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.

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

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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.

giphy2

Come Over, I’m Dreaming: My New Year’s Resolution is to Never Stop Looking for Meaning Even Though I’m Always Depressed and kind of Mad

So all the cups got broke
Shards beneath our feet
But it wasn’t my fault.
And everyone’s competing
For a love they won’t receive
‘Cause what this palace wants
Is release

—Lorde, “Team”

12/31/2015: I keep forgetting about the approaching New Year. At work, customers keep saying it, “Happy New Year!” and every time I regard the polite gesture like a slap in the face. I say, “Wait, what?” instead of the only appropriate response, “You too!”

Just, what even happened in 2015?! Who am I?! Where have the days gone?! I feel like I just woke up from a year long bender, like, the only evidence of 2015 is the crusty sleep sticking to the corners of my eyes as I roll over and interrogate, “Where am I? Who are you? What happened?!?”

I’ve just been so indifferent. I feel nothing about the New Year except: I want to drink.

See, for me, a nice dull state of depression has set in like the weird humid fog that has embraced Western New York in a semi-warm temperature that isn’t characteristic of the holiday season. Like, I think I’ve given up on feelings the same way the climate has given up on winter…

This is nothing new though. I have a habit of mentally checking out for weeks at time. I’ve been this way ever since the first grade when all my teachers told my parents I was mentally challenged because I spaced out a lot and never spoke to anyone. Obviously, however, I was not mentally challenged. I was just bored. You know. I was busy—busy dreaming of a world where people didn’t just assume I was mentally challenged…

Anyway, that’s how December has felt: like a sad dream birthed from dissatisfaction and boredom. Sleeping has become a highlight and avoiding everyone is an effortless pursuit. All I’ve wanted to do these past few weeks is stare into the fridge and eat nothing, read essays by up and coming angry white dudes, day dream at my job that I’m way overqualified for, and drive my car around listening to Lorde’s album on repeat as I feel nostalgic for shit that’s never even happened.

God.

I am so fucking bored—I feel in want of nothing. Nothing pains me; nothing excites me…I just want to be alone and detached, to float past anger and disappointment as if none of these things were ever mine at all…

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! *kazoo!*

So, this morning—New Years Eve—when I woke up from a dream about hiding from an angry mob in a snow castle with a has-been pro hockey player named Chester, I thought: Maybe I should try interpreting this dream, or doing something, anything, remotely out of the ordinary. So I Googled—because I have the journalistic skills of a monkey—“dreams about snow”. And the first explanation I got was, “snow means you are feeling indifferent, alone, and neglected” to which I thought: Okay, no shit. Then I searched an online dream dictionary for “castle” and read, “this dream indicates your desire to escape from life’s daily problems…to live in a castle represents your extreme need for security and protection to the point where you may be isolating yourself from others.” And the gullible part of me that reads horoscopes and takes every word to heart was like: Truuuuuuue. Until, finally, I looked up “hockey” and got a simple interpretation, “hockey is analogous to how you are achieving and protecting your goals. It also suggests that you may have dealt with a lot of hard blows in your life.” After which I deflected: Damn, poor Chester.

Final analysis: I should probably stop hiding in the metaphorical snow castles of my subconscious—this weird state of indifference—and actually start pursuing the next chapter of my life because, you know, years fly by and one day you wake up and shit—you’re a has-been like Chester, or, even worse, you’re MARRIED to fucking Chester. So, armed with this analysis, I started to actually contemplate 2015. I started recounting everything that happened, in retrospect: What happened at the beginning, and what happened at the end? How do I feel about it? What do I want? What does the future hold? Do I have any control? Then I began to form, for the first time ever, a resolution that I think I’ll actually be able to keep.

☁︎

2015 started like this: The ball dropped and, with no one to kiss, Emily and I hugged like the world was ending. For that second, 2015 was beautiful—Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt, goddamit!—but then some onlooker, a guy, said, “MAKE OUT WITH EACH OTHER!” and the moment was ruined. Welcome back to reality, ladies. It’s 2015, and you’re still in this slimy bar with these slimy dudes. *one more time, kazooooooo!*

The night that followed involved me accidentally shooting whiskey out my nose and offending a guy because I told him that he had a “body like a cactus.” Who am I even? Another guy put his hand on my leg when I said something about feminism and I felt the incoming of a chastising thought: That’s what I get for wearing fishnets. Then me and Emily made out with the same dude. Happy New Year! I’m gross and so are you!

I remember thinking: It takes years to change, not one night, not one week leading up to that one night. We should reflect on our choices and the course of our lives for more than just the one designated day in the year that makes us feel obligated to reflect in the first place…this is why I have never liked making resolutions. It’s why I’ve never taken New Years seriously. When the clock strikes midnight, we’ll still get drunk. We’ll still make mistakes. We’ll go back to our lives, not much different than the way they were the day before. Real change takes time. Not just this one week; not just this one night, this one time of year. Let’s have fun now. Worry about it tomorrow. Or don’t. Who cares.

“You have a body like a cactus.”

Get over it, or do something about it. Either way, stop taking yourself so seriously.

☁︎

12/31/2015: All the Christmas gifts I received from my friends this year seemed to share a common theme: Laziness. No joke. Every single gift I got from my friends emphasized a different component of my newly developed I’m-Indifferent-To-Life complex. The first one being: Social Laziness. I ripped the tissue paper off a wine glass that said, “I will never be drunk enough to like you.” Then, the second one: Professional Laziness. I uncovered a T-shirt that said, “I hate my job.” (My friend would defend this purchase by saying, “You know, you like writing. But you always hate your actual job…that’s why I got it. Don’t hate me.”) And finally, the third: Hygienic Laziness. Another T-shirt that said, “Straight ‘Outta Bed”, in the style of “Straight ‘Outta Compton”…

I remember sitting there, in a pile of I-could-care-less-about-everything-and-you paraphernalia and wondering: Wow, is my lethargy THAT obvious? I really thought I was doing a good job at faking an interest in being a functioning adult…

Which only led to more self-conscious thoughts like: Maybe this is the year I finally cross over and become a full-fledged nihilist. I sleep next to a crusty bowl of yogurt every night. So. Yeah. I’m preeeeetty hedonistic…

Brief hiatus: Recently, at work, a customer mocked me to my face.

I was just trying to explain why her dumb ass gift-wrap was ringing up a dollar fifty instead of fifty cents—I know, right? God forbid she pay one fucking dollar more than what she initially expected. But anyway, I simply said, in a monotone voice, “This wrapping paper was originally three dollars, so like, you’re still getting the fifty percent off sale. It just wasn’t one of the dollar rolls. That’s why it’s ringing up this way.”

And I shit you not, she closed her eyes half-way, swayed her head around like she was trying to keep her balance, and made this weird monotone stoned-person voice as she restated what I’d said, “So like, you’re still getting the fifty percent off sale…Who’s your manager? Where’s a real worker?”

My jaw actually dropped. It took everything in me to not say: You presumptuous cunt—YES, SHE DESERVES EVERY CONSONANT AND VOWEL!—forgive my lack of enthusiasm. I’m not exactly happy about being overqualified, underpaid, and then constantly shit on because of trite crap, like your dying dream of getting gift-wrap for free. But I didn’t. I clenched my teeth. I hissed out a smile and directed her to a “real” worker, “The store manager is over there. Have a nice day.” *poop and sparkle emoji, bitch* (I now wear my “I hate my job” T-shirt underneath all my work clothes. I delude myself into believing that a world exists where I can rip off my work polo like superman and reveal who I truly am: I hate my job; I quit. Thank you for the gift of semi-liberation, Emily.)

Anyway, the whole point is, on top of my apathy—I. Am. So. Angry. At all times. I honestly believe my conscious effort to maintain a state of indifference is actually just my only alternative to not being in a constant state of rage. So yeah. 2016? Suck my dick. I don’t have the time or energy to contemplate resolutions, new beginnings, “looking forward” to a glittering something. Because, right now, my main focus is maintaining a certain level of cool—not ripping the first person to rub me the wrong way a new one, every second, of every day. Like: Don’t explode—be cool—don’t explode…

Well-meaning customers say, “Happy New Year!”

And I think,

I hope the sun explodes so I don’t have to.

Right before I smile and lie,

“You too!”

☁︎

2015 ended like this: Life sucks, guess I’ll wear a giant bow. I put the gaudy thing on my head and felt satisfied with myself for a whole two seconds. I strapped a sparkly pink purse shaped like a unicorn to my body and thought something insane like: Now I’m ready. I’m ready to be happy. Emily and I pre-gamed and watched Pippi Longstocking as we got nostalgic for A Little Princess. “Oh my god I loved that movie more than anything,” she said, “I think I’d cry if I watched it now.” And I said, “Dude, I was that girl. I daydreamed and made up stories all the time because the world felt so boring until I had time to rearrange it all inside my head.” Coincidentally, I said this as Pippi Longstocking punched the shit out of a dunce cap and, eventually, flew away from all her problems.

Later, at the bar, an acquaintance sat down next to me and asked, “How’ve you been Cat?” and with my social-filter worn thin by vodka I said, “You know. The standard. 100% indifferent to everything.” He said, “Same.” Then we giggled over Nihilist Arby’s tweets like: “Dildos, Arby’s, and the finality of death”, and “Your life will be forgotten, enjoy Arby’s”, and “Come to Arby’s and contemplate how old you’ve become”, and, finally, my personal favorite, “Pretend you’re not dying. There is no God, from Arby’s”. After that one, still laughing, I said, “What if that was how people capped off casual everyday statements? Like: Happy New Year, there is no God…Why is it so funny?! How did roast beef find nihilism?!” He laughs and I’m so glad he gets the joke. I’m so glad he’s got sleepy blue eyes that understand why I need this pillow-y dream called depression. I’m so glad that something about him reminds me of a Dalmatian Ty Beanie Baby…But—you can only be comfortably drunk and enjoying the company of a guy who actually appreciates you for so long before your vices sense your newfound fun and decide to disrupt everything via text:

Where are you?

The whole time I was thinking: Do not text back. It’s a trap. It’s always a trap.

But a knot in my gut—a reckless hope that maybe he was finally ready to be normal—had taken control of my thumbs and, suddenly, I’d started typing against my will: I’m at location A. Where are you?

Location B, he typed, About to go to location C. Who you with?

And drunk-me texted back, a little passive-aggressively: The world.

Which was a joke. Like, I was drunk—just being stupid. There was nothing to get. The whole conversation didn’t have to crumble because my drunk-self sent one text that didn’t make any sense…

What? He asked.

Do you want me to come to location C? I sent back.

Nope. He said.

And with that final ping-sounding rejection, I felt it coming. I was about to explode.

Why even text me? That’s idiotic. I sent.

And with every minute that went by without a response I was thinking: Be cool. Don’t explode. Do not explode. Be cool, be cool, be cool…But no, I violated the number one rule when communicating with unrequited crushes. I double, triple, quadruple, texted:

Why are you so mean to me?

What’s even the point?

*middle finger emoji*

☁︎

2016 started like this: I let forty-five minutes pass without an explanation, and during this time, I contemplated every awkward situation, every weird and confusing position, this guy has put me in. All the times he’s told me to do one thing, and then just as quickly said, Wait no, don’t. Literally. One time he texted me verbatim: Come over, I’m sleeping. Which is practically the equivalent of saying: Come over, I’m not home. Like, I don’t know what you want from me dude. You’re going to have to be a little more explicit. Or. Just. You know. Don’t contact me at all…

I recounted all the times I flat out asked him to just give it to me straight, to say something cut and dry, like: I just don’t like you that way. How he refused to do it, because surely, I was an ego boost that felt really good whenever he was alone—Why give that up if you don’t have to? I count the times I’ve told him, “If you don’t really want anything to do with me, seriously, just leave me alone.” Like, honestly. Don’t contact me. Please. I’m begging you: IGNORE ME HARDER. But he won’t. Instead he continues to ruin my fun, through his fucking cellphone.

How selfish. How calculated. How fucking mean. And I know you can’t control people. I know there’s nothing you can do to change them. But fuck, I thought, so what if he’s emotionally impenetrable, so what if it won’t change anything—It’ll feel so good—for me—to say what I think…

And suddenly, I had one resolution: Explode on this motherfucker.

I put it into action. I typed it all out:

I’m trying to figure out all the ways to tell you to fuck off, but seriously, fuck off. Do not talk to me. At all. For any reason. I don’t like you at all as a person, and you are exactly who I thought you were. So. Just leave me alone. Fuck off.

And the moment I hit send, I smiled like a maniac because: I was so relieved.

Don’t get me wrong; I was still miserable as fuck for the rest of the night. One poor guy almost got caught in the crossfire. He approached me, moments after the big send-off, saying, “You’re too beautiful to be so sad.” Which, lucky for him, my friend noticed my head spinning around like the exorcist and intervened before I got the chance to rip his face off. “No…that’s okay. We’re good,” she said.

Another person said, “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone.” And I know this consolation was supposed to be a nice gesture, but I couldn’t help but totally bristle at it. Because, like, I really couldn’t give a flying fuck whether or not I “find someone”. I just want evasive jerks to leave me alone. Or, you know, for someone to match my sincerity instead of taking advantage of it for a change. *resting bitch face*

I was relieved, but I was also exhausted.

All I wanted was to be alone…

And then I heard that un-holy ping of my phone. Apparently my “fuck off” explosion had provoked a response, the message said: Come to location C. Please.

“Is this a joke?”

I responded: No.

⭐︎

When I finally got home, I looked in the mirror and checked the symmetry of my face to make sure it was still there: Too beautiful to be so sad. I thought in response: Yeah, that’s what they all say: “Too beautiful, too beautiful…” What the fuck is my life? Am I Effy Stonem on a bad trip in the woods? Am I that sick in the head? That desperate? Startling the nearest “nice guy” awake by screaming, “Hit me! I want to feel something!”? Getting reprimanded like: “Too pretty for your own good, that’s why you destroy everything you touch”? Ugh. Fuck off. Quit bringing peoples’ faces into this. It doesn’t matter how beautiful you are, people still treat you like shit. You’re still always going to be enchanted by the one person who refuses to see you…

I crawled into bed, my makeup still on and already irritating my skin—but I didn’t care. My mind was finally shutting up and all I can remember is the last thing I heard, right before drifting off to sleep for the first time in 2016…All I remember hearing is Lana Del Rey’s sad-siren voice, brainwashing me: You’re my cult leader / I love you forever / I love you forever…

☁︎

I feel really out of control when it comes to pretty much everything in my life. Can’t you tell? Isn’t it obvious? Good. I’m over pretending. I’m over smiling and saying, “Have a nice day.” Because it’s not nice at all, it’s actually like this: There is no God. Enjoy your roast beef sandwich.

Just kidding.

Sort of.

I don’t know.

I’m just so sick of being treated like I’m light and silly.

Like I’m air:

Where’s a real worker?

Do you want to see me?

Nope.

Every single external aspect of me is a conscious effort to not be perceived as light and silly. Armor against my reality: I am naturally inclined to see you before me; one of those girls who says her pain’s a two when it’s actually a ten, because—I don’t want to discredit whatever level yours might be. In a word, I am Vulnerable. Extremely susceptible to the whims and charms of anyone who lacks a moral compass that only comes by being acutely self-aware.

Therefore I wear black to seem more intimidating—boots and high top sneakers to disrupt my obvious femininity. I try to be as thin as my health will allow because bone visibility implies that I am not afraid to go without: Hold me around the middle and comment on how small I am. See? I don’t want anything from you. You make no difference to me. I keep quiet in numbers—around anyone I don’t know intimately. Playing stoic is my go-to defense because the moment I open my mouth, I blush or I stutter. I apologize. I punctuate every statement with, “It’s stupid. I know it’s so stupid.” Everyone will find out that I’m scared shitless of what they think.

Ugh.

Constantly I’m wondering how I can think so much and still have nothing to say…still feel as if I have nothing to offer…

Yes. Parts of me are light and silly: I try not to take myself so seriously. I try to laugh everything off because: It’s okay. If it’s okay for me, then maybe it’ll be okay for you. And when I let go enough to reveal this part of me it means I trust you; it means I’m going to try my hardest to only see the best in you. But what you don’t seem to understand is that, my doing this is not an invitation to take me for granted; to rationalize my existence as being less real than your own. It’s not an invitation to trap me in a box marked “EASY”—to force me into something that is all yours for the taking and leaving…

I’m light and silly, but there’s depth to me too.

Quit trapping me in boxes…never mind, fuck it, I’ll do it to myself.

I have no control over anything.

Box me up.

☁︎

New Years Day: I met a self-described “mystical” gay man who could tell I had a tilted uterus just by looking into my eyes. (This is not a joke. I am not making this up. This happened. Nobody believes me! But this shit happened.) He looked at me and said, “Honey, you have a bad uterus.”

I quickly shielded my pelvis from his third eye, “Excuse me?! What?!” Which is actually a really polite response considering he was a bug-eyed stranger making bold statements about my reproductive system.

You’re uterus,” he emphasized, keeping a straight face without losing the sass, “Is tilted.”

I glanced around the room to make sure no one was around to watch me take him seriously. “Are you psychic or something?” I asked, inching in closer, “Because—I do, I do have a tilted uterus.” (I know this because my gynecologist can never find it, which is awkward as fuck…)

“Yes,” he said, “I am.”

So matter of fact.

Like dude, you can’t just walk around telling women their uteruses suck! Control yourself! Unless, of course, the woman you’re talking to is me, in which case…

“Tell me more!”

I pulled up a stool and he made me look into his eyes, which, I know—I totally know—he was so fucking with me. He was totally going to speak in absolutes and trick me into believing that he was unraveling my “special” fate and not just some variation of everyone’s shitty reality; a series of verbal placebos…But I couldn’t help myself. I needed to feel as if I had some semblance of a grasp on my future—no matter how phony—and he knew it.

So.

Tell me more.

“The person you’ve been thinking about,” he said, “You don’t want him. You think you do, but you don’t.”

“Oh my god, I fucking hope not,” I said, a little too quickly, right before I consciously shut up. I reigned myself back in. I didn’t want to reveal too much by mistake; I wanted to test how good this guy was at his whole pseudo-psychic-messes-with-a-gullible-girl front. So I collected myself, “Good—I mean—I could have told you that. But good. I know I don’t want him.”

“But you do want him,” he said, rolling his eyes, “At least you think you do.”

“Well, I figured I’d just wait it out. So—so what? You can want something but also know you don’t really want it. I’m just waiting it out. Does it really matter if I ‘think’ I want him?”

“Yes because you think you can handle any man—you’re very tame in the sense that, when you’re done, you’re done…but him, you can’t handle. Trust me. You’re not going to see it coming…”

Um is it just me, or did shit just get dark?

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“You think you can tell what a lot of people are going to do before they do it, and most of the time you can. So you put your intuition on hold in favor of experiencing new things and understanding people who aren’t like you, but…you can’t do that with him. Trust your gut; everything you’ve been wondering about him is correct. If you want proof, you’re not dumb, do your research.

When he said “do your research” he did that sassy dismissive thing, like snapping your fingers in someone’s face without actually making them snap. Then he took a very satisfied sip from his drink as if life were a meme and he was Kermit, drinking Truth Tea: That guy you crushin’ on is Satan…it’s none of my business though…

“You’re going to have to be more specific,” I said, “Like…what is it that I’ve been wondering about him that’s true?”

“That…” He took a minute to gaze into my “soul” before he continued, “He has a lot of rage, and…” he trailed off as if he were trying to think of the right word, but then he just kind of settled. With the energy of a deflating balloon he finished his thought, “Sadness.”

Vague. But. Okay.

“Yeah, well, everyone has their shit,” I said, trying not to make eye contact.

“But you don’t!” He said, “You see and appreciate more than a lot of people; you have depth but you’re not angry about it…he’s not what you want. It makes sense that you’d want to lose yourself in an opposite, but, at the same time, you’re good and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

My eyes averted like: Who is this strange man sipping Grey Goose and spewing deep truths in downtown Jamestown? Like: No. Go home. You are fucking with me. Why does this always happen? Why am I so receptive and gullible? Now I’m going to analyze this conversation for days. I’m going to wonder, on and on; all because some guy took a chance and used a statistic he found on Google—Fun fact: 30% of women have tilted uteruses—to his advantage. I’m going to keep asking myself over and over: Why do my feelings never match up with what I think or what I want?

My eyes moved to the floor, I didn’t want to give away my obvious state of confliction, that I’d heard some truth in what he’d said. I was about to say: Thank you for confirming that I’m as out of control of my own life as I think I am—Happy New Year.

But before I could, he changed the whole game. He quickly added, “It’s your choice though. Everything’s your choice.”

☁︎

After that whole weird exchange, I kept contemplating clichés about lightness and darkness: You can put the light in the dark but you can’t put the dark in the light. I typed out melodramatic prose with the notepad on my iPhone: “Being with you is like being trapped in a dark box; I don’t know whether left is right or right is left. I can’t climb my way out; there are four walls and nothing to grab onto; there’s nothing to look at and there’s no easy way out. All I can do is keep clawing at the first wall I make contact with, keep clawing until shit gets so worn out that something’s either got to give or…”

I gave up typing.

I didn’t know who or what I was writing about and that’s the whole problem. It’s the inverse of “like a moth to a flame”—How do I describe it? Does that image exist? It’s not the light—some concrete thing—that I’m being drawn to. It’s the dark-nothing I’m being forced into. The best image I can come up with is a black hole, or a sinkhole. Just, everything suddenly caving in beneath my feet; slipping into dark other-worlds and cutting real-life like cutting college classes; some real soul-sucking loopholes: Alcohol? The evasive jerk of the week? The four collaged walls of my childhood bedroom?

I don’t know what I want.

This is always when the trouble starts.

When I don’t know what I want, I start setting my mind’s phasers to: SELF-DESTRUCT. When there’s nothing to want, nothing real to be drawn to, I allow myself to get all sucked up in the exact opposite of what I need. I make prisons out of people and places and things. Like, I must be wildly unhappy with myself. Otherwise I wouldn’t be so complacent with being forced into this thing that’s not even a thing. But, god, it’s so G.D. comfortable at the bottom of a sinkhole where there’s nothing to lose; where everything’s always going deeper and deeper, and getting darker and darker, and you can pretend the whole world’s in your orbit. Where dreams can circle round your head and you don’t have to sacrifice any of them because—they’re not tangible. You haven’t even tried traveling to them yet. You can put the light in the dark but you can’t put the dark in the light: Fuck, I love the dark so much. I could quietly burn away in it forever, until natural causes snuffed me out…

But. 

I don’t want to live a life like that!

Not really!

I don’t want to be boxed away forever! 

I’ve got to claw my way out. But knowing this doesn’t change the fact that getting out is going to be painful as hell. It doesn’t change the fact that whatever’s on the other side might not be any better than all the nothing I’m leaving behind…

“It’s your choice…everything’s your choice.”

Goddam you, Psychic!!! I was so happy being indifferent and engaging in 0 self-reflection before you guessed the correct position of my uterus.

See, I forget all the time that we can change—that we have some control over our futures. I forget that it’s easy to point at some trite list of misfortunes and say, This is why I can’t do A, B, C, D… It’s easy to do that, and it’s hard to actually bite the bullet, to wake up and do things that might actually make a difference.

All the time I hear myself saying: I can’t leave this place that I hate, filled with people I don’t respect, where I don’t fit in, because I’m over my head in student debt and I’m poor. I say: I’ll never get paid to write what I want because I’m not affluent, so, who would want me? What grad school, what publisher, what credible platform with any real literary pull, would ever want borderline anonymous Catherine Olson from Jamestown, New York? Sounds like a liability. I’d rather drive in circles. I’d rather keep singing along: “It’s so easy in this blue where everything is good…”

I know the resolution’s simple.

We can change.

It’s our choice.

But…

But what?!

What do I want?

☁︎

01/07/2016: I really suck at writing endings lately because the first ending I wrote for this post read like a fucking sitcom—which just isn’t me. See, I don’t believe in fate, but I’d like to say, “everything happens for a reason”, and “I feel so lucky to have a heart that can be broken”, and “my resolution is to finally start wanting what’s good for me” but—that would just be one long string of bullshit, and I wouldn’t feel good writing any of it.

Some stuff happens and it’s just shitty for no reason. Actually, all bad things that happen are absolutely pointless and accidental; a sick joke. Or, in another sick twisted way, they’re not accidental at all. Sometimes you stick your toe in a sinkhole that you totally saw coming and say, “Whoopsi!” as you fall. Like you weren’t totally planning to make a cozy prison out of the bottom, like you weren’t totally waiting for some opportune trauma to come along and distract you from figuring out what’s actually hurting you and holding you back in the first place.

And what’s holding me back?

The fact that I love this rundown place that is my home: I love these roads where the houses don’t change. I love how the other night I was at a college-kid apartment with a drawer full of plastic forks. How we ate Kraft mac ‘n cheese mixed with pepper jack and drank peach whiskey straight from the bottle as my could-have-been high school sweetheart swatted at an overhanging wire like a giant kitten. How water-damaged joker cards littered the coffee table like an ill-fated tarot reading. How all the guys here have dirt or oil beneath their fingernails, how they’re all masculine to the point of toxicity; callous rage-filled types who drive big trucks and think I’m pretty but will never be well-read enough to love me back. How easy it is to be detached here, how easy it is because real life is always happening elsewhere, how this makes us all act frozen and manifests a kind of grittiness that we can’t seem to wash off no matter where we go. How it makes me feel like I’m trapped in a frayed box that was used and kicked to the curb by the real world one too many times…

My cozy dark prison is my home and I know it’s never going to love me back. All the potholes—the dead hard ground—the kitchen floors boasting detritus…none of it’s ever going to love me back, because, it’s fucking detritus—it can’t feel for shit. But god, these ordinary things break my heart in a way that leaves me nuzzling them at all of the rough spots. This place is mental illness and I’m nothing but a lovesick bitch for it, consciously avoiding it and telling it to fuck off a thousand times over. Always running right back to it the moment it starts calling at three in the morning…

Come over, I’m dreaming.

I guess my resolution is to never stop taking the ugly—painfully ordinary—things that happen to me and turning them into something meaningful, to never stop rearranging them in a way that looks beautiful and worthwhile. To never stop making sense of this life that I believe is utterly senseless; a big dumb joke in which I just roll with the punches and mock everything in a way that only a poet can…

As for what I want? I’d like to say that I want to start wanting what’s good for me. But. What’s good for me? I can’t tell. I just know I want 2016 to be a year of actually doing something—no more dreaming! I want 2016 to be a year of saying, “fuck off” to this place for the last time, and then, maybe, finally, actually, clawing my way out…

 

Confessions of a Voluntary Misfit: High School and Friendship and that “Left Out” Shit

high school angst2“In adolescents, the need to break away from the past is as powerful as the drive to reproduce the species.” –Joyce Carol Oates, “What Sin to Me Unknown”

I’ve been itching to write about high school and friendship because the signs that say: This. Essay. Needs. To. Happen. Seem to be cropping up everywhere—Poems written by Thirteen-Year-Old-Me have surfaced. Last year, a childhood friend simultaneously complimented and insulted me. A few months ago, the guy I pined for my entire freshman year pulled my hair. This time last week, a bitch waved at me…See, I’ve been avoiding this topic because I know it’s going to get ugly—as dealings of the teenage heart often do—and I don’t want to offend anyone. I don’t want to rehash old wounds and put a damper on anyone’s newfound “maturity”. I want to be what the real housewives call the “bigger” person. I want to rationalize everyone’s shitty behavior and say: It probably wasn’t as bad as I remembered. *phony laughter* We’re so grown up now! Let’s talk like we’re 40 even though we’re actually 23! Let’s pretend like high school wasn’t five minutes ago! *rainbows, butterflies, poop emoji*

But then I came across that poem written by Thirteen-Year-Old-Me, titled, “Mom, I’m Fine. Just Leave Alone in My Room to Die.” and I had a rude awakening—it was definitely as bad as I remembered.

The poem was about being alone in my room on a Friday night while everyone else was accumulating the inside jokes that would eventually decorate their AIM profiles and leave me with that nauseating “left out” feeling. At first, Now-Me found the whole thing hilarious. Like: That title is melodramatic as fuck and those closing lines are just tragic. (I wish I was joking, but the closing lines went: “Lie on my bedroom floor / sing to the cat / yeah my life is basically kind of like that.”) However, after laughing, I got this horrible sinking feeling for Thirteen-Year-Old-Me because Now-Me realized that her memories of being left out were real—the evidence was in my hands, straight from the shitty poem writing horse’s pen, circa 2005.

I shoved the notebook back into the dusty bookshelf from whence it came and tried to forget about it.

But I couldn’t forget about it.

All I could think about was high school and friendship and that “left out” shit—imaginary social divisions and random acts of teenage cruelty. Then all these unwanted interactions with people I hoped I would never see again happened, and I thought about it all even more: Leaving dances early, switching lunch tables, faking sick four times a month, loyalty as an endangered principle, critical thinking as the greatest threat, frequency of text messages as validation, everyone deriving false confidence from the misguided certainty that they know more about you than you…I don’t want to put a damper on anyone’s newfound “maturity” but I’m going to.

I’m going to write about high school and friendship. I’m going to rehash old wounds, and if that makes me the “lesser” person, so be it. I don’t care. The number one rule for writing personal essays—don’t be the hero—says I should be the lesser person anyway. So fuck it. This is my chance to be the exact opposite of the hero, the anti-hero. I’m the Walter White of this essay and I don’t care because what I’m really trying to say is: I don’t forgive you.

☁︎

“You’re really pretty now.” Someone I knew from high school said that shit to my face. And. I. Just. Froze. Like: Excuse me? Now? It’s the kind of compliment that leaves you feeling mugged. One that brings back all the insecurity you felt in the years leading up to it. You ask yourself: If what she said is supposed to be nice then why do I feel like punching her in the face? Oh, because it was actually a really rude thing to say, and this person wasn’t always very nice to you—especially when it came to your appearance and clothes. That’s why.

“You’re really pretty now.”

I smile and say thank you through clenched teeth because I’m as twofaced as everyone said I was in middle school—I can’t wait to turn around and complain about this to my real friends.

Then she says something mildly surprising, “You know, I feel kind of bad whenever I see you…” I’m about to renew my faith in humanity if the next thing to come out of her mouth is an apology, but it’s not. It’s this:

“I feel kind of bad whenever I see you because everything is so different in high school. You know. There’s just this way of thinking in high school that says: This person is this way, and that person is that way…”

It’s a non-apology just like the first thing she said to me was a non-compliment. It’s saying sorry without actually saying sorry, like being nice without actually being nice. She thinks she’s leveling out the playing field. She’s saying because I was different from her in high school she was never obligated to be decent to me. She’s not saying sorry. She’s saying: That’s just the way things were. No hard feelings, right?

 And. It. Makes. Me. Livid.

I resist the urge to say: No. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I resist the urge to ask: Am I really pretty now? Or were you just never looking at me correctly? Have you ever considered that maybe your view of the world has always been majorly fucked up? Have you ever considered any perspective beyond your own? Maybe it’s not your place to decide what beauty is and isn’t. Maybe I don’t need to hear that you think I’m pretty now.

I resist the urge to say anything. I just smile and nod knowingly. I play dumb like I always do. We hug and she walks away with a clear conscience. I let her have that reassurance because I know something that she doesn’t know—How beautiful it is to be misunderstood. Like: Thank you for contributing to the social anxiety that has made me the steadfast, self-aware, and perceptive person that I am. I wish you well, but I don’t forgive you.

☁︎

There’s an episode of HBO’s Girls where Adam takes off into the woods for an impromptu hike and in response Hannah just flops on the ground and says, “It’s really liberating to say no to shit you hate. So you go ahead. You live your truth. I’ll be here, living my truth.” I love that scene because, even though it’s just one more example of Hannah’s unwavering laziness, it emphasizes a power that everyone seems to become conscious of in their twenties: The ability to say no to shit you hate.

Want to work a double tonight? Nope. Would you like an Adderall? Not really. Want to engage in a stimulating conversation about music with hipsters? Trick question: Nah. Netflix and chill? [No response.] Are you going to wave back to that girl who was supposed to be your friend but then put your sex life on blast in her AIM profile when you were in 10th grade and, apparently, has the nerve to act like it never happened? Fuck. No.

I see you waving and all I see is, Go suck another fat kid’s dick, written in tiny black Arial font and highlighted in aqua. You’re waving at me and saying my name in a voice that’s one too many octaves above natural. Go suck another fat kid’s dick. I wasn’t a role model, and I never claimed to be one. I wasn’t some blank template for you and everyone else to project their weird ideals of virtue onto. I wasn’t even a hypocrite. Go suck another fat kid’s dick. I was a teenager, just like you—eager, impulsive, confused, human. I was a girl who didn’t deserve what happened because none of us did, or do, and you know it. Go suck another fat kid’s dick. That’s all I see when I see you.

You’re waving at me and saying my name in a voice that’s one too many octaves above natural. You’re trying to pretend like you didn’t urge anyone to ostracize me six years ago. You’re trying to pretend like we were always friends and it never made you happy to watch me fuck up—like you weren’t always rooting for me to fail.

I see you and I don’t have the energy to wave back to you, not anymore. You have to understand that there are some wounds that are too deep. Too real. A big smile and a friendly wave won’t mend them. It’s as simple as this: I’m sad because you hurt me. I’m angry because you’re trying to act like my pain and what you did to inflict it was never real. I don’t understand your sudden and aggressive acts of kindness, and I won’t respond to them.

I see you waving and I’m going to walk right past you.

It’s really liberating to say no to shit you hate.

☁︎

About a week after my college graduation, I went to drink with some guy-friends from high school. The group was small and everyone there was someone that I still consider a friend—people I care about and genuinely like—with the exception of one person…

“Cat Olson?! Where the fuck have you been?”

My brain panicked as it scanned his face and gathered the details: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, 1st Asshole you ever liked, sat at your lunch table freshman year, picked apart your physical characteristics daily, once feigned affection for you just to prove you had a crush on him, constantly used you to make other girls jealous, always smelled really good; thank god his hairline’s receding…

I thought: I can do this. I can be civil. It’s okay. Just don’t smell him.

But it was not okay because twenty minutes later he pulled my hair, like full on grabbed my messy bun and tugged the shit out of it. He pulled so hard I had no choice but to lurch backward. He did it just because. Toddler’s logic, like: I see something I want to touch and not only am I going to touch it, I’m going to wreck it. And I don’t know if it was the beer, or feminism, or the infantile stupidity of his action, but like a reflex I stood up and screamed: “YOU DON’T GET TO TOUCH ME NOW!”

And the look of shock on his face somehow made me angrier, like: Doesn’t this dude understand that when you pull someone’s hair, that shit hurts? Didn’t any of us realize in high school that there are people, just as real as ourselves, on the other end of our actions—on the other end of our cell phones and computers and fingers and words? Did anyone realize this before the age of 20?! Because that look of shock on people’s faces whenever somebody gets upset has me wondering if nobody did, and some people never do.

When you pull someone’s hair, that shit hurts.

Now face it motherfucker.

☁︎

I should probably say that I was severely depressed in high school—the real kind, the diagnosed kind. And I know it’s unfair to blame that on anyone, or even to say: I just wish someone had noticed. Especially when I didn’t even know I was depressed—at least not until my senior year. It’s unfair. I know it’s so unfair. And I know my anger seems so trite like: Why the fuck are you holding onto this shit? But it’s just—I really wanted and needed friends. Girlfriends. Real friends. The kind that just wanted to do dumb shit and laugh about it; the kind that said I love you and I’m sorry and were sincere.

I didn’t have that.

I didn’t have some band of girlfriends that I’d known since I was twelve validating my existence and reinforcing my every choice and opinion, or even wanting to compare schedules with me. For the most part, I took on everyday alone—my likes and dislikes, my interests, my classes, music, fashion, makeup, boys, heartbreak…I trudged and waded through all that bullshit and figured out who I was on my own.

And on some level, this is my fault: I’m a misfit who chose to be a misfit. But on another level, I also know, I was very earnest in high school—very willing to forgive and love and apologize to anyone who demonstrated some semblance of respect for me.

I have to stand my ground and say: I know I’m not perfect, but I’m a really decent person at heart.

I don’t think my memories of being mistreated are inaccurate.

I don’t think my anger is misguided.

I’m tired of rationalizing everyone else’s shitty behavior.

☁︎

When I was thirteen I wrote: “There’s nothing but outdated earth behind me.” And I find it kind of hilarious, like: Who the fuck did I think I was, Thoreau? But I also find it surprising. I find it surprising that, at that age, I understood that there’s so much more to life than this—Jamestown and its weird social hierarchies, its prejudices and aversions to anything new or honest or real.

Like goddam, life isn’t high school!

Just because you’re in what everyone likes to call “dumb” classes, doesn’t mean you’re not intelligent. Just because people make snide comments about your clothes, doesn’t mean you don’t look good. Just because you’re quiet and mousey, doesn’t mean you’re not listening, that you’re not there! People can talk all they want but They. Don’t. Know. They don’t know more about you than you. If they don’t “get” you one day, that doesn’t mean they won’t absolutely want to someday. And when that day comes, don’t kill them with kindness; just totally annihilate them with the truth. You’ll be so far ahead that it won’t even matter, there’ll be nothing to lose, like: Nobody can touch me now…

Confession: I was listening to a lot of My Chemical Romance when I wrote this.

I looked up the music video for “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and felt the rage. There’s just something about Gerard Way wailing I’M NOT OKAY!!!!!! in, what appears to be, a steadily increasing fever that makes you want to go back in time and walk the fuck out on every math teacher that had the nerve to publicly underestimate you. (Mr. Salvaggio, what’s good?!) I seriously think, in retrospect, that the greasy kids who shoved paper clips through their earlobes and got kicked out of class constantly were doing something right—God bless them, every single one.

But my point is: Where would all the voluntary misfit girls of the 2000’s be without My Chemical Romance’s honesty?!?! I was fourteen when Gerard Way first said, “I’m not okay,” And. It. Was. So. Vindicating. Enough of that I’m okay bullshit, I’m not okay. I’m not O-fucking-kay. You wear me ouuuuuuuuuut…He said it, and he looked it, and it was awesome. We needed that! Then MCR’s single “Sing” came out in 2010 and I realized that I’m a major sucker for artists who root for the underdog because one of the song’s lyrics are: Girl, you’ve got to be what tomorrow needs, and it’s lame, and I’m corny, but I find that shit so inspiring. Be what tomorrow needs.

The voluntary misfit girls of tomorrow don’t need our good vibes-bigger person-I’m so mature now-bullshit. They need the truth. They need what’s real, and what’s weird, and what hurts. They need all that with a little bit of hope at the end. Because when I was 13, 14, 15, 16, 17… I needed My Chemical Romance. I needed Harry Potter and Sloane Crosley and Lady Gaga and The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. I needed Taylor Swift to embarrass the fuck out of John Mayer by putting his name in a song. I needed someone to be honest—I’m not okay. I’m not o-fucking-kay. These things and their creators, they were what tomorrow needed! So just:

Sing it for the boys
Sing it for the girls
Every time that you lose it sing it for the world
Sing it from the heart
Sing it til’ you’re nuts
Sing it out for the ones that’ll hate your guts
Sing it for the deaf
Sing it for the blind
Sing about everyone that you left behind…

Bottom line: If you have the guts to go above and beyond what Today expects, some people just aren’t going to understand you. Some people are even going to hate you. But that’s okay. All it means is that you’re doing something right. Like Emerson said—To be great is to be misunderstood—you’re doing what it takes to be great.

☁︎

A few days ago I ran into a girl I knew from middle school and high school. This girl and I were never really friends. I mean, we just never knew each other very well. She ran with a clique that wasn’t always the nicest or most inclusive, so I could kind of feel myself approaching the conversation with a level of passive-aggression that I’m not entirely proud of. But whatever.

She was talking about how she’d studied abroad when she said something along the lines of, “You know, I was kind of nervous about going away. About being out of the loop here, for that long.”

And I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Well, I mean, I don’t know. I was never really in the loop, so I don’t know what it’s like to worry about that. Like, honestly, I never really felt like I fit in.”

I didn’t mean it maliciously. Of all the run-ins with people from high school that I’ve described, this was the first one where I didn’t mean for anything to be malicious. I said what I said as a matter of fact. I said it because it felt good to say.

“See,” she said, “that’s so sad.”

And in my dream-like, vodka-induced, state I could practically feel the stars aligning in my eyes as I said, “Actually, it’s not. I feel kind of lucky.” *sparkles, glitter, Britney Spears*

I just realized in that moment that this girl is nostalgic for high school in a way that I will never be, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I mean, I think I already knew this. I think I already knew I would never be nostalgic for high school because when I was in high school I was constantly nostalgic for…something more, something else:

I wish I could explain myself.
I wanted to melt into school walls
rather than shed tears on my silk dresses.
I wanted to be a part of your shiny floors
but I liked corners
and feeling nostalgic for the life of someone else.
I count on you all way too much.

Go away.

I wrote that shortly after high school graduation, and it’s pretty clear that I had this dire need to get the fuck out. High school, this place, these people, it was all holding me back from something more. And weirdly, I still wanted so badly to be a part of it: I wanted to melt into school walls…I wanted to be a part of your shiny floors. But it all went completely against my nature—I liked corners, dammit! Gimme that dunce cap and I’ll rock it like a crown. This is my space now, go away. I don’t forgive you!

No. Nostalgia for high school is a nostalgia I’ll never experience because I think, in high school, I was always nostalgic for the life that I’m leading, and the person that I am, right now. I’ve got a healthy sense of humor. I dress like the bad bitch I always knew I was. I have girlfriends who I love because they like to laugh and fuck up and then laugh some more—they give no shits about what anyone thinks and they never laugh behind my back. I have a boyfriend who reads as much as I do and never makes me feel as if my eccentricities are something to be ashamed of—not even my random feminist outbursts. I might not be rich, but I’m getting by. And no matter what happens, I’m going to be fine because I’ll always have writing to come home to. I’ll always have an endless imagination to get me through dark times because, even though I know what it’s like to be hopeless and angry, even though I’m hardwired for depression, at my core there is so much joy.

HASHTAG BLESSED MOTHERBITCHES!

Poetry for Lost Girls

lost girlI was in the midst of a Red Bull induced panic attack. Sometimes I took my Citalopram and sometimes I didn’t. I never went to class. But I remembered the defense mechanisms from the one day I spent in psych class like some kind of prayer that went:

Repression

Regression

Projection

Sublimation

and…

Displacement?

They became the titles of poems I wrote when I should’ve been in bed. None of them were any good. But I wrote one called “The Incentive to Relate” because that was another thing I learned about in Psych class.

The final lines of it went: I even wore their shoes around and said / “see you’re not alone.” / and every single one told me / “but I still feel it.” Because I felt that, and I didn’t want anyone else to feel that, but I guess it’s inevitable when you’re 18, 19, 20…and trying to find your way out of the woods that was your adolescence.

☁︎

Me and K were like Wendys among lost boys.

We spoke in code about our feelings for the types of men we were among. All emotions were dumbed down into cave-talk; summarized in twos like: Hot n’ steamies, cold n’ empties, warm n’ fuzziez, numb n’ pricklies…

One guy told me he didn’t trust me because my eyes moved too much, and at the time, I had this paranoia that I was a bad person in disguise, so I said, “You shouldn’t. I definitely don’t trust myself.”

Then K, with a stomach full of absinthe, looked outside and got all misty-eyed for the frozen lake. We ran out the backdoor and walked on ice like life was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and not cold or uncomfortable; a place that could actually be beautiful and ugly all at once without the worry of some ideal illusion suddenly cracking and caving in beneath you; more like a movie, something you watch and feel but never really live…

We ran back inside, and met this guy who after one too many jäger bombs started referring to himself as The Oracle. We asked him questions, and he started rubbing his temples, pretending like he was summoning the other side and not just staring at the insides of his eyelids.

“Will we ever be happy?” we asked.

He opened one eye and smirked like he knew something we didn’t know.

“No,” he said curtly.

And we laughed in spite of everything.

☁︎

Our friendship was like this: I was Heartache, and she was Wrath, and together we made Misery because that’s how much we loved each other’s company.

We joked about super moons, and second comings. We got McChickens during tornado warnings. We gazed out kitchen windows and watched as lightning turned the sky into a touched plasma globe…

Some guy said the rapture was supposed to happen. But we weren’t surprised when nothing happened.

We knew that nothing probably happened to anyone—or we weren’t chosen.

Either way, it was all one giant joke to us, one more ironic reason to buy a T-shirt.

And that’s the simplified version of things.

☁︎

I had a boyfriend at the time, but he was more like a third wheel; our teddy bear and designated safety blanket.

He was a grizzly guy—tall and tree-like—with a design like veins and vital organs tattooed all around his forearm. He wore glasses from the sixties and had skin like nicotine.

His name was M and we took him everywhere.

One night we were all at K’s apartment on campus. Our friend had just traded us whiskey for vodka across train tracks, and we squeezed the last few drops of wine from a box. We pulled the empty bag out and blew it up like a balloon. M labeled it “my happiness” and we played a metaphorical game of capture the flag.

I remember I got it, but then M snatched it back and popped it.

“Cheater!” I shouted.

“That’s life!” he retaliated.

I glared, but got over it because he molded me a dinosaur with the wax of a candy soda bottle as a peace offering.

Meanwhile, K had been pounding back whiskeys, and she was ready to make her way across campus to whoever it was she wanted that night.

She left, and when it was just me and M, I remember he started talking on and on about how he wanted to watch the moon explode—to see what happened when the oceans engulfed us.

I stayed quiet; I just stood there and listened.

M was an artist who created things that were beautiful but had no meaning. This is why he felt nothing when he burned them or broke them or popped them. Knowing this, he looked at me and said, “You’re all morals and I’m all impulse. We’re never going to work out.”

And I stared back at him, just blinking, like I didn’t know anything. Like I didn’t know he was crazy, like I didn’t know he was right; like I wasn’t the same girl who’d cringed every time she felt a spring peeper pop beneath the car’s tires that night; like I wasn’t someone who would only ever love chaos in theory.

I kissed him as a means of filling the space, and the next day we found K grinning at Starbucks with a bruise on her knee. “Let’s go,” she said, and we sang along to “Missed the Boat” by Modest Mouse the whole way home, like we didn’t know it was the anthem for everything that was wrong with us:

While we’re on the subject
Could we change the subject now?
I was knocking on your ear’s door,
But you were always out.
Looking towards the future
We were begging for the past
Well, we knew we had the good things
But those never seem to last
Oh, please just last…

☁︎

I always wore this fuzzy hat with bear arms and bear ears. We called it Balloo—like The Jungle Book. And I often slept on couches and floors; dorm beds, and reclining chairs; all the futons of faraway places, with my hands tucked into Balloo’s paws like mittens; the rest of him bundled up and doubling as a pillow beneath me.

I did this while K found herself in the bunk beds and basements of Victorian mansions; lying on the cot of an off-the-grid shack-house; nestled away in trees sprouting from coves on the shore of Lake Erie; kicking up water in her underwear while some envious girl got mad; clipping feathers in her hair and saying, “Let’s go,” just when the moon got full.

I was beginning to believe we were less like Wendys and more like the lost boys—lost girls, if they would’ve been written to be a thing—taking on each night like: Second house to the right. Who cares til’ morning.

 ☁︎

One night we found ourselves at a big house in the middle of nowhere. It was the kind of house that’s tall and looming, Victorian, and weirdly gothic with black shutters and barred windows that all come to a point; a house that looked expensive from the outside but, upon closer inspection, was actually a fortress of cat piss and dogs without leashes.

On the back porch, which was sunken and caving in, we found M in a drum circle of bored looking white kids with dreadlocks.

K and I knew we didn’t belong so we stole their vodka and fifteen minutes later M laughed because he found us crouching behind a bush. We were taking swigs in the name of social anxiety until liquid courage coaxed us out—a.k.a. we killed the bottle and kicked it into the woods.

Everyone had moved from the porch to a bonfire out on the lawn at that point.

One guy was playing an acoustic version of “Sweetest Girl” by Wyclef Jean on guitar and everyone was singing along harmoniously, like they took this ritual very seriously: Cause I’mma tell you, like Wu told me, cash rules everything around me, singin’ dolla dolla bill ya’ll—DOLLA DOLLA BILL YA’LL!

We looked at each other like: What year is it? Where are we? Is this real life?

And I realized that the place was a purgatory for lost childhood.

I found Batman with his face scraped off; Mountain Dew cans everywhere; a stuffed Barney, abandoned and still smiling on the pavement, like he was clenching his teeth and mumbling to me: Is this real life?

Later, M and I got into a fight about the state of our relationship because I was never not mad at him about something.

We were both standing at the top of a hill overlooking the road and, at some point, a beagle scuttled past us. We didn’t think much of it because I had just gotten done saying something that put M over the edge.

It was the first time he ever snapped at me; he blindsided me with a level of honesty that I didn’t know he was capable of.

He said, “One minute you’re so vulnerable and gentle, and the next minute, it’s like I can literally feel how angry you are. It’s like the calm before the storm, except, the tension never really breaks. I swear to god, you have this crazy fucking ability to dictate the emotion of an entire room. All you have to do is shift your eyes a certain way, or twist your mouth—like you’re finally going to say whatever the fuck is on your mind, but then you never do, and nobody ever knows what’s hit them; no one ever suspects that you’re the reason there’s a knot in their gut because who’s going to blame the quiet girl? Especially when she’s always got this stupid lost look on her face. But I know you, and you’re not vulnerable or stupid, and you need to stop pretending like—”

That was when we heard the thud. It came from the road at the bottom of the hill.

It was like a thud-crack; like the sound of a car hitting a large stick.

“What was that?” I asked, not entirely sure what I was asking about—the rest of M’s sentence, or the sound?

But M ignored me. He just said, “Shit,” and ran away, down the hill toward the road.

I edged closer to a part of the hill, where the road was visible, and I saw the little lifeless blob.

I knew what it was.

It was the beagle that had scuttled past us just a few minutes ago. Only now it was dead.

My stomach clenched and I don’t know why I started crying over a dog that I didn’t even know. But it all felt like Peter Pan, and bedtime—the time when Neverland was said to become threatening; when the benign world that was your bedroom became malignant beneath the cover of night and something as unthreatening as a chair could look like a lurking figure; a looming disaster…

Except, this was different.

The dead dog was definitely dead, and the looming disaster wasn’t just a trick of the eyes.

Nothing was make believe anymore.

Up until that point, I’d told myself, and I’d told myself, that everything around me was make believe—that this was all a trial run. That a truck was a truck and a dog was a dog, and everything was that simple. When in reality, a truck was only just a truck and a dog was only just a dog until the two collided, and one kept on going while the other was reduced to a shell of thing that was no longer alive. And I realized: Beauty fades and puppies die and this is real life.

After that, K and I stopped hanging out. I started going to class. She got a boyfriend, and I eventually dumped M for a guy who was the opposite of crazy.