writing courses talking about it, making all my classmates uncomfortable as I described nerve damage and numbing cream and sex that was mostly stubborn and also painful. I talked about things that people wished I wouldn’t but they didn’t know how to ask me to be quiet because that would mean in some way addressing what I was saying. And what I was saying was, “Why should I be quiet?”
It surprises me now six years later when I read aloud among fellow writers about having casual sex once or twice during a sad spell in late winter and see my peers making snap judgments about the quality of my character. It surprises me when I talk about being raped and I am told that people would prefer I didn’t talk about it, that I shouldn’t talk about it. Recently someone suggested to me, “Maybe you should write something happy for once. People don’t want to hear something that’s going to ruin their night.” To which I responded that they should just go look at their Facebook newsfeed if they want a glossed over, reality TV version of life. It hurts me in spite of how many times I tell myself that I shouldn’t let it bother me, when people dislike me because of what they’ve heard me write about. And I feel compelled to point out that when someone is talking about me because they’ve heard me read about sex or rape or abuse and they’ve judged me for it, they should instead consider talking about why what I wrote made them uncomfortable.
If I have learned anything in the past year it is that people desperately want to cling to the belief that bad things do not happen to good people. Somehow, the person deserved it. Why do people want to believe that? Because everyone wants to believe that he or she is a good person. And they want that goodness to serve as a totem that will protect them from all evils of the world. No one wants to have to address the fact that really nothing can save you. There’s prayers, luck, and self-defense classes but at the end of the day things happen.
Really, I think if you believe in some arbitrary monotheistic heaven and hell type of line between good and bad, then you are setting yourself up to judge others and ultimately, you are building yourself a glass house in which sooner or later you’ll find you are throwing stones and the walls are breaking down all around you.
My point is that bad things don’t happen to bad people. Bad things happen to people. Children are abused. Women are raped. But I think people would prefer to think that abused children come from those kinds of homes. As in: not good homes. It is the same with rape. I think people would prefer not just to think that a woman was raped because of what she was wearing but because of who she was. Had she had a lot of sex in her past? Was she known for being flirtatious? Was she a bad person? Molly was never one for modesty.
Modesty in such a context seems to be defined as knowing what to keep to oneself, by being humble bordering on ashamed. Such modesty could imply having a sense of what to keep private. How many of us grew up with parents who called vaginas and penises “private parts?” Private. Secret. Things that only exists in that common phrase “behind closed doors” or in the proverbial “comfort of one’s own home.” But privacy is an odd thing and those are two very strange components of it. My mother hated that my father kept pornography in his office on the second floor of our home—behind closed doors. Plenty of women dislike that their boyfriends watch pornography on the internet in the comfort of their own home, because it is freely available to them through a quick Google search.
What I am saying is that it is contradictory to treat sex, genitalia, and etc. as private parts of one’s life when they really are not private at all. They are extremely public is mostly the wrong ways. Unrealistic sex is in movies, TV shows, on gleaming on billboards over Houston Street. I know far too many men who sit down to dinner and begin discussing women’s pubic hair among themselves. (They’d prefer it to be entirely absent from the picture, if you were wondering. But they hate high maintenance bitches.) And yet people don’t want to talk about the hard realities of sex.
I believe in talking about hard things. I believe in talking about sex and abuse, rape and drinking, depression and trauma and that secret, heavy loneliness that so many of us carry. Say it in that average way in which people talk about the weather. Because such matters are just as common place, except no one is acknowledging them.
Two years ago, when my brother read a story I had written about our childhood he looked up at me with big troubled brown eyes and said, “Molly, who would read this? It’s so sad.” In the past year, I’ve met more women than I can now count who say things to me like, “When I heard what you read about rape it made me feel like I didn’t have to be embarrassed to read my story.” You have to talk about hard things because you are not alone and because other people deserve to know that they are not alone either. No one should be made to feel as if who they are is shameful just because someone else is uncomfortable with what happened to them. Asking people to not talk about being abused or raped or whatever else is asking them to keep a secret for the sake of “common decency” as if who they are is otherwise indecent.And so I would like to advocate for indecent exposure. Talk about what you’ve been through, not as a matter of self-pity but as a truth and a component of the shared human experience. Talk about depression. Talk about drinking. Talk about sex. Talk about violence and rape and abuse. Expose the many indecencies of life. Expose yourself.
Friday, October 24, 2014
Months passed and late into the summer I found myself sitting on a bar stool beside someone I loved saying, “The truth about depression and drinking is there is no such thing as rock bottom. You have a particularly hard time, you wake up covered in your own vomit, blood mysteriously died and crusted between your toes, and you think you’ve hit the bottom this time but it can always get worse. And it will. You have to want to start climbing back up, that’s how it stops. That’s how you get out. And maybe you slip and fall, and maybe it hurts all over again from time to time but you get through it because you decide you want to.” And I would say one more thing: there is no such thing as happily ever after, but there is after.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
For the first six months I had nothing but a mattress on the floor, two suitcases, and a cardboard box. I made my first purchase for the place in November: a shelf for my books, because I kept spilling wine on them when they were just piled against the wall by my mattress. In January I bought new sheets and I ordered a bed frame. I had put off doing any such thing for so long because I hadn’t seen the point. I didn’t want to be living in that room so why would I bother making it look like a place someone would want to live? But in December I had become lonely in that quiet, maddening way that convinces you that no matter who says they love you—a friend, a boyfriend, your family—they can’t really mean it because love shouldn’t be selfish but people damned sure are—hell, I was. But with that conviction, came a desperate urge to start over and since moving was out of the question, I signed up for an online dating site.
That was where I got the idea to fix up my room. The only person I met through the site was an actor who had just broken up with his girlfriend. He told me about trying to feng shui his bedroom to attract good karma or something. I think he eventually got back together with his girlfriend but I think he had the right idea. And while I didn’t care to move my mattress around to whatever side of the room would attract good energies, it finally made sense to me to make the place nice. It was going to be hard to feel happy if my room looked depressing and I would probably never have the hope of ever having someone to love and to share my bed with if it wasn’t a place I wanted to be. So I bought blue sheets because I remembered my mother or Seventeen Magazine once saying that blue is supposed to be a calming bedroom color. And when it arrived, I pushed the long, bed frame box up four flights of stairs and assembled it by myself, late at night while drinking a beer. And I didn’t even spill the beer. Then, one night, I walked thirty blocks in the snow to buy picture frames from a store I had noticed near Bloomingdales; I had nothing else to do and I figured a walk would do me good. Lastly, I bought a second pillow. Not that I needed one. It was just in case.
Sure, I puked red wine all over my new sheets once or twice in January, because I was still lonely and drinking doesn’t fill any void no matter how much you do it. But it was a start. And that’s the thing: I think you have to be ready to have what you want before you can get it. I knew I didn’t want to be going to bars by myself, making up lives and histories that weren’t my own and telling them like truth to the old men who sat beside me drinking Scotch while I sipped Prosecco. I was just trying to pass the time and there was a certain comfort in the dim glow of a bar and the way the liquor bottles look like gemstones. And besides, there are all sorts of ways to be alone. You can go to the gym and to the movies. And I did. You can go to restaurants late at the night, after the dinner rush, and sit at the bar and learn to make cocktails by watching the bartender with the practiced, steadied gaze of someone who drinks alone. And I did. And you can smile politely and be friendly to people you don’t really like. But I couldn’t. Because no matter how lonely I was, I preferred being alone to being with people I didn’t care much for. And I think that’s the best way to be alone. Just do it until one day you find you don’t have to anymore. In March, I needed the second pillow.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Is it going to be funny? If you’re going to write about so many tragic things, you’re going to have to have a sense of humor.
Do men care if you like having sex with them or do they just care if you care that they like having sex with you? Is reverse low self-esteem a thing? Is it like reverse racism?
My bartender says he always remembers me because I’m so polite. There’s a tip for you.
Everyone will disappoint you. Accept this and it will be easier to love people.
There are different kinds of cheating. They all involve disloyalty. Where do your loyalties lie? What is the difference between lay and lie?
I knew love was hard when my mother came home drunk and mimed the way the only man I ever knew my grandmother to love, trying to drunkenly break into their house by chopping down the chimney. She said he had an axe.
No woman is easy. But sex is. And we all know this, we just don’t want to talk about it. Sex requires nothing but a condom—at best. And that’s really pushing it.
Sex is like drinking: I’d rather do it alone.
You’ll tell me I have a very dry sense of humor and on the one day of the month that I’m trying not to drink you’ll ask me to have few with you.
I’ll give you anything you want, but I’ll have to put it on my credit card.
I don’t know if IT ever stops hurting. After a while you just stop calling IT “Hurt” and start calling it “Me.”
“We’re not young anymore,” I wanted to tell her as we sat drinking wine outside a café on Madison Avenue, watching white haired, high-collared women walk by. Or maybe we’re still young, just not as hopeful. All that hope we had for the world when we sat in that café on Printers Row in Chicago, talking about all the places I was soon to go—it stretched thin over the interim years. Maybe we measure youth in hopefulness.
But we trade hope for something tangible. Hope is a feeling. You can’t touch it. It’s not real. An apartment in the east 90’s is real. Coming home, doing the dishes, lighting a candle and reading while noodles boil on the stovetop is real. And in some ways it’s more than what you hoped for. Because who ever hopes to feel at peace? I always hoped for adventure. And I got it and it got me somewhere and I’m happy with that. Did you ever imagine me saying, “I’m happy” with anything? Of course, you have to maintain perspective. You have to keep goals, remember to look at the stars and wish for something now and then. There’s always California, London, Paris, Provence… But right now there’s this.
I’m not saying to stop trying for more, to settle, to leave well enough alone. But I’m saying it’s important to be in the moment, to run your fingers over whatever it is that you have to hold. Be in love with your present, if you can. Fall for the real thing because it’s the only thing that can catch you anyways.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
When Taylor and I moved into our apartment, the first thing I brought over was a box of framed pictures, which I took pride in carefully placing on the shelf the previous tenant had installed above the kitchen counter. The smiling faces of everyone I loved looked so bright in the fresh, white painted room.
I wasn’t quite nineteen years old. It was May and it was raining when we moved in. The apartment shook all day and night, as the train rattled by inches from our window every seven to twenty minutes. The bathroom window looked out over elevated tracks and rows and rows of rooftops that made the city seem like an endless puzzle pieced together playground.
Maybe we were poor but maybe that’s a good thing to be when you’re that young. And anyways, I didn’t notice because I had enough money to buy flowers and angel food cake once a week from the grocery store in Little Vietnam. We ate mostly canned soup, perhaps because that was what we could afford, perhaps because I was constantly nauseous—perhaps due to a lucky combination of the two. One afternoon the floor in our closet caved into the downstairs apartment. But we lived just three blocks from Lake Michigan in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood and we spent our evenings walking along the beach. I loved the view of the downtown skyline jutting out and up over the water as the whole horizon turned pollution pastel pink at sunset. Less than a year earlier I had seen Chicago only twice in my whole life and now I felt I owned it in the way that anyone who is young feels after they have moved to a city for the first time, learned the train routes, fallen in love, carried too heavy bags of groceries down too many blocks, discovered the best Chinese food, seen the downtown glimmer in the twilight and nearly forgotten how they used to marvel at stars on a dark country night.
My grandmother gave us old shelves from her basement and a box of white bone china and my mother drove a small red folding table down from Wisconsin. I used to do the dishes in the afternoon while Taylor was at work and before I had to head downtown for class. And I used to think of how my mother washed the dishes when I was young and she was tired and sad. And I would think about the things we do out of love and the things we do out of necessity. By Labor Day weekend, I was living alone in a new apartment, closer to the lake in Lincoln Park.
Through the years and through ten different apartments, I’ve carried little more than two suitcases of belongings and a couple of carefully packed framed pictures and paintings. In living I have learned how to leave things behind. But I have also learned that what you will keep is very rarely ever what you intended. What I have kept is moving.
That first summer in that first apartment in Chicago and for several years to follow, I believed so easily in words and promises and longevity. I took risks without really believing that they were actually risks at all. And I jumped heart first and headstrong into experiences that would leave me crying on the floor. Lately, I find myself thinking that if I had known how happy I’d one day be, I wouldn’t have cried half as hard over the bad days and bad boyfriends or put with nearly as much as I did. But really, I think it was all worth it because now I don’t take risks; I make choices. I know the personal price of things. The price of believing someone. The price of heartbreak. I don’t still naively believe that bad luck and brokenheartedness is a cross for someone else to bear. But I think living is about momentum. Choices keep us moving.