• AH
  • First Blog | Autobiographical
First Blog | Autobiographical
Contributor
Written by
AH
August 2009
Contributor
Written by
AH
August 2009
Feeling out this blog post thing. Here's some excerpts from the autobiographical mess I am forever and always working on. Bathtub Jacob calls John. I get super interested in my hands, yanking at chunks in the carpet while Jacob casts terrified sidelong glances at me, as if he's making a phone call with a gun to his head, worse, a jar of nitro glycerin. Anybody who saw us, they'd think I was the BOOM in this house, my iron word like prison bars, my fingers shearing scissors, eating up the floor. That's what they see and that's what they tell me: you're too hard on him. High maintenance. Tug tug tug at the carpet. I'm not going to say anything. Not this time. I'm not high maintenance girl. I'm not. Jacob says, “Wha's up, man?” and my resolve goes through the floor. That voice, that smarmy I'm so gangsta voice. I look up, stare straight at him. His eyes bulge. Yeah, go on, say it. I hear John mumbling on the other side of the phone, his slow just-woke-up drawl. It's three, but you know, John can afford to be Mr. 3 PM. Just lying in bed, waiting for a chump like Jacob to call. Jacob keeps staring at me, paralyzed, until he manages to stutter out, “Uhhhhh yeah yeah hold on a second man.” Watching me like a cornered animal, he stumbles backwards into the bathroom, where he turns on the fan, turns out the lights, stands in the tub, and slams shuts the door. “What was that about?” I ask him when he comes out, my fingers clutched tight around threads of the carpet. “Oh, I just, uh, I had to talk to John. Just asking him how shit's going. You know. You know how it is.” “Why'd you have to talk to John in the bathroom?” There's silence. I wait. I clutch at the stained beige carpet, blink under the orange lights, the sickly yellow walls. I am living in a rotten peach. Waiting, watching for worms. Watching Jacob's mind spin, just a can of worms. It's not like I don't know, but the reason why doesn't seem as important as knowing whether or not he's going to tell me. “Oh, you were busy,” he finally says with a shaky sick smile. “I know you've been busy. I didn't want to bother you.” He wags his finger. “See, I listen when you bitch.” I don't say anything. I head to class. When I come home, I have brought Jacob a present, a smoothie and a cookie, to let him know I love him, and he doesn't have to be angry. I tell him about class, single out the dumb girl with the ugly nose and give Jacob a chance to do an impression, make fun of somebody, feel better about himself. Set it all up so I can do what I need to do and he might not hate me for it. Finally, very gently, I say, “I know why you went into the bathroom to talk to John.” “Oh... oh, what do you mean?” I keep waiting for him to fess up, and we can take a step forward here like adults. Admit he made a mistake. Admit he doesn't think I'm that stupid. “Look, I wish you wouldn't smoke... so much pot.” I can't yet say any, and I wonder why I expect him to be an adult when I can't manage anything more than a beleagured mommy voice. “But I don't care as much about that as I do about you lying to me. Do you think I'm stupid? You think I see you go into the other room to make your call and I don't know what's going on? Seriously, Jacob. Give me some credit.” Now he looks sheepish, hand caught in the cookie jar. “I'm sorry, I just... I thought you'd be mad.” “Oh, I am mad.” Gosh, you sure sound like it, I think. You sound mad as hell. You sound like you're asking him to put the toilet seat down. There are some women who get fucking hysterical about that. But gosh, you sure are peeved. Fucking P.O.ed, even. “I thought you were going to cut back. But I'm more upset that you lied to me. And when I gave you the chance to come clean, you wouldn't. It bothers me that I had to bring this up first.” I try to look like I'm really upset, but not too upset. Upset enough to warrant complaining, but not upset enough to be called hysterical, irrational, nagging, high maintenance. Crazy. I'm not. I'm not like that. I'll show him I'm not. “Well, okay,” he says. “You're right.” A skeletal hand over mine. “I'm glad we had this talk.” We have a customary after-Avery-gets-bitchy kiss, so he can reassure me he still loves me, even though I whine. As his thin lips press against mine, I pad into a mental bathroom, turn the fan on, stand in the tub in the dark. I hope he can't hear the conversation being had in there. I turn the fan up louder and hope I can't hear it, either. Leave Our apartment is a shithole. It's not the landlord's fault. This building is right in the heart of the student area, and a long series of inattentive landlords knew they could get away with a lot and still charge 800 per bedroom. Students are like that. But this landlord tries, and the rest of the building is starting to look better. Just not our place. We've been here for three years, when most students move every summer, and he gets in there to do the carpets they shit on and patch up the walls they've punched through. I'd like to move. It'd be nice to have a clean apartment, start fresh, no bongs this time, but Jacob says moving is pointless. Just one student apartment to another, and we can't move out of the student section, because we've got no car and no licenses, which we'd need to move anyway, I mean, you remember last time, Avery. Yeah, I remember. Before we moved from the dorms to the apartments, I had thought I was pretty on top of my game, pretty grown-up. I was thinking about marriage, babies. Career. Life. Perfect. But the stress of moving, I thought, any baby I have with this man right now, I'm going to end up throwing it on the pavement, cracking open its skull, and stripping down to go sleep in the lake bed. Late nights, crunching numbers over and over again, trying to figure out how to afford an apartment for us on my salary, I'd often stop and fantasize before I could go on. The way the baby would go all still, and peaceful, slowly get cold. When it stopped looking like a baby and started looking like a dead thing, then it'd be time, I'd just have to kill myself, because there's no living past that. Before I knew it, an hour would have passed, and I still wouldn't have found a way to afford the apartment. Fucking lazy, stupid, mindless. Focus, Avery. All my savings, okay, that covers the safety deposit and first month's rent, and we'd have just enough for groceries for a week after that, when my paycheck would come in. No room for pot, I realized with relief. No room at all. We'll have to go without. We can do that. I know we can. Jacob didn't have a job. He'd been working in the dorm cafeteria while I worked hotel housekeeping. He flipped eggs, I scrubbed toilets. Real prole. I woke up at 7 every morning, six days a week, worked five hours, snatched a ten minute nap once a day when I got a room to myself, went to class for five more hours, went to Jacob's so I could do my homework and see him at the same time, went to sleep at midnight, got up, did it again. That job, that's how I learned how to breathe the way Jacob kept telling me to, the way he'd read about in his Buddhist classes: focus on the breath coming in, the breath going out, and before I knew it I could fall dead asleep, the kind of sleep I wanted to drown in. My hands never healed, the antiseptic stink never came off of me, and I never seemed to get enough sleep, but I was learning something, I was improving myself, and that counted for something, right? I had it pretty good, pretty lucky. Jacob, I felt bad for. Life was rough on him. He had to get up at 6 twice a week, I mean, fucking six o' clock, the sun isn't even up yet. Working in a cafeteria was sweaty and hot, and his management were such assholes, they fired him for showing up late after only three shifts. He hadn't even been late, he'd been standing outside drinking coffee, but he wasn't supposed to do that, even though nobody even told him. I don't know, it seems he couldn't ever get a break. He was just too smart for that shit, you couldn't push him around. I wished sometimes he'd learn to bend, like I did, learn to swallow, but I guess that was part of what I loved about him, and I couldn't ask him to give that up. So we were moving and he was still unemployed, hadn't been able to get another job, hadn't been able to get out of bed and go to school since he got arrested, twice, for smoking in the dorms. Post traumatic stress. The first time was bad enough, with the cops almost catching me. It would have destroyed my financial aid, I would have been homeless, so he took the heat. And then the day he had his hearing, I went in and paid his fine, fair trade since he took the rap, and then I went to class and he went to have a celebration smoke with Creamy, outside the dorms, which the cops chose that exact moment to stake out. I mean, fucking unbelievable, lightning striking twice like that. So of course he was all fucked up and depressed, he couldn't even go to class, he just got high and jerked off all the time, and cried when I wasn't around. I pulled some strings, I managed to get him a job where I was going to start working, some swank call center, with benefits, but he wasn't going to start till the end of the summer. That was okay, though, once we moved in, he would go back to Minnesota for a few months, work his old high school job at a convenience store while I started my new one, waiting for him. Life was picking up for us. An apartment, new jobs, hey, it was all golden. If we could just find a way to actually move our stuff. I've thought about it since, trying to figure out what happened, why we fought so much, and the problem was, I got too emotional then. I was so stuck on Jacob, I didn't have any other friends, I don't know why. I didn't try hard enough. Somehow it was so easy for Jacob, he went out for a deal and came home with a few guys and they were all good pals, and I was just the girlfriend on the side. It must've got to me, the jealousy, the loneliness, so I lashed out at him, for things that weren't his fault. I mean, seriously, he couldn't help having PTSD, he couldn't help being unemployed. He was trying, and all I could do was bring him down. It's a fucking miracle he stayed with me at all. A few weeks before moving out of the dorms, I picked a fight. I told him he wasn't doing anything to find us a way to move our stuff. That I knew I was just going to end up hauling it all on my back, like I did everything, like I carried him. I said some other things, about how he didn't actually have friends, the guys you get high with don't count as friends, and he thought he was popular when he was just being a drug addict. And why had he even been smoking with Creamy that day, outside, like a fucking moron, when he'd promised me he wouldn't smoke until he'd gotten his homework done for the day, and I didn't believe him for a second that he didn't have any fucking homework that day, and the reason we didn't have any money is because I'd had to bail him out and pay his fines because he was too fucking high-strung and precious to go do community service to work it off. It wasn't fair, my saying all that, but there it was, coming out of me, and I couldn't think of what else to do, couldn't think how to take it back. I felt like puking if I took it back. That's how I knew how rotten I was, inside. What kind of good person could feel sick for apologizing? Jacob got pissed. He threw shit on his floor. Said some stuff about maybe if I didn't spend every free minute I had with him we could figure something out. I didn't even try to understand how he felt. I nagged. I bitched. I made him feel like shit. Why should he help me when I never helped him? Sometimes he had to be high, just so he could deal with listening to me talk talk talk all the fucking time. And don't bring up the money again, he told me, because it's not his fault he was fired. I mean, maybe if his girlfriend wasn't at his place every fucking night he would have been able to get more sleep and show up on time. Did I ever think about having my own goddamn life instead of draining it out of him? I stared at the floor, took a deep breath. I imagined a baby's head cracked open under his dorm bed, blood hissing down the floor. This wasn't right. This wasn't what we were supposed to do, supposed to be. I imagined the blood and tried to calm down, do the adult thing. I said, “We're obviously both very upset right now. I'm not even sure what we're upset about. It's probably just stress from moving. Maybe we should not talk about it for a while? Maybe I should leave?” “Yes, fucking leave.” I was stunned. I hadn't expected him to actually tell me to leave. But that was my fault. I had brought it up expecting him to say no, and that was manipulative. He called my bluff and that's what I get, that'll teach me. I stood outside his dorm, leaning against the brick wall, shaking. Pathetic, I thought. I'm fucking pathetic. Then he walked past me, right past me, didn't even see me, hauling on his jacket like he was in a windstorm, heading down Steve-O's way. Going to get high. I was angry, I was going to let him have it, next time I saw him. You don't have time to figure out how we're going to move, you don't have the money to pay our deposit, but goddamn do you have the time and money to get high, and to get high without me, and the only reason you think you've got any friends is because you're all just a bunch of pothead fucks. The next day I walked into his dorm room with this whole speech in my head. I didn't even get it out. He took one look at my face, then picked up his cell and called Andy. Offered him fifty dollars to take our stuff. Fifty dollars, a bag. Andy said yes right away. Jacob hung up and looked at me hard and said, “Don't ever tell me I don't do anything again. I just took care of everything.” There wasn't fifty bucks to spare. But what could I do, tell him I'd mismanaged our money? Tell Andy we didn't need him? We did. I couldn't ask Jacob's parents for money; they were counting on me to take care of him, they'd tell me if we couldn't afford an apartment we weren't grown up enough to have one. I wasn't going to let anybody know how much I'd fucked up, how little I'd saved, how lazy I'd been. If I hadn't called in sick that one day, we'd have at least half of this covered. This was my fault, my cross to bear. So I quit lunches that week. I spent too much money at the student union anyway, buying a slice of pizza every day. Considering how fat I was, I could do with ramen twice a day. I found if I drank a lot of water, I didn't even need it twice. If I heated the water to scalding, my tongue would hurt so much I wouldn't even want to eat. Besides, it was finals week, and I was too busy studying, on the bus, at work, all night long in the library. Coffee was enough, I didn't need food, half the time. Food was distracting. I had to be stronger than that. I wasn't a little kid who needed special treats. So we saved fifty. Andy moved our shit, and surrounded by boxes in the new place, he smoked us up. Jacob beamed, saying, “See? I worked it out, and we got high.” I know it worked out, but I'm not going through it again. We're not moving, we can't. I'm too lazy to get a license, and he's too busy, and there's no way we'd ever have money for a goddamn car, of all things. So we are stuck in this apartment that we have been ripping apart since the day we got here. Our first night, Jacob made a bong out of a one-hitter and a Dr. Pepper bottle, and we spilled it all over the floor. Other bongs came and went, leaving musty brown stains that make it smell like we are living in a basement, a basement with no ventilation, with puddles of water everywhere. I've done that before, when I was a kid, I lived in a basement, but honestly it didn't smell like this. It was just mold. At least it was a natural smell. People talk about walking into hospitals, and it smells like sick, and I mean, that's what it smells like here. Bodies that aren't moving. Bodies that are medicated. Sheets that don't get changed enough. The more I smoke, the less I can smell, but still. There was one night Jacob drank 5 Guinesses after I went to bed and spilled the half of them on the rug. It's like this shit stain, and I try to cover it up with furniture but it's such an awkward spot, and our furniture has bong stains and duct tape where I couldn't half-ass patch it with needle and thread. I don't know why I haven't learned how to sew yet, it's embarrassing how I can't fix the most basic thing. There are queer water stains on the corner chair and the carpet underneath it, from the time Jacob just poured tonic water all over himself. He was sitting in the chair high and naked one night and thought to himself, you know what, fucking tonic water all over myself, yeah, okay. He poured every last drop of it across his chest. I found him passed out that way in the morning, sticky and smelling like resin. I can't believe he didn't draw flies. Sometimes we find stems and beans in the crevice of the futon his parents gave us, and Jacob packs and smokes them by himself, saying he needs it more. Sure, I mean, he hasn't done his homework in weeks, he's stressed. I'm better equipped for this sort of thing. I have done my best to make this a house, a home. During moving days, when all the kids who can afford it throw their shit out on the curb and go home to their parents, I schedule some time away from class and work to prowl up and down the student sections. If I find a bookcase or dresser I like I haul it home on my back, like a peasant. I like the way I must look to passerby, some little girl in a polka dot dress, splinters up and down her arms, maybe some blood on her shoulders, carrying home something twice as big as her all by herself. I like Jacob's look of surprise when he gets home. He hates just about everything I've hauled off the street, but I just say, well, you can bring it back down if you don't like it. And everything stays. I would never admit it, but I know Jacob is right, and I dragged too much stuff into our house. There is no way to walk around. I prop a desk up on the staircase. Everybody hates it, all the potheads smoking at our house need to jump over it to get to the bathroom upstairs, but I need somewhere to do my homework, somewhere that Jacob doesn't smoke. I don't like wiping resin off my papers. I know he says nobody notices, but I can smell it through my backpack, and I'm sure everybody can. Sometimes I walk down the street and wonder how many other people are high, and I think, it must be everybody. Other times this small sober thought comes into my head, and I know it's nobody. I'm the only one getting high at 8 am so I can get dressed and shower. I'm the only one getting high again at 10 so I can walk to class without collapsing on the street, gasping and grabbing my chest, the way I feel like doing every day, and I don't know why. I must be out of shape. So I get high, and I go to the gym. I come home, I get high, and I clean. I have to clean, every day, every afternoon, every night, every moment. The house is a fucking mess. Why is the house always such a fucking mess? One morning, I make a cup of coffee and smoke a roach, my routine. Jacob manages to wake up a little upstairs, and he yells at me, “Are you smoking my fucking roach? You need to put in more for bags if you're going to smoke that much.” I ought to keep track of what we're smoking, so I can show him, no, you fucker, you're the one who takes my card and withdraws money to buy pot, you're not buying shit. I don't know, he's got some system in his head, about how this much of my paycheck is ours, and this much is mine, and how much do I smoke and how much does he middle-man, to keep us good with the dealers. But I don't want to keep track of shit like that, I am too paranoid to leave records of our illegal drug use, and the last time I sat down with him and tried to work out our finances, he laughed at me and said, “Good luck,” throwing my charts and spreadsheets on the floor. Fuck him, I mean, seriously. I pick up every day. He never does. I look around the living room and see all his shit on the floor. Used plates. Role playing books. Paper cups from Jimmy Johns. He says he needs them, they're important. They're fucking paper cups. THEY'RE FUCKING PAPER CUPS, Jacob. I take some post-it notes and write: “Jacob pick this up” and put one on every item that's his. I want a visual reference, so he can see by the field of purple how much of this disgusting apartment is his doing. Near midnight, I come home from work and Gregory is there. All the trash, it's still on the floor. The moment I come in Jacob starts to pick up, stooping in pantomime, ripping the post-it notes off with astonishing force. If he knew the lyrics to Swing Low, Sweet Chariot I bet he'd fucking sing them. I bet he'd shuffle for me. He lets a post-it flutter by Gregory so Gregory picks it up and reads it. “Jacob, pick this up,” Gregory reads. He looks around the apartment. “You've got a lot to pick up, Jacob,” and he laughs. “Are you happy, honey?” Jacob snaps at me, swiping at the paper cups. “I'm picking up. It's what you wanted.” I push him out of the way, start to gather up the plates, the cups, the roaches. “You don't have to do it right now,” I say. “Just, you know, sometimes. Daily. Weekly. Something like that.” “Yeah, Jacob,” says Gregory in a mock serious tone. “Seriously.” Jacob rips the stuff I've picked up from my arms. “It's my mess,” he snaps. “I'll do it.” Later that night, Jacob tells me I humiliated him in front of his friends. He tells me I act like I'm crazy. He works, too, and I don't pick up after myself either, but he doesn't come down on me the way I do him, because he respects me. “I didn't mean to,” I say, sobbing by then. “I just... it's just so dirty.” “I told you I need those cups! And I can't put my dishes away because you never do the dishes!” “I did them yesterday!” “You never do them right!” “Good luck.” Don't When we graduated high school, Jacob went off to Madison for college, and I stayed in St. Paul, going to a private university, full of rich fucking bastard kids. I moved out of my foster family's house, into the dorm. Jacob's parents helped me move, and in the morning my foster dad got up to give help move the boxes, gave me a stiff lukewarm hug. Nobody else bothered. Well, you know, that was okay. I didn't blame them. I wasn't their kid. I wasn't anybody's kid. I wasn't going to let it hurt. I didn't have the luxury. I wasn't real, like them. It was why they had hated me, you can't get close to something that isn't even really human. Jacob was gone, in another state. I had no friends in this one. I didn't know how to make friends with rich kids, who had actually had white picket fences, and real rooms that weren't in basements. They didn't even know what foster families were, except that they weren't like real families. Well, that was okay. I had to learn how to be alone anyway. Free time was going to be against me here. Free time is when people want to step out of blind spots, wave and touch and talk and be, and that wasn't okay for me, I couldn't let myself do that. It was just this simple choice, so clean, so clear. I could talk about my life and get that look, that how could that be real look, explain over and over again what abuse is, how it happens, why sometimes there isn't a happy ending. Try and think up the most horrible memory I have and share it with strangers, shaking and trying not to let them see me shake, so they believe that it was actually abuse and not just “my dad didn't buy me a car” abuse. Or don't talk at all. Don't let anybody know what you are. They can think you're a bitch, but it's better than them knowing you're a runaway. I took two part-time jobs and the full load of credits and bore down on my life like it was an enemy, something that needed to be beaten until it behaved, cut until it fit. I was ruthless, merciless with myself. Sleep could wait, food could wait, not until I did everything right, did my homework weeks in advance, cleaned my room down to a speck, exercised to get all the fat off. I had to work myself that way, because I knew how I was, I knew I was stupid and slow and soft, and I couldn't let anybody see that, couldn't let them know I could be hurt so easily. I didn't understand how loans and tuition worked, I had nobody to explain it to me, and didn't want to show how ignorant I was, so I just signed whatever the financial office put in front of me. Once I had to ask them how to write a check, because I had never done it before, and they needed me to do it, right then. The guy behind the counter gave me this horrified, disgusted look and told me to go back to my room and call my parents. He didn't know. Well, I wasn't going to tell him. I went to the grocery store, pretended I was looking at magazines near the check-out, and waited until somebody started writing a check, then got in line behind them with the magazine and watched them do it. I might be stupid, I might be slow, but there was a way around anything, if you worked at it hard enough. That was something I could do, anyway. It was the only thing I was good at, pathetic ideas like that. Swallowing my pride and not crying at the grocery store while I watched people be normal, like watching birds fly and wondering what it felt like. I was pretty well set up then. My mother had filled out my FAFSA, and she was in prison, so I was getting a lot of aid, but I didn't know it, I didn't understand how it worked. I expected that any day now a bill would arrive in the mail, some absurd amount I could never pay, and then everybody would know I didn't belong here, couldn't be a real person. So I saved every penny. I only ate twice a day, and if I could help it I made one of those meals at the restaurant I waitressed at, where I could get it for free or discounted. Otherwise it was ramen, hot pockets if I felt woozy. I shopped at the remainder thrift store, bought the cheapest throwaway clothes and worked out and starved until they fit. I ordered my textbooks from the libraries, and if I couldn't get the right edition I got as many other related textbooks as I could, read compendiums on the Internet, sat in on other lectures, did their homework. I felt proud of myself. Sometimes I could be clever, just clever enough to survive. The semester ended and I had a 4.0, some weird mistake, but I had no time to figure it out because it was winter break and the dorms were shutting down and I had nowhere to sleep. I asked the dorms, can I stay here, I don't have parents, I don't have anywhere to go, but they told me no, nobody could stay, and, confused, asked me if maybe I had an aunt somewhere? I wasn't going to explain it to them. I had some money tucked away, I thought I could manage a hotel for two weeks. Just in case, I would pack up a lot of blankets and coats. I knew this low bridge near a playground that seemed okay. When Jacob came back from Madison and asked me what I was going to do, I said I would figure it out. I was hoping he wouldn't ask, or press. I wanted to sleep under the bridge, because it was cheap and I wouldn't have to ask anybody for help, and I bet I would learn a lot that way, it would harden me up fast. But Jacob was smart, you know, he saw right through me, and he called his parents and told them I would stay with them. Well, okay. I tried. I stayed in his room and didn't talk much, and didn't eat much, and never when anybody was looking. I smiled whenever anybody was polite at me. The bridge would have been easier. Some sleazy motel. I would get myself to sleep at that house by imagining how I would have done it, under the bridge, sleeping maybe with a broken bottle in one hand, just in case. Yeah, I would've done all right. That's the kind of place I thrived. The kind of place I belonged. Not in a house where they replaced the flowers in the vases every week, where there were glass cases with perfectly placed lights to show-off the crystal and porcelain and china, where we had two different forks at dinner. I had dreams where everybody was a zombie, a werewolf, a demon, except me, and soon they'd all realize it, they'd turn on me any second now, tear me apart and bury me under a bridge, a parking lot, where I belonged. On Christmas Eve, in bed with Jacob, I started talking about God. I was taking some biblical study classes, and I read the Bible for fun, sometimes. I didn't believe in it, and I wasn't reading the New Testament and the touchy-feely fan art Jesus shit. I liked the Old Testament, a brutal God, a vague and eerie covenant, prophets and the lives they had to give up, the humanity they had to leave behind, to turn their face to an entity that killed as readily as he loved. They turned to him because he was power, because though he was chaos, grandiosity beyond perception, he made more sense than a world of dust and death. I explained Genesis over and over, I said, we can't be made in God's image, I want to love God, and how can I if it's true, because I mean look at me. What if God looks like me? There's got to be some other image or I am just as spiteful and mean and angry as I feel all the time, every day, because that is God, every passage, that is God. If I could flood everything I would. If I could turn people to salt, I would. If I could create Hell, I would. I want to be better, but I'm not, I'm angry all the time, it's something internal, something intrinsic, it's God's spark inside me. I got histrionic, almost speaking in tongues, telling Jacob about Moses, what did Moses have to do, what did he know he had to do, what did he have to decide to do, and did he really love God or did he fear him or was that the same thing, and is that how people lived then, is that a better way to live now, because it makes sense to me, I would rather be Moses, I would rather be Moses or have my throat slit in the darkness and have it all end. I curled into a ball and started to sob hysterically and Jacob asked me to marry him. “Are you just saying that to shut me up?” I asked. “Are you just asking me so I'll stop crying?” “No, of course not,” he said, and I waited for the explanation, some variation of “I'm asking because I love you” or “because you're beautiful” or whatever, you know, I wouldn't believe it, but it was the thing to say, right there. He didn't say anything, just waited, and after the silence got too long and too awkward I said yes, okay, I'll marry you, and we kissed, holding each other, and I felt his back, bony and cold, and tried to put it in my head, memorize it, memorize it better than Moses, tell myself, this is his back, this is the back you will touch forever, you love this back, you love this back forever. When Jacob went back to Madison, he left me with a little half-bag of train wreck and a one-hitter. He'd been smoking a lot of pot in Madison, I guess everybody did. The night he was gone, and I went back to the dorms, I put on my coat and my hat and went down to the train tracks, to another bridge I liked, with a clear view into Minneapolis, and the sunset. I'd found this place when I was 16, when my best friend had told me she'd been raped again, this time by her cousin, on Thanksgiving. There was nothing to do. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't do anything and she was just slicing herself up with shards of a mirror, and going back down to the Thanksgiving table and smiling politely and asking her rapist to pass the mashed potatoes while she bled into her pants. She told me this and I went wandering through the neighborhood and found the bridge. I laid down on the tracks for a while, but no train came, shit never happens when you need it most. I went up to the bridge, which was decrepit and rusted, and watched the sun set over the Minneapolis skyline, through the twisted brown wires of the chain-link fence, and was so suddenly overwhelmed with how beautiful the world was that I began to cry. That bridge was my little secret, just this little oasis of metal and rust, and that first year in college I went there with the one-hitter in the middle of the night, with my headphones and a Leonard Cohen CD, and I watched the moonlight glint off the train tracks and was perfectly content, perfectly happy to be alone, to be nowhere in the middle of the night, to have nobody waiting for me at home, to have no home for anybody to wait in. Walking back, I started listening to Velvet Underground, danced in the middle of a dark street to “Sweet Jane” until a car flashed its lights behind me. I turned around and watched them swerve around me and didn't care if they hit me and didn't care that they didn't. I was happier than I'd ever been, not caring. There was a girl down the hall in the dorms, she liked me, started talking to me. I didn't know her name. I didn't talk to her, I didn't talk to anybody, but that attracts some people, people like her. She was tall, unbelievably skinny, with a sharp jutting chin and perpetually dark circled eyes. She chain smoked like a motherfucker and never offered me one, but I didn't blame her, she needed it more. She'd wait by the door and walk to class with me, without prelude or hello or how are you. Just into the stories, telling me all sorts of shit, that she'd gotten out of rehab just before college, that her roommate had just discovered pot and she was just discovering sobriety, but you can't explain that kind of shit to a kid, and anyway why should she get special treatment, why should other people not get to be happy because she wasn't. She had to chainsmoke, she said, because every time she felt like a joint she had to light up something, had to stick it in her mouth, had to feel heat in her throat. I got out of class one day during a heavy rain, and for once I didn't have anywhere to be, another class, another job, so I waited under the overhangs of the building. I was patient. The sky was very pretty and I had an empty room to go back to, so I watched the rain splatter on the concrete and prayed for it to keep raining until bedtime. I would wait here until bedtime. God knows I would. Everybody else had gone inside, and I saw at the end of the building that dying blonde elf, a cloud of smoke obscuring her face. I went and stood by her and she started talking without even looking at me, or saying my name. She told me about when she quit being a customer and took over business. She was done being some pothead's girlfriend skimming off his stash. But you couldn't be a dealer when you were a girl, especially if you weren't some wicked fucking hog of a girl, or unless you had some guy as a front. But then you'd have to fuck him and pay him and supply him. Worse than dating. “I'm, like, I go to make a deal, right?” she said. “I go to make a deal and I set down the terms and they're good terms, I know how to do it, I've been watching this get done for years. And the guy just looks at me and says, yeah, I could buy it, or I could just rape you and kill you and take it. And all I can say is, well, you could, but, um, don't.” Once or twice a week, I'd get home before midnight, take the one-hitter and go down to the bridge, listen to the same Leonard Cohen track over and over. I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean. I love the country, but I can't stand the scene. Most of the time, I feel like jumping. I searched and searched, but I could never find a part of me that didn't think this was a good idea, that felt scared or bad about it. It always felt good, felt right. Going back to the dorms, I didn't have to search through that feeling, it always felt wrong, felt bad, felt like some invisible hand scalping me. But I went back, I went back to my empty dorm room, my empty little life, feeling overwhelmed by happiness. I'm not going back to my bunk bed, to my books, to my ramen and my endless waitressing and tutoring and fight for survival because I don't have options. I'm coming back because I want it, because I could, but I don't. I'd fall asleep thinking about the train coming when I need it. I'm getting married, I told myself, over and over. I'm getting married. Come Even at my worst, there’s joy to be had in every little thing. Last night I pressed my back against my husband’s long warm leg, curled around me in bed. As I soaked up the heat, the feel of his skin, I thought reassuringly of all the places he no longer looks at my body, the places blisters and scars could be hidden like candy. I felt disease spread through me, cold as ice water, tantalizingly sweet. The blood that could be had. A little something to look forward to in life. And his leg, so warm and sweet, skin upon skin, in the dead of night. Where is the evil hidden in us? It shifts, it moves, it adapts. Until the leg of the man you love, and hate, pressed against a body you pray to shed, can still feel like the good and solid thing it is. Human contact. A moment. A small joy. Like a tide, the despair recedes to reveal a glittering ocean bed. I am living moment to moment, clutching these small wonders. I say too often I want to disappear, and maybe in that moment I do. But the end will only come when there are no small delights, no leaves to crunch on the ground, no kittens, no shared laughter at an unexpected thing. My husband says moment to moment is not enough. If he cannot see the future, he cannot enjoy the present – what if he is putting all his happiness into what later becomes a forewarning, a symbol of everything gone wrong? As if marriage were anything but. I have told him, pain never comes from the direction it’s expected. Love what you’ve got while you’ve got it. “Look where that got you,” he scoffs. He and I both want me to say, “Married to you.” That would be pain from the expected direction. Instead, I bite my lip and think of taking a steak knife to the soles of my feet, the back of my knees. Those were soft curved places he used to kiss till I told him how much I liked it, almost more than sex. He would never see the scars now. He fucks me like he watches porn, never looking at my face. If the moment is not enough anyway, I wonder, why is he so angry I can’t come? Kiss me, touch me, I say. It’s better than coming. Let’s do everything we did before, when we were kids, but who cares if we get off. Who needs that part of it. Why don’t I fuck you up the ass, he suggests. You’re not leaving me till I get every part of you. And I think of his warm leg pressed against me, how he hates sleeping in the same bed because I press and cuddle against him in the dead of night, yet he stays because I ask him why he would want to go, leave this little warmth we have. He stays to give me mine. Little pleasures. Little joys. They’re all a man has. Who am I to say no to the things he wants, these last days. I got lost in the city and ended up in the projects, watching two little boys play Frisbee in a parking lot. Broken bottles glittered under the sickly yellow street lamps. Neither of the boys managed to catch the Frisbee once, but, then, it wasn’t a Frisbee either, but a blue plastic plate left over from a barbecue. Still, when their respective mothers came out to haul them inside, they cried and ran, and hid the plate behind a gray little shrub, for another day. If children can think the world of garbage, certainly I can be faithful to my wedding vows. My husband steps out of the shower. I remember that first year in college, the large handicapped stall in the dorm showers, where we fucked each other silly after smoking a joint. I remember going back to the room and fucking till we had to shower again, not even bothering to stop when his roommate came in, making faces at each other to see who would stop feeling sexy and start laughing first. I drop to the floor and wrap myself around his leg. “What are you doing,” he sighs. “I’m a koala,” I say, hugging tighter. “Koala, koala.” “Christ. You don’t get to be cute. You’re leaving me.” He shuts the door now, when he showers. I have tried explaining to him that there can still be good things, even when the world is bad. He doesn't believe me, says I must be faking it. I can't feel anything good. I can't feel anything. No, no, I persist, I mean, everything can be at its worst, at its most horrible, and then all of a sudden maybe you see a kitty and the kitty is cute and you can still smile and like the kitty even if the world is all shit around you. Your bad mood doesn't make the kitty ugly. He stares at me for a long time. He reminds me of the night I stayed away, at a friend's house, because I began hyperventilating every time I tried to go home. “I didn't sleep all night,” he tells me. “You kept me up. I cried. In front of my dad.” Jacob's eyes pierce at me, asking me to bleed for this. “Just before the sun went up I took a walk outside to smoke a cigarette. I just wanted to kill. I wanted to die.” He stares at me again, wanting me to know he means me, he means I did this, he means I deserve this. I know, Jacob, I know. “And then from behind a house, there was a big mama kitty, and she was leading a lot of little baby kittens. They were playing in the lawn and just the most adorable thing ever.” I nod and smile, about to say, see, you see what I mean, things can still be beautiful, why can't we enjoy the good we have, when he continues, “So I kicked them across the lawn.” When we were kids he used to come to my window in the middle of the night, telling me what he’d done with his day, and how it made him think of loving me. “We can do that again,” I whisper to him in bed, as he pulls away and I search for his leg, his back, this body I have loved for seven years. “When I move out, we can visit each other, surprise-like. We can enjoy the time we have, instead of searching for a way to fill it. Have something that holds us together, not just being in the same room.” “I don’t work that way,” he says. “I can’t do it. This is going to kill me. But the worst part is—“ and he pulls away, taking the covers with him, “I don’t care. I’m gonna let you make a pussy out of me.” He pauses, sniffs. “At least there’s one pussy in this bed willing to get fucked.” I stare at the moon out the window. He is thinking of porn when he fucks me; I think of the cold, the outside, every time I speak to him. We’re pretty much the same, these days. I can't blame him for what's in his mind; mine is far sicker. “Will you feel better if you can fuck me right now,” I sigh. He used to say no. There was a time he would say no to an offer that flat. There was a time he wouldn’t be able to get it up for me, lying there and staring out the window. Now he says yes, and I wait for him to finish. “I’m going to miss this,” he says afterwards, peeling off the condom. “I’m sorry.” I am. We stopped for a while, part of a year, because it hurt. We couldn’t figure out how to stop it hurting. The wedding vows say, in sickness and in health. So I just don’t tell him anymore. He gets his little joy, and so do I. The sick opens within me, like a flower. I sink into the pain. Later, I bleed. I took a vow and it ought to hurt. If promises felt good, everyone would keep them. Well-meaning friends lend us a copy of a sex therapy tape, tell us it will re-kindle everything. When we sit down to watch it, I make sure there is a bottle and it is open and full. I know how this will begin and how it will end, but we must go through it anyway or admit that we are not really even married anymore, that we have sex for reasons other than pleasure and want it to stay that way. “When I first saw her naked,” one man says, as a therapist interviews him and his wife, “it was the most beautiful thing in the world. I felt like… like I could come right there, just looking at her.” His wife giggles and turns shyly away from the camera. He grabs her face and turns it to him. “You know, honey, I still feel that way.” “Look at that hat,” my husband sneers, reading a D&D book at the foot of the couch. “Fuckin’ cowboy. He would marry a woman like that.” He goes out for a cigarette, comes back five minutes later. The couple is fucking sweetly on a big brass bed. I am half the bottle drunker. “Do you see anything you like,” I hear myself asking, face buried in the couch so he cannot see me choking back sobs. “Anything you want to do.” “No.” A door clicks, the computer turns on. “Tell me when it’s over,” he shouts into the living room. The rest of the bottle drunker. “It’s over.” It’s over it’s over it’s over. “You wanna slow down on that whiskey, hon?” It’s over it’s over it’s over. “We should probably have sex.” “Tell me when it’s over.” “I just don’t have many kinks.” We are lying on opposite sides of the bed, naked. He reaches over and pokes at my nipple, tickles my hip, all the places I have told him I hate to be touched. I make a game of forcing myself to stay still, swallow the urge to ask him, for the hundredth time, to stop that. To keep my face cold and flat as the moon out the window. I give him my I-majored-in-Psychology voice. “It’s not about kinks. It’s about rediscovering your partner and a sense of fun and adventure.” “I have fun.” I’m bone dry, but he starts in anyway. “So do you.” “Maybe we could have more.” My voice is flat as a tape recorder. “I’m just not interested.” I imagine my heart is a cinder block. It pumps gravel through my veins, weighing me down to the bed. I'm not human. I don't feel things like real humans. I don't feel this. Now, suddenly, I start getting wet. “I guess there’s one thing I’d like to try…” He has gone back to poking my nipple. I sigh wearily and turn on my side. His hands follow me, forcing themselves under my arms as I cross them against my chest. “What.” “Well… you know, my earliest fantasies were rape fantasies.” Pressure descends through the room. The air is thick and heavy and if he wasn’t my husband, I would listen to my body as it screams, “Get out get out get out.” Instead I listen to the pumping of the cinder block. Because he is my husband. Sickness and health. We must take what we can get, the small joys, even in sickness. With shrink voice, to cover the dread, I ask, “Do you mean non-consent fantasies, the no please don’t but oh my god yes, or…” “Both.” I sniff. “All right.” “Well… we watched the video.” “Uh huh.” “We should probably have sex.” “Yes,” I say, drunker than I thought, not as drunk as I want to be. “The video says that’s what couples should do. We’re a couple, right? Yes. I guess that’s what we ought to do. Yes.” “Want to take it easy on that whiskey, hon?” “Let’s do it from behind.” “Doesn’t that usually hurt you?” “Yes.” He will take his small joy, and I will take mine. “Are you gonna be okay with that?” “Whatever.” You are my knife, I think, during. You are my knife and I love you. I bleed. That time. The next time, and the next. “I’ll make it quick,” is our pillowtalk. Little joys. He gets his, and so do I. The first year is the hardest, they say. And marriage takes work, of course. If I just bleed enough, I think, next year there will be calluses. You take pleasure in what you can. You find love in scars, which are the fingers of your lover across your skin, the warmth of their body pressed against you. One finds joy in the cinder block that pounds away inside you, scraping your insides clean. And marriage takes work, never-ending. If you work hard enough, I tell myself, the joy will come. It has to. Nothing else on you does. Work I had been at my job about a year and a half, always managing at least 35 hours a week, usually via ten hour days on the weekends and my slow class days. The days were slow and weary, and as the eight-hour mark arrived I’d find myself getting impatient, excited. Almost time to go home. One night, bent over some data entry, combing through it for errors, that little hope started to bubble up in me. When I look up, it will be nearly ten p.m., nearly time for me to leave. The longer I keep from looking up, the closer the time to go will be. After a magnificent show of self-will, I finally looked up, most of my work done. Nine forty-five. Jacob’s face swam to mind. Our broken and stinking apartment. The unwashed sheets. The computer flickering by the bed all night, as Jacob woke me up with his porn too loud. The angry silence that came after I asked him to turn it down, to come to bed. My body flushed with shame and horror. I couldn't swallow. I felt like I'd been punched. Why was I excited about work ending? You see, I thought to myself. You see what a fool you are. How lazy. How weak. Here you are, thinking you're doing so good, being a good girl. You fucking cunt. You think you deserve some reward for working all day? Everybody has to work all day. Nobody thinks work is hard, nobody whines and needs a break as often as you do. And you hardly work, anyway. But now you will, won’t you? Work is better than home. Data entry is better than thinking. You don’t deserve to be here, in this place where they leave you alone, where nobody talks to you, where it’s clean. They’ll figure out you don't belong and make you leave. Unless you work hard. No more rushing through your work, no more glancing at the clock. You work. That’s all you do. That’s all you’re good for. I spent the last fifteen minutes of my shift looking up bus schedules, trying to determine if I could ask for an overnight shift and still manage to get to my classes in the morning. By the time the clock struck ten, I wasn’t done yet, and I wondered, if I stayed here, would anybody notice? If I promised to work and didn’t ask to get paid, could I sleep under my desk? In one of the rooms nobody used? No, I decided. Maybe somebody would let me, but I could never ask. I could never tell them why. It doesn’t make sense, there’s no reason for me to want to stay here, none that anybody will understand. I can’t explain why I’m crazy, why I make Jacob so unhappy that I can’t go home. I put new rules into effect immediately. I was forbidden to look at the clock. I did not allow myself to look out the windows. There was no outside world. Only work, only now. I began to pack the most unappetizing lunches I could, things I knew I wouldn’t eat, so I would put off my breaks, maybe never take them. If I got too hungry, I would pull the hot water trick, boil my tongue until the prospect of eating was too painful. I left my ATM card at home for Jacob so I wouldn’t be tempted by the grocery store across the street, which we couldn’t afford anyway and was making me fat. And then he was happier because when I got home he had a new bag, and I would be thinner and too tired not to lay there and listen to him, or let him touch me. I could keep away from the windows and clocks, that was easy enough. Looking outside made me too sad, like finding an invitation to a party you weren’t invited to. The clock just looked like home. Every time I saw a minute go by, I would flinch and suppress a shudder, knowing I was that much closer to home. And while not eating was hard at first, it got easier, until the growling of my stomach was like a beam of pride, a caress. Warm. That sort of thing was easy. I could control what happened inside me, the feelings, the body. But people, that was the hardest part. My job was full of people, and I had to talk to them to do my work right. Sometimes, the nice ones, I would start talking to them longer, about other things, not work things, just stupid silly friendly things, then catch myself and make up an excuse to leave, some work I had to get done. I was here to work, not to make friends. How selfish of me to think otherwise. How fucking arrogant and self-centered. And like they wanted to talk to me? They were just waiting for me to go away, leave them alone. They were just bored. Well, that’s fine, they got to be bored, but that wasn’t for me, not anymore. Boredom was dangerous. I would do stupid things, if I got bored, things I wasn't allowed to do, like force my hysterical, desperate company on others. Sometimes I would find myself standing and staring at a report, reading it over and over, feeling my mind drift away. I would hear people laughing and talking, and I would think, with a sick and gnawing hope, maybe I could ask one of them to go out to coffee with me. Maybe I could tell them me and Jacob are engaged, even though he doesn’t want us to tell anybody yet. They’d be happy, right? People do that. They get happy for each other, because they have to, because that's polite. A plan formed. Yes, walk over like I was going to use the copier, pretend to just hear one of them say something, then make up a funny story about whatever they’re talking about. Tell some other funny stories. Maybe ask what bars there are around work. What coffeeshops. See if somebody takes the bait. If they don’t, well, you know, that’s what I expect, it won’t be disappointing, really, just confirming, it’ll help me know my place, they’ll be helping me. And then, I thought, what if they take me up on it? What if I manage to snag some poor bastard into hanging out with me? What if they meet Jacob? No. No, it can’t work. I’m not like them. Even if they never realize it, I will, when I run out of things to talk about, normal things to say, because you can’t really have a friend if you can’t tell them that that first funny story you told them was made up, because you wanted them to laugh, because you planned out every bit of social contact, because you were starving and your tongue was burned off. No, it’s the same party as the one outside, just no glass between us. I began to pretend there was. When I had to speak to my co-workers, I imagined a flat plane of glass in front of me, one that could never break, never crack. Every time they laughed or smiled or acted so fucking normal, I imagined the glass was reflective, that I was looking at my own face, blank and slack and stupid, superimposed over their healthy, happy grins. Every time I felt a need to reach out, to touch them, to be touched, I pretended my fingertips felt glass. You’re not like them, I’d remind myself, allowing myself the luxury of a small, indulgent pity smile. Look at you. If I found myself fading off during my work, thinking how much fun it would be to go shoot the shit with somebody instead, I would imagine my heart was a gray cinder block, scraping against my insides. I wasn’t human, like them. I didn’t want. I didn’t feel. I couldn't touch or even see straight. I just worked. I didn't exist. I stopped making eye contact with co-workers, stopped looking up, didn’t want anybody to have to see my face if it wasn’t necessary. Wildly considered pretending I'd converted so I could wear a veil, and nobody would have to see my face. More wild, imagined I could just pitch it that way to HR, to my boss; I mean, let's just drop the social niceties here, okay? I know I'm repulsive. I know what I look like. The veil, that would help everybody, right? It's okay, you can say so, you don't have to be polite anymore. Oh, god, what a relief it would be, to get somebody to admit how ugly I was, instead of all this pretending that they could look at me without flinching. But I knew that was part of the game, part of the punishment of being me. I wasn't going to get that honesty, that relief. Why should I get anything I hadn't earned? Instead, I began carrying a clipboard with me at all times, so I could hold it in front of my face and pretend to study it intently whenever somebody passed by. Just because I had to suffer being me, because I had to go along with everybody's cruel game pretending I wasn't repulsively ugly, well, that didn't mean I was so evil as to want others to suffer looking at me. It wasn't their fault they had to play this game, to punish me. It was my fault for deserving so much punishment, and I couldn't bear the thought of the pain I must cause others, having to see my face. Some days were harder than others. My stupidity would become overwhelming, like bells ringing in a tower, my resolve softened down to puddles, and I would think, if I just smile and nod, if I just agree with everything, somebody will talk to me, won’t they? I don’t care what they talk about. They’d talk. They’d look at me. They might smile. I can do that, can’t I? I can do that and not mess it up. On those days, I would scrawl reminders on my clipboard: You don’t exist. You’re not like them. They don’t want you. You fuck up everything you touch. Don’t inflict yourself on others. You are too ugly to look at – don’t force anybody to do it for longer than they have to. Look mean – you have to warn them away from your disease. They’ll thank you later. If a simple work-related discussion would start to veer away, into gossip territory, friendly territory, an accidental glance at my clipboard would be all I needed to re-center myself, smile politely, and explain that, sorry, I really did have a lot of work to do today. The sound of others laughing, talking, gossiping as I walked away was the worst pain I could imagine. Good, I'd think. You deserve this. Learn something from it, for once. Stop wanting. I began to play the simple games from my childhood, which is how I knew I was crazy, had never grown up, never matured, not really. As a kid I would watch the skies and tell myself, if it starts to rain in the next ten seconds, God exists. If a bird flies by after you pray for one, God loves you. If neither of those things happen, then you know what you are. I sat in my cubicle, thinking, if somebody comes back here, if somebody comes to say hello, then you don’t have to do this. You can tell them everything. They'll understand. They'll like you anyway and tell you you're not a monster, not at all. I counted backwards from ten. Like a fool, I waited several seconds between one and zero. Maybe they didn’t hear me say one, I thought. Maybe maybe maybe. Shut my eyes. Felt the enormous desolation of the truth, which never got easier. But, well, that's what I deserved. At zero, I would punch my legs, my arms, the back of my head. Quietly, but quickly, hard. It was comforting how quickly the knowledge came back, how it had never really gone away, and I allowed myself to take a little pride in this: I knew where to punch, and how, to leave no marks, and to make no sounds. I had learned something in this waste of a life. I concocted fantasies where somebody, for some reason, had to torture me, and I could make for them a list of exactly how best to do it. Finally, something I could contribute to the world. I would pinch my earlobes, my wrists, my neck. I would bite my tongue till it bled. Leave long scratch marks down my stomach. Across my breasts. If some part of me rebelled, some little whiny bitch voice in my head saying stop it, this isn’t right, don’t do this, I would stop and listen to the voices in the office. The laughter, the talking. I’d ask myself, really, rationally now, realistically now, do you think you could just walk over there and make friends? Laugh like they do? Talk like they do? Think about what you were just doing to yourself. Is that what you would talk about? Do you think any of them are like that? You know how they'd look at you, if they knew what you were just doing. They'd know how crazy you are. No. You could pretend, you could smile and laugh like a real human. But you would always be apart. The silence would come. You would say the wrong thing, and they would look at you like you are, well, what you are. And then you will end up back here anyway, except more hurt and more frightened. I’m helping you, not hurting you. I’m teaching you not to want. No, no, I corrected myself. I’m teaching you to want what you can have. This – as I rake my nails across my nipples – you can have as much of this as you want. This is all yours. There were good-looking people at work. Nice, friendly, smiling. Wanting them was the worst, could come up out of nowhere and ruin an entire day. Some good looking guy or girl would walk by and my crotch would growl, and I'd have to scurry back to my cubicle to bite my tongue and punch my legs. Stop it stop it stop it. Don't feel these things. Do you know how sick they'd be, to know you wanted them? I'd try to imagine what it would feel like for them, to know that they'd made me feel something sexual, and I could usually work up some dry heaves. Still. Like the growling, the thoughts would come, unbidden. I hated this part of me so much; it was so pathetic, so brainless and needy, and it wouldn't go away. Maybe, I’d begin to think, maybe one of them would touch me. I mean, just on the shoulder. Or the face. Maybe I could fool one of them into kissing me? If I let them fuck me, maybe they’d kiss me? I'd be quiet, they could do whatever they wanted. No, I wouldn’t make them do that, that’s mean, that's disgusting. They'd have to spend the whole time trying not to puke. Well, that would be okay, I thought. If they puked on me. I can take that. That's a little like touching. I could pretend it was touching. It would mean they knew I was there, right? I'd surreptitiously watch the boys I liked, imagine how to approach them, describe my proposal. I didn't think a girl would take me up on it, but I bet I could find a guy who would. I considered how to make them understand I was serious, that they wouldn't have to pretend to be good people around me. Everybody has a bad streak, I rationalized. I could do a good thing for people, let them put all that bad into me. Explain it that way. Say, hey, guy, I've got a deal. What if I let you do whatever you want, really anything. You've got to have some hate in you. That's okay. I won't judge. If you want to cut me or beat me, or fuck me rough, like bleeding rough, internal damage rough, I’ll let you. I don't really need those parts, or want them, even. You can have them. You can do whatever you want, and not feel bad about it. I want it. I need it. It's okay to hurt me. I don't really exist. I'm not a real person, like you. Would they touch me, if I told them that? Would they look at me, at my face? No, no, that’s mean, don’t make anybody do that. You can’t ask anybody to touch you, to kiss you, to like you. Just… just be available. If one of them wants to hurt you, just let them. They'll have to touch you, to hurt you. You'll be giving them what they want, and so there will be some tenderness there, when they put their hands on you. They'll need you. You will do a good thing. They will want you, even if just to hurt you. It's still want. You'll feel that. Won't that feel good? To be wanted? Oh, God, I prayed, please let me find a way to explain this right. Please let me find a man who will beat me, in my face, and don't let him feel bad. It will feel so good, to have somebody touch my face. I punched myself and tried to imagine somebody else doing it, breathless and still as I felt the warm blood rush to my face. That's what it would feel like, I would tell myself. If somebody touched you, it would be warm like that. The inner dialogue could get so loud, so circular, it was the only time I would let myself stop working. I understood priorities, my limits, and I knew I had to take care of this before I could keep working. Locked in the bathroom, I would pinch my nails into my clitoris. This is what you get, I’d think. This is all you get. If you want things, you will get this. Either stop wanting, or enjoy what you’ve got. That’s the choice you have. Why can’t you get that? When I’d return to the floor, self-pity would overwhelm me. Surely nobody could hate me, weak as I am? Stupid as I am? They’d feel bad, wouldn’t they? They’d want to help. They’d be nice. People are nice. But I’d taken care of every back door where my stupidity could get through. As the wave broke over me, my weakness overwhelming all my training and better sense, as I stood to go find somebody to talk to, the soreness between my legs would remind me, you are not like them. They would be horrified if they knew what you had just done. You don’t have parts like them, and you don’t live like them. You live here. I would sit back down, press one hand against the window I was forbidden to look out, feel the cold seep through my fingers. You live here. You should be grateful they let you live at all.

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