Tuesday, December 30, 2014


My words were drowned in the mid-evening clinking of voices and cocktail glasses. The candle on our table flickered. When change happens, it breaks you wide open. It felt so damn good to be broken.


I said, “You’re like a bad habit I want to break all over me.”  I want you to throw me against the wall.  Press into me.  I want to break and I want to cut myself on the sharp edges.  I want scars.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


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

Indecent Exposure

“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

Post-Thesis Re-Rewriting

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

The Blue Pillow

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

What do you want me to say?

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.” 

Come True

“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.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fine, Thanks.

I hate Mondays.  And Tuesdays.  And Wednesdays.  And Thursdays.  And most of Fridays.  I hate everyone.  Of course, I don’t actually hate everyone.  But also, I do.  
Every weekday morning I wake up, feel around in the dark for my phone, check the time and see 5:30a.m. glaring back at me.  I roll over and go back to sleep.  At about 6a.m. I will wake up and check my phone again.  And then again.  And then again. Until it is 10 to 8—just about the time that I should be waking up and slumping into the shower.  Instead, I reset my alarm from 7:55 to 8:20.  I am convinced that 25 minutes of sleep will change everything.  That extra 25 minutes of sleep will make me feel excited about my job, it will inspire me to eat a salad for lunch, it will give me the energy to do some writing when I get home, maybe I’ll even eat a salad for dinner instead of French fries and a bottle of wine.  In the dark, moderate comfort of my bed I tell myself that I don’t need to shower or put on fresh make-up or find an outfit that I haven’t already worn to work at least once a week for the past month.  In reality, that extra 25 minutes of sleep changes nothing but the amount of minutes I will be late to work and just how gross and depressed I will feel all day. 

If I do shower, I will first pour myself a glass of orange juice, which I will bring into the shower with me and drink while the fluctuating hot and cold water beats against my back.  Then I will reach out of the shower, grab my toothbrush from the sink and brush my teeth while I stand, half awake.  And I will never blow dry my hair.  I will pull it, still dripping wet, into a tight bun and I will glance at myself in the mirror just long enough to notice the faint wrinkles forming around my eyes.  Thoughts of age and the mathematics of years start to float to my mind’s surface, but I push them back down—I don’t have time for getting old.

As I stand impatiently in the subway station I will notice women wearing eye liner, with freshly blow-dryed hair and pretty painted faces.  And when the train finally arrives I will squeeze my body against theirs and many—too many—other bodies and I will stand, scowling behind my oversized sunglasses as the train creeps from 96th Street to 59th.  I hate everyone.  And I hate days when it’s too gray or rainy to justify wearing sunglasses because then I have to be really careful not to role my eyes as I repeatedly glance around the train car.  When the train stops at 59th I will silently curse at every single person who walks in front of me because they are all too slow and seem not to know that I woke up 25 minutes late and –in fact—have only been awake for 40 whole minutes and I have neither the time nor the patience they seem to have as they climb the steps out of the station. 

Once outside, I race the traffic lights one avenue and two blocks to my office, flash my ID and settle myself down in my cubicle, where I will remain for the next eight to nine hours.  I am least ten minutes late, sometimes 15 minutes, but I will never be anything less—anything close to on time because every morning as I run down the sidewalk, narrowly avoiding being hit by an early bird taxi looking for a pedestrian worm, I am struck by the ridiculousness of running to sit.  Rushing to wait for the day to be over.  Hurrying up only to count down the hours. 

In my cubicle, I drink bad coffee and eat yogurt and I answer the phone and I thank you for calling and I’m doing very well, thanks and one moment please and have a nice day and I pride myself every time I sound genuinely happy because after years of practice, I have learned that if I smile when I talk, then I sound like I mean it. 
Throughout the day I hate everyone.  I hate the noises that the people who sit in the cubicles near mine make.  I hate their prissy laughs and their prep school preening voices.  I sneeze several times a day because the woman who used to sit at my desk had so many cats that she tracked their hair anywhere she went.  No matter how much I scrub, cat hair clings to the cubicle walls, the keyboard, the files…  And so I blow my nose into a paper towel and I do office things with fancy titles like Presentations and Proposals and I sit and I wait and I count down and  I’m doing very well, thanks.  

I think that in order to be satisfied with one’s job, a person must either be making a lot of money or doing something that they are extremely passionate about.  Anything in between is hell.  Because it is empty.  Money buys things that look an awful lot like happiness and passion invigorates the soul.   Both are things to believe in, as any good American citizen knows.  Everything else is a lie.  I try to lie to myself, to convince myself that what I am doing matters, because it does matter that I keep my job and earn a paycheck and survive.   I try to reason with myself that I need to care about something.  Maybe all those people I hate—people who look pretty and well groomed and more calm than I ever am—for some reason care about what they do, they certainly look like they do.  I look like I’d like to go back to bed.  And I would. 

But I do still care about things in the same abstract, liberal arts way that I always have.  I read the news every day and I care about what is going on in the world.  On weekends I get drunk and rant about feminism because I care about gender equality.  And I say, “I love you” and I sure do care about that.  And I call my brother every now and then because I care about how his life is going and I really do hope he has a nice day.  And sometimes I do take the time to sit in front of my computer and write because I even if I don’t care for my life, I still care about a good story.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On Love and Faith, On the Subway

I was wearing knee high black leather high heeled boots that I had bought on Madison Avenue for an unreasonable amount of money last December, when I spent Christmas drinking alone.  I stared at them in order to avoid eye contact with a woman who was hobbling up and down the subway car.  I could see her feet—she was wearing dirty lime green Crocs and even dirtier yellow socks with big holes in the heels.  Her sweatpants hung in ripped, fraying strands around her ankles.  I instantly felt stupid for being all dressed up--wearing a black silk dress with lace sleeves, my lips painted pink.  I wasn’t going anywhere special, just out to drink at a dive bar in the East Village.  Since moving to New York, I either feel incredibly silly for putting effort into my appearance while there’s people begging for food and spare change all around me or else I feel ashamed for not trying harder when I see women in nicely pressed blouses and pencil skirts and pretty patent flats. 

The woman’s feet were nearing mine.  I squinted my eyes closed as if I was in pain.  She was singing.  “Love lifted me up.  Love lifted me up.”  Her voice was crackly.  She was carrying two large black trash bags.  “Love lifted me up.”  I wondered if she had ever been in love.  I wondered if she had ever laid her head down on someone’s chest at night in bed, slept with her legs entwined with another’s, smiled in her sleep at the feel of the warmth beside her body under the covers.  I wondered if when a person doesn’t have a home or a job or enough to eat, if they still long for something like being loved.  Probably.  Good love is like a bowl of warm, creamy mashed potatoes—it fills you up and warms your soul. 

I was wearing the same outfit that I had worn on a first date seven months ago.

“Love lifted me up.  One more time.”  She yawned.  “Love lifted me up.”

All day I had been in a good mood, feeling pleasantly secure in my relationship and my new job and nurturing a renewed sense of purpose in my writing.  I squinted my eyes shut again.  I was mad at this woman—maybe for reminding me that it is always possible to loose what you think you can keep.
She was walking the subway car once again, this time stopping in front of each rider. “May love lift you too, sister,” she said to me.  I stared at the stains on her socks.  At least she wasn’t going on about God.  So many people plague the subways with fiery talk of one god and hell or another.    

I thought about God on my walk from the subway to the bar.  If someone asked me right now, if I believe in God, I’d say, “I believe that the past happened.”  I believe that I was home in Wisconsin three years ago, driving down the highway with my brother singing “Halleluiah” and the air-conditioning in the car was broken so we had rolled down the windows to let the dusty air whips our wet skin and it smelled like gasoline and cornfields and sun warmed blacktop and hay.  And I loved it all in some way that would haunt me for years because you’re not supposed to love the place that taught you how to break.  But you do because it’s beautiful—like how a former boyfriend once told me I looked pretty when I cried, mascara rolling rivers down my cheeks.  And I don’t know about forgiveness or absolution but I know what it feels like to be in hell, drinking in the company of your memories, unable to love anyone because the first people who were supposed to love you also hurt you.  And I’ve learned that you have to let go of the hurt you’ve been hanging onto in order to grab hold of some happiness.

And I let it go.  And I’m happy.  I don’t know if love lifts a person up.  I think you lift yourself up and maybe sometimes you get lucky and there’s someone standing next to you holding your hand.  These days I’m lucky.

In the past seven months, I went through four different jobs, I had a first date and a second and eventually lost count, I graduated my MFA program, I lost some friends and made some new ones, and life changed.  And that’s what I believe in.  Things change for the better and for the worse and just for the hell of it and you get through it not because you fall in love or fall into some good luck; you get through it because time pushes ever forward and you must too.  And sometime maybe you will be standing in a crowded bar and you will see a dear familiar face across the room and everything will feel warm and beautiful and right.  And you can hold that happy feeling in your heart for a while because you let the rest of it go. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

For the Hope of It

We had just returned from Europe.  It was January in Sacramento, California so most days were warm enough to barely require a light jean jacket.  And the nights were dappled with the hanging lights of outdoor patios at local restaurants and the liquor infused laughter of patrons.  You had moved into your new apartment and I hadn’t yet moved back to Chicago.  On a Sunday we rented a car and drove to San Francisco.  For the past two years, San Francisco had been our place.  We revisited it whenever we could and when we couldn’t be there, we would be building it up in our heads.   Even through our travels in Europe, San Francisco had remained the promise land. 
I’ve never allowed myself to say it—to say that I wonder if maybe some alternative to my current life still exists in California.  Maybe there is a me that stayed, that didn’t get on that plane out of Sacramento, flying into Chicago just in time for a February blizzard.  Maybe nothing that followed happened to that other me in California.  Maybe in California I am still the girl carrying a painting of Prague and a heart heavy with hopes, up the escalator, into the airport, into the sunshine sky, on and on forever.  Maybe in California the martinis didn’t happen, rape didn’t happen, New York and all these damned disappointments and the scar on my ankle didn’t happen.  Maybe I never got my heartbroken.  Maybe in California I rented an apartment and hung the painting on the wall and lived happily enough—ever after.  Maybe I moved to San Francisco.  

And maybe I would give it all back.  The past four years.  France.  New York.  New loves.  My MFA.  Everything.  I would give it all back just to feel the hope of someday having it again.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

This Is How You Love Her

Pay attention.  She will remember that time you gave money to a subway performer.  She will remember the way your finger moved up and down her back the first time you saw her naked.  She will remember when you remember.  She will remember when you forget.

Don’t be callous when homeless people make her sad, even though she passes them on the street every day.  She is sensitive, you must be too.  Don’t say that it’s their fault.  Hold her hand tighter.  She knows what it is to barely have enough, make her feel like she is your everything.  She knows what it is to have to fight for what she needs. She is tough.  You must be too. 

Listen when she tells you a story.  Hear the story behind the story.  Pay attention.  If you don’t, she will say, “You never listen!”  And she will remember every goddamned time she says this and out of all the things you will forget, you will remember it too.  And you will both grow to hate it.  Don’t. 

Listen when she is silent.  Listen for what she isn’t saying.  Pay attention.  Know her well enough to know why.  Why she is crying.  Why she is quiet.  Why she wants to drink after work on a Tuesday.  Let her know you too.  She wants to.  And isn’t that what you wanted when you first saw her, anyways?  For a girl like that to want to know someone like you?  You still remember the gold buttons on the blazer she was wearing the first time you saw her.  And you didn’t even think you had a chance in hell.  And weren’t you excited and proud when she asked you out?  And those boots she wore on your first date—the way those things hugged her legs all the way to her knees…  See, you do pay attention.

Take her side.  Because she sleeps beside you.  Because she would fight for you even if you were wrong. 

Let her know she’s beautiful.  You love tucking into the curves of her body.  You love cradling her hips against yours.  Shit, you love her.

Let her wear your clothes.  Okay, so you’d rather see her wear the dress that hugs her breasts in a way you sometimes dream of doing when you’re walking down the street together, but just know that she wants to wear your shirt because she feels sexiest when she’s with you and she wants you all over her, all the time.  Fuck that dress.  The shirt is yours.  She is yours.  And she wants to be. 

Remember, there is nothing in life that you can keep without working to hold onto it.  Treat her like she is at least as important as anything you’ve ever wanted.  And mean it.  This is how you love her.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

At least as important as anything you have ever wanted.

 “Come at me as if I were worth your life - the life we make together. Take me like a turtle whose shell must be cracked, whose heart is ice, who needs your heat. Love me like a warrior, sweat up to your earlobes and all your hope between your teeth. Love me so I know I am at least as important as anything you have ever wanted.” 

I think maybe one of the biggest detriments to any sort of success—whether it is a successful relationship or a successful career—is low self-esteem.  I also think “self-esteem” is a loose term for how one feels about oneself, how much one values oneself.  I think a better term might be self-respect.  But then again maybe not, because what does self-respect have to do with waking up in the morning and looking down at your hips and thighs and then over at your sleeping partner and not wondering if they’d love you more if you were thinner?  What does self-respect have to do with avoiding mirrors throughout the day because you hate seeing the acne scars on your cheeks when they aren’t concealed beneath makeup?  Maybe self-respecting women know better than to reduce themselves to their looks but I for one do it anyways.  And how can I not? 

I have a friend who is quick to tell off any man on the street that shouts or whistles at her as she walks by.  My friend shares stories of such encounters while picking at a plate of steamed vegetables and worrying that she shouldn’t be eating so much.  And I completely understand.  I don’t want strange men on the street to reduce me to my looks but even though I reduce myself to my looks all the time.  And I honestly believe that it’s necessary because I find that people are nicer to me if I have gone through the effort to blow-dry my hair and put on makeup.  It’s easier to ask my co-workers for help around the office.  Baristas are friendlier.  Strangers hold the subway doors for me.  And I have a pervasive sense that if I want to say something intelligent, I better look good while doing it in order to soften the blow it might have to whomever I am speaking.  Of course, the reverse is also true.  If I put in an effort to wear a nice dress to work, braid my hair and put on lipstick, more men will whistle and shout at me as I walk to the subway.
I don’t own a TV and I don’t buy women’s magazines, so I rarely encounter the kind of ads and media propaganda that gender studies courses talk about in which women are portrayed as airbrushed objects and I am left to feel inferior.  However, I do work in Midtown Manhattan.  I wake up every morning, throw on my clothes, tie my wet hair in a bun, and ride the subway red-faced and without makeup.  When I get off the train at 59th street, the first thing I see is Bloomingdales.  Then I see beautiful women in high heels that don’t seem to be cutting into their feet the way mine are, women who managed to line their eyes and blow dry their hair, women who wear dresses that look similar to the ones the Bloomingdales mannequins are sporting.  I go out on the weekends and I see women in stilettos and tiny dresses while I’m wearing beat-up old sandals and shorts and sometimes I wonder if I should try harder, while other times I pride myself on knowing that self-respect means not feeling like you have to try so hard.  And I wouldn’t really feel sexy anyways if I dressed up like that because I can’t walk in heels like those and I don’t like the feeling of being two inches away from flashing my vagina on the sidewalk if I wear a short dress. 

I have a red dress that remains hanging in my closet most of the year, except for the couple days when I need to feel invincible.  The dress is nothing fancy, just a simple cotton wrap-dress that knee-length and form fitting.  It feels daring to wear red.  Sexy, maybe, but mostly bold.  As if when I put it on I’m daring the world to look at me and deny me some sense of power.  Of course, I know it’s silly to feel empowered by a dress, but is it any sillier than business men who wear suits as a symbol of their power and success?  When I wear my red dress, I do not question my attractiveness.  The dress is magic.  It hugs all the right curves while smoothing over the wrong ones.  And perhaps, most of all, when I wear it I feel relieved of some sort of worry or guilt over not being appealing enough.  Free from worry and guilt, I feel happier.  
I once had a boyfriend who frequently praised my body and the constant praise made me feel empowered—as if I had the right to ask for sex or withhold it, to say what I wanted and receive it.  And it made me feel confident that no matter how late he was out or how infrequently he texted me back, he was not going to stray.  Of course, he praised my brain too but no man ever asks to have sex in a position that accentuates a woman’s brain.  Men don’t watch porn of women reading from their graduate thesis. 

The trouble is that it is impossible to trust that the person you love values you the way they say they do, if you don’t value yourself.  If you look in the mirror and see someone who could be better, then you are bound to hear your partner’s proclamations of fidelity as lies because why wouldn’t he want something better?  Even you want to be better.  And when you feel like this, every woman is a threat.  Every unanswered text is a warning sign of the implosion you believe is coming.

I could analyze why I suffer from low self-esteem.  I could tell you that it is possible to go through things like abuse and rape and see yourself as ruined, as inherently less valuable than other people.  I could tell you that after being raped, I am constantly conscious of being a person inside a body.  I could tell you that I don’t see love as being some sort of fated thing.  I think it’s largely a choice we make.  And so sometimes I look at the world and wonder why someone would pick me.  And I know I’m not supposed to say that.

But what I don’t know is how to fix it.  I like who I am, I just wonder if maybe anyone who chooses to be with me is making a bad choice because I wouldn’t choose to be with myself.  I live with myself.  I know the bad deal that anyone else would be getting with me.  Not only do I see my acne scars, fresh and purple after a shower, but I see the potato chips I eat in bed when I’m stressed.  And I hear all my damn stories every time I sit down the write.  I hear my writer’s voice talking about abuse and rape and loss and I wonder if I would choose to be with someone like me.  I don’t have a choice.  I am stuck in my own body.  No one else is stuck with me.  They can leave.  And the truth is that I don’t think there’s any amount of beautiful I could be that would change that. 

And so here I am.  I am surprised every time someone is there for me—for a birthday or a bad day.  And I am confused every morning when I wake up to find the body sleeping next to me in bed isn’t gone yet.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Like a Sore Thumb

Maybe love means being someone’s accident.  Maybe love is something you trip over and fall into, scrape your knee against, stub your toe on.  You don’t mean to fall into it but it happens—you’re clumsy like that.  Or maybe love is like the weeds that spring up between the cracks in the pavement.  Maybe it grows in between broken things.  Maybe you’d have to be crazy or religious to call love something that is meant to be.  Because then you’d have to believe that everything from car accidents to plane crashes to that scar on your elbow from the time you fell off your bike are all meant to be.  But maybe it’s better to be crazy or to pray to god, otherwise you have to believe that you have some control over it all, that you could walk more carefully, that you could be more mindful of where you’re going, lest you end up tripping over that weed that grows stubbornly in between the broken pavement and getting hurt. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Imitation Pearls

When I moved to Chicago for college, I had my first sight of the certain pristine calm that seemed to lay just behind the windows of high-end retail stores on Michigan Avenue.  It is the same calm that I now see behind the windows of Madison Avenue shops on the Upper East Side, where I live in New York—though my own rented room is several blocks east of such places and has about it a cluttered, distraught feeling to it, which is about as far from pristine calm as one can get.  Living in Chicago, I would walk past such stores on my way to class or to the dentist or just to pass the time on a Sunday afternoon.  Everything about them was sparse in a way that made a person like me, who grew up understanding a different sentiment of the word “sparse,” see such intentional sparseness as a luxury.  Everything was clean and the shops were quiet.  If silence is indeed golden, then these places were plated in it and they sparkled. 
When I left rural Wisconsin for Chicago, I was not looking to find beautiful things—at least not material ones.  I was looking for happiness.  I was looking to get away from certain things that had happened to me and I was hoping to avoid what I saw as the unhappy fate of my female relatives.  In pictures I had seen of the university I would attend, right along Lake Michigan, were cobbled stoned paths and concrete walls and in the beauty of it all I thought there would be happiness.  I thought that a place that looked practically foreign from where I was from would have everything I had never experienced at home—and by everything, all I really meant was happiness.  The trouble is that I had little to no idea of what happiness really meant or what it looked like. 
Where I am from, rural Wisconsin, is not beautiful the way Chicago along the lake is beautiful with fine brownstones just a block from waves that regularly reflect a smog-pink sunset.  Where I am from is not beautiful the way the mannequins and fine goods in the shop windows on Michigan or Madison Avenue are beautiful.  Where I am from is rundown and frazzled. Where I am from has always felt inherently dirty to me.  People in line at the gas station look unkempt even in the mornings when they may well be fresh from the shower.  Children always seem to be catching colds and coughing in the check-out lines at Wal-Mart and men always smell of sweat and cheap aftershave –what my father called his “smell’ums.”  And most of the year, the evening air is ripe with the smell of sun baked cow manure. 
At first, in Chicago, I would walk past those pristine shop windows the way I walked through the art museums I had visited in London—like a tourist content to gaze for a moment into someone else’s life, interested in the idea of how someone else lived but with no desire to change places.  But I was not a tourist.  I lived there.  I lived right among those shops and brownstones in Chicago, just as I now do in New York.  I was living my real life in a world that felt like a museum at best—a delusion, at worst.
My life didn’t feel like mine.  But it was also all I had.  I was receiving a good education on loan from the federal government.  And soon I had been befriended by a classmate who looked like she had walked right out of one of those store windows and had just happened to a take a seat in the empty desk next to me in our creative writing class.  The first thing she taught me was how to drink wine.  Then, after a bottle of Pinot Noir, she leaned towards me and took the strand of imitation pearls my mother had lent me between her fingers and said, “I know they’re fake because I can see the scratch.  If I wasn’t your friend I wouldn’t be nice about it.”  I looked down.  As a very young girl, I had always admired the necklace when it has hung in my mother’s jewelry box.  My friend proudly showed me her jewelry collection, displaying real pearls and pretty little things in Tiffany’s blue boxes.  Holding up one piece she noted that it had been given to her by a much older business man whom she had dated while she had been in boarding school.  She said he used to take her to dinner and order extra strong vodka tonics so she could share them with him when the waiter wasn’t looking. 
She taught me how to act like the mannequins in the store windows.  She gave me a pair of her grandmother’s pearl earrings.  She taught me how to talk to older men in bars—because they’ll always pay.  And I found new, clothes –classic sweaters and fine leather purses that I purchased on sale at local boutiques that the just beginning economic recession was forcing out of business.  My boyfriend gave me a necklace from Tiffany’s.  One Christmas, while I was home from college, I asked my mother for the box of vintage jewelry we had inherited from long dead relatives which we had never had any use for and had instead used to decorate our Christmas tree.  I wore our 1920’s costume jewelry Christmas ornaments on my ears when I returned to Chicago.
These things did not make me happy.  In Chicago, I was happiest leaving my apartment to walk alone along the lake, from where I could view the downtown skyline from a distance. 
I spent the summer before I moved to New York, at home in rural Wisconsin.  For three months I never took my jewelry out of the suitcase I had packed it away in and I never wore the clothes my friend had taught me to wear.  I wore a single pair of sandals and a couple loose fitting dresses and shirts because that was what was appropriate for a place where the sidewalk was cracked and sometimes just gravel and dirt.  I walked barefoot on the hot cement at night with my mother, being careful not to step on the glass of broken beer bottles.  I stayed cool by forgoing a bra and sitting under a ceiling fan while drinking a can of Pepsi, my hair still wet and uncombed from the shower.  Of course, I was bored.  I could never have stayed there.  But the souvenirs I had collected from my tour of someone else’s life (My life? My friend’s life?  The mannequin’s life?) just didn’t call to me in quite the same way by the time I unpacked them when I reached New York. 
One thing I have noticed about Chicago in comparison to New York, is that Chicago feels possible.  In fact, for me it made dreams—anything, really—feel attainable.  Chicago is an aspirational, hardworking American’s city.  It is beautiful by the lake and as glimpsed through Michigan Avenue store windows.  But it is also real.  I never felt uncomfortable riding the “L,” jammed between a homeless person and someone carrying a Prada purse.  Both kinds of people exist in Chicago, but so does the social median—the middle class.  And no one, regardless of their class status, seems to be telling themselves fictitious tales about how they are great and how their whole life is going to be great because they are in the greatest city on earth.  Such tales are, of course, the staple of every New Yorker’s diet.  I may be guilty of romanticizing Chicago when I say that people there seem more apt to believe in the quality of their lives, not the mythical quality of where they live, but romanticizing New York is a far greater crime. 
People who move to New York, myself included once upon a time, seem to believe that just by being here, something wonderful will happen to them—they will get their dream job, fame, fortune, prestige, a certain kind of membership card that guarantees them admittance through the doors of all pristine, calm beautiful establishments.  That is not the case.  When I moved here, I was told repeatedly, “New York is all about who you know.”  I knew no one.  I moved here with two suitcases and an address of a place where I would be sharing a room with two other graduate students.  And for the most part I met people like me, people who knew no one.  Or else I met people who did know someone, but who were so far out of touch with the reality that those of us not from New York—or any East Coast city that is just a commuter train away—know too well to be any help. 
True, a lot of great things have happened to me in New York.  I’ve fallen in love once or twice.  I’ve made a good friend or two.  I’ve gotten my MFA.  I’ve also worked several mediocre jobs—each posing as something more aspirational.  I’ve felt let down by the city as I fell on my face, stumbling over myself as I tried to keep up, to make it, to---To be happy?  And I do credit those horrible jobs as teaching me the price of things I deem worth having.  And the thing is that I don’t think what I get out of New York it worth it. 
I am not the mannequin from those fine store windows.  My life is not pristine.  In New York, I am tired and frazzled and largely unhappy.  Sometimes I feel more like those sweaty, dirty people in the gas station line of my hometown, than I do like the people around me in New York.  And often, I forget that what I set out from that small town in search of was not something else that would make me feel ugly and wrong and hopeless.  I was looking for happiness.  And I don’t think it’s here.
I hate New York.  I hate working all day in an office cubicle from which I can’t even glimpse the outdoors.  And I hate that when I run outside to grab lunch everything is haphazard and dirty—except for the finely pressed suits of the men who stand in line beside me to buy overpriced salads.  I hate how people say New York has great bars and restaurants to offer, as if that’s a reason to live somewhere.  The truth is, the only reason I like going out is that I don’t like being in my tiny rented room.  And I don’t like feeling bored on a Sunday and therefore feeling compelled to drag myself to The Metropolitan museum for yet another time because it’s there, so I figure I should.  I don’t like the fact that I am going into my seventh year of feeling like a tourist in a life that doesn’t feel like mine but is still all I have.  I don’t want my life to be fake pearls.  But I also want it to be completely okay to wear fake pearls.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Things I've been told:

You’re too nice.  You intimidate people.  You need to smile more.  You’re too smart.  You look great now that you’ve lost weight.  Your height makes your intimidating.  You think too much.  You’re too smart for your own good.  You got raped because you’re too nice—you let people take advantage of you.  You got raped because you act like you’re better than people.  Smart girls don’t get raped.  Maybe you shouldn’t have been drinking.  What did you eat that day?  Nice girls don’t get raped.  Maybe you got raped because you looked so good in that blouse—purple is a such great color on you.  After you got raped, you walked around with this attitude like what had happened to you was more important than what was happening in other people’s lives—you were so moody at the bar the next week.  You are not a nice girl; you don’t deserve a nice guy.  You need to be careful how you talk in mixed company—it’s very suggestive.  You’re too shy.  Why don’t you try harder to meet people?  Why can’t you just be happy?  Just be yourself. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

This is how you love her.

Pay attention.  She will remember that time you gave money to a subway performer.  She will remember the way your finger moved up and down her back the first time you saw her naked.  She will remember when you remember.  She will remember when you forget.
Don’t be callous when homeless people make her sad, even though she passes them on the street everyday.  She is sensitive, you must be too.  Don’t say that it’s their fault.  You’ll never convince her and who do you think you are anyways?  Hold her hand tighter.  She’s sensitive.  You must be too.  She knows what it is to barely have enough, make her feel like she is your everything.  She knows what it is to have to fight for you need.  She is tough.  You must be too. 

Listen when she tells you a story.  Hear the story behind the story.  Pay attention.  If you don’t, she will say, “You never listen!”  And she will remember every goddamned time she says this and out of all the stuff you will forget, you will remember it too.  And you will both grow to hate it.  Don’t. 

Listen when she is silent.  Listen for what she isn’t saying.  Pay attention.  Know her well enough to know why.  Why she is crying.  Why she is quiet.  Why she wants to drink after work on a Tuesday.  Let her know you too.  She wants to.  And isn’t that what you wanted when you first saw her, anyways?  For a girl like that to want to know someone like you?  You still remember the gold buttons on the blazer she was wearing the first time you saw her.  And didn’t even think you had a chance in hell.  And weren’t you excided and proud when she asked you out?  And those boots she wore on your first date—the way those things hugged her legs all the way to her knees…  See, you do pay attention.

Take her side.  Always.  Because she sleeps beside you.  Because she would fight for you even if you were wrong.  Because she is the only one who gets to tell you when you’re wrong. 

Kiss her forehead.  You love the way she kisses your forehead every morning before she leaves for work. Make sure she knows she doesn’t compare to those other women or to that porn you watch.  Let her come first.  And when you have sex, do not say, “Ooops, sorry baby.  I’m done.”  And don’t think it will help when you say, “It was just so good, I couldn’t control myself,” as you role over and close your eyes for the night.  She remembers everything and she will damn sure remember this and she will say, “This is just like how you never listen.  You only care about yourself!”  God knows you can be selfish, but don’t be in bed. 

Let her know she’s beautiful.  Assure her that any skinny bitch you might have fucked before her doesn’t count.  Sure, there is a certain fragile beauty you like to admire in the small boned frames of women like those, but they aren’t the one you want to curl up beside after a long day.  You love tucking into the curves of her body.  You love cradling her hips against yours.  Shit, you love her.

Let her wear your clothes.  Okay, so you’d rather see her wear the dress that hugs her breasts in a way you sometimes dream of doing when you’re walking down the street together, but just know that she wants to wear your shirt because she feels sexiest when she’s with you and she wants you all over her, all the time.  Fuck that dress.  The shirt is yours.  She is yours.  And she wants to be.  Isn’t that what you wanted?

Go to karaoke with her and her friends.  And sign that duet with her when she begs you too.  She’s happy with you and she wants her friends to see it too.  

Remember, you didn’t get that great job you have now by acting like it didn’t matter.  There is nothing in life that you can keep without working to hold onto it.  Treat her like she is at least as important as anything you’ve ever wanted.  This is how you love her.

Literary Collage

Essay as collage.
Love as collage.
Essay as love.
Essay: an attempt.
Love: an essay.
What are you essaying to be?  Peel my summer sweat stuck sun dress  from my skin and paste me over your rough edges.  Make an attempt.  
I'll write you love letters you'll never read.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Appropriation of Me

This is Mine. With an M, I capitalize.  Read: Make the Most.  Love.  Born like Aphrodite, from god and thunder.  I'm from the Midwest.  Sex.  Best--like what you can't have: Me and Mine.  I sweet talk unspoken words.  Abstract.  I'm an impressionist.  Monet.  It's My way.  Sex.  Best.  Like this.  Those legs entwined under the covers are Mine.  Sex re-appropriated for love.  For Me: Mine.