Saturday, April 12, 2014
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
I spend most days lately sitting in my room, trying to finish my thesis, which is the start of a memoir that spans three generations of women in my family. I write about how they loved and how they couldn’t, how they were loved and how they weren’t. There is trauma, dysfunction, abuse, and that vague word: complications. I tell my thesis advisor and anyone else who will listen that I’m trying to show people that love is sometimes things we don’t want to admit it to be. Love is all about what you are capable of. Think, what are you capable of at your best? What are you capable of at your worst?
Every morning I wake up and start tracing the choices of myself and my female relatives, looking for our intentions and following our paths through to our outcomes. Why am I here in New York? What happened to me? To them? To us? What was I running from and why didn’t they run?
I think about what we become. I think about being a little girl, in love with the way the southwestern Wisconsin countryside sloped and curved along the two lane highway and gavel country roads, the way the sunset was pink and purple and orange and limitless over the cornfields in the summer. The horizon seemed endless in the Wisconsin countryside and I grew up feeling boundless. I think about the women I loved who were bound to things too close to home. I think of the chains the world gives us and the ones we earn for ourselves. I think of how maybe I am lying when I say I felt boundless, because I have traveled quite a lot – from San Francisco to Istanbul -- and I have always felt tied to that place and those people and our secrets. The heaviest chains are the ones we carry with us, not the ones that hold us back.
I think of the way I was loved and the way I wasn’t. The ways I’ve loved and the ways I haven’t. I think of my childhood, my family. I think of my ex-boyfriends and all the different things I meant when I said, “I love you.” I meant, I love the way you love me. I meant, I love the idea of you. I meant, I’d love for you to make me feel better. And once, maybe once, I meant, I know you and I love you. And I think of how sex can be like a transaction, an exchange or a ruthless taking of power. I think about being held and caressed. I think about being pinned down and bruised. I think about outcomes. I think of the Upper Eastside Irish bartender, after hours, saying “I want to throw you over this bar and fuck you.” I think of how I walked away. I think of the married man in the Lower Eastside bathroom. I think about what we become. I think about the boy in my bed who said, “See, sex doesn’t have to mean anything,” and the way I turned out the lights and frowned at the dark.
But don’t get me wrong, this is not about making bad choices. This is about being alive. What do you call your choices?
I see my life still mostly in boxes, even after over a year in a half in New York. I see my favorite books on a shelf – the only piece of furniture I have bought so far. I think of how happy I finally am, how for the first time in my life I don’t feel like I’m looking for something to make me better. I made me better. And now because I am not looking for anything, maybe I will find love. I think of how much I was crying a year ago, how I woke up every morning and my heart ached with the pain of missing my family, my old friends, and with the acute worry that love was not what I had cracked it up to be. I wanted to be loved at least as much as I loved my favorite books. I wanted someone to know me by heart the way I knew my favorite Joan Didion essays. The want is important. What I became is the story. Words like girlfriend, drunk, unfaithful, broken hearted, easy, used, alone. And finally: better.
Sometimes I find myself at brunch with a man who’s conversation I enjoy or at dinner with a friend and I look at the gleaming floors of the restaurant, the well dressed patrons, the cocktail I’m drinking, and the smooth ambiance of being young in New York and I think of the cracked linoleum floors of restaurants in my hometown; I think of my mother’s kitchen table, cluttered and sticky. I think of what we become. I find myself in bars on the Lower Eastside, listening to people debating the contemporary relevance of Hemingway and idealizing Bukowski’s drinking problem and as I take another long gulp from my cocktail I hear myself telling my friends that where you live and what you read does not make you better than anyone else. I think I hear myself growing up. I see those friends walking away and I find myself walking alone along the streets of my Upper Eastside neighborhood, remembering the way dead pine needles filled the cracks in sidewalk outside my mother’s house in Wisconsin and how I used to walk home from school, telling myself stories about how I would move to New York and make up for where I was from. I think of outcomes.
My mother doesn’t like being written about. I doubt my ex-boyfriends or the rest of my family care for it either. I think of Joan Didon: Writers are always selling somebody out. But this is not about the price of things. I think of James Baldwin: People pay for what they do, and still more for they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it simply by the lives they lead. Maybe it is about the price of things. But I am talking about what I have paid for and what it’s worth and perhaps what I’m worth. I think about outcomes and I tell my mother that I come off worse than her in my writing. I worry that anyone who has read my stories, who sees me drinking in a bar, thinks to themselves: I know why she’s drinking; she’s damaged. And I think I am, but I don’t mind. Do I? I think about outcomes.
I came to New York from a small Midwestern town and I fell in love with the first man I met who reminded me of the city sky at night: a blank slate, starless. But I could never be a blank slate and in the end, I want a love that reminds me to look for the stars.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
The nurse took a picture of my face. I imagined a vault somewhere in the hospital with the pictures of hundreds, maybe thousands, of rape victims. I wondered if they were smiling. It’s strange not to smile for a picture, but it felt stranger to smile for this one, so I just looked into the camera. I wondered if I looked sad or scared. I wondered if some women have mascara tear stained cheeks or big puffy eyes in these pictures. I wondered if some of them have bruised faces. I thought about all the pictures we take in our life. Family photos, yearbooks photos, Facebook photos… And now there was this: my rape photo.
I had never let a boyfriend take naked pictures of me. But now there I was lifting up my hospital gown for the nurse to photograph my butt, my hips, my thighs, my knees, my ankle. My skin. My bruises. Now somewhere, stored away for years, there will be pictures of my naked body. And a picture of my face to accompany it. All of my rape evidence was being placed in a rape box. Maybe that’s where the pictures would go – into a box labeled with my name, my social security number, my date of birth and the day’s date. If only it was as simple as sealing one’s rape off in a box and tucking it away inside a cupboard and locking the door.