But Not You

All the double edged people and schemes
they make a mess then go home and get clean
You’re my best friend, and we’re dancing in a world alone
We’re all alone.

Lorde, “A World Alone”

***

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about reality, and whether any sound version of it exists.

It’s such a morally ambiguous time to be alive, and I’ve been struggling to discern anything from anything. (Good from bad, right from wrong, love from hate, fact from fiction, et al.) I feel as if I’m constantly falling down rabbit holes. Like I’m always being bombarded, or cornered, by biased, and unfair, realities.

I’ll perceive one thing, and then someone else will tell me that’s not how it went down. I’m wrong; I’m overreacting; I’m only seeing what I want; I’m not being “realistic”.

See, the significant amount of time I’ve spent contemplating the definition of “reality” only occurred to me, just this past weekend. After I found myself in an awkward situation, the brunt of which I had to take the blame for. Even though, from my perspective, the other person’s part was pretty deceptive

I met up with some friends, and they were sitting with this guy who, apparently, worked at the establishment. He was acquainted with someone in our group, and throughout the course of the night I decided I thought he was funny, and attractive.

He seemed to be just as interested: giving me eyes, asking me questions—just, generally, granting me added attention. So I was a little taken aback when someone in our group mentioned his having a girlfriend. Everything I’d perceived up until that point had implied the opposite. So much so, I actually assumed: That girlfriend stuff must have been a joke.

Eventually everyone left, leaving me alone with him. He said, “Do you want a tour?” I said, “Sure!” And he showed me around where he worked, not exactly backing off in the arena of flirtation. Until, finally, I just asked him flat out, “Do you really have a girlfriend?”

Without skipping a beat, he said, “Yeah.”

“Really dude?”

“What?” He said, “Just say it: what were you thinking?”

There was no way to say it without sounding narcissistic, so I just said it, “You’re attracted to me.”

He said, “I treated you the way I’d treat any customer.”

Never having been the kind of person to back off, when I believe something is true, I said it again, practically laughing, “No, you’re definitely attracted to me.”

He sort of shrugged, “Okay, yeah. Look, we’ve actually met before. And I liked you, but—whatever—you weren’t into it. And now I’m with her.”

Though I’m sure what he said was true, I had no recollection of meeting him before. Which means the interaction couldn’t have been too significant. This admission, however, had me thinking: Oh, okay, cool. So he had an agenda the moment I walked through the door.

And I just stared at him, not really knowing what to say. Trying to understand what he had to gain by creating this situation, beyond getting back at me for a rejection I couldn’t even remember giving. The sudden shift in context had me feeling really conflicted—questioning myself, my own interpretations of situations—and I resented him for putting me in that position. For acting like he had nothing to do with it.

He repeated himself, “I treated you like I’d treat any customer.”

And, for some reason, I found myself confessing, out of sheer exhaustion, “You know, I really want to meet someone. I’m at a point in my life where getting jerked around by entitled people isn’t even entertaining anymore. It’s just disappointing.”

He said, “I don’t know what to tell you. How did you want things to go? Seriously, what were you expecting?”

At which point, I felt simultaneously annoyed, and defeated. So annoyed, and defeated, I couldn’t even articulate an answer: It was pointless.

The whole interaction had been a zero-sum game, and to call him out on it; to try and get him to admit the deceit on his side, would mean to act from a place of self-righteous rage—a place I’d rather not go. (I felt like I was supposed to shake his hand, or something. Be a good sport, like: Good game, bro. You’re right. I’m just a self-centered chick who ignored you once. You get the trophy.)

I said, “I don’t know what I’m expecting anymore. I’m gonna go.” And, the moment I stepped outside, my reunion with the cold air felt like a physical manifestation of my own clarity.

What was I expecting?

I was expecting a fair shot, for my interaction with another person to not be rigged from the start.

I was expecting someone to be the person he was pretending to be: A single one.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but I actually find myself in these situations a lot. Ones where I feel isolated, and like I’m being denied my own reality, out of some weird place of revenge. (Seriously, I could site other examples for hours.) But my main point is, I walk away from these situations—time after time—feeling completely objectified, and punished, for reasons no one is willing to admit, or name. To the point where it has me wondering: There cannot be this many jerks in the world, it has to be me.

I’ve even talked to a therapist about it.

He theorized, “When people meet someone who is intelligent, and attractive, and good at what they do—some will assume: this person cannot also be sincere. The foundation of who they are falls under closer scrutiny. You feel wrong, because people have often treated you as if you are wrong, and some people will see this resounding self-doubt, and they’ll hone in on it—because they want to challenge your integrity.”

For most of my life, I’ve functioned under the assumption that I’m wrong, and everyone else is right. Which has made me more open-minded, and diplomatic, but has also put me at a disadvantage in terms of identifying abusive people. Therefore, it’s taken a long time—two years of therapy—for me to internalize the reality that I am not this vapid, or delicate, little girl that some of my male peers have made me out to be.

That being said, understanding, and accepting, who I am hasn’t made getting duped by jerks any less disappointing.

And when I told my friend about the incident—with the guy over the weekend—something she said aided me in locating the source of my disappointment: “Obviously we know monogamy isn’t a perfect arrangement all the time, but then to see the situations where there’s holes in it is seriously depressing.”

Considering this, I thought: If I ever have a committed relationship, I want it to be with someone who would never lead another girl into the abyss of his workplace, hidden from the judgment of other people, to spite-flirt. I don’t want to give any part of myself to someone who’s that insecure.

Because, that’s the thing—what makes it so disappointing. The utter lack of integrity; how individuals with it seem few, and far, between. When it’s what I’m craving, more than anything else.

Someone who values sincerity.

Whose reality is as honest, and objective, as my own.

Why is that so hard to find?

Some of my favorite lyrics come from Lorde’s, “A World Alone”, off her first album, Pure Heroine. They go: “Maybe the Internet raised us / Or maybe people are jerks / But not you…” And every time, the moment “but not you” is uttered, I feel pierced through the heart. Just the mere idea of looking at another person—past all the world’s shortcomings—and saying, with clarity: “But not you.”

A reality that is as shared as it is certain, that’s what I’m expecting.

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One Last Thought Before Midnight: What You Think is the Most Important Opinion

I never really noticed that I had to decide
to play someone’s game, or live my own life.

—Lana Del Rey, “Get Free”

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My favorite memory from this year happened when no one was around. It was when I was alone, in the bathtub, sobbing and eating an ice cream sandwich. (This moment of self-pity was eventually interrupted by my own laughter. I realized there should be a picture of me in the dictionary, right next to the word “self-indulgent”.)

I have always been in on the joke that is me. (Something a guy didn’t realize, two years ago, when he said, “I used to think you were a joke…” I’ll never forget how he went speechless in light of how easily I accepted his insult, “I am a joke.”) This has always been my game: Insults don’t work if you’ve already accepted their subject matter as a part of your personality.

I know what my faults are.

You won’t find me, wasting any breath, trying to dispute them—at least not anymore.

This year, I became more wholly accepting of myself. I internalized notions that I’ve understood ever since I was a teenager, but had yet to accept as a true part of who I was.

In high school, I had a counselor who deemed me a perfectionist, and—at the time—I thought her diagnosis was all wrong. I thought: I let yogurt mold in my room, I don’t like to brush my hair, I view showering as a major event, and my nail polish is chipped more often than not… When I expressed these sentiments to her, she said, “That’s not the kind of perfectionism I’m talking about.” Eventually, I’d learn what she meant: That I need to be constantly working for approval in order to feel worthy of life. That I can’t allow myself to just EXIST.

I guess the point I’m getting at is—2017 was the year I totally accepted every part of myself, good and bad. To a point where I can recognize that I’m not perfect, and still view myself as a person worthy of respect and love.

Like, yes. I am the girl who got drunk and told a Trump supporter to fuck off, and then fell out of her shoes. But I am also the girl who toiled over card stock, with an array of gel pens and sharpies spread around her. Who cut out hearts, and wrote down inside jokes, just to make a heartbroken friend smile for two seconds.

(I don’t say this to glorify myself, or to say that one good deed undoes all the times a person has fucked up. But to emphasize that one bad deed doesn’t undo all the good deeds either. And, if I’m being entirely honest, I don’t regret getting drunk and falling out of my shoes. Or telling this particular individual to fuck off. Which is a new level of self-acceptance that I can’t totally articulate, but feels positively liberating.)

Furthermore, with this new feeling of wholeness: I’ve become repulsed by the men who don’t respect me, and I find anyone who ridicules how I live my life boring.

Maybe this is narcissistic.

But the point of the matter is, I don’t care if it’s narcissistic.

I’ve realized, when you decide to live authentically—when you make it a goal—life feels, almost instantly, better.

It becomes easier to trust yourself.

I have finally internalized the notion that, all these years I’ve spent idealizing people who called me crazy, claimed I meant nothing to them, and refused to tell the truth about who I was, was really a testament to the depth of my own imagination, and internal makings, than it ever was to their superiority or power over me.

And I wish I could transplant this newfound self-worth into every girl and woman I know; not to make them more like me, but to make them more wholly themselves.

Having been trained to view our individual needs as secondary, irrelevant, trite, vain, and somehow—always—“wrong”, I think it’s really brave for any girl or woman to say: This just doesn’t work for me.

Therefore, my hope for the New Year—for myself and anyone else who struggles to do it too—is to keep saying no to things that don’t feel right, in spite of what anyone else says or thinks.

Happy New Year.

Go get drunk and fall out of your shoes.

Love is Leaving the Light On: 2017, In Retrospect

what stops things for a moment
are the words you’ve found for the last bit of light
you think there is

—Stephen Dunn, “What”

 Will the waters be rising soon?
The waters will be rising soon.
Find something or someone to cling to.

—Kim Addonizio, “Storm Catechism”

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Donald Trump was inaugurated and that’s when the countdown really started. 10. So a blonde walks into a bar… 9. A guy looks up and decides to stay… Did you know, the second day of this year 31 twisters touched down in the south? This one-day total was higher than the whole month of January 2016. Would it be fair to say that this is the most accurate way to describe 2017: Concentrated. Loaded emotion and knowledge, packed into the smallest increments of time: Moments, like DMT. Doesn’t it feel like half of us are rewinding, while the other half is trying to fast-forward? Personally, I think the film is going to rip. (I saw a picture of a house torn in half by a tornado, and thought aloud: “Isn’t it crazy how nature can cut through your living room when you least expect it?”)

Anyway—let’s not talk about politics.

He said, “Hey, I think you’re really pretty.” And I laughed, hysterically. I’m on the latter end of 25 now. Plucking away at the keyboard of a MacBook that I can tell is crashing, slowly. It creaks like a haunted house. I swear to god… I’m typing this now, and a major part of me believes the girl I was seven years ago—the girl I was when this MacBook was new—is alive and well, rolling with the back roads. It’s 3 AM and Kid Cudi is still relevant somewhere. She believed a full tank of gas, combined with the beat of something melancholy, was how modern witches flew: Is it weird that I feel so much closer to her now than whoever I was this time last year?

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be,” and I think about it all the time. (How youth is a warm blanket, and time is a rubber band, holding you like a hammock. The view is nothing but stars when you’re in your twenties; this brief moment in history when your reflection actually matches an idea you had of yourself.) I’m only saying this because of what a middle-aged woman told me in passing, “I still feel young. Whenever I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize myself.”

Once, for a fiction-writing assignment in college, I had to kill off one of my favorite characters. I decided to write about death as a reversal of time and the transcendence of space: Shattered vases pieced themselves back together and floated back to their allotted shelves. She looked out the kitchen window, and found her house had drowned over night. Sperm whales were floating by, casually as birds. She looked down and realized her hands were no longer knotted from arthritis. Having untwisted themselves, and flattened out their own wrinkles in the night.

When my best friend and I were teenagers, we’d talk about heaven all the time. She’d ask, “How old do you think people are in heaven?” And I’d say, “Young, probably.” She’d say, “Really? I bet they’re ageless.” And I’d think about that for a moment. How, in my head, “ageless” implied youth—at least a hint of it. It was then that I first understood “ageless” as a word for when one feels the most herself. Which varies, depending on who and what your experiences are. (The damage of trauma can leave one frozen at the age of 2.) Imagine: Navigating a majority of your life without feeling like yourself—being unable to experience joy without distrust. I asked my friend, “What’s better, wisdom or innocence?”

She said, “Wisdom.” She was certain.

But I gave innocence a little more credit: Without innocence, is wisdom even possible? Isn’t new wisdom only acquired by experiencing something, through fresh eyes—and then, somehow, managing to restore innocence? In February, new evidence was discovered supporting the theory of intermediate black holes. Though most scientists still poo-poo the idea of these masses actually existing. Mostly because, if they were to find an intermediate black hole—one that was for sure “intermediate”—it would force science to rethink the development of the universe as we’ve always understood it. (Apparently the rate at which black holes form, makes the possibility of moderately sized ones unlikely—at least on this plane of reality.)

Have you ever looked at a picture of a black hole?
It has the terrifying resemblance of a human eye. Making me wonder: What if a black hole is just a retina, taking in light and generating new memories in the mind of a beholder? “There’s a whole universe inside you!” At least, that’s what the inspirational quotes say. And isn’t that the theory behind black holes—that there’s a whole other reality on the other side. Is it possible that the earth—the entire solar system—has already been swallowed? Black holes are massive. I bet we’ve been swallowed thousands of times, and none of us even felt it. What if that’s all a new iPhone release is?

Getting swallowed by a black hole, and nobody noticing.

Domestic Violence was decriminalized in Russia this year. The bill was co-authored by two women. (Forgive me: I can’t seem to wrap my head around this idea where there’s any room for tolerance when it comes to women getting hit by men they love.) Homicide is the fourth leading cause of death in American women ages 15-24, and I can’t help but wonder how many of those women were killed by a boyfriend or father-figure. Did you know—though women are just as capable of domestic violence as men—statistically speaking, only male to female violence ends in death or serious injury? Which is another way of saying: I went to the Women’s March in Seneca Falls and cried, because it was the least hated I’d felt in a long time.

This year, I fell in love.

8. He pulled a bouquet of flowers out, from behind the couch… 7. So a blonde burst into tears, out in the parking lot… My best friend said my anxiety was only natural. “Last year was horrible for you, and you’re terrified… Being in love with a real person is terrifying.” And I thought: Why is “real” love so rude and intrusive? Like: I was perfectly happy in pseudo-relationships with guys who’d never even try to love me properly. Why’d he have to come along and wreck a good thing? Sometimes I wonder if I have that same problem Dr. Phil is always accusing anorexics of: Do I want to be alone with my disease? (A high school boyfriend once said, “I don’t get it, it’s like you enjoy being sad.”)

I didn’t know what to do! My life had turned to a Taylor Swift song in a matter of weeks. We were dancing in the kitchen to the sounds of our own voices, with the shades drawn and the TV turned off. Our cell phones were on silent—tucked away and lighting up elsewhere. Free of judgment—among the bottle caps and half-drunk coffee mugs—I found my hand floating to his forearm, without much thought. Heard myself describing him as “too good to be real”. When is it okay to let go and trust someone? (I think of my mom, over coffee, giving advice about love: “You’re never going to know for sure.”)

I had this dream where a brunette, lawyer-type, woman led me to a tunnel. The tunnel was covered in blue pool tiles, and water reflected in golden squiggles on the ceiling. It was unclear where the tunnel led. The woman explained that the ability to see things as they really are was on the other side, objectivity in its purest form. Then everything blurred and fell sideways in that vertigo-way dreams do—

Back to black holes.

What if being swallowed by a black hole is all a New Year is? The same old reality, with a few variations: A 69th moon is orbiting Jupiter; Time Crystals are a physical certainty; Another mass shooting, and another mass shooting, and another, is cemented in history; Mass extinction is deemed a possibility; A Total Solar Eclipse has come and gone; Girl Scouts can be Boy Scouts; Some stars have exploded and some people have just started existing…

I read this list of words for complex emotions on Thought Catalog. One that resonated in particular was “Sonder”, defined as: “The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own…”

Sonder used to overwhelm me, used to make me believe I should be doing more than I was—made me hopeless with the thought that I would never be big enough. It sharpened my awareness: Everything is a mere particle to something else; an ant is to a human, as the earth is to the sun, as the sun is to the universe and everything else… But this year, I decided: Even particles can stand out. I re-thought of all my favorite artists as tiny crumbs: Lady Gaga is a fleck of silver glitter, on a piece of pink construction paper; Virginia Woolf is a water molecule in a Cumulus cloud, reincarnated as a blue eye contact… (I have often described myself as Cheeto dust, though it’d be cool if I turned out to be plain dirt. Dirt can be mud, and mud can be elephant sun block. Which, as dirt, is what I would aspire to be.)

6. Out of nowhere, he decides to fold… 5. So a blonde screams across what feels like a decade of lost love: YOU DON’T JUST LEAVE PEOPLE AT THE FIRST PANG OF DOUBT… You know, just because the earth’s dirt doesn’t mean we should treat her that way. Still: Earth Day came and went. Donald Trump decided to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement—after already signing an executive order that would revoke or negate numerous policies that dealt with climate change. (President Obama initially made the agreement with Paris and administered the revoked orders.)

Is it just me or is Donald Trump, like, insanely jealous of Obama?

I mean, whatever; humans are jealous creatures by nature. We steal from nature, out of jealousy, all the time. Ivory, tortoise shell, endless varieties of fur, the heads and tails and hides of “exotic” beasts… I Googled a picture of a harvested sea turtle, his shell was cracked with bits of sore-red peeking out. It looked how a hangnail feels—if the hangnail were hopeless and all over someone’s back. When I see stuff like that, I wish I could turn to someone and say: It’s narcissistic to assume an admirable quality belonging to something else would be of better use to you and, therefore, is yours for the taking. (This sentiment extends to everything, and jealousy constructs nothing, so I’m considering this as a resolution: To always tell the truth about the good that isn’t mine, maybe.)

Anyway, let’s keep talking about politics.

Donald Trump lifted the ban prohibiting elephant products from being imported into the U.S. This, predictably, made people upset—more upset than how he treats minorities and women… But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t almost cry. Why do humans have to own everything? My friend told me, “Elephants can get Stockholm syndrome.” She said, “When I went to Thailand, they explained it at this elephant refuge—the only way to get an elephant to do what you want is to break their spirit.” (America, I know your spirit has been wrung, and possibly broken. Please, don’t surrender to your captor; nothing rekindles hope like justified anger.) Did you know, there are reports of elephants showing compassion for other species, at considerable costs to themselves—that their care extends beyond their own kin?

Suggested Resolution: Be more like elephants.

4. He goes home to his apartment, alone… 3. So a blonde recedes, back into her imagination… Over the summer, when I was alone, I wrote about green lights. I played Lorde’s “Green Light” in a cyclical fever and read about the biology of fireflies. I revisited The Great Gatsby, the green light having always been a symbol that evaded me. (Though, I suppose, that was the whole point—it can be whatever you need it to be. Never Land… Or whatever.) The closing lines of The Great Gatsby have always been beautiful, but it took a sudden shift in awareness to fully comprehend what they mean: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

We experience time in a forward moving direction, but all we know for certain is what has already passed us by. In this way, getting older is like being in a room that’s slowly filling with water; it’s easier to live in the past, the certainty of water, than it is to live for all the open space left around you. (Right now, the water’s merely up to my shins; just enough to wade and splash in.) With age, it’ll get easier and easier to float on; to sit back and watch the world fill up with the stuff of my life. I’ve accepted that time will eventually step in and complete my imperfect aquarium…

My uncle drowned this year.

His face was right there in my mind’s eye, and I didn’t expect to—but I cried. And my grief felt like it’d been hi-jacked from somebody else, like it wasn’t my place to feel. But on car rides, between work and back, my mind kept taking an inventory of all the facts: It was sunny, but the wind was strong; he’d just sold his sail boat and wanted to take it out for one more go; he was notorious for taking risks; people heard someone crying for help…

I asked myself existential questions: What does it feel like when a body betrays the soul inside it, realizes help is not coming? Is it a slow caving? Does it break your heart? Is it okay? Does it start out cold and then get warm? Do you wake up in a house underwater and find your mother, ageless and gazing out the kitchen window… Do you stand beside her and watch the whales float by…

November 11, 2017: My sister’s baby is born.

As a writer, I have learned that things can come together just as quickly as they fall apart. And to hope that, in spite of the world falling apart at large, each individual life has found some refuge in the squares of his or her calendar year. Did you know, a couple survived the California wildfires by wading in a neighbor’s swimming pool?

(Thinking back to my dream, about the tunnel, I like to imagine a swimming pool was on the other side—a swimming pool surrounded by fire.) This is how it feels to be present—to be in love—at this point in history: The water might be freezing, but everything else is burning. Bless the wet T-shirts protecting our faces from the embers, these moments we spend above water…

I may, or may not, have felt inclined to listen to Rent throughout the month of December. And I may, or may not, have the opening song stuck in my head: “How do you measure a year?” Last year I measured in lessons, so this year I’ve measured in moments of clarity: Is there a word for the complex emotion that comes upon realizing, your heart will never break that easily again; that you’re not a silly girl anymore?

Though I’ll miss the 2 AM texts and all the conversations that led to nowhere, though there are still some toxic attachments I’ve failed to cut: All I really want when the day is over, and our government has traded us in, is pizza, wine, and him; swapping memes and watching the snow fall; net neutrality on my busted lap top—

Clarity.

It dawned on me—one night when my parents were out of town, and I came home to a darkened house—like I suddenly remembered I’d left a candle burning: Love is leaving the light on. Though it flickers and it wavers and, when I’m in it, I struggle to forgive myself. I’m just another moth to a flame, surrounding this swimming pool… 2017 has been terrifying. But when the anxiety subsided and the fire dwindled, I realized, someone left a green light on, and—I swear to god—the moment we met beneath it, we were ageless. 2. He says, “I never stopped loving you…” 1. So a blonde decides to try again…

Here’s my written midnight kiss: The second you step back to appreciate anything, it’s gone. Turn all your lights on.

In Light of Louis C.K. Admitting to Sexual Assault

We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain,
but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain…
It has to change.

–Rabecca Solnit, “The Longest War”

In light of Louis C.K.’s recent statement, admitting to sexual abuse of former female colleagues, one of my best friends posted a Facebook status sharing her experience with sexual abuse. She started the status off by citing an article on Vice, written by Megan Koester. In which the reporter shared her experience, attending a comedy festival with the intention of investigating the allegations of sexual assault against Louis C.K. (Predictably, she was treated as an enemy, was told she was only welcome as long as she asked “nice” questions, and was ultimately shamed into leaving by the show’s COO.)

After my friend cited the article, she went on to explain her conflicting feelings about the scandal; she liked Louis C.K. She admitted that a major part of her wanted the accusations to be lies. But upon reading Koester’s article, she could no longer deny that, on a base level, the Louis C.K. scandal was personal. And taking full ownership of her own experiences with sexual abuse was synonymous with no longer excusing, or denying, our culture and society’s tendency to doubt victims and sympathize with abusers.

She concluded with, “I feel like now is the time for my story to be told, because it’s clearly part of a narrative too strong and too real. We have the power to shut down powerful sexual abusers – we’ve shown this. I ask for everyone to be truly conscious of how their time and money is spent, because if you’re part of the community my abuser works in, my guess is that this already sounds familiar to you.” Making a rendering point: We all live among this culture of abuse, therefore we are responsible for how it manifests and survives–like it or not.

☁︎

Sexual abuse is an issue I dedicate a lot of thought and time to. I am the daughter of a survivor, a friend of a survivor, and a survivor myself. (Though I think this is true of all women–hence, #yesallwomen). Having personal experiences with sexual abuse, and close relationships with survivors, has put me in a position where I had no choice but to understand the nature of abusers. How it’s never a black and white issue. That to believe dealing with the traumatic aftermath should be “simple” is, ultimately, naïve. The logic of someone who obviously has never dealt with the debilitating confusion that is realizing a person–who was supposed to protect you–is consciously exploiting your inferior position to compensate for his self-worth deficit.

My friend, the one who wrote the Facebook status, was harassed and violated by her supervisor in the past year. I’ve talked with her as she’s struggled to claim the title of “victim”. She doesn’t see “victim” as an accurate part of her identity; she’s intelligent and independent. Defenseless, and taken advantage of, are not what she sees when she looks in the mirror. She struggles to accept that there was nothing she could have done to prevent the situation–that what happened to her was not the consequence of who she is, or anything she did.

She’ll even say, “I’ll admit, I wasn’t smart in the situation.”

She’ll say, “Even though I wasn’t interested in this guy, I thought I could run the world because he wanted me. So I humored it…” She’ll talk about how, as a woman, she often feels like she’s been trained to use her sexuality to get ahead and that, engaging in this behavior, seems like something she’s supposed to do. But then, inevitably, and undeniably, she always comes back to the truth, “That doesn’t mean I wanted his hand down my pants.”

When she says these things, I reassure her, “I’ve never been willing or comfortable enough to use my sexuality to get what I want… So I know. It doesn’t matter how you carry yourself. If someone is going to abuse you, they will find fault in how you carry yourself and they will attack it–one way or another. And that’s why you shouldn’t feel stupid about what happened. I’ve found myself in similar situations where I knew I wasn’t giving any signals. And still, something really bad and traumatic happened.”

In college I was always really careful to create an emotional boundary between myself and male professors. I never bridged the gap between professional and personal because I never wanted my academic success, or the level of my talent, to be equated and reduced to a man’s personal preference. I never wanted someone to be able to say, “You only get good grades because he has a crush on you.”

This method worked out fine… Until my final semester of college when I had a professor who harassed me for refusing to humor his favoritism. And although it didn’t amount to sexual abuse, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he was punishing me for not bridging the gap between personal and professional. For my right to create boundaries and “prevent” sexual abuse from becoming a possibility. This is why, I believe, when it comes to an abuser who wants you: You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

Those months following graduation, I had night terrors. I kept waking up and seeing the silhouette of a tall horned man watching me in my room. Eventually it was brought to my attention that dreams of this nature are often a symptom of trauma. Which meant I was probably experiencing PTSD as a result of what this professor had done to me. (Though what he put me through was “just” emotional violence, it was enough for me to realize: I can’t imagine what life would have been like if he’d been able to invade me on a more intimate level.)

I told my friend, “There is literally nothing you could have done differently.”

Still, I feel for her and the struggles–both external and internal–that she seems to be experiencing at this point in time. The harassment of a male professor was merely the catalyst that got me into therapy for a number of traumatic experiences I’d had with men who should’ve known better. (Though I don’t care to share those experiences here.) And tackling these psychic wounds and unresolved feelings of anger and resentment is not simple, nor easy.

However, if there’s one comment I have to make about what I’ve been through–what my friend has been through–it’s that these incidents aren’t isolated. That “small” incidents of abuse and harassment against women–in everyday life–add up over time and become indicative of a much bigger problem. That the abusive guy is not just that guy–over there (the blatantly weird and creepy individual, like Steve Harvey). But the one we love, who made us laugh and helped us out in crisis. Louis C.K.!

I don’t know what the future will ultimately hold for men who abuse power, and women as a result. But I am glad that Louis C.K. is experiencing consequences. (FX, Netflix, and HBO have all reportedly dropped his shows and future projects. While his publicist and management team have called it quits.) I’m glad that he issued a statement in which he admitted the extent of what he did, and apologized with thoughtful remorse that, I hope, was sincere.

This kind of direct-honesty in incidents of sexual abuse, and abuse of power, is unprecedented. And I hope it opens up a conversation about the complicated nature of abuse–especially in professional arenas where everyone should have an equal right to safety, and the ability to succeed without compromising integrity. I hope it inspires men at large, especially young men, to look at their own actions with clarity. And to no longer deny the sexism, misogyny, and violent masculinity that hurts women to a point that (statistically) should be considered a national crisis.

As for myself, if there is one solace I have gained from being so conscious of these problems, and from being on the receiving end of them, it’s that: When an abusive man targets you, it’s not because you are inherently vulnerable or weak. Often it is because you are strong, you have integrity, and there is some potential in you that is worthy of envy and desire. In light of this reality, there is no more room for shame or doubt. And there’s no longer any urgency to prove the extent of your suffering, or the truth about your abuser: You know what you know, and no one can touch that.

“Crazy” Girl: Thoughts on Healing, Wholeness, and Compassion in a Morally Divided World

a-16

Nobody knows who the real crazy people are.

—Chuck Palhniuk, “Exodus”

I said, “It might sound sad, but it really isn’t—at least I’ll always have my own company.”

My mother said, “You were always very good at being your own friend.”

And F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams” popped into my head like scripture: “She had come, in self-defense, to nourish herself wholly from within.”

I thought about how he made the statement sound so damning by sticking “self-defense” in the middle of it.

I thought about the character he was referring to: Judy Jones, one of literature’s first manic-pixie-dream girls. A beautiful depressed girl who smiles at chicken liver the same way she smiles at all the men who obsess over her—allotting her that added edge of derangement. How a story about a girl like Judy could only end with her being married off to an abusive asshole, rendering her dead in the spiritual sense. Hence: Winter in “Winter Dreams”.

It’s the tired tale of Manic-Pixie-Dream Girl turned Snow Queen. These are the kinds of female characters I held close in adolescence: Alaska, from John Green’s Looking for Alaska. Effy Stonemen, from Skins seasons 1, 2, and 4. And Daisy, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Their plotlines, however poetic and mysterious, only serve as limiting windows of female irresponsibility and destruction. With their characters constantly acting out, as if to beg producers, and writers alike, for some semblance of normalcy—the potential to grow beyond female trauma and spiritual death.

A level of complexity they’re, unsurprisingly, never granted.

(Alaska kills herself—or does she?—right after the novel’s male protagonist decides she’s a shallow bitch. Effy hits that jealous girl Katie in the head with a rock, tries to kill herself, fails, grows up to be a dead-inside businesswoman who sleeps with her narcissistic boss and, eventually, loses everything. Meanwhile, Daisy runs down her “horrible” husband’s mistress, totally ditches “nice” guy Gatsby for said “horrible” husband, and is ultimately rendered “horrible” herself.)

“She had come, in self-defense, to nourish herself wholly from within.”

I only recently began to understand that, as individuals, we’re supposed to “nourish” ourselves “wholly from within”. That this is not a defense mechanism reserved for the jaded and two-dimensional girls of fiction.

It’s not a defense mechanism, period.

☁︎

“I was an asshole, you were crazy…”

I understood this statement as a backhanded apology and my mind flared red at “crazy”. TRIGGERED! I stopped talking to him, completely. Stifled what I wanted to say: I’M NOT CRAZY, YOU’RE JUST AN ASSHOLE!

When I got home, I saw that he’d texted me.

“I’m just trying to make peace.”

I threw it back in his face.

“No you’re not.

If you were, you’d just admit that I didn’t do anything to you.

Which I didn’t.

I liked you, and you didn’t like me back.

If you’d just admit that we’d be fine, but instead you label me ‘crazy.’

Which I’m not.”

Could I have a sent a more guilt addled string of text messages?

He said: “I’m not an asshole normally, but circumstances between us weren’t normal.”

I couldn’t let it go.

“No. I treated you, and talked to you, like a human being. And you didn’t reciprocate that courtesy. And you know it. I’m so sick of everyone trying to return to my life from this past year. I don’t want anything to do with any of you. Like, you’re only talking to me because you’re bored and you know I have a boyfriend. You don’t care about me at all… You ARE an asshole normally. You just don’t want to deal with that reality.”

Then my personal favorite, (in the style of Season 2 Snooki of Jersey Shore) I said:

“I WAS A FUCKING GOOD PERSON TO YOU!”

He said: “I didn’t reciprocate that. I treated you unfairly and that’s why I’m an asshole. To be honest, I only see you as crazy because you’d press my emotions on purpose. You knew it got to me… I really want to come to an understanding.”

Still. I couldn’t let it go.

“I don’t think there’s any understanding to come to… Whenever I came to you looking for an ‘understanding’, you talked to me like I was a piece of garbage. There’s just no space for that anymore.”

Then I waited fifteen minutes, for my “crazy” levels to fall back into equilibrium, and texted him, again, as my normal self.

“I know I’d get really angry, but that was always after I felt like I’d been so patient and understanding. Like I have a limit! I honestly did care about you, at the very least as a friend. So some of the stuff you’d say to me would blow my mind… And I know I wasn’t perfect. I know I kind of walked all over you with my moral high ground, and acted like I was perfect when—I guess—I would do some stuff on purpose to upset you.”

He said: “Thank you.”

And it was like the masks had finally come off: I did X, you did Y. Can we finally leave the alphabet behind?

We often wear the masks of black and white identities, “crazy” and “asshole”, to correct the times when we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable.

This is especially true of the millennial generation.

I recently read an article that said psychologists are seeing more instances of personality disorders among millennials than any other generation. Presumed causes being, the rise of social media and having “liberal” parents.

(It’s the same old complaint of irrational entitlement in anyone ages 18 – 35:

Latchkey kids and Fruit Rollups are ruining society!

 Trace amounts of Red Dye #5 have poisoned the personalities of our young people!

 Everyone knows participation trophies lead to moral insanity!)

 It’s all bogus to me. I think millennials are just more open to the reality of mental health than the generations that preceded them. Therefore, there’s going to be more instances of personality disorders among us. We’re open to being diagnosed in the first place. (Unlike Debra from 152 BC, who’s probably just as borderline and narcissistic as the rest of us.)

Still, I think millennials struggle with interpersonal relationships. And it probably does have a lot to do with the options that the Internet and technology have granted us. Combined with the fact that, prior generations can’t empathize with the complications that coming of age with limitless information has created in our daily lives.

No one knew how to prepare us for the kinds of problems we’d face, being so goddam available to our peers and the world at large.

Therefore, it’s a particularly painful and confusing time to be a young person in general.

If you’re a millennial woman: You are living in the age of “love yourself”, yet no one told you how difficult this journey to self-acceptance would be.

There is just as much pressure to be independent and unapologetic as there is to be “liked” and validated by men.

Gender roles are changing; the whole concept of gender itself is changing. And yet, it’s still a debate whether or not you should be granted access to birth control.

The Internet has granted everyone constant access to you and your insecurities. The audacity to harass women no longer requires a level of grandeur reserved for the pathologically entitled. Now normal, everyday-type, men can say whatever they want without even having to look you in the eye:

*unsolicited dick pics*

“Can I fuck you in the ass?”

“You’d be a l0 if you lost weight.”

“Too good to say hi?”

It’s all as easy as clicking Send.

You are told: “Purge your life of toxicity!”

“Move on!”

“No one is worth stressing about!”

But you are also expected to be empathetic and diplomatic—don’t speak of anything or anyone in condemning terms: Rape and Assault are big words.

You are told women can do, and say, and be, whatever they want. And yet, a man who admits to sexually assaulting women is more qualified to be president than a woman who has dedicated her entire life to politics—just get over it.

“Do what’s best for yourself!”

It’s the recurring message on social media.

But nobody talks about how difficult it is to decide what’s best for yourself.

That being a girl means growing up having always viewed yourself through the lens of everyone else, only to be advised to un-learn that lens.

Then, on the flipside, there’s millennial men.

My ex boyfriend is sensitive, and quiet, and reserved, by nature. But our conservative community has forced him to split his personality in two. He can’t rectify his true nature against the image of machismo he’s supposed to project.

This fills him with a rage that he doesn’t know how to talk about; he resents his being hardwired for compassion, a “feminine” quality. So he treats his own heart like a problem that needs to be constantly corrected.

Whenever I hear the word “pussy” I feel myself tense up.

How do I convey the collective trauma tied to such a simple word?

The other day my friend told me that most boys don’t learn how to properly communicate until around the age of nine, whereas girls somehow “just know” their entire lives. She said it was due to the differences in how boys and girls are encouraged to play. (Female-play is focused on forming relationships and narrative, whereas male-play aims to make things explode and die.)

The two boys who shot up Columbine in 1999 are an exaggeration for how toxic masculinity has divided millennial boys into two categories: Sociopaths, and guys who are so repressed and misunderstood they just give up trying to communicate emotion altogether.

I’m being borderline right now, talking in such black and white terms.

But that’s the point!

How else do we cope in this world of contradicting messages, evolving roles, blurred lines, muddled information…

No wonder we call each other black and white names, like “asshole” and “crazy”, in the heat of an argument where we’re just trying to cope with how wrong we’ve both been.

It’s really, really, really, hard to feel whole in this polarized world. To not cling to the first diagnosis that only vaguely describes you, or somebody else—just trying to find a cure for the emptiness of your own identity juxtaposed to everyone else’s.

I would know: You can’t limit your “crazy”-self to the weekends and expect to wake up whole on Monday.

You’ve got to integrate her into your “real”-self eventually.

☁︎

I’m used to being called “crazy”. It’s a label that’s been thrown around, behind my back and to my face. Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment, and sometimes it’s meant as an insult. I used to try and combat it, saying I preferred “eccentric” or “passionate”. I went the feminist route, saying: “Crazy’ is the label we give women who expose injustice and mistreatment.” Because, honestly, the label used to really offend me.

I took it as: Literally out of touch with reality; vindictive bitch; can’t own her shit; victim-complex… I had yet to understand this label as a relative one, its meaning depending solely on the perception of the person who uttered it. That it wasn’t necessarily true or untrue, but a snap-judgment. One that I could give power, by constantly combatting it, or simply let be, by choosing confidence in my own reactions and perceptions.

(It happened last week, as I was lying in the backyard. I was reading This is Water by David Foster Wallace. More specifically, a passage that went something like: “If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important—if you want to operate on your default setting—then you, like me, probably will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying.” And the vitamin D must have gone to my head, because I heard myself thinking: I probably am crazy. Why should I be ashamed of that?)

This epiphany probably had a lot to do with something that happened a few days prior. I woke up with a hangover on Sunday morning, only to find that I’d texted my ex-boyfriend the night before, while in a vodka-induced depression:

“DON’T YOU DARE TELL PEOPLE I TREATED YOU BADLY!”

(Okay, it wasn’t in all caps. But that’s how I read it in my head.) And when I read it, I understood: This is why people call me crazy in the negative. Then, the solution: Apologize, admit it was crazy, and controlling, and inexcusable, and move on.

Maybe it was the full ownership of what I’d done and what it meant: That I am not perfect. That I forgot I’m capable of being wrong, and this reality doesn’t add or subtract from who I am—it just is… I don’t know how something so simple seemed to heal all the internal damage of my most emotionally taxing, and humiliating, year. But it did.

I thought: My “crazy”-self has always been my best teacher, why should I deny her?

(So many nights I got drunk and slipped out of my own body. Let my “crazy”-self run rampant, allowed her to do and say whatever she wanted. And when I woke up, the next day, I denied her existence: That must have been my estranged evil twin; we don’t talk anymore.)

See, the thing about my “crazy”-self is that she’s not inherently “bad”. Sure, she’s the part of me that acts according to habit and ego; who demands apologies that don’t want to be given, who searches for feeling where there isn’t any, who chooses the cup with a crack and then cries when it’s empty… She’s not inherently “bad”. She’s just misguided! Which is why she got “bad” when I stopped taking responsibility for her. My identity was split in two, and trying to find meaning in that kind of life was like trying to feel my way out of a pitch-black maze.

☁︎

I was watching Shannon Beador of The Real Housewives of Orange County, have a nervous breakdown at the slightest mention of her nemesis: fellow housewife Vicki Gunvalson. When I realized: Shannon Beador is the perfect example of what happens when self-doubt meets trauma. Ever since Vicki made those “allegations” of physical abuse against Shannon’s husband, Shannon (an already anxious person) has become even more anxious. She’s always one second away from flinging a plate at somebody’s face.

The “ramifications” of what Vicki said triggered a reality in Shannon that she can’t totally confront or forgive.

Which isn’t to say that what Vicki said was true, or okay. But to point out that, whenever someone hurts or betrays us in a way that we can’t find any rhyme or reason for—other than selfish gain—our integrity is compromised. It’s compromised because; we can’t truly forgive someone until we’ve made sense of their behavior. And if we can’t make sense of their behavior, we’re deprived of our only power: To forgive. Which ultimately makes one wonder: What’s so wrong with me that I can’t just “get over” this?

I over empathize with Shannon—in spite of all her erratic behavior—because I understand what trauma looks like. How it transforms your character into an exposed nerve ending that you’re constantly defending. You feel stripped of any power, because you’re convinced whatever you’ve experienced has used up any good you had left; you can’t remember who you were before. And, as if that weren’t confusing enough, trauma-therapy often means coming to terms with your role in the suffering that was, essentially, forced on you. You have to admit you’ve failed yourself the same way other people have failed you, which is just as frustrating and backwards as it sounds.

I’ve read Sierra DeMulder’s chapbook We Slept Here at least a dozen times now. It’s a collection of poems about overcoming trauma and abuse. And I’ve noticed that every time I read it, I understand the overall message a little better; the same way I understand myself a little better as life goes on.

There are a few lines that I only just started to understand a few weeks ago:

“Are you afraid of how
much it looks like you?
How it has
his mouth but your eyes.”

The “it” in this sample can mean anything: abusers, traumatic experiences, repressed memories, grief… The overall message is meant to point out how fear creates boundaries that might be more damaging than healing. An “Us vs. Them” paradigm where distinctions become so rigid, compassion is stopped dead in its tracks. You start thinking in black and white terms, because you just don’t want to take on the complications of blurred lines anymore; you can’t take the risk of seeing yourself in a person who hurt you.

In the throes of incomprehensible pain, this makes sense: You don’t want to identify with your abuser! (Your bully, your “enemy”, your whatever…) You want to be as far away from that dysfunction as Shannon Beador wants to be from Vicki Gunvalson. But the paradox is: These distances have a funny way of giving the people who hurt us, even more power.

Exhibit A, Shannon freaking out on Lydia McLaughlin, over the mere mention of Vicki:

“I’m NOT like Vicki Gunvalson,” Shannon says.

And I wonder: Are you afraid of how much it looks like you?

We have the power to see ourselves in difficult people and experiences, which is a power—though we forget this when we’re busy combating the “enemy”, and our own mental problems. We forget, because we so often act according to fear. To our own limited experiences and nagging anxieties: But what if I’m used and devalued, again? What if I’m misunderstood and rejected? What if I’m wrong?

I told my therapist about this anxiety in myself, and he said:

“I’m going to advise you to keep letting people take advantage of you.”

Which sounded bat-shit crazy at the time!

So I didn’t listen. Instead I acted according to fear, for months. And I felt like such shit because, I was totally numb; I couldn’t regain a sense of connection with humanity, and it hollowed out an emptiness that made me feel nothing but frustration and anger. Like, I’d experienced depression before, but I’d never lost a sense of awe in everyday things. No matter how depressed I got, I’d always been able to look at a tree and regain a feeling of wonder—that something more was out there. But this “depression” was different. I couldn’t see myself on the other side, and I’d lost my faith in peoples’ ability to change.

For the first time in my life, I was jaded.

☁︎

My therapist said, “Two gifts you offer other people are friendship and affection.”

Then he added, “But gifts aren’t always appreciated.”

(At work the other day, an older man’s total came to a $1.21. He pulled out some change and said, “Oh! I got lucky today!” He handed me a $1.06, probably thinking the nickel was a quarter. He seemed excited about his “luck”. So I pretended like he’d handed me the correct change. On the way out, he turned back and said, “I don’t care, but just so you know—you shorted me a nickel.” Then he walked out the door in a huff. And I stood there, fuming; thinking of how I’d knowingly short changed myself to protect his good spirit, only to be accused of doing the opposite.)

I understood what my therapist meant: You can’t hold the door for other people and then get angry when they don’t say, “thank you”.

The lesson being: If you spend your life constantly expecting to get what you give, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

I didn’t used to be this way but, in recent years, I think I got tired of relating to so many people—got worn out from not feeling related to in return. Woe is me. I began to turn my personality inside out. I lashed out in moments where—previously—I would’ve felt more inclined to try and understand. Held grudges over situations I usually would’ve forgiven, or forgotten, immediately.

Exhausted from feeling duped by people I cared about, I drew bold boundaries between myself and everyone else.

You’re bad. I’m good.

Please step away from my circle.

But viewing life this way only made me feel more isolated, more stagnant in my emotional growth, and like “less” of a person.

I didn’t realize, when my therapist advised me to keep letting people take advantage of me, he was advising me to keep being myself.

See, for the longest time, I believed loving a narcissist made me a narcissist. That, as a kid, something must have been severely wrong with me for feeling sorry for the serial killer on death row—entertaining the idea of his innocence: What if this isn’t justice? Because, sometimes… I feel bad for Donald Trump. (The other night, I had a dream I was running down a collapsing staircase alongside a gradually shrinking Donald, who eventually became too small to save himself—so I picked him and carried him to safety.) Or how, when my family watched The Reader, I heard myself saying of the Nazi character, “But we don’t know what it was like in Nazi-Germany; how can anyone say with any certainty that they would have helped the Jewish people when we’re 73 years away from the situation?”

I thought even considering these taboo figures and ideas made me “bad”. That—when it came to narcs, and serial killers, and D.T., and Nazis, and my pity that said: How ugly and lonely is the human mind that only has enough space for itself—having a pang of compassion for the compassionless, somehow meant: I must be evil too.

I didn’t realize: Being able to consider the perspectives of inconsiderate, even outright condemnable, people, just means you are capable of understanding difficult truths; that you not only have the grace to empathize with friends, and family, and people like you, but to understand psychologies and perspectives, vastly different from your own.

Those months where I felt nothing but numb and empty, angry and afraid, I wondered—not from a place of moral judgment, but tender curiosity:

Is this how the people who hurt me feel, all the time?

☁︎

I’ve noticed that the initial response to particularly empathic and compassionate people is often one of suspicion, followed by confusion: How can this person possibly be so damn forgiving and sincere?

 Sincerity combined with idealism often looks and sounds phony. Mostly because: To love and appreciate, or forgive, anyone from a place of true sympathy, generally, isn’t the “cool” thing to do. Especially when we’re the ones on the receiving end of that sympathy: How can someone be so gullible as to pity a wretch like me?

We scoff at the sensitivity of others because its existence heightens an awareness in ourselves that we’re not always ready to face; makes us consider our own behavior in ways we’d rather combat than examine. This is why we, so often, speak of the open-minded and romantic individual as a mentally and emotionally fragile being.

In Chuck Palhniuk’s short-story collection Haunted, one story, “Exodus”, serves as a kind of allegory for everything I’ve just expressed. It’s about the depravity of objectification and how our (American) surrounding culture and society, normalizes this depravity. Making anyone who passionately opposes it seem like they’re going “crazy”.

The story focuses on a woman named Cora, who is an abuse advocate in her town’s police department. From the beginning, she is established as a deeply empathic person, described as a woman who “couldn’t buy just one stuffed animal”. Her house is a fortress of unwanted items, meant to emphasize her inability to abandon anyone, or anything; to “look away” from injustice and mind her own business in matters of neglect and abuse.

Initially, the other characters like Cora—at worst, they’re indifferent to her. She only begins to become a “problem” and subject of distrust when she upsets the status quo. The catalyst to all her controversy being when she accidentally orders two anatomically correct dolls (used for cases of sexual abuse, so children can recount what happened to them via demonstration) instead of anatomically detailed ones.

A.K.A. Cora accidently buys child sex-dolls.

She’s upset about her mistake from the get-go, apologizing to the director of her department and promising the dolls won’t be used. However, the director doesn’t see anything wrong with the situation and insists that the dolls are perfectly good replacements for the old, anatomically detailed, ones.

Soon after, Cora has a waiting list for the dolls. Detectives and officers begin reserving them for “off site” cases. However, it quickly becomes evident that the dolls are being reserved for sex. When Cora raises the issue to the director, she’s met with laughter and an alternate perspective, “Consider this tit for tat.” The director sites how women objectify men everyday, using them for sex and money—or as sperm donors. She says, “What do you think a dildo is?” She dismisses Cora’s concern over what grown men reserving child sex-dolls for masturbation might imply or mean. She doesn’t see it as cause for concern because the dolls aren’t real. She says, “If it helps, just think of each one as a seventy-pound condom.”

This is when Cora becomes increasingly eccentric. She does everything she can to protect the dolls from violation, cleaning them every time she gets them back and buying them new clothes. At one point, she decides to super glue all their orifices shut. When that doesn’t work, and the dolls come back with all the glue cut open, she inserts razors into their mouths and behinds. Still, nothing seems to combat the unacceptable behavior of her co-workers.

Her sanity finally reaches its tipping point when the director sits her down and insists that she just “get over” it. The director says, “It was a tough call… deciding if my entire team is crazy, or if you are… overreacting.” In this moment Cora realizes she is nothing but a 120-pound condom to the people around her. As a result, she loses it and steals a gun from the evidence room. She takes the dolls, loads her car up with shabby stuffed animals, and drives away with a Breather Betty riding shotgun. In the closing paragraphs it’s noted, “Nobody knows who the real crazy people are.”

The reason this story has resonated with me, for so long, is its main point: Cora is treated like she’s crazy because she’s the only character with a conscience. Rendering her a threat to everyone else’s hedonism, and a walking symbol for the unexamined lives of everyone around her. Extending back to what I mentioned earlier: We scoff at the sensitivity of others because its existence heightens an awareness in ourselves that we’re not always ready to face; makes us consider our own behavior in ways we’d rather combat than examine.

See, I’ve noticed that we like Cora-girls in theory but we don’t like them in practice. (The same way the pursuit of Justice is beautiful in theory, but a motherfucking bitch in practice.) No one ever tells you: If you’re going to lead a life guided by truth and justice, you’re going to be swallowing your pride constantly. You’re going to be forced to confront the darkness in yourself, over and over and over again. (Which I think goes against human nature on a certain level. It’s unnatural to choose discomfort, and that’s what makes truth and justice such a difficult pursuit.)

Recently I was reading an essay called “Tan Lines” by a Canadian Indian writer, Durga Chew-Bose. It’s an essay about why she’s always dreaded summer. Focusing on how she associates summer with racist rhetoric.

She writes: “Growing up brown in mostly white circles means learning from a very young age that language is inured to prejudicial glitches. Time and again, I have concealed my amazement. The semantics of ignorance are oddly extensive and impossible to foresee.”

She sites mothers at soccer practice and the pool, how they’d always comment on her skin as a child. How what they said was always intended as a compliment, but—for reasons she couldn’t place—made her uneasy. That, when she got older, her tanned white friends would place their arms beside hers and say with pride: “I’m darker than you now.” Sending a shock to her system, and hurting her in a way that she didn’t anticipate or understand.

As I read the essay, I thought of how many people would read about Chew-Bose’s experience and think she was “overreacting”. That she was looking “too far” into things—creating implications that weren’t there.

I remember wondering: Why isn’t a proclamation of pain enough to change people?

When we listen to another person’s experience with suffering or oppression, especially when what they’re saying contradicts the world as we’ve always understood it, it’s difficult to not react like: BUT WHAT ABOUT ME?! Making us skeptical and judgmental, rather than vulnerable and receptive enough to examine our past selves. To admit: I used to do and say some problematic shit. We close ourselves off when we question the validity of someone else’s reality as a means of protecting our own. And I think, at least most of the time, this isn’t necessarily done from a place of hatred, but fear. (Though fear and hatred are close relatives, and I’m not denying that.)

I guess I’m considering all this, now, because we’re living in a time of anxiety.

Right now, everyone is afraid. This divided political climate is the result of everyone feeling like something has, or will be, taken from them. And I believe that, as a white, cisgender, straight girl with no real history of persecution or exclusion, it’s my responsibility to not recede into self-doubt. To up my game in the arena of compassion and not fall victim to my own, ultimately vain, cynicism and despair. To, insanely enough, renew my faith in humanity…

Anne Frank wrote, “In spite of everything I still believe people are really good at heart.”

(On NPR, a few months ago, a psychologist was talking about how there’s been extensive studies on psychopathic brains, but hardly any on especially empathic ones. Which she found curious, considering everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum of feeling for humanity—between too much and not enough. What psychic qualities set empaths apart?)

I can’t help but believe Anne was so far on the end of feeling for humanity that she possessed an otherworldly spirit. That she was so full of conscience she could be deemed pathologically graceful, or gracefully insane.

She’d have to be, to believe what she wrote:

In spite of everything…

I no longer interpret “crazy” as an insult.

☁︎

I keep wondering what all my favorite female characters of my adolescence have in common—Alaska, Effy, Daisy…

I know it’s not just their paper flat personas of female “irresponsibility” and destruction.

I know it’s more than that.

But the answer doesn’t occur to me until I’m re-reading Leslie Jamison’s essay “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain”, for the third time. An essay where Jamison divides fictional women (and real-life women) into two categories: Wounded and Post-Wounded. The former is characterized by self-indulgent self-pity, while the latter is defined by self-indulgent self-awareness. (Another way of saying “Basic” Bitches vs. “Cool” girls, essentially.)

I realized both groups were annoying in their predictability, in their resistance to not become each other.

And that’s when it clicked: The female characters of my adolescence occupy a third category.

They weren’t in pain, or in denial of pain, so much as they were trying to escape it.

I think of Alaska and her alcohol, and her walls of books, and her crashing car; of Effy hitting that jealous girl Katie in the head with a rock and running away; of Daisy crying over silk shirts and gunning down her husband’s mistress without looking back. How nobody knows for sure what any of it meant: Did Alaska crash her car on purpose? Did Effy mean to hit Katie? Was Daisy really driving?

The female escape artist is sick of being defined by the anatomy of her nervous system, from being measured by how much or little she feels. She’s the one girl in the story who decides: You’re going to turn me into whatever you want anyway, no matter how many times I prove I’m more complicated than this plot—might as well opt out and become the metaphor!

In the words of Taylor Swift: “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.”

I realize my life has been a constant struggle between being down-to-earth and a total space case. (With my head in the clouds, and my feet on the ground—what an age-old cliché.) I’m a realistic idealist, yearning to make people aware and forget all at once. Constantly pretending what’s happening isn’t really happen, while acutely knowing: Holy shit, this is really happening. Sincerely wanting everyone to be okay—to feel special and necessary and forgiven—while also secretly wishing everyone would get what they deserve: Karma!

I realize what Taylor Swift hasn’t: There’s no being excluded from your own narrative.

Yes, often we are innocent victims.

And we are all saviors, to someone: the “nice” guy, an un-judging friend, your sweetheart…

But we are also the sadists, and “crazy” girls, and arch nemeses.

Lady Gaga said it, “There really is no difference between the victim and the bully.”

Which is to say: Everything in this world is relative and a matter of perspective.

And that’s the only thing I know for sure, a big fat truth I’ve been struggling to balance for the past two years:

Are you afraid of how much it looks like you?

 Nobody knows who the real crazy people are.

A guy who, I feel, used to torment me, always looks at me with what I now understand as sincere sadness. And I realize I see myself in everyone and everything, and it has me all twisted up inside. Giving me so much joy and depression, filling me with such pride and shame. I have a headache and a heartache… I feel equal parts pathetic and admirable for being so affected by another person…

So, as I write this essay, I ask myself: What does healing look like, in a life where the only certainty is that everything is uncertain?

And I understand: It’s taking ownership of how you see yourself in relation to the world.

That we are not mirrors for each other, so much as we are magnifying glasses.

That I’m not crazy, some people just say I am because—let’s face it—there are times where I acted poorly and needed to recognize it. (And anyway! Isn’t the idea of “crazy” Cat so funny? Like there’s this fairytale version of me running around peoples’ brains, stealing the big toes from all her ex-lovers. I forgot some perceptions really are so ridiculous.)

It’s realizing that what you hate isn’t a person, place, or thing, but your own fear.

I’ve been so afraid of rejection, and failure, and being seen for who I am without mercy, that I forgot how to be merciful with myself. Which only made me less merciful with others. And—god—none of us are anything without mercy. How did I not see? Every rejection, and failure, and misunderstanding I’ve experienced, was a chance to remember: I don’t need acceptance, or success, or permission to feel whole.

It’s choosing to not be that scared person anymore.

I chose to see myself in the people who were less than kind to me; realized that no one was all that intimidating once I considered that, maybe, they were in just as much pain as I was, if not more. That my fault was never in being compassionate, but in believing others’ cruelty had anything to do with me.

It’s writing about the kind of magnifying glass you wish to be.

I hope I leave your world in Technicolor.

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For the Girl Who Doesn’t Listen to Herself (Eight Steps of Self-Actualization)

I am not afraid that he will happen
again, but that I inevitably will.
My biggest fear is the belief that
I am and always will be rotten, right
down to my blueprints, unworthy
of love, even one as sickly as this.
To forgive oneself is not only to
admit fault, to recognize what land
you tilled to grow here, but to
also say (and somehow believe)
I did not deserve this. Neither did he.

 —Sierra DeMulder, “And if I am to Forgive Myself”

  1. Self-Denial

In high school, you trained yourself to take your coffee black. It was a gradual process that started out with two creams and two sugars. Then one cream and one sugar. Until you were down to just cream—which eventually turned to black. You forced yourself to acquire a taste for bitterness. Not because you wanted the guise of sophistication, but because: No calories, cheap energy. You knew about the studies that said drinking coffee this way was bad for your bones, bad for your teeth. But at the time, those things weren’t important. You convinced yourself that this was what you wanted; this was how your taste buds were supposed to react.

  1. Self-Doubt

The other day you said to one of your very best friends, without much certainty, “Like, I’m pretty easygoing. Right?” And she responded without even thinking, “You’re the most easygoing person I know.” You laugh, uncomfortably. “Maybe that’s why this always happens to me.” I’ll go along with anything. Sometimes you fear your being “easygoing” is just another way of saying you can’t make distinctions. Another way of saying you don’t trust your own perceptions, so you’ll take anything at face value. That even once the bitter truth is spelled out, you’ll still try to work with it. Oh shit, this is gin and not water? Guess I’m getting drunk tonight! No situation is too much to handle because once it’s over—it doesn’t matter. Namaste. Your needs can always come later, later, later, later… Meanwhile you don’t notice that someone’s been waning you off the cream and sugar. You wonder why you feel like you’re running on empty. You wonder why you feel like you’re nothing. You wonder, you wonder…

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  1. Self-Neglect

The human brain can only prioritize x amount of things. This fact makes you anxious because—what gets lost when we prioritize the wrong things? What kind of potential is smothered when one has to prioritize mere survival, a basic sense of worth and emotional safety? Lately your mantra has been: This love doesn’t hurt. This love doesn’t hurt. This love doesn’t hurt… You forget your bills. It takes 45 minutes to muster the energy to go to work. Once a month, you just don’t go and you can’t explain why. You’ve missed all your appointments with your therapist, who you actually really liked. The boss-bitch in your head cuts through the bullshit: Do you really hate yourself this much? You shut her up, you tell her: Later! Your priorities involve getting through the day and convincing yourself you’re okay. You don’t have time for her

  1. Self-Care

Capitalism says you should buy things because it’ll bring you closer to a better version of yourself. You once spent $8—that you didn’t have—on lipstick, thinking it might transform you into the kind of girl a very specific person would love. And you resent that needy girl in you—always pining for validation—to the point of reckless abandon. How many times have you led her out into the forest of your past, like a jealous stepmother, just to leave her stranded? How many times have you sat by idly as she was enchanted by the gingerbread house, knowing exactly what kind of horrors were inside? How many times has she come back, crying? Saying, “It’s so lonely out there”? How many times did you send her right back? Demanded, “Come back when you are better”? That vulnerable, desperate, creature… You should be gentle with her. Gentle, but assertive. You should tell her “No” to the lipstick. You should explain, “You need to understand why you want the lipstick and decide whether or not it’s worth it—for yourself.” And if she cries about being lonely, you should tell her, “It’s not your fault.” You should line her eyes with glitter, and braid her hair with forget-me-nots. Make sure she finishes the grilled cheese. Crown her queen of scribbled-stars, drawn in the margins of ruled notebooks everywhere. Take her to the safety of the moon. Point back at planet Earth and explain, “You have allowed the voices of others to replace the one you were born with for too long…”

  1. Self-Reflection

Un-denying yourself means sitting down and accepting your ugliest parts. And yes, often you are ugly. Sometimes you sit around eyebrow-less, with stress-grease accumulating on your forehead. All your memories look like the party scenes in Palo Alto. You eat the grilled cheese and feel it settle in your stomach like cement. You Google the criteria for emotional abuse, at least once a week. One night the noise in your head is so loud you go out by yourself, and it feels like everyone is looking at you sideways. You look in the mirror and accept that this is the price you pay for passion: I look crazy, more often than not. You think about how in September of last year, when work was scarce and you were constantly fretting about money, your best friend from college drunk texted you to tell you that she thought you were “brave”. You felt like a total fraud. You felt like texting back, “No, I’m not. My mom is paying all my bills right now and I’m worried I’m diagnosably horrible.” You think about what society tells us is correct behavior: Be punctual. Be organized. Smile! Be selfless. We’re a team! Doesn’t it bother you that your mascara’s smeared and you’re at work? You realize what your friend meant was that the world can tell you a thousand times over that emotion is not reality, and all you’ll ever have to say to that is: And neither is ‘normality’. You don’t have time to wipe away your mascara. You’re starving for truth to the point where you’d throw everything you knew into the fire, and that’s the shit that gets your heart broken. All the flames from those bridges, burning—reflected in the tears streaming down your face. You might not feel brave, peeking out from between your fingers. But that’s not the point. Bravery comes after, when you make that blind promise to yourself: I will make all this failure worthwhile…

  1. Self-Preservation

“Women’s safety is more important than men’s feelings.” You read this and remember how he slammed the steering wheel when you started talking about sexual assault. A ploy to make you stop, for reasons you still don’t understand. Did I say something wrong? You explained, “I guess my way of coping with these things is to study what assault looks like—what abusers look like—so I can spot it. So I can help other people understand how to spot, and stop it.” He has nothing to say to that. So you smile, change the subject. Two months later, you’re crying at a Sheryl Crow concert because she just quoted Walt Whitman. She says, “If you ever feel unseen…” All the women dancing in the stage lights look ageless. You remember an interview with Lana del Rey and how the reporter said, “Your past albums often presented a claustrophobic universe made up of just you and one other person, but all of a sudden it’s like you’ve got your eyes wide open and you’re looking at the world around you.” One hour into the future, you’re riding on the back of a motorcycle and the moon is full and Lana del Rey is singing in your head: Doesn’t matter if I’m not enough / for the future or for things to come… Despite what many feminists say, you think Lana is brave. You saw her for the first time when you were 20, projected on a wall. Your universe was claustrophobic, and she understood about loving darkness when all you want is light. Two hours backward, you’re still at the Sheryl Crow concert and everyone’s singing “If it Makes You Happy” with her. You believe it’s the most enlightening sound in the world. You remember how John Mayer tried shutting Taylor Swift up when “Dear John” came out. He said it was “embarrassing”. Meanwhile stadiums of people were still singing: But I took your matches before fire could catch me… and there was nothing he could do about it. You saw a video clip of Lana del Rey, with her face leaned up against a microphone, wiping away tears as the crowd sang “Video Games” in its entirety. You imagined the man she was singing to, shrinking in the background. Watching as the whole world opened up around her. You saw in her eyes that she was crying because this was a sense of release she had always dreamed of. Women’s safety is more important than men’s feelings…

  1. Self-Worth

A number of people have expressed that they believe Thirteen Reasons Why’s Hannah Baker would’ve been “too narcissistic” to kill herself in real life. Though you agree that the show’s writers didn’t do their heavy content justice—though you found it disgusting how they used rape and harassment as a platform for teen melodrama—this common conclusion about Hannah’s character really, really, bothers you. You can’t articulate why, so you write it down on a piece of receipt paper: We often shame women for having any clarity about their experiences at all. Hannah wouldn’t have killed herself in real life because Hannah had self-worth, which usually translates as “narcissism”—especially when it comes to women. You don’t know what it is, but something about this realization causes you to internalize the notion that how you view the world is who you really are. Suddenly these months spent believing you were un-hearing, “preachy”, loveless and incapable of giving, seem so ridiculous. You remember the six-word autobiography you wrote for your first creative writing class: I found beauty in ugly places. How your message was cheesy, but sincere. And that was all that mattered to you. Admit it: You are not a mere flower, poking out from between concrete. You are a house, surrounded by wild life. You are elbows on the table and cats walking across the mantle—hydrangeas spilling over to reclaim the backyard. You are coffee splattered on the white carpet, a girl observing from a bird’s eye view, “I think the stain adds character.” Accept it: Your love is as easygoing as otters. It’s not “wrong” to float around boulders, though they serve their purposes too. Accept it: You need someone with a Gatsby-smile, who always sees people as they would like to be seen. Accept it: You need love that believes in abstract shapes. Patient and free as the snail-shaped cloud, gliding across her blue canvas…

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  1. Selflessness

You are sorry, though, for saying his best wasn’t enough. It wasn’t your most graceful moment, not even close. (A comedian on TV is making fun of women and their “massive egos”.) Your ego is not what’s preventing you from reaching out, but a learned response: Vulnerability, with him, is like an invitation to get burned… You think of that storm quote (“he just can’t handle a storm like you”) that is posted on the IG of every straight girl, from the east to west coast. You think: I am not a storm, and I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be idealized, or constantly admired; I just want to be with someone who understands himself, deeply. You miss him. You never won’t miss him because that’s who you are. You never grew tired of how he smelled like a clean aquarium filled with woodchips. And you can’t say he taught you nothing. You can’t say the certainty of his breathing didn’t restore your faith in yin and yang; how two forces, colliding, is what makes this flawed world go round. You can’t say you didn’t love every second you held your breath, trapped inside that fishbowl. It was real, and wonderful as it was terrible. You don’t blame him. You don’t blame yourself. You don’t blame anyone. It’s not that either of you deserve “more” or “better”, but that you both deserve what you need. And the whole world opens at this exit. At this private act of surrender: Wishing the most for him, in spite of all these locked doors and lost dreams…

Divided States, United Dreams, and All the Dinosaurs in Between (A Prose-Poem for What It Means to be Anti-Trump, as a Millennial and White Woman)

Out beyond ideas of

 wrongdoing and rightdoing,

 there is a field.

 I’ll meet you there.

 

—Rumitrump-13

My boyfriend says, “The Doomsday Clock is three minutes to midnight,” as I set up dinosaurs the size of Polly Pockets between Jenga blocks. “Our parents lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis—two minutes to midnight—so I try not to think about it too much.”

I pluck a yellow Brontosaurus from the coffee table. I marvel at its neck.

Our generation has been able to hold onto childhood for longer than any other. Every time our parents called us ‘special’ they were clearing out some space for us to dream. Tying our baby blankets around our necks in the style of superheroes, and introducing us to the backyard: ‘Go imagine the world in ways we couldn’t allow ourselves.’

I try placing the Brontosaurus on the rim of my boyfriend’s beer as a reminder that the world hasn’t ended, and we’re both still here.

But my hand quakes, and the dinosaur falls straight down the tab.

My boyfriend laughs, “Extinct.”

For a moment I’m reminded that, in the novel I’m reading, a fictional author writes a fictional children’s story about how the Brontosaurus never actually existed. A scientist got his dinosaur bones mixed up, and what he thought was a Brontosaurus was actually an Apatosaurus with a Camarasaurus’s skull. However, many museums never bothered to correct their placards—society was already familiar with the Apatosaurus as the Brontosaurus, and this understanding of the dinosaur was popular.

Which is to say: Society preferred the Apatosaurus when it was something that it wasn’t, so how much influence does truth actually have when it comes to popular interpretations of history?

I don’t mention any of this to my boyfriend as he dumps his beer into a glass and saves the Brontosaurus. Instead I tell him about how, before Donald Trump was elected president, I believed all my coming of age milestones had been met.

I say, “I didn’t know I had any more innocence to lose before that.”

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As Americans—we are so removed from our country’s history of imperialism. This fine line we’ve cultivated through a poo-pooing of emotional intelligence and truth in our history lessons, between innocence and ignorance.

I am twenty-five years old and Christopher Columbus still stands like a fairytale character in my imagination. Not as a rapist, not as a leader of genocide, but as some brave little soldier brimming with wanderlust and round-world theories. A Disney cartoon, essentially.

I’ve observed grown men throw mini temper tantrums over credit card machines asking for a preference: ‘English or Spanish?’

My boyfriend tells me he’s hopeful. He says, “Trump will get impeached soon, there’s too many people involved with the resistance—too many people and organizations are being vocal about not wanting this.” And for the first time in my life, I realize: I’m the cynic in this conversation.

I say, “It’s not that Donald Trump getting impeached wouldn’t fix a lot of things. It’s that our country allowed this to happen in the first place. Our qualified female candidate losing to a deluding playboy and what that means…”

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My boyfriend lights up a cigarette and I remember the time my best friend classified my “type” as “casually dressed white guys who smoke.” I wonder: Why?

I go all self-analytical.

It’s easy to deny a part of myself with the scent of cigarette smoke, like I’m just a grain of Cheeto dust lodged between two carpet fibers in a shutdown roller rink—the disco ball still spinning. A reminder of a ‘simpler’ time when people just ‘didn’t know any better’. My secondhand role in it all serving as a testament to my innocence: I’M NOT THE ONE DOING THE BAD THING!

Contemplating this strange nostalgia shifts my thoughts on American privilege to thoughts on white privilege.

One time, at a Halloween party, over chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, I listened to a conversation between two guys. They were talking about Black Lives Matter, and the election. Both of them were Trump supporters, their conversation playing out like a football being passed back and forth: ‘Not all cops [this]’ and ‘Not all cops [that].’

I stared at a beheaded stegosaurus, bleeding ranch dressing, and gradually lost my appetite.

Everything felt reminiscent of ‘not all men [this]’ and ‘not all men [that]’, and the one wrinkle in my forehead deepened.

I held my breath before I spoke: ‘Just admit that racism is real and white privilege is real; just admit it. The fact that people who were born and raised here are referred to as “black American” while we get to be just “American” is enough proof that white people are the template of American society. We don’t know what it’s like to experience racism as a threat to our lives, just admit that!’

But neither of them gave what I said much thought, and the only response I got was: ‘Well, my uncle’s a cop.’

I feel silly going all lovesick for my boyfriend and his cigarette when I think of how, earlier in the day, I was watching Cristela Alonzo’s standup special, Lower Classy, on Netflix.

She had this joke about how you’ll never catch people of color reminiscing for “the good old days”. She said, “You ever notice it’s only white people saying that shit?” Then she joked about a hypothetical Lamar, and how he spends his weekends cooking and cleaning for free at his neighbor’s house, “like the good old days”. She capped the whole spiel off with, “You never see that conversation.”

Lovesick with nostalgia over my boyfriend’s cigarette, I can’t get that joke out of my head.

White privilege painted over caves used like catacombs by the KKK for lynchings. Replaced 245 years of slavery with ‘heritage’ and ‘states’ rights’. Erased our memory of segregation with poodle skirts and pastel thunderbirds. Rationalized an entire history of racism and genocide with: ‘Well, I didn’t do that.’

My boyfriend puts out his cigarette, and I understand my longing for the past is a privilege in itself. That I’m lucky my historical memories can be categorized with labels as benign and painless as “when restaurants were still divided between ‘smoking’ and ‘non”.

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Malcom X theorized that peaceful protests were only effective if the subject being protested possessed a conscience.

He said, ‘America has no conscience.’

I tell my boyfriend I’m beginning to believe empaths are like unicorns, belonging to a different plane of existence. I say, “There needs to be more emotional education in our
schools. Too many people think of empathy as a natural feeling, but it’s not. It’s an intellectual process. That’s why so many empaths appear kind of cold—they’re intellectual feelers and emotional learners. They react slow.”

The other night I had a dream I was blowing bubbles through a sniper. They shot out at a rapid pace, in smoky neon colors. They all collided into each other and, as they popped upon impact, made an explosion that took the shape of a multicolored mushroom cloud. After I looked all around me and everyone was cheering, but all I felt was depressed.

My boyfriend reacts slowly.

“Hm,” he says.

The morning after Donald Trump was elected president, I overheard my father talking to my mother in a hushed voice outside my bedroom door. ‘This country is mentally ill,’ he said. And my chest felt like it was on fire with how much I loved him for saying that; like I needed to avenge all those slow and steady tortoises who’d rather lose the race than become a tyrant—

Is there someplace safe, where they can dream?

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I confess to my boyfriend, “I feel less and less connected to reality everyday, like: Did that really just happen? Is this really real? It’s like millennials are being forced into crippling anxiety and depression because we’re being pressed between the past and the future at all times. What does it even mean to exist in the present?”

At my parent’s house, a show about the universe was on National Geographic and some scientist said that parallel universes exist. He said it in the sense that, every impossible thought is possible in some other dimension. Therefore, every dream you’ve ever dreamed, every fantasy you’ve ever had, every future that didn’t come to fruition, is actually happening someplace else.

I complain to my boyfriend about a common breadcrumb of human understanding, “So many people say if they could go back in time, they’d kill Hitler. And every time this comes up I feel like asking: What else? What else would you change?”

I was thinking of parallel universes as I watched a talk with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

He said the only evidence of time travel that he could conceive of is found in the great geniuses and artists of the past. People like Einstein, Picasso, and Newton. People who, he said, ‘had a vision of the future better than we even understand ourselves.’

I thought of Anne Frank and, without much warning, she sat down beside me on the living room couch. She told me she was a time traveller, too; that it wasn’t as hard as someone like Newton would have you believe.

She said, “Anyone can time travel.”

She said, “You just have to pull people forward somehow…”

She went on to explain that, in order to pull people forward, you don’t have to come up with a new law or theory—not necessarily.

She said, “You can do it with a feeling.”

Then she slipped out of The Now, caught a wormhole back to her better universe.

My boyfriend says, “Stalin killed more people than Hitler, a lot of people seem to forget about that.”

I Google “Stalin vs. Hitler”, and find an article titled: “Genocide: If Stalin or Mao killed more people than Hitler, why is Hitler considered the worst?”

I click on the link and I’m led to a chart of illustrated dictators with their corresponding names.

Depending on who I’m looking at, there are one or multiple red drops beneath each name.

One drop symbolizes one million people.

I don’t read the article; I just stare at the chart—taking in the drip drip drip of it all. (Our understanding of evil as an accumulation of deaths, and my knowing that it’s so much more than that.) I want to be worlds away from this psychopathy that condenses the dehumanization of millions to a drop in the ocean: It’s all in the past; It wasn’t that bad; We don’t talk about that.

I hope I’m not appropriating the anger of others, but I resent being part of a world where whole individuals are erased—drip—just like that.

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In my tiny hometown, a part of the rust belt, I’ve often felt like Van Gogh—seconds away from cutting off my own ear. Seconds away from sending it to a Trump supporting ex as a reminder of what I’d rather do than accept his president’s spineless rhetoric as truth.

There are TRUMP – PENCE signs at the ends of driveways, advertised in front windows and on the backs of pickup trucks.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that they’re watching me. That they’re creeping up on me, like some vague shape of a man I don’t know, in the night.

Talking about this feeling seems fruitless, like playing a rigged game of rock paper scissors: Capitalist Patriarchy covers White Woman and—therefore—covers everything else.

I ask my boyfriend, “What’s the term for feeling responsible and powerless all at once?”

America, I have a dream.

(Which is to say: I have contributed to a parallel universe where everything I’m about to describe is possible.)

I collect every TRUMP – PENCE sign from sea to shining sea, and walk to a field—out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing.

I color over all the names, and lay down every sign to form a template that stretches on for miles.

I take a permanent marker and, starting with the first sign, write: ‘Hillary Clinton, first female president of the United States.’

Then I move on to the next sign and write the same thing with my mother’s name, shortly followed by the names of my sisters and grandmothers—my female friends and peers.

On each sign, I write the names of every American woman I know followed by ‘first female president of the United States.’

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I do this until I can finally start writing the same thing with the names of all the American women that I don’t know, who are not like me.

I do this until every American woman is accounted for, illegal immigrant to transgender.

And, in this universe, I don’t care how flowery my efforts look; no one gets to call me vapid or unrealistic here.

I’m free to imagine better places where each sign is a reality, rendered absolutely possible
because someone wrote it down somewhere.

And once my work is finally done, I’ll lay in my bed of unrealized dreams.

With my head resting against the pillow of my name, I’ll put my hand over my heart and pledge allegiance to the sky.

Whispering, ‘United Dreams…’

Meanwhile, I set up dinosaurs between parallel universes as my boyfriend muffles the sound of the clock’s ticking.

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Nine Things I Learned in 2016: The Year of Getting Really, Really, Uncomfortable

You fall and you crawl and you break and you take what you get and you turn it into—
Honesty.

—Avril Lavigne,

Patron Saint of Girls Who Once Had Their Hair Dyed Black Underneath

12/20/2016: Reflecting on this year, it’s hard to believe I wasn’t, somehow, better at the beginning than I am now. I know this is the tricky way in which nostalgia works—it’s 90% missing how naïve and innocent you were at a given point in time. Longing to revert back to the safe and cozy place that was how little you knew, and understanding that you can never go back. (This is a feeling I’ve been experiencing on the daily, as this last month of 2016 comes to a close.)

I’m not wrong when I say it’s been an exhausting year, personally and culturally.

On a personal level: 2016 was the first year I lived in Jamestown, full time. Without school or any illusion of: I’m moving forward in life. It was the year I gave Satan a chance, tried hard drugs, and became the kind of person who uses vague and self-righteous Facebook jargon. Like, “there’s nothing wrong with deleting toxic people from your life” and “there’s nothing selfish about self-care”.

In truth: At the close of 2016, I have become my worst nightmare. Addled with anxiety and all bent out of shape, trying to make sense of how much I know now that I didn’t know then. Emotionally and mentally depleted is what I am—like it’s a fight to stay a complex individual. To not become one-dimensional and revert to merely playing a role within the senseless drama that is the young adults occupying my hometown.

(I’ve come to understand that my disconnected feelings in highly social situations can no longer be explained away with the dismal hope that most people are still working out some “high school” bull-shit that they’ll eventually grow out of. Nope. I’ve long discarded the false promise that everyone will eventually mature into diplomatic, relatively caring and freethinking individuals.)

Both a blessing, and a curse, I’ve come to the conclusion that high school is who most people are and I am not like most people.

Meanwhile, on a cultural level: Waste his time 2016 was anticlimactic—did any of us ever, in fact, waste his time? Or did we just waste our own time, trying to waste his time?

Collectively, we put our cell phones face down on the table. We stared at the wall and contemplated our guilt, having realized we’d just been two hours deep in IG. (Winding in and out of Kermit memes, revealing how unoriginal our most inner longings are. Wondering how 98,735 users could possibly relate to Kim Kardashian’s sobbing face.)

We are living in a post post-modern era. Life no longer imitates art, or even the media. Now it’s all about the Internet. (Weddings are Pinterest. Values and worldviews are Facebook statuses. Conflict is a comments section. Friendships are only as legitimate as one’s latest photo. And life? Only as interesting as the Snap Story implies. People are just glorified memes: Self-deprecation and some stolen piece of pop culture, pasted together to say something funny and sophisticated as a burp.)

I don’t want to be cynical, but: A reality TV star is our president.

Real life is so unreal; we don’t even trust what’s actually happening—right in front of us—anymore. (Example: It’s easier for a lot of people to believe that Donald Trump trolling IRL is “the media’s” fault, and not his own. Like: “the media” made him openly mock a disabled reporter and, somehow, that makes him “raw” and “real” and not a total fucking asshole.) How? How is this the world I’m living in?!?!?! Why am I not more surprised? Why do I get the sense that many people don’t grasp how real a responsibility being president is? Are we that far out of touch with the physical space in front of us? Politics might as well be Fantasy Football at this point.

Overall, 2016 was the year I looked around the room and said: What the fuck is wrong with all of you?

It was the year I fully understood that not everyone is like me. That, while diversity—on the most base level: background, race, experience, sexuality, lifestyle, ability, talent, appearance, etc.—is what makes humanity interesting and worth living for… The fundamental differences—values, emotional depth, intelligence, sense (or lack) of connectedness—are what makes humanity a total fucking nightmare.

In simpler words (specifically, the words of Instagram writer Rob Hill Sr.): “Love isn’t hard, people are just difficult.” And for the past 366 days (because it was leap year!) I’ve felt trapped in Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”, playing on a loop:

TAKE OFF ALL YOUR PREPPY CLOTHES, GUYS!

I just do not understand the lack of honesty, and empathy, I’ve experienced this year. To put it in high school terms: Why the fuck is everyone so fake? Trying to make sense of so many other people’s inconsiderate worldviews, and actions, has been frustrating. And, admittedly, with this frustration, I’ve come to understand that what’s simple to me, might not be so simple to somebody else.

(Some people really like their preppy clothes; it’s just who they are. It doesn’t make them bad people—not necessarily. It’s what’s inside the preppy clothes that’s supposed to count! But that’s the struggle, isn’t it? To see people for who they fundamentally are, and put our own, personal, ultimately petty, biases aside.)

I guess, for me, 2016 has been about deciphering what individuals might not be someone I have all that much in common with, or totally see eye to eye with, but can still recognize as a fundamentally alright person. Versus someone I need to just straight up avoid because they’re fundamentally selfish, and hurtful to everyone. (Even the people they claim to “love”.)

So.

I guess…

With all of this in mind…

Here’s my official list of things I learned in 2016:

1.) Sometimes reacting to a situation exactly how you want to react to it—in the moment—really is the most spiritual thing you can do.

Whether it’s simply walking away, or saying “EXCUSE ME!” at the top of your lungs, or running head first into an ex fuckboy’s best friend, over and over again, like an angry bull, screaming: YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS TO SUFFER… Okay, maybe only react that way under dire circumstances. Or like, never. Maybe just invest in a punching bag… I don’t know! But the point is, it’s really, really, unhealthy to disassociate while something totally uncool and potentially damaging to your mental and / or physical wellbeing is happening. So. Sometimes you really do need to abandon the fear of being perceived as a monumental overreact-er and just totally embrace a natural response to a nonsensical situation. (Negative emotions always surface in one way or another, no matter how much you repress them. You might as well save yourself some brooding, and your loved ones the secondhand resentment, by immediately directing those emotions at the person who provoked them in the first place.) A.K.A. I had a tantrum characteristic of the one in Bridesmaids when Kristen Wiig punches through a giant cookie and tries to push over a chocolate fountain that is—clearly—bolted to the ground. (I was Kristen Wiig in the scenario; a guy was the fountain.) He did something really manipulative, knowing I’d either react in the moment—like a crazy person—or spend weeks trying to make sense of it. So, whatever. I went all “Not today, Satan! Not today!” on his ass, and screamed, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS TO SUFFER!” Ultimately, it felt really, really, good to address the issue head on—despite my reaction being extremely embarrassing and over the top. I’ve learned what pent up aggression, and regular disassociation (i.e. trauma), does to a person. Like, it makes you blow the fuck up out of nowhere, and in ways that are really unflattering—in ways that look mean, and hypersensitive: Crazy! So… forgo repressing your negative emotions to that point and deal with them as they happen. Then make a conscious effort to avoid the people and places that seem to provoke them. This means: Walk away from that person who has screwed you over, time after time. Don’t keep going back to that flake-y dude whose poor treatment of you has proven to be pathological. Block the shit out of a few people! Remember: No one is allowed to take away your right to leave, or say “no”, or have standards. You’re allowed to do whatever you need to do to protect those rights. Don’t worry about how it makes you “look”, because—after everything’s said and done—you’re the one who has to deal with the emotional aftermath. Not the bystanders, or anyone else who wasn’t directly involved. So, go all in: Not today, Satan! Not today!

2.) A “nice” or “fun” person isn’t always synonymous with an authentic or genuinely caring one.

Lots of people are “nice” and “fun”, but very few are sincere and loyal. In the past year, I’ve learned to be wary of excessive flattery and the kinds of people who want to be “best friends” with everyone. True, I’ve never been the most social of butterflies, and I’m very selective about my friendships. But prior to this year I was a huge advocate for giving people the benefit of the doubt—now I’m a little more cautious. I learned that some people are just nosy and will only flatter you because they want something from you; they want to be a part of your life, and they don’t care how negative of a role they play. It’s one of the bitterest doses of reality I’ve ever swallowed, but some people really will do whatever they need to do, and say whatever they need to say, to get what they want—which is constant stimulation, at any cost. It’s a really reckless and shallow way to live, but: That’s just how some people are. And a lot of the time, they are the most charismatic, “fun”, and attractive people imaginable. Because they have to be! They have to be whatever people need them to be, otherwise nobody would like them; which, in a backwards way, is really sad. That being said, pity is exactly what these kinds of people take advantage of: “I just thought you were cute and I wanted to get to know you” *pout*; “My girlfriend just broke up with me for her ex, and you seem like you’re really easy to talk to…”; “I have a really hard time making girlfriends, and I love you’re writing. We should hang out…” It’s not that I think every person who compliments me is going to eventually fuck me over. I’ve just learned that living in a small place, and standing out in any capacity—from being a feminist writer and advocate, to being “cute” and hyper-romantic—is going to attract some really opportunistic people who either want to “conquer” me, or ruin my positive outlook. And, to be blunt, you just never know where you stand with those destructive types of people. (They’ll smother you, and then abandon you; they’ll laugh with you, and then snub you; they’ll cry to you, and then blame you; they’ll comfort you, and then pull the rug out from underneath you…) It’s a relationship devoid of understanding, and I just don’t have the stamina for that incessant drama. Relationships, for me, aren’t a game of “winning and losing”—they’re an emotional connection. And I’ve learned that, with certain people, it’s impossible to have a connection. (Not a genuine one, at least.) Because they don’t want it! It’s meaningless to them. Therefore, if connection is allowed to be meaningless to someone else, the rules of “winning and losing” are allowed to be meaningless to you.

3.) Rejection, or other people’s negative and unwarranted responses to you, are rarely, if ever, a reliable indicator of your integrity and character—a.k.a. your worth as a human being.

All my life, whenever a guy I really liked became cold toward me, and decided he wanted nothing to do with me; or when a friend regularly ditched me and made me feel left out, I would immediately blame myself. I’d think: I must have said something really off-color and mean. Or: I must’ve been too cling-y, and weird. I shouldn’t have been so open about my thoughts. I’d think: I must’ve acted conceited and stuck-up; I must be really boring and shallow and unaware of it. Basically anytime someone was mean to me, or ignoring me in a way that I couldn’t find any sensible reason for, I always assumed I’d done something unforgiveable. That I had some major character flaw, and was pathologically broken. I assumed I deserved whatever neglect or shade I got. Which, yes, it’s actually good to have this mental system of checks and balances. If you walk around genuinely believing everyone should love and accept you 24/7, you probably have a personality disorder… but the point is: I was worrying about what was “wrong” with me, obsessively. To the point where I didn’t trust my own judgments of situations and other people. (Which, this kind of self-doubt is like blood to mosquitoes. It’s an attractant for the kind of person who will ignore you for no reason, and will never forgive you for not being perfect within his or her own, personal, definition of the term.) Example: A guy recently lied to me about his dad dying, in an attempt to dump me without looking like an asshole. (Yes, you read that correctly.) The conversation began with him confiding that his father had died, and then ended, the moment he got a genuine emotional response from me, with him admitting, “Okay; don’t be mad but, that stuff about my dad—I might have exaggerated a little bit…” Initially my reaction was one of confusion, like, “Why would you do that? Why would you lie to me about that?” Up until this point, I felt I had done nothing but encourage honesty in (what I thought was) our friendship; I couldn’t find any rational reason for his lie. He quickly went into vague explanations like, “I never know what you’re thinking!” and “You told me you didn’t want a boyfriend; I wanted to know for sure whether or not you cared!” and (the worst) “My friends said you would freak out if I was honest!” I walked away, my head spinning. I just didn’t know how to react. While driving home, it occurred to me that he might have done such an unforgiveable thing, thinking it was the only way to “get rid” of me. Which stung. I remember thinking: Wow, am I really so insufferable that people have to fake a family member’s death, and then admit to it, just to ensure that I’ll never speak to them again? In a last ditch effort for some common ground (after freaking out on him via text message), I surrendered the truth about how hurt I was, “I just know you’d only do something like that to get rid of me, and that feels so bad. You could have just told me the truth.” He never responded, and as the days following the incident added up, I eventually came to terms with reality: Normal, caring, content-within-themselves, people do not regularly kick the crap out of your heart, and then leave it hanging on a weak-ass pulse—especially not after you’ve told them how much it hurts. And anyone who does do that is making a statement about themselves; about their own integrity and self-worth—not yours. So. Basically. If you’re someone who regularly considers your affect on other people, if you keep positive change and emotional maturity at the forefront of your mind, then it’s safe to determine you are trying your best. And as long as you are trying your best, you deserve honesty and straight-forwardness. Not someone who lies about his dad fucking dying because that’s somehow easier than being emotionally vulnerable for the eight seconds it takes to say, “I don’t want to see you anymore.” Like, that person has some major soul searching to do, and his dishonesty and level of inconsideration says way more about his understanding of reality than it does yours. So, trust yourself. You’re not broken, or crazy, or unlovable. Someone just made you feel that way because that’s how they feel all the time.

4.) Regularly check yourself to make sure you’re not doing things you wouldn’t normally do—things that are destructive to yourself and / or others—just to avoid dealing with your own vulnerabilities, or insecurities.

I have a tendency to internalize other people’s problems, and depending on the energy of the people around me, it can make me act really insecure and defensive. When you’re constantly taking on other people’s emotions, you start to forget which ones belong to you, and which ones belong to other people. On top of being stuck in your own head, you’re stuck in the heads of others. And that can really warp your perception of reality when you’re spending a significant amount of time with deeply wounded people. (It’s the nature of toxicity—which, I don’t really like that terminology. But for the time being that’s what our culture has settled with. Toxic: Someone who is deeply hurt and no longer conscious of their pain; someone who, habitually, seeks out other people to do their healing for them; someone who wields the compassion and self-doubt of others at their leisure, and in their favor.) I’m not saying these types of people don’t deserve forgiveness, or the chance to start over. I’m just saying they’re unsettling to be around when you’re a sensitive person who struggles to respect her own boundaries. A.K.A. I’m attracted to emotionally broken—overlooked—people, because I want to heal them. I want to make them feel seen, and heard, and understood: Less alone. Which, this desire is a double-edged sword. It’s the foundation of my creativity, and I wouldn’t really “be me” without it… But, I don’t know how to explain it—I’m very insecure about it. Being this open to the suffering of others is exhausting; at times it feels very invasive to my autonomy. Sometimes I think I’d give anything to just look away. To not know, or understand, anything beyond my own perspective. To become totally immersed in that one viewpoint. But I can’t do that. Which means feeling sad and isolated a lot of the time; it means fostering the negative emotions of people I’ve loved and lost—the ones who might never reciprocate a sense of loss when it comes to me. And, not going to lie, that has me pretty butt-hurt and vindictive at times: How dare they use me as a receptacle for their unresolved pain!!! This past year, I did a lot of things I wouldn’t normally do just to shut myself off from the negativity and pain of others. Tiny acts of self-destruction seemed to lighten the sadness that came from feeling an intense, perpetually unrequited, connection to the world of other people (especially the not-so-nice ones). At the time, it seemed like—everywhere I looked—all I saw were people terrified of letting go, of finding actual happiness and love. And all I wanted to do was help them realize the big picture. How beautiful life could be if they just tweaked their perspectives, every so often, and let it be beautiful. In retrospect, I realized: It was the potential of this world, and its collective resilience to it, that hurt me so much. Sometimes I’d just take a deep breath, or stare at another person’s face for too long, and it’d make me feel something, like: “OUCH! Can I get a vodka-soda?!?!” Altered states of being, or surrounding myself with the “wrong” people, made the world hurt a little less. It softened the edges of reality and made me more okay with being selfish. It even made me more at peace with the selfishness of others! But it was a temporary fix to the resounding reality that is my loneliness. And I’m trying to become better about checking myself in this way. I’m trying to be less impulsive, and less enabling. (Especially when I feel lonely.) Basically, what I’m trying to say is: If you’re a compassionate person, then it’s important to remain a compassionate person. Don’t lose what makes you susceptible to the good in the world by trying to hide it, or destroy it, as a means of “not hurting”. That kind of attitude will always backfire, and you’ll become as “toxic” as whatever inspired you to think that way in the first place.

5.) Never allow someone to treat you as if you are an extension of themselves.

Loyalty, at least to me, is not synonymous with “you do everything I say”. I’ve watched people try and control others under the guise of “loyalty”, and that shit’s so fucked. It’s using a positive element of someone else’s character against them and, ultimately, denying their right to be a person with desires and opinions that deviate from your own. Like. Manipulation gets me so heated, to a point where I have no desire to be around those who manipulate, or those who allow manipulation to happen. I had a really good friend who sort of pushed my feelings to the wayside because she was trying to pursue a guy who was friends with my ex. (An ex who manipulated and hurt me, often.) This meant that she befriended my ex in an attempt to get closer to the guy that she liked. And it sucked. Because my ex started using her as a tool to get to me emotionally, and she totally fucking let him. She let him do it to a point where she started being mean to me too, and even seemed to enjoy how much the whole thing bothered me. Which was frustrating, because the whole time I just wanted to smack her and say, “DO YOU NOT SEE THAT YOU’RE GETTING PLAYED LIKE A FUCKING FOOL RIGHT NOW!?” But it wouldn’t have mattered. She didn’t care for, or even trust, my opinion anymore. Eventually she tried to convince me that I needed to “care more about what other people thought.” And, just being true to myself, I realized that kind of need for popularity, and approval, just isn’t in my DNA. (As Nicki Minaj once said: I give zero fucks, and I got no chill in me.) I’m going to do what I think is best for my mental health, and the big picture, no matter what. Something that ultimately means: What I think of myself will always be more important than what anyone else thinks, or says about me. Unless you’re my mom. (She is the only exception!!!!) Furthermore, I want everyone I surround myself with to be like this. I want to be around people who care about themselves, and therefore—care about others in a deep and meaningful way. My thought process being that, people who care about themselves have a strong sense of purpose—their egos aren’t fragile—and therefore, being kind and supportive comes naturally to this type of person. They don’t get hung up on jealousy and insecurity, or the approval of strangers, because they know what they have to offer. Furthermore: I have no desire to control anyone and, as a courtesy, I want to be around people who have no desire to control me. You know? We either connect, or we don’t. And with this particular friend, who I thought I really connected with at the beginning of our friendship, I eventually realized: We just don’t value the same shit. We don’t view loyalty the same way. To her, loyalty was a matter of maintaining social order. It meant sacrificing elements of one’s individuality, and some fundamental part of who you are, for the sake of the group. Which (being someone with a phobia of “groups”) didn’t vibe well with me. Like, I’ve been the shitty friend who chose coolness over genuine friendship in the past. And I’m happy to say I snipped off those toxic needs and desires, and left them at the high school. Now, I don’t care about “coolness” or inclusion and approval. I just want to be around people who can smell bullshit before it happens, and aren’t down with accepting it as ingenuity. Who are content enough within themselves to care about shit that actually matters. (Like protecting gay rights, and the quality of life for minorities, and global warming, and women’s reproductive health. You know?! Real human-shit!) People who understand: You are nobody’s pawn or prop or project. You are not an ego boost, or a joke, or a trash bag. You are nobody’s sidekick! You’re a human individual. And no matter what people say or do, they cannot change that. They can treat you like an object all they want, but you will never be an object. And that’s where the beginning of your power lies, in that one tiny realization. Once you internalize it, you won’t be able to tolerate subpar relationships, friendships, or treatment anymore. You’ll realize that you deserve to be around people who want you to pursue things that are greater than yourself, and are sincere about it. You’ll start wanting to be around people who are good for you.

6.) Never trust a guy who can’t laugh at himself.

A dude legit called my friend a cunt just because we put a snow globe Snap Chat filter over his senior photo and wrote “baby it’s cold outside”. (Ok, we also drew little devil horns on him, and put him in a little chef’s hat…) Which, if he had done that shit to me I would’ve just laughed and said, “lol you’re dumb, kay bye.” But no! To him, “baby it’s cold outside” was cunt worthy! Like! Does he not know how much time, and effort, it took for us to position the yearbook beneath the iPhone’s camera, in such a way, so that Snap Chat’s very fickle face sensors could detect his grainy-ass two dimensional features?! He should’ve been flattered!!!! But, in all seriousness, I just really like to poke fun at people when I’m first getting to know them. It’s my way of feeling out what kind of person someone is, and it’s a backwards way of saying: Hey, you can feel comfortable around me. I’ll even give you a counter example—which is also Christmas themed! Two years ago I was seeing a guy who had some pretty serious dandruff. Which, I don’t know why or how it came up. But one day, while he was driving, I said to his friend, “On Johnny’s scalp, it’s always Christmas morning.” And, for a moment, I was like: Can I not have the social filter of a six year old for like, ten seconds?!?!?! But then the dude just started laughing and said, “For real, it’s just like that!” And I realized he was able to laugh at the quirks in his appearance and character because he was a fundamentally secure person. So basically, anyone who’s illiterate in the art of self-deprecation probably also has a self-awareness level of zero. Like, a guy who can’t laugh at his minor quirks—like the fact that he likes The Real Housewives, or that he can’t keep “there”, “their”, and “they’re”, straight—is probably also severely out of touch with who he actually is. A.K.A. This is someone who can’t accept his ever being slightly dorky, or “uncool”, or fucking human. And all that just divulges down into his being incapable of admitting when he’s a wrong. (Something that will only make you feel crazy and lonely in the long run.) So do yourself a favor and always avoid the guy who can’t laugh at himself.

7) The idea that “if a boy’s mean to you, it’s because he likes you” is totally— 110%—true.

Honestly, I thought this B.S. would end after the ninth grade… but no. Being on the receiving end of catty men’s bullshit is just my lot in life—until society starts admitting it’s sexist and ceases to enable the fuckery that is erratic white boys. (Which, considering Trump’s our president, will not be happening anytime soon.) Until then, I’m just going to have to keep wading through psychos who con me into cuddling them one second, and then, the next, tell me I need to stop being such a “pussy pushover”. (Legit: A guy said that to me.) Anyway, I’m no stranger to this spontaneous male-to-female aggression that’s bizarrely sexual and envious in nature—the kind that says: Hey, I think you’re really smart, and cool, and hot, and you’re making me feel things that I can’t control; can I, like, hate-fuck you and make you question your self-worth for the next 6 to 8 weeks? Some dudes are just so emotionally stunted that, if you kindle even the slightest spark of desire in their black souls, you’ll be named enemy number one: Why can’t she just let me be dead inside?!?! What a bitch! They’re the kinds of guys who can’t help but be mean to the girls they “like”; the kinds of guys who can’t, and will probably never, have a functioning relationship because their romantic algorithms have the complexity of a Matchbox 20 song: I wanna push you down! (Well I will! Well I will!) Basically. If there’s a guy that you have some weird romantic history with, and he goes out of his way to be mean to you—in ways that are both creative and unpredictable; if, to your face, he acts like you’re just shit on his shoe, but then turns around and asks everyone about you; if he withholds closure because he knows how desperately you want it… Then, trust me, it’s because he “likes” you too much. (Which, in his world, translates as you not liking him enough: How dare she refuse to roll with my constant punches!?!?!?) It’s all ass-backwards, but this kind of guy would not take the time to torment you if he wasn’t compensating for the fact that something about you made him go all soft and squishy inside for 1.5 seconds. Like. He’s mad at you because you made him feel something in a world where men aren’t supposed to feel shit. And perhaps—something that irks him even more than that—he’s mad at you for being better than him, in any capacity. Whether you’re smarter, kinder, better looking… it doesn’t matter. He’s pissed and he hopes you feel guilty about it. Which, frankly, just isn’t your problem. Long story short: He’s mean because he “likes” you. So what? That doesn’t change the fact that he’s fucking mean to you! Don’t romanticize him. Dwell on the situation long enough to recognize it for what it is (an immature dude who can’t accept that women are more complicated than sex-toys, capable of inspiring intense feeling, etc…) and opt out of being another boring old ego boost. You’re so much more interesting than that.

8.) The things you would write about your best friend in her eulogy, say that shit to her now.

My best friend read something I wrote about her to her co-workers and, apparently, their collective response was one of astonishment. When she told me this, I said, “What? Why?” Because it wasn’t like I’d written some groundbreaking realization. She said, “I don’t know. I think they’re just not used to people saying something that nice, and deep, about another person; not unless that person is like, dead or something.” And I thought: Isn’t that horrible?!?! It’s something I’ve noticed a lot, especially while creeping on Facebook, this past year. (Is it just me, or was 2016 kind of death-heavy?) It just seemed like everywhere I looked, people were posting statuses about depression and suicide and addiction. (Those “you never know what someone else is going through” kinds of statuses.) And I remember thinking: Why the fuck do we not say this shit when people are alive; when it actually matters? (A girl commits suicide, and suddenly she’s loved beyond measure. Suddenly everyone’s saying everything she probably really needed to hear, before she killed herself. It’s kind of like how the general public treated Amy Winehouse like a fucking joke until she died. And then after? They made her a legend.) This is something I’ve always hated about our culture. We don’t appreciate what’s good when it’s sitting right in front of us; we only appreciate it when its dead and gone and reduced to an abstract concept that we can use to make ourselves feel good, or included, or enlightened… Which, I’m not saying I’m not guilty of this; I so am. I just wish we’d, collectively, be a little more mindful about it. (Like maybe you shouldn’t write a Facebook status about the loss of someone you didn’t really know, and subsequently couldn’t actually value and understand—at least not intimately. Maybe you should be a little more respectful to the friends and family who really “got” this person. Or maybe, just maybe, you should deal with your regret over having not said these things, when it counted, in silence. Recognize that another person’s death isn’t about you, or who you should’ve been while they were alive.) Thinking of all this, I’ve learned that it’s so important to appreciate the people who truly “get” us and value us—in the moment. Friendship is not guaranteed, because nothing good is guaranteed. Not even safety. (No one is exempt from abuse, or cancer, or car crashes. The same way no one deserves these life interruptions and ailments.) For this reason, friendship—a sense that someone is on your side in the world—is such an important connection to maintain, and protect, through proper care and appreciation. Never take it for granted; say thank you when your friend let’s you bitch without judgment; say sorry when you act on jealousy and insecurity, or any other selfish inclination; be honest when you don’t feel like going out, or find other plans; don’t abandon her when she’s sick, or angry, or lonely. Validate her feelings. Remind her why she’s special while it still counts. Life’s too unpredictable to treat your most loyal friends as if they’ll always be there; so be loyal back. You’ll never regret that.

9.) Forgive people.

I know this one should be obvious, but I struggle with it constantly. There are days where I forgive certain people, wholeheartedly. And then there are days where I’m like: Fuck that bitch; I wish her nothing but eternal loneliness and a cracked iPhone. In this way, forgiveness really is a garden that needs to be watered and weeded regularly. It’s the place in our souls where all the lost things go, and we have to ensure that only the good elements take over. (AKA: flowers = understanding & forgiveness; Weeds = bitterness & resentment.) Anyway, I know I’m a serial grudge holder. Something that really came to light when I ran into a guy—someone I grew up with—this past summer. I hadn’t seen him since the seventh grade, but we’d been in the same classroom—pretty much—from grades 1 to 6. In my memory, he’d registered as this mean boy who consistently called me a “stupid pancake face”. So deep-seeded feelings of rejection, tied with memories of his incessant name-calling, didn’t exactly warrant a warm reunion on my end. When he approached me like, “Cat Olson! Where have you been?!?” I leapt backward and looked at him, like: Wtf, dude! Do you not remember the time you sketched a naked woman jumping out of helicopter and told me it was me? Thus ruining my conception of nipples, for life?!?! I just couldn’t wrap my head around his being happy to see me without some underlying asshole-y agenda. Without really thinking, I went all word vomit-y and said, “Do you remember how you used to call me pancake face on a daily basis?” Which ultimately led to a conversation in which I listed off every mean thing he’d ever called me. He looked kind of shocked. His friend walked by and said something like, “Oh, I didn’t know you knew Cat!” To which he responded, “Yeah, and apparently she holds some serious grudges.” And I laughed because: For real! Like the poor guy just got interrogated after twelve years of estrangement: How many times did you call me fat, October 14th 1999?!?!? The mood lightened when I got over myself long enough to remember: People evolve past the sixth grade; he’s not going to call you fat or stupid right now. Instead he asked me the standard, “What have you been up to?” I told him about how I finished my degree in writing last Spring, and then capped the whole spiel off with, “But I’ll probably just end up being a cashier at Dollar General for eternity.” Which, much to my surprise, his response was nice. He said, “I’m so glad you’re doing that. You were always writing, and so creative—I knew you’d wind up being the girl who followed her dreams.” I looked at him like the emoji with slits for eyes, like: What’s your angle? But, deep down, I knew he was being sincere. It was just strange to hear something like that from him. (Someone who I believed never thought much of me, other than: Ew.) It’s interactions like this one that make me believe, somewhere, tucked away in a deep place, our perceived worst enemies hope to see us win. Like, clearly this guy had recognized my strengths from the time we were 12—he’d just always chosen to state my insecurities and weaknesses instead. It was reassuring to know that he’d grown into someone who could be happy for me. Actually, it was a gift. We don’t always get that validation from the people who have hurt us, or bullied us, or talked down to us. But I think it’s good to have faith in the idea that, whether or not you get validation, or a sincere apology, or closure—it’s there. Like: You just never know—for sure—what a person really thinks and feels. The mere thought of you walking around and breathing on this planet could be an absolute miracle to someone else, and still—they might never be ready to admit it. Which has to be painful. It has to be painful, never being able to express yourself fully. It has to be so painful; always having the sneaking suspicion that no one could ever love you for who you really are. To believe it, so innately, that you resent or reject all the people who can, or do, and genuinely want to. It must be so painful, it’s numbing. So don’t add to that pain by clinging to the bad memories of a person who has hurt you, or “wronged” you. Just forgive them, constantly and obsessively. This doesn’t mean you’re obligated to make that person a part of your life, but it does mean you haven’t stopped hoping that, someday, they’ll understand.

 

☁︎

01/01/2017: A little after midnight, full of Fireball and covered in glitter, I was dancing all by myself to ABBA when two large green eyes drew my one-woman party to a sudden halt. They were like two murky fishbowls, filled with some insane flavor of Kool Aid, and stuck in the head of a guy who can only be described as permanently stoked. Just looking at him, I could tell—words like “lit” and “dope” were made for him. A hopeless spazz-ball who scales strange architecture for fun, and never overthinks anything because life reads as one giant “YES!”

“I think I love you,” he said.

And for a moment I felt jolted, like: When you’re 23, 24, 25…

(Especially now, in the new millennium, as landlines are being rendered obsolete, and Mercury just went into retrograde for the eighty millionth time, and attention spans are shrinking at a rapid pace…)

You think you’re dancing all by yourself to ABBA, and then: BAM! You’re staring down the scope of reality, a total lady-killer. You’ve got to make a split second decision that could change, for better or worse, the narrative of your life. You call this process “depression”, you call it “anxiety”, and although no one doubts the legitimacy of these ailments, you start to wonder whether chronic feelings of emptiness and fear are just a natural response to being alive at this point in time. With all this pop-psych banter on sociopath “awareness”, and the empathy deficit, and “toxicity”, you start to suspect that your generation IS mental illness and disorder. That you and your peers are pathologically broken, on a collective level, from having been given a world without limits, and having not evolved enough to comprehend the enormity of that responsibility—

Suddenly your brain goes all ADD, and you remember the guy standing in front of you. You start getting all tripped up on stars aligning, and bad omens. Debating between red flags, and rash feelings. What you want *right now!* vs. how it’ll make you feel later. All the while, feeling guilty. Knowing that, no matter what, it always comes back to ~You~. A nasty thought you repress, long enough, to comprehend that a life-altering statement just came out of someone else’s mouth, flippantly as air.

You realize you’re incapable of not taking things personally: That wall, that flipped switch. How the neon light is hitting the ATM machine the same way it did in 2012, the same way it probably still will when you’re forty. How comparison of the past and future makes you wonder: “Am I happy?” Only to remind you that, with every New Year, there’s a keener sense of urgency, a more paralyzing awareness that things are always changing.

To put it crudely: Time can be a shitty friend, and Biology is a bad boyfriend, and when they started teaming up against you—it hurt your fucking feelings.

Staring into this ridiculous boy’s fishbowl eyes, I realized, at twenty-four, that I am astounded by how subtly things become an everyday part of our lives—debit cards, unlimited data and analog clocks; numbered days and license plates. How adulthood creeps up on you until, suddenly, you’re dropping your car keys on the kitchen table after a long day, trying to remember a time when you didn’t depend on them.

You can become so weighed down by responsibility that you forget to pursue your dreams. While, on the contrary, you can become so transfixed by your dreams that you forget to actually make them happen. (Sway too far in one direction, and you’re settling.) Which is another way of saying your life isn’t yours; you’re letting other people call the shots and your just going with it. Because? Whatever! It feels easier.

I think a lot of us carry around this lie that says: This is as good as it gets. So when we encounter a career opportunity, or a potential love interest, that doesn’t totally excite us but doesn’t totally repel us, we just accept it and quit searching for something better. We trick ourselves into believing we’re comfortable and happy because, for whatever reason, we’re convinced that the pain of shedding old habits, and unfulfilling relationships, is somehow worse than a mediocre life. That familiarity will magically trump personal desire as we internalize the oppressive notion that we should be content with where we are and what we have…

Well—I call bullshit on that.

I am of the mindset that you can be totally grateful without being fulfilled. And that’s where I’m at, at this point in time. (Like, the other day, I found some random girl’s IG and she had a picture of herself swimming with a fucking SHARK! Wearing nothing but a bikini, like it was no big deal!!!! And I thought: WHY AM I NOT SWIMMING WITH MORE SHARKS?!) It’s one of those feelings where, I’m happier—so much happier—than I was this time last year. (I’ve regained my solitude. I don’t feel the need to drink as much. I’m grateful for my job. I’d rather work than party. I’ve started saving money…) But I’m still not at peace with where I am.

Which is good.

It’s a good kind of discomfort that I’ve fought to feel.

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☁︎

Happy New Year, Pretty Readers.

I probably won’t post as much in 2017.

But I feel the need to directly address the random girls who hardly know me, but still take the time to approach me in bars, or to DM me on IG—

Whenever you guys tell me that something I’ve written (on my irrelevant, virtually anonymous blog) meant something to you, I could fucking sob from gratitude. I’m not a writer without any of you, and it means so much that you’d give my long-winded paragraphs, and constant mishaps, a chance. You all make it SO EASY for me to dismiss the negative, unsolicited, white-male opinions that I receive on my work (and life).

So, thank you. (TIMES A MILLION!)

I want you to know, I will always do my best to get it right for you.

The Invisible Man is My Doubt: Thoughts Provoked by a Near Death Experience with My Retainer

“I think about the end just way too much
but it’s fun to fantasize.”
—Twenty One Pilots, “Ride”

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A couple years ago, I almost choked on my retainer. Apparently it slipped off at some point in my sleep and, as it teetered on the back of my tongue, I woke up with it seconds away from plummeting into my throat. After spitting it out, I stared at the ceiling for a solid ten minutes and contemplated how close I’d come to having an obituary that would’ve read like a pun on Spike’s, One-Thousand Ways to Die.

I know.

At some point in time, everyone wonders what the conditions of his or her own death will entail.

Often we like to imagine ourselves dying peacefully in a chair, or vegetative and elderly in a hospital bed. Sometimes, when we’re feeling romantic, we picture ourselves taking a bullet for a stranger at Target. Or else, on the flipside, when we’re feeling nihilistic, we come up with dramatic suicide plans that’ll be utilized when we’re “old and useless.” (These plans usually involve a straight jacket and being ejected from a helicopter flying over Russia, while naked.)

But no one ever thinks, “I’m going to die choking on a retainer.”

After my anti-climatic near death experience, I obsessively thought of gory, terribly dramatic, “What if?” scenarios. Like: What if the elevator moves before I get all the way inside and crushes me? What if I catch Ebola from a fuckboy and start rotting from the inside out? What if I go temporarily insane and start gouging my own eyes out with a steak knife?

Or worse: What if I actually choke on my retainer tonight?

I imagined the paramedics finding me in my bed with crusted drool stains around my mouth and a stray post-it stuck to the butt of my pajamas. One of them would trip over a stack of feminist literature, while the other would survey a pile of dried out carrots and ranch dressing on a plate beside my bed. The room would reek of a dead writer’s last effort.

Then, I imagined how people would react once they heard the news. I pictured everyone saying something along the lines of, “That bitch would choke on her retainer.”

And, somehow, I found this worse than the idea of death itself.

I think because it implied that I would’ve died the way I lived: Clumsily, just hoping to preserve straight teeth.

With this realization, I became acutely aware of all the things I own that are decorated in skulls: T-shirts and tights; a poster of a skull formed by crooked tree branches; a glittery holographic skeleton, hanging from my doorknob. It was like I thought staring at my morbid insides long enough would make me more okay with the fact that someday they’d be my reflection.

Which, living in a society that is obsessed with repressing any inkling of death, it only makes sense that I’d start by repressing any evidence of it on my own face.

(Religious retainer wearing included.)

If I think about it long enough, a walk down the CVS cosmetic aisle really has become an anxiety-fueled practice: Am I willing to sacrifice voluminous glamorous lashes for lengthy natural ones? What are the pros and cons of blackest-black vs. very black? And furthermore, what happens when all the different mascaras stop working and I start getting old?

(The small layer of fat that didn’t used to peek over my waistband makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, like a purr from Hannibal Lector. The bags forming beneath my eyes jump out, like boogeyman, whenever I look in the mirror. And Angelina Jolie’s face, more vital at age forty-one than my own at twenty-four, condemns me to a life of desperation: Can I get a Snap Chat filter, in real life?)

I know it’s silly to be afraid of aging when I’m still so young. (Like: Maybe you should worry about getting a real job, asshole.) But, understand, this premature fear is actually just a way of dealing with an even bigger, much more rational, one—

The fear of dying before I can create a life that can’t be summarized with how I died.

A few days ago, while my mom was driving, I confessed, “You know, I think I’d like to die around forty-five. I think it’d be best if I just F. Scott Fitzgerald-it.” (My logic behind this sudden epiphany being—Forty-five is old enough to have lived, but not old enough to feel old.) Appropriately, “Closer” by the Chain Smokers was playing on the radio, gleefully proclaiming, over and over: We ain’t ever getting older!!!

And I thought: Fuck, we really might not if Donald Trump is president. Which, the thought of it is terrifying: Will the world end? Will everything be erased? Shakespeare, the pyramids, MY FUTURE?!?!?!?!? Never mind the fact that he’s reminiscent of a genocidal dictator! *Cough* Hitler. I HAVE SHIT TO DO!

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I can’t live in New York someday with that asshole in office. How am I supposed to feel safe, in such a populated space, with a hot-head hovering around the big red button?!

NUCLEAR WAR IS NO JOKE!

I envision the whole world, erased. And then I think of me, erased. In this way, I’m no better than the most bigoted Trump supporter. Only instead of being like: No, don’t take my guns away!! The constitution! Equal rights for minorities and women?! Booooo!!! I’m more like: DON’T TAKE THE POSSIBILITY OF MY BEING REMEMBERED AWAY! I’m not ready. Like. I haven’t met Taylor Swift yet! I still need to read Beloved. How does the last season of Orange is the New Black end?! I’m supposed to write something really, really, good someday. I can feel it! I’M NOT READY TO BE A DEAD GIRL YET!

But. Wait. Let me admit something totally paradoxical, and awful—

There isn’t a single girl alive that I’m jealous of. (No offense, I just like myself.) But, the dead ones? SO JEALOUS! Sylvia Plath had my heart (and envy) the moment she said, “I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.” Same thing goes for Amy Winehouse. (My green-eyed monster heard she was known for becoming cutting whenever she felt bored or misunderstood, and it groaned: I want to be known for becoming cutting whenever I feel bored or misunderstood!!!!!) Sometimes I read Marina Keegan’s “Winter Break”, when I’m feeling particularly morose and millennial. And every time I envy her for having written the story equivalent of a knot in my got. How did she craft a world so modern and realistic, and yet—so romantic and irrevocably unsatisfying? Then I cry. Partly because I wish she was still here so we could become friends, but mostly because: WHY CAN’T I DIE IN A TRAGIC CAR ACCIDENT AND GET ALL MY WRITING PUBLISHED?!

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Dead girls. It’s my whitest white-girl complex. Forever young and magnificently angst-y, all preserved in the amber promise of “what could have been”. Like, damn. Can I be too good for this world? I’m pretty fucking sick of it! And still—I understand. All these dead girls died the way I’m afraid of dying: Mid-sentence.

And I know—

In the game of life, you can’t win.

You’re going to lose.

Something is always going to be left unsaid.

Sylvia will never know how it feels to be loved. Amy will never be known for anything more than, “No, no, no…” And Marina didn’t get a say in her first, and only, book.

When I look at the lives of female artists who suicide-ed, and overdosed; whose boyfriends lost control of the vehicle… they all seem so tormented by something they know for sure is going to get them. By some invisible man in the room…

I’ve felt his presence too.

When he whispers into the ear of every artist, every person: What’s the point?

A loaded question that often drives me to type faster, thinking: I’ve got to get to It before It gets to me…

There’s a pain in my right hip, and the alarmist in me whispers: Ovarian cancer.

I think: Don’t consult Web MD. Don’t consult Web MD. Just go to the Doctor…

But I’d rather stay home and write instead.

I’d rather write than pick up the phone.

On the days when my mind feels cloudy with depression, I worry about malaise as a side affect of some pre-existing condition. This makes me type even faster, despite my mind being too fogged up to access the thing I want to say—despite being afraid I’ve never had anything real, or good, to say.

What’s the point?

It’s not death itself that triggers this sense of urgency; it’s the thought of dying and only ever having lived in an unrealized dream.

Drooling and half-choking, with perfect teeth.

Caught between waiting for it to be over and hoping it’ll never end.

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Interview with an Objectified Woman (Love Letters for the Toxically Masculine)

“She knows more about the human condition
and suffering and terror and degradation…
She knows something you don’t.”

—David Foster Wallace, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”

“Here is a flower
that needs no water.
It can grow anywhere,
nourished on nothing.
And yes.”

—Kate Addonizio, “You with the Crack Running Through You”objectification

For the past year and a half, I’ve been working on a collection of seven essay-letter hybrids that are about finding closure in my past romantic relationships, especially ones that have hurt me. Initially, I wanted the collection to be all tongue-in-cheek, written in a “hey, wow, fuck you,” kind of way. But, so far, every essay has wound up sounding more like, “hey, you know what, I just really wanted us to understand each other and I’m sorry that didn’t happen.”

The project has gradually turned into an exploration of objectification, hook-up culture, and how being “used”, in various ways, affects millennial girls. It takes into consideration the experiences, and gender ideals, that have shaped the men of our generation as well. (Why are so many of them controlling and manipulative: Selfish?) All while I, as the narrator, try to make sense of this culture and my part in it. Overall, it’s the story of my struggle to distinguish between romance and reality: Am I really this crazy-emotional, self-projecting, insignificant little girl that all these guys have made me feel that I am? Or am I just trying to love people who don’t understand how to love anyone? Who objectify relationships and the women they share them with?

I know it sounds kind of stupid—like why are you only thinking about this now?—but, until recently, I’d never considered the reality of how damaging objectification is. For me, objectification has always registered as an ambiguous concept that was used to describe distant things, like Britney Spears dancing in a belly shirt with a python. I didn’t consider it an everyday problem, or something that all girls experience—at one point or another—in a way that is traumatizing.

But yeah, Objectification is a major part of being a girl.

Basically, as girls, when we’re treated like a thing—a one-dimensional person—we internalize this feeling of not being entirely real. As a result, we smother our emotions and discredit our perceptions in a way that affects how we relate to ourselves, and the world. Like, this issue is deep. And admittedly, I didn’t fully comprehend that until a past weekend where I did, or almost did, a number of vengeful things that were very uncharacteristic of me. Things that ultimately had me wondering: Have you really become so disconnected from the opposite sex that you had to resort to acting like—this? Like an emotionally abusive asshole? Have you really been so disrespected that you’ve accidentally become a reflection of all the people who have disrespected you?

Bottom line: After enough people have treated you, and spoken to you, like you’re a houseplant, you’re bound to not be the same. You’re bound to feel like “damaged goods” (an objectifying term in and of itself), and you’re bound to approach interactions with new people, especially men, in a way that is often guarded and disconnected—maybe even mean.

So, how do we cope? How do we not become as inconsiderate as the people who have not considered us? How do we protect our humanity despite being angry, and aware of the fact that we shouldn’t have to protect it? How do we not blame ourselves for the ways we have been mistreated, while also, maintaining enough respect to not become hateful and vengeful? Emotionally abusive ourselves?

It all keeps coming back to consideration (which is synonymous with love in this context). It keeps coming back to fighting to stay considerate despite having had your heart broken by inconsideration. Which. Shit. How do we do that when some guys have been cruel in ways that stick with us for life? How do we exercise compassion for people whose emotional world appears to be toxic, or else, completely dead, while also, maintaining boundaries? The answer is—

I don’t know!

This whole thing has turned into one giant cluster-fuck! It’s become cluster-fuck-y to the point where I’m obsessing, and obsessing, and obsessing… Every answer I seem to come up with just immediately morphs into another question. And not knowing how to make sense of everything I’ve been through this past year—getting used by guys, mostly—I decided to divide this whole essay up into questions, and answers. Hoping that maybe it’ll all lead to a satisfying conclusion so I can finally move the fuck on.

Q1: So, what happened the weekend you started obsessing about all of this?

For the first time, ever, I did something with the intention of making someone else feel uncomfortable.

It sounds funny: I wore an Iron Maiden shirt with the sleeves cut off and didn’t brush my hair. I ran up to this guy—someone who used to go out of his way to make me feel uncomfortable, but wasn’t doing so on this particular night—and catapulted middle finger first in his direction; I flicked him off just for existing in the same space as me.

Which, in a lot of ways: It was funny.

Like: HA! HOW DO YOU LIKE IT DICKWAD? *aggressive wink-y face*

But, if I’m going to be honest with myself, it wasn’t funny. I was actively disrespecting someone who was finally respecting me in the way I’d been asking to be respected—by leaving me the fuck alone. And how did I respond?

By pulling some petty, unprovoked, borderline harassment-y shit.

Then, later that same night, I got the urge to hit—to actually, physically, hit—this guy that came out with my group. (Him and I have this unpleasant high school history where he’d string me along emotionally, and then, abruptly, reject me in a way that was straight up insulting, and usually done—intentionally—with an audience.

Example:

Him: Cat hold my hand.

Me: *holds hand*

Him: Gross, I was just joking.

Me: *looks over and seven of his friends are laughing*)

So yeah, after a school year of that humiliation and an incident last summer where he thought it would be funny to rip my hair out, I was still fostering a little bit of animosity.

The whole night I humored his flirting with revenge on my mind—something that never mixes well with alcohol. But it didn’t matter, because I never got justice. Just the same tired shit: Him flirting with me all night, only to say, “Just kidding,” while all his friends listened.

As the whole situation unfolded, I said, “This is bullshit! You’ve always taken advantage of my feelings because you like how it makes you look. You use me to make yourself look desirable.” Meanwhile he just stared back at me, with a full-on smile and a twinkle in his eye that said: I know. What are you going to do about it?

I reflexively clenched my fist, but the moment I realized what I was about to do I backtracked and said, “Get away from me, I’m leaving.”

Because I realized: That is not something I do.

The next day, I felt really weird about being pushed to that point—to the point of being so uncharacteristically violent and vengeful. My guilt was telling me that I deserved the humiliating aftermath. (Revenge should only ever come in the form of a fantasy, or good art—leading a good life. Otherwise, forget it. You’re just going to make yourself look stupid and mean.) But another part of me kept nagging: No. That’s not fair. It’s not fair that you’re blaming yourself for being pushed—disrespected—to the point of not being able to ignore it, of feeling like hitting is the only way to make someone else understand…

Clearly, I felt very conflicted.

Hoping to offset this emotional funk, I went out with some friends. And—you guessed it—even in the company of other people: I felt weird.

Someone who was supposed to be one of my best friends was with me, and the whole night she acted too cool for me—flaky, and aloof, and like I wasn’t there depending on who was around. While also, somehow, giving just enough friend-type attention to make me question whether or not this perception was all in my head.

Then, a little later, the guy I’d been seeing on and off for the past few months showed up. And when I tried talking to him, he straight up ignored me to my face. There was no mistaking it. He looked right at me as I said, “Hi,” and then booked it. Mind you, this is someone who—just hours earlier—had been texting me for a nude, which I didn’t send because I don’t do nudes. (I don’t think I’d be able to resist the urge to make it totally gross and terrifying; I’d probably pose like a Velociraptor.) And the moment we were face-to-face? He was pretending I didn’t exist? Mentally switching me off like some kind of hologram?!

I said, “Well, I guess I’ll just go die in a hole,” for dramatic affect. Then I walked around aimlessly, feeling incredibly disconnected. I felt like the building was an aquarium, and the people around me were fish, and I was just some girl trying to survive in a place where she was meant to drown.

I remember thinking: I’m never going to be normal.

I remember wondering: Am I damaged goods? Is that what this is?

Then I realized: I have been nothing but a prop in the lives of so many people.

Q2: What does that mean?

It’s like, guys, and even some girls, think of me as one of those two-headed babies made of memory foam and sold in Halloween stores. Like, every so often some dude picks me up and shows me to all his friends, like: “Bro, bro—check out this weird ass mutant baby I found next to the sticky bats.” And then they hit each other in the face with me, and decide to buy me because they think it’s funny. Then they take me home and hide me in weird places around the house until October ends and they can finally be like: Okay. Halloween’s over. We can put Cat away.

Or, to put it in less analogical terms: The people who have used me most were the ones who liked knowing I was around, but didn’t necessarily like me. They liked the novelty of me. They wanted to see what a weirdo, relatively attractive, feminist girl was like. But that was it. Because after about a month, something always happened. Like: Shit, this prop is cool, but it’s also kind of creepy and weird. Or, once again, less analogically: Shit, this girl is perceptive. And after this realization it was like: Let’s keep this thing at arms length—like, I like it, but only when it’s making my life interesting, and not so complicated.

At least, that’s how it feels.

Just.

Enough people have told me, You go away when you’re supposed to, and you only come out when I want something extra, that, sometimes, I find myself getting really pissed off, out of nowhere. Like, my capacity for being told to turn off the complicated parts of myself, and to deny my full existence, has finally reached its limit, and now I’ve got to act on all this pent up rage. *Cue Shoshonna* STAY OUT OF MY EMOTIONAL WAY!!!!!

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I flicked a guy off over this!

I wanted to hit someone over this!

I walked the line of becoming disrespectful. Of wanting to consciously hurt someone because I couldn’t put my anger into words anymore.

Being treated like a thing had become so painful that I wanted to force other people to feel it too…

But right before I could cross that line, something always happened.

I always stopped to consider it—

What happened to the men of my generation?

What made them believe abusing women this way was normal?

Q3: Wait, who hurt you?

It’s not necessarily a “who” so much as it is a “what”, and the “what” was the end of my most serious relationship.

After I broke up with my ex, I was so afraid of what he thought that I blocked him on all my social media accounts, and didn’t have Facebook for two years. I had this inexplicable anxiety that made me desperate for a hiding spot; I felt a constant shame for who I was, combined with a deep confusion about what that even meant anymore.

I asked myself: Who am I?

Which eventually led to a deeper, more rhetorical, question: Is it normal to believe you’re nothing without some guy’s approval?

It took a long time, but eventually I understood what happened—

The love I’d grown up with (one that was patient and accepting; above all, conscientious of other people as differing individuals) had been erased and replaced with:

I love you, but only as much as I can control you.

It was like my ex believed love was synonymous with approval; that it was supposed to be some kind of cat toy you could hold over another person’s head, and then revoke the moment their behavior became less than ideal. Like he believed our love was only “good”, or worth anything, when I was scrambling to catch it. When I was being “cute” and mildly desperate—what he wanted, or expected.

After a certain point in our relationship, I was straight up impersonating the kind of girl he wanted because I felt like I wasn’t allowed to be myself anymore. Honesty had become impossible—if I presented any part of myself that didn’t fit the “cute” idea he had of me, he’d get dismissive and reduce whatever it was that he didn’t like as gross, or boring, or selfish—or (worse case scenario) deserving of an icy silent-treatment.

My friends, or people from my past, were: Gross.

The vacation I went on without him was: Boring.

Hoping to study abroad one summer was: Selfish.

Wanting my perspective and feelings validated was: *Silence*

He refused to be happy for me, which made me feel like I was supposed to hate anything that wasn’t him; that it was somehow “wrong” not to. I began to believe that any fault I found in him was due to my own “false” perceptions, and not because of his actual words and actions.

I just couldn’t accept that this person, who I’d fallen in love with, actually resented the brain inside my head. That he’d totally ransack the parts of it that he didn’t preoccupy and eradicate them if it were possible. Why would I want to believe that?

But one day, he admitted to spending a few hours creeping my Tumblr.

He concluded, “I don’t like it.”

He said it with an edge, like something he’d seen had disturbed him.

I didn’t know how to react to the tension, so I feigned ignorance and said,

“Really? I love it.”

End of discussion.

Later that night, I couldn’t dismiss the thought of how irrationally disgusted he’d seemed. Wanting to understand him, I scrolled through my own Tumblr and tried to imagine how it must have looked through his eyes.

I saw cigarette butts stubbed out in a chunk of snow to make an icy porcupine of addiction; a yellow house, half-gone and still standing; Lana del Rey, smiling; two young men sleeping together on a dirty mattress, their limbs entwined, tired but smiling; a black model taking on the runway with two bruised eyes; a gif. of a defeated young man, his dark hair spilling everywhere as he gave up, exhausted, and fell into the lap of a waiting girl; crude writing on the tiles of the Men’s room reading, “IN HER KISS I TASTE THE REVOLUTION”; Dwight Schrute playing “You Give Love a Bad Name” on his recorder; blank graph paper…

I imagined these varying images through his eyes, and I realized—

Where he probably saw disease; devastation; a crazy girl, lying; sin; ugliness; masculine frailty; the male ego being dethroned by female intelligence; the offense of humor among chaos; quite simply, nothing worth thinking about…

I saw the human condition; endurance; an honest artist; love in a hopeless place; beauty that doesn’t care whether or not you agree; what women could be if men would let down their defenses; humor as the only space where chaos can’t bother us; a better future; possibility…

My life had a hopeful undertone that he couldn’t find for himself. He could only watch as I wrote meaning into things, or explained why someone was worthwhile. He could only watch as I made something out of nothing. He couldn’t do it for himself. This life, to him, was all about the physical—money; cars; having a “good” body, and a “hot” girlfriend. He wasn’t concerned with its deeper layers, but I was!

And, in a way, I think he expected me to make his life seem purposeful. I think he expected me to pull the meaning out of him and shove it in his face, like some sort of contract he could sign off on. But I failed miserably at that. I don’t think any human is capable of making another human life make sense—not so resolutely. It’s unfair to expect another person to do that.

See.

Judgmental and controlling were parts of who he was, and I loved him in spite of that. Really. But somewhere along the way, I sensed that it wasn’t right for him to think he could control who I was. And our relationship was going to keep falling apart for as long as he treated my resilience to that control like it was some kind of character flaw.

So I left, hoping it’d inspire him to forgive me for being myself while also knowing that it probably wouldn’t.

Which was the most heartbreaking realization of all.

I realized that my ability to forgive my own humanity, and deeply appreciate it with all its varying manifestations, in others, couldn’t exist in him. That he’d lost it a long time ago, and now, could only experience it vicariously—through a girl (any girl) who he couldn’t help but treat like some kind of prize.

I understood: He held onto me, with such force, because, he knew, something was missing that wasn’t supposed to be.

Q4: Let’s backtrack. The guy who asked for the nude, can you elaborate?

I’d been seeing him on and off since February. He texted me for a nude and when I said, “I don’t do nudes,” he said, “Guess you don’t really like me that much. Ttyl.”

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Three hours later, I saw him in person and he ignored me when I tried to say hi.

After that, we didn’t speak for two weeks.

But—

I’m a grudge-loving Nazi, so I had to eventually confront the issue.

When I started to text him about it, I wanted to say: In what world is texting a girl for a nude, proceeding to manipulate the girl into feeling guilty about not sending the said nude, and then ignoring her to her face three hours later ever an okay way to treat someone?

I wanted to say: Where do you get this false sense of entitlement? Why should I ever relinquish control over who gets to see my body for someone like you? Someone who can’t do anything, unless it’s on his own time? Someone who can’t even say hi, unless it’s on his own time?

But instead I said: “You are a monumental jerk.”

Because, like that one Tom Gates quote, “It’s a lot easier to be angry at someone than it is to tell them you’re hurt.” And anyway, I was bound to torture myself for it. Overtime, I felt conflicted about reverting to name-calling. For the next week, I thought of this guy and ricocheted between contempt and consideration, like:

Who the fuck does he think he is?

But also:

What happened to make his ego so fragile that being told “no” was the ultimate insult?

Who called him a pussy?!?!?!?!

I hate that I gave a shit but, for some reason, I had a really tender soft spot for this guy. There was just something about him that I felt akin to, right off the bat.

He seemed sensitive and like he was hell-bent on punishing himself for it, like someone once shamed him—probably in the name of masculinity—for daring to express a human emotion, and now he walks around feeling simultaneously wounded and annoyed in a way that looks a lot like stoicism. This contradiction of feeling, this being one way, but wanting to be another, to the point where you turn yourself into a walking defense mechanism—I relate to that. And every time I got to a point where I felt comfortable expressing this sentiment, he’d immediately shut me down and tell me I was seeing something that wasn’t there.

Like we’d hang out for three consecutive weekends, and the moment I started showing the desire for a deeper connection (God, kill me: I sound like a contestant on The Bachelor) we’d have to stop talking for a few weeks, like: Lather, rinse, repeat. The whole cycle was straight up stupid on my end because I allowed him to constantly deny any mutual feelings, and be the sole definer for whatever “we” were. When the truth was pretty obvious: It’s not all me, dude. I call, you respond. (And vice versa.)

No part of it was fair, but still—I rationalized for him, empathized with him, and apologized…for having feelings.

One time—because I kissed him on the cheek in public—he said, “You come on too strong,” and, out of habit, I immediately started explaining myself.

I said, “I know, but I like you—I like being around you.”

He said, “Why? You don’t even know me.”

Which wasn’t entirely untrue, so I said, “I know, you’re right. You’re so right. But, listen, I don’t always know how to act when I have feelings for someone. I either come on really strong, or I totally disappear. I—”

I paused to think for a second. I wanted to explain as efficiently as possible; verbal communication hasn’t always been my strong suit, and I didn’t want to scare him off.

“I was in a really controlling relationship. He was super codependent, and going through that has made me want to understand all the ways I’ve been codependent. And I’m learning to not treat other people like extensions of myself…to appreciate everyone as an individual within reason—”

I paused again, thinking: How do I explain? How do I explain the should-be-simple emotion that is appreciating him, as a person? That is wanting good things for someone based on mere observation?

I finally finished, “What I’m trying to say is, I like you in this way where I don’t want to possess you, or like, claim you—I just really want you to be happy.”

Things I left out: Because at the heart of everything, I think you’re very sensitive and open. And you should celebrate those parts of yourself instead of smothering them. Otherwise you’re going to handicap yourself in relationships, and life. You’re never going to be fulfilled if you don’t tell people the truth about how you feel—if you don’t respond when someone strikes up the nerve to ask.

He got cold in this way that he gets, indifferent and dismissive.

He said, “I don’t share those feelings. And anyway, I don’t believe you.”

He kissed me shortly after, but all I felt was punched.

I’d opened myself up to him, over and over again, and was constantly met with a concrete wall.

It wasn’t until this moment that I finally began to accept it:

Maybe this is as deep as he goes.

Maybe what I thought was a wall was actually rock bottom.

 Q5: How did you cope with that realization?

I re-read Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, and seized the opportunity to project my current predicament, all over it. This time around, I read the fairytale like an allegory about the relentless *eye roll* force that is a girl’s love for a boy, and his cold indifference to it.

Here is my very long-winded summary of the story:

A demon creates a mirror that distorts everything beautiful, and magnifies everything ugly. The demon is so pleased with his creation that he travels all over the world and tricks people into looking at it. Which ultimately distorts the gazers’ views of themselves and the world. Eventually the demon decides to up his game by flying to heaven in hopes of distorting the angels’ views too. But on his way up something happens, and the mirror shatters into a million pieces that fall down to earth. The pieces of the mirror get lost in the world, and eventually wind up stuck in the eyes of certain humans. Irreversibly distorting their views of the world. After this intro, the story zeros in on the friendship between a little boy named Kay and a little girl named Gerda. When the two children are first introduced, they both enjoy the same games and have a mutual affection for each other. However one day, Kay gets a sharp pain in his eye. (It’s one of the mirror’s pieces.) And in that moment, Kay begins to resent Gerda and anything that might hint toward the existence of vulnerability. Gerda cries for Kay and he tells her she’s ugly when she cries. Then he begins tearing the heads off roses. (It’s all very dramatic.) After this incident, the two children grow apart. As Kay gets older, he becomes very good at locating the insecurities of others. He learns to use this knowledge to his advantage, and everyone reinforces his behavior by calling this ability “clever”. (A.K.A. Kay is kind of a narcissistic dick and everyone’s just like: “You could be a really great salesman!!!!”) Meanwhile, Gerda never stops caring for him as she observes him from a distance. Then, in the next chapter, when Kay is sledding with some friends, he encounters the Snow Queen—a figure who represents emotional indifference and self-preservation. Kay thinks she is the most beautiful and comforting thing he has ever seen. (Go fucking figure.) So when she abducts him, he goes willingly. The next day Gerda notices that Kay is missing and immediately sets out to save him. In her first attempt to save Kay, she decides to throw her favorite shoes into the river as a sacrifice for his return. But when her shoes come floating back without him, she assumes she didn’t throw them far enough. So she crawls into a docked boat, hoping the shoes can be thrown farther from there. Instead the boat gets knocked loose, and Gerda is carried away by the river. As she floats away, she recognizes that the world away from home is beautiful, but she also realizes that it’s very lonely. (Her loneliness is reiterated throughout the story.) As she searches for Kay, she comes across many happy, safe places with people who want her to stay. But she opts out of every comfortable home. She leaves all sorts of good things behind under the notion that something feels like it’s missing—which is Kay. But before Gerda finds him, she suffers a great deal. When she finally reaches the palace, where Kay is located, she is half frozen. And when she finally finds Kay, he is sitting at a table, doing puzzles and arithmetic—logical things. He is pale and icy and doesn’t even recognize her. After experiencing so much hardship, only to find her friend trapped in such an indifferent state of being, Gerda begins to cry. The heat of her tears thaw Kay’s heart, and he begins to cry himself. His tears are (supposedly) provoked by Gerda’s compassion, and the piece of evil glass is washed away from his eye. He finally sees the ice palace for what it is—empty—and he recognizes Gerda, as his friend. For the first time since they were children, he’s happy to see her. She kisses his face all over, and the color returns to his cheeks. Kay comes back to emotional life, and he’s set free from his indifference. They grow old together, and live happily ever after.

The End.

The main issue I have with this story, as I’ve interpreted it, is that it’s so obviously a fairytale. Totally ideal, with its most realistic aspect being that the life of the female protagonist is difficult and unfair—Gerda does all the G.D. self-exploration!

Gerda sets out to find Kay, and on her journey much of what she experiences is existential: Loneliness, and isolation. The emotional toll it takes on anyone who makes sacrifices for someone, or something, she truly loves. Gerda finds herself. And then she finds Kay. And as a result he finds himself in her. Which: When has that kind of romance ever saved anyone? Especially a boy and his emotional world? When has that ever actually worked anywhere other than in like, A Walk to Remember?

Trick question!

In real life, a girl could kiss a boy like Kay all over, everyday, for years. And the color would probably never return to his face. He’d remain stubborn in his indifference. In what he’s already decided the world is. While a girl like Gerda would remain isolated in her connectedness to the world, unable to share this chaotic, slightly invasive, compassion with the boy who was rendered incapable of feeling it, so long ago.

I swear—

This disconnect is tragic, but it’s real.

Many boys learn that masculinity (to “be a man”) is synonymous with emotional indifference, and as a result many girls learn to repress and compartmentalize their emotions, to self-objectify and disassociate. Which: How do boys and girls possibly relate in a way that’s sincere when they’re both trapped in this discourse that relies on insincerity? On the withholding and smothering of emotion? On so much selfishness and self-annihilation? Like: Hello Passive, meet Aggressive!

Nobody wins in this dynamic!

But I’m willing to argue that the girl definitely suffers more because of it.

As I read “The Snow Queen”, I think the part that stuck with me most was when Gerda threw her favorite pair of shoes to the river. How, when they came floating back without Kay, instead of realizing her own worth—that the shoes were hers—she assumed she didn’t throw them far enough.

Q6: Wait. Have you ever considered that you might be objectifying men?

Of course I’ve felt inclined to ask myself: Do I objectify men?

Or the question has been brought to my attention whenever the subject came up, like:

“Cat, you call some guys fuckboys. Don’t you find that a little dehumanizing?”

And the answer is no.

The word “fuckboy” is often thought of as the male equivalent to “slut”. But I don’t think the concepts behind these words are necessarily synonymous. “Slut” is often used to shame any girl who is different—who challenges our culture’s rigid norms surrounding female sexuality and gender. Or, quite frankly, it’s just a way of saying a woman is sexual in any capacity. And I mean any. From what she’s wearing, to how she interacts with men… all the way down to the fact that she has a vagina. A.K.A. “slut” is always a judgment birthed from ignorance. It’s never grounded in anything real, and it has very little to do with who a girl fundamentally is as a person.

Whereas “fuckboy” isn’t used for men who have “too much” sex, or are “too” sexual. It’s used for men who cheat, and lie, and intentionally play with women’s feelings. Overall, it’s a term used for men who just aren’t very respectful to women. It’s another way of saying: He’s one manipulative dude. Which, I can’t lie. I’m glad we finally have a word for the man who takes “womanizer” to a whole new level. I’m glad “player” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Because male manipulation of female emotion (lying one’s way to a woman’s body) is so commonplace in our culture, that we actually glorify it. And I hate feeling like there’s nothing I can do to make people understand how fucked up that is. To me, the reality of it is so obviously nauseating. Like, why do so many of us fist bump men who are kind of—for lack of a better word—sadistic in their dealings with women? Honestly. My anxiety surrounding this glorification is so acute that I feel like puking whenever I watch Crazy Stupid Love, and listen to Jacob—Ryan Gosling’s “fuckboy” character—dumb his “understanding” of women down into a very mind-rapey science, like:

  1. Play your strengths
  2. Buy her a drink
  3. Never talk about yourself
  4. Keep the emphasis on her
  5. Tell her to go home with you

 

I feel sick because my head is spinning with the question: BUT WHAT’S THE POINT OF DOING ALL THAT IF YOU DON’T ACTUALLY WANT TO GET TO KNOW HER?!?!?!

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What’s the point of having sex with a girl if you don’t actually admire her in some way that goes beyond: “She looks good and she can make me feel good”? Just so you can say it happened? Does anyone really gain anything of substance from that? Does anyone walk away from these “it didn’t mean anything to me” sex-capades feeling good about themselves?

I guess my point is, in all of my “romantic” relationships—whether it was “casual”, or a boyfriend, or a F.W.B.—I valued the other person in a way that went beyond what he could do for me. I found all these guys interesting, and made a genuine effort to get to know them for more reasons than finding them sexually attractive. Because, I decided, even after they ceased to be a part of my life, I’d always want good things for them; that I believed something about each of them was worthy of my respect.

A.K.A. I have never referred to a man as “just sex” and I never will.

So, one night, when the question came up—

“Cat, you call some guys fuckboys. Don’t you find that a little dehumanizing?”

I responded without really thinking, “No, because at the end of the day, no matter what, I still think of these guys as people. I wonder who they are when I’m not around. I consider why they are the way they are, and change my treatment of them accordingly. Do they do the same thing for me? Probably not.”

Which earned a feeble agreement, “Okay. Yeah. I get it.”

After that, for whatever reason, I got the urge to text that guy, the one I thought “maybe this is as deep as he goes” about.

I got the urge to text him even though it’d been another two weeks since we’d last spoken.

Since he’d said, “I don’t believe you.”

I thought: If this were a movie, what would I say to make him believe me?

“The birthmark beneath your eye makes me crazy…”

“The most beautiful essay I’ve ever written was about you…”

“Last weekend when I was out of town, I felt homesick for the first time since I was little and all I wanted to do was see you…”

To say any of that would be insane.

Humiliating for us both since he doesn’t feel the same.

This is real life, what difference would any of it make?

I confessed to my friend, “I want to text him.”

And she snapped me out of it, reminding me of my own conclusions.

She said, “Cat—he doesn’t think of you, as a person.

Q7: So, how did that night end—I mean, instead of what texting him would’ve probably led to?

Some female acquaintances and I sat around a TV until five in the morning. We watched rap music videos. Most memorably, Drake’s “Hotline Bling”. We wanted McDonald’s but we were too drunk to drive. So. Being incapable of stifling our appetites, and wanting something to complain about, we started discussing “the way guys are now,” and giving detailed accounts of our most recent “romantic” hang-ups.

The conversation eventually set me off and had me saying, “My disappointment isn’t even really about ‘wanting a boyfriend’ and then getting rejected. It’s more about dealing with this realization where I’m like, Wow, you really think this little of me, over and over again. It’s exhausting. It’s got nothing to do with ‘commitment’ or ‘wanting something more’, it’s just about wanting to meet someone who doesn’t have some ulterior motive when he’s getting to know me…or like, isn’t just putting on some kind of show so he can say he ‘got’ the weirdo feminist girl for his douche-y trophy case. Basically, at this point, all I want is for a guy to say ‘I’m sorry I hurt you’ instead of telling me that my feelings are all my fault and I shouldn’t—”

At which point one girl interjected, “It sounds like you want to be loved.

The way she said “love” you’d think I’d described something completely unthinkable, undesirable even. She said it with a level of aversion that implied she’d come to some sort of conclusion about me that screamed: Weak. (Capital ‘W’.) Meanwhile, I was thinking the thing I’d just described was a crumbling expectation of basic human decency in “romantic” relationships—not “love” necessarily.

I felt like saying:

And what do you want to be when you’re 80?

Still praying on a 3 AM ‘Sup?’ text?

What is it with our generation and its aversion to attachment in “romantic” relationships? Why do we spend so much time denying it when the majority of us feel it, or, at least, want to feel it? Why do we pretend it doesn’t matter when it isn’t there? That it doesn’t hurt when we’ve been “used” or “objectified”?

All night I wound up wondering:

WHERE HAVE ALL THE REAL PEOPLE GONE?!

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Q8: What do you mean by that?

It feels like, whenever I’m around my peers, I’m standing in a group of four-dimensional objects pretending to only have three. Pretending that their “relationships” with all the other objects are as simple as complimentary pairing, like salt and pepper—You’re a boy and I’m a girl. We are straight. Therefore we go together, like so. *awkward hand clasping* Meanwhile, I’m just standing in the corner like:

SALT, DO YOU EVEN THINK PEPPER IS SPECIAL?!

(And vice versa?)

I think it’s difficult for our generation to ask these questions when “pursuing” someone. Mostly because it means acknowledging a fourth dimension in ourselves, and the person we’re pursuing. It means asking: Is this desire based on anything real? Which means stepping into deeper water, and also asking: Am I doing this because I “want” her? Or because I want to be with her?

Depending on the answer, asking these questions might mean someone’s conscience saying, “No, you can’t have that.” It might mean realizing that another person’s autonomy and feelings are more important than what we “want”. Which is hard! I’m not saying it’s easy to get real and say: You can’t have that thing that you want, because that thing is not a thing; it’s a person and should be treated as such. It’s hard to forgo what you want in favor of protecting what is real.

Like—

No wonder that guy didn’t “believe” me when I said, “I don’t want to possess you…I just really want you to be happy.” Navigating the very vapid, very empty, “hookup” culture that is millennial “dating” would make anyone jaded—maybe even annoyed—in the face of something so sincere. It’d make anyone believe “I like you” is synonymous with, “I want to own you,” and not a selfless attachment to someone else. Like: I want good things for you, even if those things have nothing to do with me.

I understand why he didn’t believe me!

But, the thing that sucks is: I did mean it; I still do.

I still mean it despite the fact that we didn’t end on the best foot, and despite the fact that it ended with me admitting a lot of unrequited thoughts and emotions that I’d stifled—a conversation that ultimately made him back away. I still mean it despite the fact that I never got the validation I wanted—knowing whether he cared for me in the fundamental way you care for someone who is a part of your life, however temporary. That he understood: I am a person

See, for the longest time, I was trying to force him to recognize me, to think of me as deeply as I thought of him. I kept telling myself: If I could just say the “right” thing, or explain what I feel in the “right” way—then he’ll understand! He’ll respect my feelings then! I was being little Gerda, always thinking she didn’t throw her best shoes far enough. I wasn’t taking my own advice: Life is not a fairytale. You’re kisses don’t open dudes’ eyes to jack-shit…

In real life, at some point, if someone’s not making any effort to understand you, when you’ve been nothing but understanding with him, you’ve got to get real with yourself and say: My love won’t pull him into emotional consciousness. When you throw your best shoes forward and they come floating back, you’ve got to remember: I love him, but I love me too.

You’ve got to take your shoes out of the river, because—

You cannot save anyone.

(Especially someone who does not want to be saved.)

You cannot make anyone understand your reality.

(Especially when they don’t want to understand it.)

You can only love them, and sometimes that means leaving them alone.

(Stop kissing what doesn’t want to be kissed!)

Sometimes you can only ever love someone, safely, from a distance.

 Q9: Wait…what’s this whole thing about again?

I guess this has become about more than objectification of women. It has also become about the men who objectify women; the men who don’t see them clearly for who and what they are.

It’s about objectification in general; how we use people and hurt them through our using; how we objectify relationships and “love”, and forget the importance of genuine connectedness and understanding.

It has become about what we say and don’t say, about how confusing the dating world (and life) can be when we live during a time where it’s considered “weird” and “crazy” to say how we really feel.

Ultimately, it’s about love and our generation’s anxiety surrounding that level of empathy for another person. Why, for some reason, we find that level of empathy shameful. How I, personally, don’t know how to relate or cope in this insincere culture where empathy is considered shameful—practically “asking” to be taken advantage of…

In short: I don’t understand our generation because it’s not easy for me to close myself off to other people.

 Q10: How so?

I’m eager to love—almost always ready to forgive to the point of self-induced amnesia. In a way, I’m gullible. I want to believe that everyone has a chance; that we’re all capable of dramatic change. That at the core of everyone is an innate desire to be sincere and love for the sake of loving. Despite whether or not it gets us anything in return. Like—

I’m the kind of person who feels more when she looks at the back of rusty van than when she looks at a Lamborghini. I am sentimental and idealistic; I hold onto the good in every person I meet, for dear life. You have to pry it out of my fingers. Slap me in the face with reality, over and over again, before I begin to see a toxic person clearly.

It’s very difficult for me to believe that there are people in the world who are not like this. That there are people who will consciously use whoever’s closest and most vulnerable; who will start relationships based on how much they can take without giving. Who think of the people in their lives as tiny objects caught in their orbit. Who believe that nothing outside their control could ever possibly be beautiful—or worth anything.

But this whole year has felt like one long lesson in: Cat, these types of people exist and you are exactly the kind of person they take advantage of.

And I didn’t know how to cope with that realization! I tried being “okay” with being treated like a piece of debris in someone else’s orbit, out of love. Because: He’s had a tough time. Because: I can see he’s hurting. Because: I can’t just abandon someone like that… And then, when that got to be too emotionally taxing, I started dishing out a bunch of well-earned “FUCK OFF”s.

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Neither way felt right, or good. I can tell you that much. It wasn’t easy, finding the happy medium between caring for people who’d continuously hurt me, and maintaining a sense of dignity. Honestly, it was a really confusing, painful, rage-inducing process; I was constantly plagued with self-doubt. Always thinking I should have held on a little longer before I decided to let go—

And that’s the other thing! These people who were bad for me, who treated me like a thing, they had a way of holding onto me too! They had a way of sensing when my compassion was about to wear off, because that’s when they’d suddenly turn around and treat me like a person. It was so painful and confusing—never knowing what to expect like that. To allow so many people to treat my sense of worth as if it should come with a price tag. To convince myself that, for whatever reason, they had a right to do that.

Q10: Can you be more specific?

That guy, the one I flicked off at the beginning of this essay, he treated me like a thing.

For at least three months he had me feeling like life was Cruel Intentions, and I was Reese Witherspoon. Seriously. I think he saw my mutant-baby-doll self (remember that analogy?!) across the room one night, and thought: Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I played with that? As a result, he convinced me to like him, and then, once he accomplished that, he became hell bent on punishing me for it. There’s no point in trying to make sense of it. The fact of the matter is: It hurt realizing I’d just been a point on his scoreboard, and then, for whatever reason, his favorite pissing ground.

So. Yeah.

I got drunk and flicked him off.

It was one of the many ways my conflicting feelings manifested themselves.

But, after everything was said and done, it wasn’t a true representation of how I really felt about the situation, or him, or even myself.

Clarity came later, when I had a run-in with him at the grocery store.

Where, the moment we recognized each other, we both stopped and just stared.

Q11: Was Ellie Goulding playing on the radio?

*YOU DON’T MESS WITH LOVE YOU MESS WITH THE TRUTH!!!!*

I can’t remember because I was too busy staring at his eyes, how they’re equal parts empty, and enchanting. How it’s the emptiness that makes them so enchanting. You could fall into it over and over again, be whatever he needed you to be as long as it meant he was looking at you…

I thought of the book I was reading at the time—The Diary of an Oxygen Thief. How the main character admits he gets off on abusing women, emotionally; how he rationalizes his complex under the conviction that his female victims are actually more sinister than himself. With, what he perceives, as a very “female” narcissism and lack of self-awareness. He puts it like this, “They say the sea is actually black and that it merely reflects the blue sky above. So it was with me. I allowed [them] to admire [themselves] in my eyes.”

Thinking of that, I wondered more deeply: What does it say about me if I wanted someone like him to love me, so badly? (Writing this now, I’m considering the thing I don’t want to consider: What does it say about me, when I’m so clearly using him as a character in my story? When I’m using a two-person experience to create an allegory that might only work in my favor? Only communicate what I saw or wanted to see?)

I thought of us as two worn out objects belonging to the same drawer: The toxically masculine and the self-indulgently feminine; he’s the Kanye to my Taylor, a total anti-muse.

I realized: If there’s one thing we have in common, it’s jealousy.

 Q12: Which means?

He is jealous that I am allowed to cry and want and create; that I can express myself in a way that is open and all my own; that I possess a hope that cannot be taken; that no amount of humiliation, or neglect, or manipulation, is enough to stop me from finding a better life…

And I am jealous that he is allowed to be unapologetic; that people will always make excuses for him—will respect him based on nothing. That he can fuck and use and take and leave whomever he wants; how he can walk away from so much pain and never once consider himself damaged…

I swear.

Staring at him, staring at me, I didn’t want to hate him. Honestly, my first instinct was to run up to him and say, “Hi!” Ask him how he was; choose amnesia. I wanted to act as if the one moment when we laughed together, and maybe even genuinely liked each other, was the only one that was ever real. I wanted to forgive him.

I wanted to say: I wish we could start over, as real people.

But I couldn’t do that.

Q11: Why not?

Because, when he walked away, I realized I was shaking.

That it’s true when people say, “People forget what you say and do, but they never forget how you made them feel.”

That I’ll never forget how he made me feel. Which, apart from one moment in time, was insecure. Like I didn’t have as much of a right to be here as anyone else.

That I can’t deny the truth: He wasn’t just the person I laughed with that one time. He was an infinite number of people. A whole goddam sea of experiences, and complexities, and contradictions, that—for the most part—failed to come together in way that made me feel worthy of anything good…

It feels like I’m constantly forgiving air, because:

Is he there?

Was he ever?

Do I matter?

Did I ever?

It’s suffocating, never knowing how much, or how little, you mean to someone else—

or even yourself…

Q12: How do you move on, from these years of being “used”?

First, I need to acknowledge that I have changed. Walking away from all of this (a relationship founded on conditional love; a guy who could kiss me one minute, and then the next—couldn’t care less what I thought or felt; a guy who saw me laughing across the room and consciously decided, “Wouldn’t it be funny…”) has changed me. But not in the negative ways you might expect.

One night my friend and I were joking around, jadedly, when I laughed, “What if the general population can be divided like this: 25% are narcissists, 25% are sociopaths, 25% are psychopaths, and only 25% are empaths? Like, what if, basically, 75% of the population is horrible, and only 25% is kind of okay?”

He said, “I was going to say 98% is horrible but I guess that’s why you’re the idealist.”

We both laughed before he continued, more seriously, “Really though, Cat, your problem is you refuse to admit you’re above anyone. And I love your idea behind it. I can tell your mom taught you to give people the benefit of the doubt, which is so beautiful and right and innocent. But…”

I let him think. Even though I knew I was probably about to take an emotional blow that I wouldn’t agree with.

He finished, “It’s just not what people do. And you need to understand that you’re a human in a world of drones and apes—the guys you date, I could tell they were terrible in five seconds. So. Stop choosing to give your kindness and creativity away to worthless fucking assholes.”

I knew he was trying to compliment me, but the word “worthless” made my heart drop into my stomach. And I realized this might be due to differing experiences related to our genders. It might have something to do with—he’s a white male in a first world country, the most elevated form of privilege. While I’m a female who, although also white, and in a first world country, has been subjected to a sense of worthlessness, so real, that hearing anyone being called worthless doesn’t feel like a compliment. Instead it feels like a tender soul-bruise just got bumped, and now my nerves are ablaze with some deranged compassion. (One that’s probably akin to Stockholm syndrome.)

I couldn’t help but react, as always, emotionally.

I snapped, “I refuse to ever regret caring for anyone. I will never regret that, and I’m sick of anyone who tries convincing me I should. It’s not my fault if someone sees this quality and decides to use it against me—it’s not my fault. I didn’t choose it. I don’t condone it. And I refuse to become bitter because of it, to think of myself as ‘above’ anyone. Those guys should probably figure some shit out and learn about introspection. I get that. Maybe they should even try being a little more like me. I’m not so pride-less that I haven’t thought of that. But at the same time, they’ve totally wrecked my ego in a way that’s actually really valuable, and moving. So. Maybe loving an asshole is a lot like having a bad acid trip! Or something. I don’t know! But it doesn’t matter. Because, despite everything, all the manipulation and bullshit, I still don’t have the space in my heart to believe anyone is actually worthless. It goes against who I am. I’d be a hypocrite. I can’t do it. Even if I ever accidentally say it, I don’t mean it.”

He said, “Whoa, that’s beautiful,” and I chugged my beer to offset the turmoil explaining this resilience had inflicted.

Eventually we went for a walk, and at one point I found myself standing at the cusp of some woods. Everything beyond the first row of trees was black and whispering with crickets. I stared intently at the darkness and felt an ache that I’ve always found both gut wrenching and inspiring, like staring into the past. The lie of it all was so tempting. How nothing in the future could ever possibly be better…

It’d be so easy to walk into those woods and never come back.

It’s the first thought I have whenever I stare into any black space really, an intense desire to disappear and become as unreal as this world has made me feel. It’s just like staring into the past. A pseudo-unknown. You think it’s ballsy to dwell there, and then you remember. The lights were turned on a long time ago. You won’t find anything better because you’ve seen it all, and the mystery was… never really there. So you’re forced to understand that the real darkness, in this cruel world where people use people, is where love is still possible. In all that land surrounding those woods, so laden with other people. The only true unknown…

To keep loving, in spite of inevitable suffering.

Which is the second thought I have whenever I stare into black spaces, or the woods at night—

Into the eyes of a boy who believes that the sea is actually black and it merely reflects the blue sky above…

Staring into those woods I thought:

So what if I only saw what I wanted to see.

How could that be wrong, when all I wanted to see was something good?

I forgave everything:

To the ones who hurt me, and used me, and treated me like a thing, you might not understand this but—

Here is a flower that needs no water…