A Millennial Girl’s Guide to Getting Over You

I wrote this story about four years ago. It was accepted for publication in a collection of stories about modern dating. However, being a major procrastinator, I completely forgot to turn in my edits, and I missed the deadline. Meaning, my story would not appear in the collection. (Something that was only mildly disappointing, seeing that, the editors wanted me to rewrite an ending in which the narrator expressed more regret over having given “so much to a person who was never really there”.) At that point, I think my conscience had taken over, because I didn’t want to re-write the ending. I didn’t want my narrator to express regret. (I’ve learned, none of us ever lose anything in trying to get to know someone, or love someone. Not even when we wind up heartbroken, and the other person proves himself to be kind of crumby.  If we can grow from it, and come out of it with the understanding that we did the best we could with the knowledge we had, then—in my opinion—it’s an opportunity to obtain new insight, empathy, and perspective.) Furthermore, I’m a very different person now from who I was when this was written. My happiness and self-worth used to depend, way too much, on my expectations of other people, and I allowed anger, frustration, and disappointment, to control my reactions to the world. I lacked boundaries, discernment, and proper self-care. And this had me believing I was powerless, with no control over my life, or the things that happened to me. As the years have gone on, however, I’ve slowly learned these life skills, and I am capable of conducting myself, more gracefully. Which brings me to my point: Grace is something I never would have learned had I not encountered hurtful and difficult situations; pain, failure, rejection, major breeches in judgment—all of it. This is why I’ve decided to share this story here. It’s one of my favorite pieces, and I feel like I’ve been hoarding it for too long. I hope you enjoy it!

_____

Our generation doesn’t like titles, formality, boundaries; we exist on a blurred line. You and I were not exempt from this collective preference for ambiguity; although I have to admit, I kind of wanted to be.

I said, “I just don’t know what I am to you, and at this point, I’d like some idea.”

You gave me a non-answer to deflect responsibility, even though we both knew it wasn’t my choice anymore, “I don’t know. My nature is really mysterious, and I’m a defensive person, so I’m kinda intimidated by the idea of scheduling my life around someone else.”

Mysterious.

I clung to the word as I started mentally constructing a grudge around it. I remember thinking: You work at Zumiez—the McDonalds of skate shops. You like to look at pictures of the ocean on Tumblr when you’re sad. You have the kind of hair that’s cut intentionally so you can slick it back as you light cigarettes and slam your Mustang’s door shut. I wanted to burst your bubble of ‘mystery’ with this list of facts. I wanted to say with conviction, “You’re just selfish.” But the words got caught in the filter that was my affection, and instead, I wound up saying, “I’m sorry, I know you didn’t ask for any of this.”

You said, “Thank you…Thank you so much for understanding.” And I went home, fully aware of the fact that you were never going to speak to me again.

*

Two tallboys of Lime-a-Rita later, I was joking about the guy who ‘mysteriously’ rolled away from me on his skateboard, “…and then he ollied out of my life into a sunset of his own narcissism.” This was the story I told all my friends. I didn’t need them to hug me as I cried, I just wanted them to laugh.

♥♥♥

I’m always surprised by how quickly I can turn my own pain into a joke—Oh is that the sound of my heart breaking again? No, wait, that’s just a Whoopee cushion deflating under the weight of my current disappointment. The humiliation sucks, but at least it makes a funny sound.

Here’s the thing, I have a knack for loving losers, and the fact that I know how to laugh at what makes these losers, losers, doesn’t change the fact that I love them. So whenever a loser winds up hurting me, I immediately start thinking about how I can deprecate myself in relation to said loser in an attempt to make my pain less like pain, and a little more like something people would care about.

For instance, one time, I had sex with a guy whose skin felt like it was covered in pinpoints—probably because he shaved his body hair. When everything was over, he cuddled up to me, and in an attempt to tease him, I said, “You have a body like a cactus.”

He didn’t laugh. Instead, he pushed me away with an indignant “I’m not like a cactus!”

I felt kind of sad that we could have sex but we couldn’t joke around with each other; that we were both so foreign to one another that the notion of having a cactus-like body was a serious point of contention and not just some dumb comment to laugh about.

Obviously, when I tell this story, I leave the sadness, the staring at the wall, the general disconnect, out. People like to laugh, but no one likes emotions that stagnate when they shouldn’t. No one likes the grey area that is somewhere between heartbreak and indifference. So I edit to avoid redundancy and to feign control over my own hurting.

What does any of this have to do with you?

I’d like to turn what happened between us into a joke, but I’m having a hard time doing it because, unlike a lot of the losers I’ve loved before you, I think you beat me to the punch. I can’t quite convince myself that you deserve the loser-label, and when all the laughter passes, my awareness of your existence still remains like a dull, aching cliché.

♥♥♥

I had to scrap the first draft of this essay because I realized I made you too likable. Or, I guess I should say, you are likable, and I emphasized that fact beyond deserving. It started off with the moment you sang along to Blink-182 in my ear, “Angel from my nightmare,” how you giggled like a little kid before you backtracked and said, “wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself.” How I chose to believe the former over the latter because the dreamy look in your eye was telling me, secretly, you meant it—but let’s be real, the giggle was just a side effect of the whiskey, and ‘angel from my nightmare’ is code for: You wear a lot of black, and I think you’re kind of pretty.

You weren’t fooling me, but you did fool me.

That night I followed you home and you pretended you wanted me to come into your room to look at a wax skull—what? Yeah. I know. I fall for the weirdest pick-up lines—Hey girl, wanna see a really cool candle?—but that’s what happened. I held the thing in my hand, and played along like we were two kids in an innocent exchange of show and tell. Right then, you scaled the bridge of my nose with your forefinger. You said, “You have a nose like one of those clay girls from the Puffs commercials.”

“That’s funny,” I said as you traced my mouth and I tried to pretend like your touch felt natural, “Someone once told me I reminded him of the Corpse Bride.”

You slid your hand up the back of my neck, twisted your fingers in my hair, and said, “She was clay, too.”

It was inevitable. Seconds later, your mouth would be on mine, and I’d drop the skull on the floor, allowing it to roll away like some horrible allusion to Snow White’s poison apple. I pulled off your white shirt as you peeled back my tights, and gathered my hair in one fist like a bouquet of flowers. You pulled me close and, the moment I said, “That kind of hurts,” you came, and the fucked up part about it is we both laughed.

♥♥♥

If I Google, Is my boyfriend a sociopath, I’m linked to checklists, and quizzes; psychological articles on defining characteristics, or blog entries with aggressive headlines like: “IT HAPPENED TO ME: I DATED A SOCIOPATH!”

The question crossed my mind with you—Is he? I think he might be. But then again, I don’t believe in using the term ‘sociopath’ lightly. I’m careful because sometimes I think it’s easier to believe that a person’s brain is broken than it is to believe that they just aren’t attracted to you; to say, Oh we’re just wired differently, especially when his wires are the ones that aren’t working.

All that being said, I still kind of thought you might be a sociopath.

So after our ‘break-up’ I consulted Google and tried to remain as unbiased as possible as I read, “all sociopaths are narcissists but not all narcissists are sociopaths,” and begrudgingly accepted that you never struck me as “too good to be true”, and had no apparent “desire for control” over anything. It became pretty clear that you probably weren’t a sociopath, so for fairness’ sake I decided to search: Am I a masochist? But all I learned about myself was that I definitely don’t enjoy it when cats scratch me, and the time I bruised my tailbone and said “It feels kind of good” wasn’t a legit enough story to prove a pain fetish, mostly because I was drunk at the time, and nobody got off after I said it.

Your brain wasn’t broken, and I didn’t have an abnormal sexual psychology. Still, I wasn’t ready to accept the truth. So I consulted Google once more–my apparent magic 8 ball for making sense of life, post-breakup.

I researched the seven stages of grief because, I have to admit, it kind of felt like you’d died. I concluded that I was still in the throes of stage two, denial, and subsequently decided to read all about your Mustang online.

I learned that your car can go from 0 to 60 in 1.5 seconds; that it has a six speed auto-select transmission; that this means you can choose between automatic and manual control at your leisure; that Ford had created a woman named Delena Henriques with computer graphics so whenever someone searches her name, all they’ll find is your car and a pair of digitally enhanced legs. I read about all of this as if knowing any of it could ever make up for all the things I never got to know about you.

♥♥♥

My initial reaction to your car was, “What is this, a Lana del Rey music video?” Then you grinned and slicked your hair back because you knew exactly what I meant.

The back of your car was loaded up with skateboards and Hurricane malt liquor. You took me to an abandoned parking ramp where I watched you Ollie, nollie, tailslide, frontslide, 50/50 railgrind. You cracked elbows and bent ankles until blood speckled your white shirt. But you were resilient; you bounced back in one fluid motion, as if the consequence of gravity was something you’d gone numb to.

I shivered, despite being wrapped in one of your hoody sweatshirts, and you looked at me from across the lot right before you gave a trick another go. Your blue eyes were always wide and ready to accept life as it is, and I longed for you in a way that I can’t explain. You were free of me in a way that I wasn’t free of you, and it filled me with jealousy and dread and an admiration that had me wondering what it was like to be the cigarettes tucked in your back pocket—what was it like being that sure of a thing to you?

That night, on the ride home, I stared out the window and tried to pretend to be less fascinated by you than I was, counting the street lamps as they passed, hoping to memorize the way the amber light flooded the gutters. I started to project the idea of you onto the overpasses, the graffiti, the neon glow of restaurants and strip mall signs. You took my hand and placed it on the gearstick.

Stupidly, I said, “I can’t drive stick.”

With your hand still covering mine, you said, “Don’t worry about it.”

Then you switched gears and all I felt was You.

♥♥♥

It’s a shame that Google can’t provide any answers to the specifics: What does it mean to be the angel from someone’s nightmare? Someone’s clay girl?

I can find step-by-step reassurance in articles that divulge the secrets to overcoming heartache for someone I was never actually dating, but that’s about as specific as Google can get. Through some blogger acknowledging that the pain is in the fact that ‘angel from my nightmare’ is just another way of referring to a romantic hiccup; to the person who bridged the gap between last break-up and next relationship; a nice way of saying: Non-girlfriend.

It’s a low blow, but it’s the truth.

Being the non-girlfriend meant everyone looked at me like I wasn’t allowed to be as upset as I was. It meant everyone questioned my questions. How could I possibly care, so damn much, about a person who was just sex? What gives me the right?

And I agreed: Yeah, what gives me the right?

But I wondered anyway.

I wondered, Was every kiss a calculation? Are you just some construct designed to get laid? Did you mean it when you said it? Do you think about the things you say? What’s it like being the cigarettes in your back pocket—what’s it like being that safe and tucked away inside yourself?

*

I promised myself that I wouldn’t address your faults with too much assertion when I began the second draft of this essay. I know break-ups are a double sided coin for any number of reasons—there’s my side and there’s your side. There’s one side tainted by anger and the other side consumed by sadness. There’s a battle between the itch to forgive and the steadfast grip of a grudge that is hesitant to let go and scratch that itch.

♥♥♥

Of course I went through all the motions of any break-up. I sent you drunken, stalker-esque “I miss you” Snapchats that were taken in the dark and only lasted two seconds. I listened to “Youth” by Daughter at least fifty times. I cried at the end of Her, and had a one night stand with a guy I met on OkCupid. I even eventually went back to your apartment while you weren’t there—your roommates invited me. We all got drunk and high and laughed; it was fun, but it wasn’t the same without you.

At one point, the door to your room was cracked, and I caught a glimpse inside. I saw your brown comforter all crumpled up on your twin bed, dresser drawers left open, empty Corona bottles, jumbled X-Box wires, holey Vans sneakers repaired with auto body putty, plates with half-eaten sandwiches. And when I drove home, I sobbed uncontrollably at the thought of it all because I just didn’t have it in me to be mad at you anymore.

I said it once, and I’ll say it again: You are likable. And, for a moment, you made me really happy. You brought the magic back into my life. You drove a shiny car that looked like it belonged on a plastic neon Hot Wheels track. You weren’t above laughing, smiling, sprinkling cinnamon on my cider, watching otters somersault, or pretending soda caps were hats for lizards.

And I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but here’s the thing: Our generation is enchanted by the word ‘stay’. Stay with me ‘cause you’re all I need…All you had to do was stay…Stay, just stay…Kiss me before they turn the lights out! (Yes, these are all lyrics from pop songs.)

We don’t know how to let go.

We’re all confused and lonely. We don’t know where we’re going. Maybe that’s why we don’t like titles, formality; maybe that’s why we’re more comfortable on the blurred line—it’s too hard to get anyone to stay. We’ve all got shit to do, lives to lead… we just want someone to kiss before they turn the lights out.

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not that complicated: We’re two okay people who didn’t work out.

I just really wanted you to stay.

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

a-16

Nobody knows who the real crazy people are.

—Chuck Palhniuk, “Exodus”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not a defense mechanism, period.

☁︎

“I was an asshole, you were crazy…”

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

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

“I’m just trying to make peace.”

I threw it back in his face.

“No you’re not.

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

Which I didn’t.

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

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

Which I’m not.”

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

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

I couldn’t let it go.

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

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

“I WAS A FUCKING GOOD PERSON TO YOU!”

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

Still. I couldn’t let it go.

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

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

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

He said: “Thank you.”

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

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

This is especially true of the millennial generation.

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

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

Latchkey kids and Fruit Rollups are ruining society!

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

 Everyone knows participation trophies lead to moral insanity!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*unsolicited dick pics*

“Can I fuck you in the ass?”

“You’d be a l0 if you lost weight.”

“Too good to say hi?”

It’s all as easy as clicking Send.

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

“Move on!”

“No one is worth stressing about!”

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

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

“Do what’s best for yourself!”

It’s the recurring message on social media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s the point!

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

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

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

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

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

☁︎

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

☁︎

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which sounded bat-shit crazy at the time!

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

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

☁︎

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re bad. I’m good.

Please step away from my circle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

☁︎

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In spite of everything…

I no longer interpret “crazy” as an insult.

☁︎

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

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

I know it’s more than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, often we are innocent victims.

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

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

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

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

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

Are you afraid of how much it looks like you?

 Nobody knows who the real crazy people are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope I leave your world in Technicolor.

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

Out beyond ideas of

 wrongdoing and rightdoing,

 there is a field.

 I’ll meet you there.

 

—Rumitrump-13

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

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

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

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

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

My boyfriend laughs, “Extinct.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I go all self-analytical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said, ‘America has no conscience.’

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

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

My boyfriend reacts slowly.

“Hm,” he says.

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

Is there someplace safe, where they can dream?

trump-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

She said, “Anyone can time travel.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One drop symbolizes one million people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America, I have a dream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whispering, ‘United Dreams…’

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

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

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

—Avril Lavigne,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAKE OFF ALL YOUR PREPPY CLOTHES, GUYS!

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

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

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

So.

I guess…

With all of this in mind…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9.) Forgive people.

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

 

☁︎

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

“I think I love you,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well—I call bullshit on that.

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

Which is good.

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

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☁︎

Happy New Year, Pretty Readers.

I probably won’t post as much in 2017.

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

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

So, thank you. (TIMES A MILLION!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example:

Him: Cat hold my hand.

Me: *holds hand*

Him: Gross, I was just joking.

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

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

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

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

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

Because I realized: That is not something I do.

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

Clearly, I felt very conflicted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q2: What does that mean?

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

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

At least, that’s how it feels.

Just.

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

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I flicked a guy off over this!

I wanted to hit someone over this!

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

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

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

I always stopped to consider it—

What happened to the men of my generation?

What made them believe abusing women this way was normal?

Q3: Wait, who hurt you?

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

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

I asked myself: Who am I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The vacation I went on without him was: Boring.

Hoping to study abroad one summer was: Selfish.

Wanting my perspective and feelings validated was: *Silence*

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

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

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

He concluded, “I don’t like it.”

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

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

“Really? I love it.”

End of discussion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See.

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

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

Which was the most heartbreaking realization of all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But—

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

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

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

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

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

Who the fuck does he think he is?

But also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe this is as deep as he goes.

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

 Q5: How did you cope with that realization?

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

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

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

The End.

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

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

Trick question!

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

I swear—

This disconnect is tragic, but it’s real.

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

Nobody wins in this dynamic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the answer is no.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

So, one night, when the question came up—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The birthmark beneath your eye makes me crazy…”

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

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

To say any of that would be insane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I felt like saying:

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

Still praying on a 3 AM ‘Sup?’ text?

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

All night I wound up wondering:

WHERE HAVE ALL THE REAL PEOPLE GONE?!

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Q8: What do you mean by that?

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

SALT, DO YOU EVEN THINK PEPPER IS SPECIAL?!

(And vice versa?)

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

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

Like—

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

I understand why he didn’t believe me!

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

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

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

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

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

You cannot save anyone.

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

You cannot make anyone understand your reality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Q10: How so?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q10: Can you be more specific?

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

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

So. Yeah.

I got drunk and flicked him off.

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

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

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

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

Q11: Was Ellie Goulding playing on the radio?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Q12: Which means?

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

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

I swear.

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

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

But I couldn’t do that.

Q11: Why not?

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

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

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

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

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

Is he there?

Was he ever?

Do I matter?

Did I ever?

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

or even yourself…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To keep loving, in spite of inevitable suffering.

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

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

Staring into those woods I thought:

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

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

I forgave everything:

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

Here is a flower that needs no water…

Fear and Self-Loathing on Leap Year: An Extended Look at One Millennial Girl’s (Very Real) Existential Crisis

It’s often not cool to be the one
who puts themselves out there.

 —Emma Watson

 BUT

It’s better to just admit that you are a complex being
and travel into the unknown sometimes.

—Margot Russell, “Letter to a Daughter”

I blamed it on a lot of things: My headband being too tight. The unseasonably warm weather. The fact that February 29th actually came this year. Or the other fact—I watched the Amy Winehouse documentary two days prior…At one point, I remember, someone snap chatted me, “You little Hunter S. Thompson,” and I was all grinning demon emojis about it.

See I don’t know what the hell possessed me, but I recently lost my mind and thought I was somebody else for 72 hours—like I must have been channeling Britney Spears circa 2007 because I smoked a cigarette! (Something I’ve avidly avoided because A. I’m not an edgy teenager living in the UK and B. Cancer.) But I smoked a cigarette (among other things) and it was not okay. Because, before this point in my life, I’d always been that one sensible person who said: “My mind is screwy enough without drugs, and I really don’t want to fuck up the few happy chemicals I have left. I’ll stick with vodka, thanks.”

But what did I decide to do over my birthday weekend?

Oh, you know, just fuck up the few happy chemicals I have left.

And it was serious! But it was also kind of funny. But also, really, really, serious!

So now I feel like I have to write about it because the whole thing got me obsessing over substance abuse and self-destruction, which eventually became an obsession over the concept of selfdom like—self-loathing and self-love. What does this all even mean, especially for girls? What kinds of things do we use and abuse to forget ourselves? Why do we even want to forget ourselves in the first place? And then it all became a matter of rejecting black and white thinking; of considering how American society is still very puritanical in the sense that our collective logic looks a lot like this:

This is good. This is bad. What’s a contradiction? What’s a paradox? Stop. Don’t make me think and relate too much! Let’s keep it simple by marginalizing everyone who isn’t me. See, you’re like that, and I’m like this. I don’t want to understand and I don’t have to, because: We are not the same.

Which, eventually, led me to ask myself: How should I be?

Because, after my birthday weekend, I was forced to really look at myself and reconsider the person I was becoming; the whole experience being a major wake up call, like: Okay I’m not an addict or suicidal. It’s not that bad. But, I’m not as happy as I could be, and it’s driving me to do things that I wouldn’t normally do. So, why am I hurting? Why am I acting up? Why am I so inclined to self-destruct? How do I transcend all these tiny prisons I’ve made for myself? (Or the ones that society has made for me?) Maybe I hate myself more than I thought…

And that turned out to be the big realization—the lack of self-love thing—because, honestly, I’ve never really been the biggest advocate for self-love.

(There’s this anonymous quote that gets reblogged on Tumblr all the time, and I hate it. It’s: “You’re not a bad person for the ways you tried to kill your sadness.” And every time I read it I go all critical, like: Okay, maybe it doesn’t make you a bad person fundamentally. But sometimes the ways we try to kill our sadness are just outright selfish, and we should hold ourselves accountable. We should look in the mirror and say: ‘It’s not that bad. I should be better than this. How can I be better than this? How do I not take it out on other people, or myself in a way that hurts other people?’ We should think about this!!!!!)

But goddam I really must hate myself, because on my birthday I went to the ER with extreme (self-induced) anxiety and heart palpitations, and the whole time I kept reiterating to the nurse:

“I’m so, so, stupid. I promise. I’m not someone who does this! This isn’t me! I know, I look like a junkie right now, but I’m not! I finished college! I’m actually really intelligent!!!!! I’m just unhappy, this is just me being really unhappy…”

And he was an angel.

He said, “Look, most of us have been here. I should be dead after all the stuff I did in college. I know you’re not a degenerate because—nobody really is. Some people just get made to feel that way.”

Then he shot me Lorazepam.

Part I: My Birthday Weekend a.k.a. The Weekend I Thought I was Britney Spears Circa 2007 a.k.a. Rock Bottom a.k.a. Just Kidding (Sort Of)

Friday: I snorted cocaine off the corner of a credit card in a bar bathroom like some dark take on a Hilary Duff song: Why not (why not) / Take a crazy chance / Why not (why not) / Snort cocaine with friends… The guy I used to have a really gross crush on was bopping around on the other side of things; ping ponging between being outside and inside, like the indecisive maniac that he is, and his presence was wearing on me. It was making me feel like I needed to be up, so up I went. (Cue Hilary Duff: Why not?!) Later in the night he made the mistake of locking eyes with me, which, hopped up on cocaine, I went in for the kill. I walked up to him with a one-track mindset, like: MOTHERFUCKER CAN’T EVEN EVADE ME THIS TIME!

“Why don’t you like me?” I asked, but mostly demanded.

He got all fidgety, looked both ways behind his back, tried evading the question:

“You know, the girl I’m seeing now…”

I’m pretty sure I made a nasty face that was a combination of: Ew. Come on. Really?

“Don’t be like that. She’s a good girl,” he said.

“And I’m not?!” I asked, indignant and slightly distracted from my coke-addled agenda.

“Well, you are, but—I heard things. You played video games with my friend, and—”

I cut him off, “So, you don’t like me because, I played video games with your friend?”

(I couldn’t help but laugh as I asked, because: I heard that you like the bad girls, honey. Is that true?)

“That’s not it, I know you didn’t do anything…” He trailed off.

“So, then, why don’t you like me? What did you hear?”

He kept looking around the room, trying to find an out—presumably—but my focus was relentless, he was stuck and he knew it. So finally, he just admitted it,

“You put yourself out there too much.”

GOTCHA!

Cocaine said, “That’s a compliment.”

He kissed me, out of nowhere, just to blindside me, before he disappeared.

The comedown said, “It’s not your looks, it’s who you are—again.”

So—

Saturday: I said, “Give me an Adderall.”

Which was stupid!

I had a presents!

A balloon with my name on it!

What more could I possibly need?

An Adderall, apparently.

Like: Fuck me. Who do I want to be again? Oh, Up. I want to be Up, again.

So up I went.

Sunday: I forgot everything until morning. I woke up with a long red indent across my forehead from my headband being too tight, and a text message from a guy I’d been seeing that read:

That was really stupid of me.

I ignored the text, ripped off my headband and, for the first time on a Sunday morning, thought:

I’m not ready to be sober yet.

So I chugged a large coffee and watched my birthday balloon blow away as I had this horrible sinking feeling, like:

Something bad is going to happen.

Determined to outrun the feeling, I texted my friends from out of town:

The weather’s nice; I’m coming up.

On the way there, what Tony Bennett would have said to Amy Winehouse if she were still alive kept floating through my head like a weird premonition:

Slow down, you’re too important.

But I decided to dismiss it.

I got to my friends’ apartment, and we drank beer until the room got dim. Our conversation went back to high school, and my friends confessed that one of our English teachers told them they weren’t allowed to sit with me anymore because they’d “corrupt” me.

I laughed, like: Too late for fucking that.

Then my phone pinged and I got a text from the guy I was seeing that said:

I’m going out, we should meet up.

Forgetting whatever he did to make me mad the night before, I went home.

I had one drink, which turned into two, and then three…

My guy’s friend asked me about what I do.

I said, “I’m a writer.”

He asked, “Like, for money?”

“No,” I explained, “The only job I’ve interviewed for that even kind of had anything to do with writing—they told me my voice was too strong, like I’m too opinionated.”

I saw my guy nodding in the background like: Yes, you are too opinionated.

Hence, drink number four.

Later, he left me waiting outside Kwik Fill with his cigarette and a bottle of Sprite mixed with Codeine.

I got bored waiting.

I smoked his cigarette and killed half the bottle because:

Why not?

Part II: The Comedown

Monday morning, my birthday, I ran into the ER. I bolted for the security guard and, trying to appear normal and optimistic, said, “Hey, I did a lot of shit this weekend and now I’m experiencing really bad heart palpitations! I think I’m gonna die…where do I sign in?”

Dude didn’t even flinch, just grunted at a clipboard.

I signed in and sat around waiting, thinking: They’re not too hasty considering someone thinks she’s gonna die…I clung to my chair’s arm rests like the safety bar of a roller coaster. I felt like my heart was hurtling itself against my ribcage over and over. I kept waiting for it to just stop, I was so convinced it was going to just stop. Like: This is it for me. I’m that person right now. One more component to the avid drug problem: Cat Olson Dies After 72 Hour Bender…

When they finally called me in, the nurse stuck wires all over me, like, “I have to expose your left breast for this one, is that okay?”

And I practically shouted, “OBVIOUSLY!” Like: I’M DYING! STRIP ME DOWN AND HOSE ME OFF IF YOU HAVE TO! WHAT’S MODESTY EVEN? WHAT’S IT GOT TO DO WITH EVOLUTION?! THIS IS SURVIVAL OF THE LEAST MODEST! EXPOSE ME, LIKE, FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO!!!

And he laughed. He actually fucking laughed. And right then I realized how I must have looked, all sweaty with black eyeliner all over my face, glitzy purple nail polish like a 12 year old girl, wearing a half-shirt that said: Part-time mermaid.

He was the first to ask, “Drugs?”

I said, “Okay, yes,” point-blank.

“Which ones?”

I put up a hand and started counting down the days by substance abuse, “Friday I did cocaine…Saturday I took an Adderall, and last night I drank…codeine?”

He laughed again, “So you’ve had a weekend,” and I became acutely aware of the airy way in which I admit horrible things.

“Yeeeeeeah, pretty much. And I realized this morning that I have no idea how these things react to each other, and I panicked. Soooooo…”

“Now you’re here.”

STARTED AT THE BOTTOM, NOW I’M HERE!

He stuck me with an IV and left me to wallow with a TV remote. Which wasn’t good because, as soon as he left, the panic set back in, only this time it was accompanied by extreme agitation.

I felt all wrong inside my body and I wanted to move around as if it were possible to outrun myself. All I could think about was how much I hated myself, how much I wanted to not be me. It was a weird kind of guilt, like: I don’t deserve to live after this.

I hit the buzzer.

The nurse came back and I said, “I can’t be alone right now.”

He said, “What’s up?”

My voice finally sounded as panicked as I was, “I really feel like I’m going to die, and I know you have things to do, but talking to someone is the only thing that can distract me from this horrible impending-doom-feeling right now.”

He said, “Trust me, everything about you is normal. You’re just really scared because your body is trying to sort out everything you’ve put into it. I promise, you’re not dying.”

“I really, really, don’t feel okay though, and I’m having a hard time talking myself out of it. I’m usually really good at talking myself out of panic attacks—this is different. Like I have a history of depression and anxiety, I know how to deal with those things. But I can’t talk myself out of this—”

He stopped me, “You need to get a hobby.”

“But I do have a hobby! I read and write all the time!!!!!!”

“No, listen, that’s not a hobby, that’s your job.

“No!” I said, for some reason, even more panicked, “It’s really not for me, I love it so much. I’m really passionate about it.”

He said, “I get that, but no matter how much you love it, it’s still work that keeps you in your head. What do you do just because, to relax—other than drink?”

I couldn’t answer because the anxiety was real in that moment.

I kept saying it like a crazy person, “I’m so scared, I’m so scared, I’m so scared…”

He said, “Be honest, how many times have you done cocaine?”

“Only a few times! Like I can count the times on one hand, I promise you! After this—never again!”

I knew I was starting to sound a lot like Lindsay Lohan:

I’ve only done cocaine ten to fifteen times…

And they (meaning three nurses and a psychologist), finally, gave me the Lorazepam because it was obvious I wasn’t going to calm down on my own. Then they had me psychoanalyzed by a psychologist who I swear looked just like Sigmund Freud—which totally could have been a hallucination at this point because I was starting to feel like I’d crossed some line that was putting me on the outside of reality; like I had been banished to crazy-people land. Nobody looked like they believed a word I said.

They all kept looking way too deeply into the fact that I scratched myself with a paperclip in the seventh grade, despite my defense, “I was a middle-schooler in the mid-2000’s! We all scratched ourselves with inanimate objects, or else you were bulimic!!!”

Which ultimately worked against me because it sounded an awful lot like:

Hell yeah I’d jump off a bridge if it looked interesting enough.

They asked me why I did this to myself, “Is it about a boy? Did a boy make you feel like doing this?”

“Really?” I asked, “Can’t my problems be more interesting than that?”

I’m sure they unanimously thought: Probably not.

Finally, they asked the big one, “Do you want to hurt yourself? Are you suicidal?”

I started crying.

The psychologist said, “You’re clearly upset about something.”

I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say because (not to sound too cliché):

It’s all too much and never enough.

I kept crying because I didn’t know how to say:

I love the world so much, it’s overwhelming; I wish I could swallow it like a big pill and experience it all at once.

I didn’t know how to say:

I’m angry because it’s always got to be about a boy. It’s never allowed to be a shitty choice I made for myself.

I didn’t know how to say:

I’m sad because it’s not that deep—some of us just get this really shitty feeling called disappointment and it’s tough to overcome.

So instead I croaked, “No, I don’t want to die. I’m actually very idealistic.”

The psychologist stared back at me with a straight face and it made me feel like ripping out my IV and heading for whatever constitutes as the medical hills, because:

I’m so sick of straight faces.

Because?

I’m so disappointed with myself for not knowing how to be.

☁︎

When I finally went home, my parents were looking at me like: What’s your deal?

It was 6 PM on a Monday, and I was practically sleeping in my birthday cake.

I went to bed after a few halfhearted bites of ice cream and, still woozy from Lorazepam, I read the yellow cutout letters decorating my bookshelf through half-shut eyes:

NOTHING IS A TRAGEDY AND EVERYTHING IS A JOKE

They appeared to be dancing, bobbing up and down as if they were floating in the air like water, and I remember wondering:

Why can’t everything be the way I dream it; the way I want to believe it?

Part III: One Week of Experimental Sobriety

 Day 1

At the hospital they essentially told me to be ready for a weeklong hangover—but goddam I never expected to be that paranoid. I sunk into a depression that led to an anxiety that said: You broke yourself. All your cognitive abilities are shot. You’ll never be able to comprehend a book again. You’ll never write again. You ruined it, and you deserve this.

Which, the guilt was real. At work I felt heavy bodied and kept idealizing the lives of little kids going through my line, like: Don’t do cocaine sweet baby angels, just stay at home with your sheep pillows. At one point a little boy who looked about nine said, “You have hair like Queen Elsa,” and I immediately ducked behind a wall of dish soap for an irrational sob-fest, like: If only he knew, I’m not an ice queen. I’m just a stupid cokehead!!!!

Like I really wish I could’ve controlled these moments of self-indulgence, but I really felt as if the last innocent piece of me had died. And yes, it was really melodramatic and irrational because, hello, that’s what a come down from uppers will do to you, but I couldn’t stop thinking it:

I’d do anything to go back to the before.

☁︎

That night, I couldn’t fall asleep until I’d had a very, very, focused meditation session. (Short-term cocaine abuse symptoms include: Insomnia, disturbing dreams, obstructed sleep…) Which, was all done in vain since I woke up two hours later in the worst pain. And after consulting WEB md. (a foolish impulse that always ends in herpes or cancer) I—get this—went back to the ER. And the same nurse who had been there for my nervous breakdown two days prior was taking my blood pressure.

He got to the shameful question, “Any recreational drug use?”

I looked at him out of the corner of my eye, “I was here two days ago.”

He laughed and said it like I was an old friend, “Cocaine-girl!”

I looked at him like: I hate you.

Then I said, “I think I have herpes.”

He said, “You might!”

I said, “This is the worst week of my life.”

He laughed again, because apparently I’m the joke of the ER, like:

Thanks for the compassion, guys. I really appreciate the lighthearted way in which this group of medical professionals treats my substance abuse and vaginal disrupt. So respectful.

He said, “Really? The worst week of your life?”

I thought about it and understood that there were worse weeks to come, like the week one of my parents dies, which:

Do you really want me to go into a crying spell right now, asshole? Because I can. It’s basically my specialty, waterworks like you wouldn’t believe…

He quickly added, “You’re only twenty-four, you’re fine. Do you even realize the amount of actually crazy stuff I see here everyday? You’re not a coke addict—you had a panic attack that was drug related—and now you probably just have a UTI.”

I mean-mugged him all the way to the bathroom with my plastic cup, like:

YOU’LL BE SORRY WHEN I’M DEAD! OUT IN THE GUTTER! JUST LIKE FLAUBERT!

Which, I’m an asshole, because I didn’t end up having herpes, or an STD even, just like he’d said.

Lying in the hospital bed, waiting for my discharge papers, I texted my friend: “Pretty sure this is some high-power’s way of saying: ‘Hey Cat, do you want to be a cokehead with herpes? No? Didn’t think so. Cut the shit!’”

She responded: “You know I woke up in the middle of the night on your birthday, just like Miss Clevelle in that children’s book with all the little girls? I literally woke up, like, ‘Something isn’t right with Cat!’ Don’t do drugs ever again!!!

I texted back, “I might never even drink again. I’m afraid of everything now.”

Right as my other friend texted, “I hope you fucking sleep.”

And on my way out, I walked past the nurse who’d checked me in earlier.

He called after me, “Remember, you’re only 24—you’re doing okay!!”

I looked back and joke-laughed, “Haaaaaaa,” because I felt uncomfortable, like I didn’t deserve that kind of affirmation, but in retrospect, I know

I should have thanked him.

Day 2

The depression and anxiety didn’t get any better, it actually got worst. And distrusting the nurse’s claim, You’re not a coke addict, you had a panic attack that was drug-related, I Googled: Ways to manage cocaine withdrawal.

All the results were like: Basically you’re fucked for a while—but you can run, or, worst case scenario, eat some chocolate. Just don’t drink alcohol.

So I immediately dominated the treadmill, and stuffed my face with chocolate chips like Harry Potter after a dementor attack.

And still!

All I felt was anxious.

So I got depressed and sobbed as I texted my ex-boyfriend for the first time since I’d dumped him, like: Sorry I was such a piece of shit.

Then I went to work and sobbed again because a baby smiled at me and I felt unworthy.

After that, I restocked shelves and composed a mental list of all the things I’d taken for granted prior to my stint with recreational drug use:

  • Sitting still and feeling content with the lack of motion
  • Drinking caffeine without picturing a fatal heart attack
  • Not distrusting those sparse moments that felt a lot like: I’m about to be normal again!!

When my shift finally ended, I drove to 7/11 and loaded up on comfort food.

What was another side affect of cocaine abuse?

Increased Appetite.

Shit!!!!

I was stuffing my face with Hershey’s chocolate in the parking lot and listening to John Mayer’s cover of “Free Fallin’”—which isn’t even a song that I like! But the moment those first few words were uttered (She’s a good girl / Loves her Mama…) I fucking lost it and started sobbing again. I was trying to convince myself, like a crazy person: I am a good girl! I’m a fucking good-ass girl! And the second I took a breather from this disgusting display of self-pity—like honestly, what is this? Secret Life of the American Teenager?—I looked at the car parked across from me and saw a girl that I kind of know. She looked like she was crying too.

Then I remembered—it was the night of this guy’s vigil.

To summarize the details: Overdose. He was young. Mid-twenties? Went to my high school.

Hearing about his death felt weird because, even though I never knew him well, he was someone tangible. He was the first person to die that was within the realm of my seemingly indestructible, we’re-all-going-to-be-young-forever, bubble—a member of my immediate community and generation. Like, I’d see him walking around places. His posts appeared on the newsfeeds of all my social media accounts. We had mutual friends! I didn’t know him, but I knew enough to feel strange when I found out I wasn’t going to see him walking around anymore.

And no matter what way you flip it, this is a tragedy that every young person who knew him, in some capacity, must have felt—we all must have felt some uneasiness at the news. Because—I’ve seen his picture—it’s not easy to believe that death, and a really dark death at that, could touch a face that looked so open, like so much fun.

How does death touch someone who looked so easy to love?

And, seeing this girl who knew him, I understood something very important:

There are certain substances that you can’t compromise with.

I shot myself with a dose of reality:

Cocaine is a hard drug like heroin is a hard drug.

I scolded myself:

You can’t always come back from these things the same. And if you choose to do them, you have to deal with the consequences in a way that’s productive. Now stop crying to this cheesy song because you’re lucky to have found the line; you know you’re going to be okay.

And then finally, for a second, I felt like my old self again.

I quoted Sloane Crosley in my head, like the insane lit-nerd that I am:

I’m a good girl—but I do not love horses or Jesus and I’d burn America to the ground for a sliver of my former happiness.

Day 3

After a night of strange nightmares that had me thrashing around, I woke up and something felt different. First off, my brain felt less cloudy, which made me happy like, Maybe you can comprehend a book again! Then I ate a saltine cracker and it tasted like heaven, which is questionable because, it’s a saltine cracker, how good can it be?

I still felt exhausted, like there was led in all my limbs, and things were still pretty dreary on the emotional front. But I at least had a sense of gratitude again—one that I’d forgotten about.

I’ll admit, these past few months I’ve been very unhappy, and I’m wondering if, prior to my ER visit, it hadn’t really occurred to me just how unhappy I was. And with bouts of major depression, the first thing to happen before finally getting better is—laughter. I’ve read about people being majorly depressed, until one day, out of no where, some tiny thing happens and they just laugh so hard because that tiny thing reminds them:

Life on earth is very small and stupid. Why am I trying so hard?

That kind of happened to me on this day.

I was at work, and an old co-worker came in looking for Totally Awesome cleaner. I showed him where it was and I thought I heard him say, “Thanks, I need it to clean my bum.” And I froze for a second, because I was about to take what I thought I’d heard very seriously. I was about to say: Hey, maybe you shouldn’t. Until he saw the concerned look on my face and was like, “What the fuck do you think I just said?!” So I told him, and I know it’s so idiotic—like how old am I? Am I nine?—but I bent over laughing.

I actually had to clutch my sides as I got it out, I said, “I really thought you just told me you were going to douche out your asshole with Totally Awesome.”

He was looking at me like: Are you okay? Are you going to be the same after this? But being the first person to make me happy in a long time, I didn’t even care, I just asked without even thinking,

“What are you doing tonight?”

☁︎

That night I went to hang out with him and a few people. I played beer pong sober and drank a Pibb X-tra. Then a guy man-splained SCAT to me as I noted how even the way he ate Cheez-Its was cocky. I thought: He’s lucky I’m not drinking. But then, in the end, I had to be grateful for him because, when I considered having a drink, he was the only person who said, “Hey, you don’t want to. You said you didn’t.”

So thanks for looking out for me, cocky cheez-it-eating stranger. You’re the reason I looked at the snow, going all glittery beneath the streetlamps, and could see that it was even dreamier sober.

Day 4

“Does this shirt say: ‘I’m sober’ to you?”

Me and my friend were at the mall on a Friday and I was asking about a T-shirt covered in cartoon dinosaurs.

She laughed and said, “I love how you get one real birthday every four years and you chose to spend yours at the ER.”

“I know,” I said, “I hate myself; I’m getting this shirt.”

☁︎

Later that night, at the bar, my friends kept fucking with me and making Cocaine-Cat inspired variations of Selena Gomez lyrics, “All of the downs and the uppers, send Cat straight to the ER…”

There was a group of guys sitting across from us and one was ultra clean-cut with hair gelled back in a way that looked a lot like: I’m either in the army or I hate my mother. He smiled at me and said, “Let me know when you’d like another soda water.”

Eventually, he overheard me telling the bartender, “I thought I was Amy Winehouse for 72 hours…” and his face lit up.

I knew what he was about to say, I could feel it coming—

“Don’t you dare say it!”

But he said it, “I love crazy.”

I said, “You say that now, but I don’t think you really know what you’re saying.”

Because, this is a “compliment” I’ve gotten used to.

It’s one that always forces me to become conscious of the war inside my mind, like:

Do you really love it, or do you just love the idea of it?

In Chris Kraus’s experimental memoir, I Love Dick, she describes schizophrenia—the crazed queen of mental illness—as limitless empathy, no understanding of where the rest of the world ends and you begin; as feeling too much, all at once, and constantly worrying that it won’t be enough; the exact opposite of sociopathy. And having always had a deep, irrational, fear of schizophrenia, Kraus’s interpretation of the illness helped me understand why:

Because I feel a lot.

And I struggle, I admit, to find the line between me and everything else:

Is it you, or is it me? Is it the world, or is it this place? When should I think of you, and when should I think of me? When should I practice self-awareness; when should I practice self-love? When should I speak; when should I listen? Can I trust myself to know the difference?

I’ve expressed the turmoil I’ve felt over these questions to many people and I’ve often been told, “You think too much,” or, “You care too much,” or, “You need to relax,”— “You should calm down.” I’ve been told, “You’re overreacting,” and “It’s not that important.” I’ve been asked, “Why does this matter to you so much?”

And now I resent the words: Too much.

Like, I get it—you love crazy.

That is: You love it until it becomes too much.

Hence the rejection: “You put yourself out there too much.”

Yeah. Well. Fine.

But I’m going to contradict myself right now and say—

That’s you.

This is me: I don’t want to live a life that’s complacent.

Because: I’m not okay with the way the world is, and I hope someday it’s different.

To you this might be “too much.”

But, to me—

It’s passion.

Does that make me crazy?

Possibly!

Oh fucking well.

☁︎

Gelled-back hair guy was supposed to meet up with me, but he didn’t show.

So I texted him, “What happened?”

He said, “I had to go home, it was probably for the best.”

I said, “Okay, it’s cool.”

He said, “It certainly wasn’t you though.”

And for the first time, in long time, I could confidently say it,

“I know.”

Day 5

I’m weak. I had a long island.

IN MY DEFENSE: I felt better, I didn’t over-drink; earlier that night I was brave and read over the signs of chemical dependency in my ER folder (something I’d avoided doing), and everything came out negative, like: No, I do not take a coffee mug of wine with me whenever I go to Wal-Mart, and I have never resorted to spitting at someone over a miscommunication.

So I had a long island with my friend, and I told her my birthday story in depth. I got to the ER part, “They looked so deep into the fact that I scraped myself with a paper clip when I was in seventh grade—”

“That’s bullshit,” she said, “I tried sawing my wrists open with a souvenir license plate when I was thirteen, and I’m fine now.”

“That’s what I said!”

We both looked around the room like: This conversation is ridiculous.

I wondered: Why were the girls of my generation so sad? Why did we all think in terms of blood? Why were some of us bulimic and melancholy? Cutters, or dating guys too old for us?

I thought we were supposed to be past that.

Why did we all want to hurt, so bad?

Sometimes I think we felt inclined to do these tiny acts of self-destruction because we wanted to remind ourselves that we were real; because we were so bored, and our problems felt so dumb, that sawing at our wrists with souvenir license plates felt like a good idea, like: Hey, I’m here.

Or, something really fucked up, sometimes I think we did these things as a way of saying: Hey, I’m with you.

Hence: Is it about a boy?

I don’t like saying it, but sometimes self-destruction really is that co-dependent.

Amy Winehouse, allegedly, was so infatuated with her husband Blake Fielder that she wanted to feel whatever he felt. At one point she even admitted this sentiment to him flat out, “I’ll do anything you do.” And, in her case, this meant drugs, and a lot of hard drugs at that—something that really makes me question the romance behind the Nicholas Sparks concept:

If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.

Like: If you’re a bird, I’m a bird — I’ll do anything you do. — If you’re on crack, I’m on crack. — Oh shit! This whole thing just stopped being cute!

But nobody ever seems to call it what it is, and that’s: Emotional Abuse.

In the Amy Winehouse documentary (Amy) it’s constantly implied but never stated: Blake killed Amy. Or, the kind of love Blake and Amy had killed Amy. Or, Amy didn’t know it but she was confusing intensity and fear with love, and eventually it led to a number of addictions that killed her.

Nobody ever says anything along those lines. It’s just subtly implied, because nobody wants to admit that a seemingly good thing like love or devotion—romance—could potentially kill you.

But it can.

Amy said, “I fell in love with someone I would die for…and that’s a real drug, isn’t it?”

And I was like: Yes. Yes, it is.

See Sierra DeMulder’s definition of Soul Mate:

“Not the person who makes you the happiest, but the one who makes you feel the most.”

I’m almost positive Blake made Amy feel the most. And, for what it’s worth, Sierra DeMulder has admitted to experiencing a very emotionally abusive relationship.

So.

The one who makes you feel the most?

It’s basically the equivalent of saying: The one who fills you up, and then deflates you, fills you up, and then deflates you…

And being someone who is finally coming to terms with her history of emotionally abusive relationships, I was terrified by how well I understood Amy Winehouse’s decline; how easily I related to Sierra DeMulder’s poetry. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s something I’m working on, but I’ve finally started admitting to myself: I once cut myself to feel closer to a guy. I once isolated myself from all my friends, concealed my past, and turned myself into—essentially—a pet girl, for a relationship with a guy who would summarize the two years I spent trying to be whatever he wanted with, “We had some great jokes.”

And now?

I’ve done cocaine to feel closer to a guy.

I guess I get it.

Scraping myself with a paperclip was kind of fucked up.

So whenever people ask about the scars I just say, “I forgot.”

Because it’s less humiliating than the truth: I wanted to feel close to someone with deeper issues than myself.

Because it’s less invasive than screaming in people’s faces: I’M HERE AND I WANTED PROOF!

It’s hard to explain how damaging emotional abuse can be; how you come out of it having to build yourself back up again; having to re-order yourself in a way that’ll keep this whole cycle from happening, again. It’s hard to convince some people that you’ve been deeply wounded—traumatized—when you’ve got nothing to show for it. Like you can’t take out a picture of your former identity and say: Look how he rearranged it, how he confused it into oblivion…

Maybe sometimes we hurt ourselves because we want someone else to see an invisible thing that happened to us—

I don’t know.

But I hate that I’m still struggling to solve the same old riddle:

How does a girl love selflessly without being self-sacrificing to the point of self-sabotage?

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

☁︎

Later that night, I re-watched The Virgin Suicides just to pacify myself with Cecilia Lisbon’s truth:

“Obviously Doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen year old girl.”

 Day 6

My friend got me Lemonheads and took me for a drive.

He let me control the music.

I played Boxcar Racer: I wish I had power / I wish I could lead / I wish I could change the world / For you and me…

I played The Pixies: The creature in the sky / Got sucked in a hole / Now there’s a hole in the sky…

I played a remix of M83’s “Wait” by Kygo: There’s no end / There is no goodbye / Disappear / With the night / No time / No time / No time…

I looked out the window and watched the world fly by, like: Tree, Tree, Tree, Telephone Pole, UFO.

I remembered a few lines from one of my own crumby poems: “Life is not the song ‘Wait’ by M83 / You can’t hit replay / And it never hurts you the way you want it to…”

The world kept flying by: No time, no time, no time…

(Sometimes, actually all the time, I go for long drives to nowhere, in the middle of the night, by myself. And every time I do it, I never feel like going home. It’s like there’s this voice pulling at me from the back of my head, saying:

Just one more loop, you can turn at the next road; it’s not time to go home…

I’m beginning to understand that I’m like that about everything—

I was the one who kept saying, “Just one more line,” until it was 8 AM and the drugs were all gone;

I was always the last girl to fall asleep at slumber parties—

 It’s all too much, and never enough.)

I looked up and realized the night sky was making my soul feel too big for my body; all I wanted to do was punch out the passenger side window and get my knuckles all bloody.

I felt a familiar ache that made me feel like howling:

I’m a bad girl, cause’ I don’t even miss him…I’m gonna to free float out into everything, I’m gonna haunt this whole world, never leave it behind…

(This is me trying to un-write that cowboy Tom Petty’s cheesy lyrics:

If you’re a lonely cowboy, then I’m a lonely space cadet.

This is me trying to exhaust you:

Play that song one more time. Are you tired? I’m not tired. Let me run just one more mile. Get me one more drink. Stop, where are you going? Stay one more second. I’m so in love with everything. I don’t know where to place my hands—don’t you know what it’s like? To want to place your hands on everything, to want to hold on for one second longer than what’s considered polite? ‘Cause I’ve got to! I go all OCD when it comes to this. I’ve got to get this moment right…

This is me saying:

Match me; love is not enough. You’ve got to understand me.)

I felt like confessing:

“I’m afraid I’m difficult to love.”

But I couldn’t give up that information because, I think this guy would really love me if I’d let him, and every loving boyfriend I’ve ever had, I broke up with after being told I was “too idealistic” one too many times.

So I got lucky.

A running doe saved me from giving myself away.

She hopped out in front of the car, just barely escaped, and the whole time, my friend kept a straight face.

“Holy shit dude,” I said, “You almost hit that deer.”

He said, “Yeah, but I knew I wasn’t going to. And anyway, I didn’t.”

I laughed because he should’ve been the poster child for the kind of philosophy I’ve always hated:

It could’ve happened, but I knew it wouldn’t and it didn’t. Why dwell on it?

It’s a little too lethargic to be carpe diem, but it’s not quite nihilism.

So I thought of Tegan and Sara:

I’m not the hero, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t brave…

And I realized:

I want to be someone who can acknowledge the good in the light and the dark and not be afraid—not be afraid of the fact that none of us are ever perfect, or all right, or very good; to be able to turn the things I thought I knew inside out, and then this way, and that way. Until I finally understand them enough to either, let them be, or begin a life committed to changing them for the better; to keep putting myself out there and taking chances within reason

See,

I know I have this deep need for all of it, or none of it; a feral itch to make nowhere and everywhere my home; a tiny voice always advising me to run from one extreme to the other; to know and experience it all; and sometimes I take shit too far, sometimes I have to reign myself back in and remember:

Slow down, you’re too important.

This is my one life; my one mind, the only true home I’m ever going to know.

Sanity and sobriety are such fragile, underrated, things.

You can’t afford to lose your sense of reality.

You’ve got to put on a clear mind and deal with it in a way that’s brave.

This is me saying:

I’ve got to forgive myself if I want to keep going.

Like:

I know I fucked up and did cocaine for a while; I smoked a stupid cigarette; I drank Codeine like a sexist rap artist…but the world didn’t end, and I didn’t lose my mind—we didn’t hit the deer—and I can make out a sliver of truth now,

I can still be brave; I don’t have to be anything I don’t want to be.

Day 7

On this day, a lot of interesting conversations happened. For example: A customer coming through my line at work asked, “Why isn’t there a ring on your finger? Are all the boys afraid of you?” And I laughed a little bit; I smiled as I realized it, “Actually, yeah.” He got a good kick out of that. Probably because I said it in a way that emphasized: I just don’t care how true this conversation is. (I’ve never really dreamed in diamonds—the thought of it has always made me a little nauseous.)

Anyway, on this same day, the seventh day, the guy I’d been seeing said: “I have fun with you, but there are no feelings.” Which stung a little bit. It made me feel like—to this person who I’d been spending a decent amount of time with—I’m just a nice chair, and he likes the chair, but it’s spring cleaning, and now the nice chair is starting to take a up a little too much space. Like:

“You’re fun but, [you’re too opinionated].”

“You’re fun but, [you put yourself out there too much].”

“You’re fun but, [you’re difficult to love].”

(That’s me playing a special collection of Mad Libs called: Why Doesn’t He Like Me?)

So on the seventh day, I wondered all day: What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t he like me? (Two trite musings that inevitably lead to a bunch of other existential bull shit believe it or not.)

I asked a close friend, “What’s wrong with me, like why do I deal with so many harsh rejections? And don’t say I’m choosing the wrong guys, that’s not an adequate response anymore.”

And he said, “I don’t know. I’ve always thought you were great, but it’s like you’re always searching for something.”

That was the extent of his response, which I decided was true but too abstract.

I went looking for a second opinion, and asked another friend the same question. He said, “You’re a real woman and not a lost child. Most people are lost children.”

Which was also abstract, and only semi-true because I am still, very much, a lost child (just like any other millennial, I wear cat pajamas and my mom opens my mail for me). However—I guess—my being conscious of this lost-ness, and not being at ease with it, is a type of maturity. Making me, in some ways, a “real” woman. Like I at least have some grasp on who I am and what I want, and that’s more than, from my observation, some twenty-somethings can say. I don’t think I’m going to be like Marnie from Girls, marrying some bi-polar narcissist and rationalizing an inevitable divorce away—even on the wedding day.

I don’t think I’m ever going to lose myself to another person that badly.

At least, I think this is what my friend means when he says:

“You’re a real woman and not a lost child.”

I think he’s saying:

You don’t change what you believe for anyone, not even the people you fall in love with.

Which, I’ll admit, is probably really intimidating. Because culturally—especially as little girls—we’re taught that “falling in love” is all about selflessness, and “becoming one”; about sacrificing experience and knowledge in favor of—

What?

Being “mature” or some shit.

Like: Look somebody wants me! I’ve got it all figured out! I’m an adult! A selfless adult!

Which just isn’t something I’m looking for at this point in life, so I suppose I have to be a little more understanding when guys tell me, “You’re fun, but…”

Maybe I’m just rationalizing; just trying to put a positive spin on a lot of heartache, but I’m learning to hear these kinds of rejections, not as a bad thing, but as, “You’re fun, but [you deserve to be free].” Like, it’s not that I’m difficult to love, it’s that I’m still busy becoming my own person. And I can’t blame someone for not wanting to fall on the wayside as I do that. I can’t blame someone for not complying when I say: Hey wanna get even more lost? Follow me around for a while!!!! *rainbows, butterflies, oops we’re doing cocaine!*

Which brings me to my other friend’s response, “You’re great, but it’s like you’re always searching for something.”

Because he’s right, I am always searching for something.

I’m always searching for the idealistic world I’ve created in my mind; I want to see it become a reality. But it might never become a reality, at least not in my lifetime, and that’s a sense of loss and disappointment I’m dealing with on a daily basis. Furthermore, I’m not sure how many people actually relate to this kind of sadness, so, by default, I feel very lonely; I feel very misunderstood; I feel like I’m constantly explaining myself, constantly having my views tested simply because they deviate from the way things are, or the way some people want things to continue to be.

It gets frustrating.

I get depressed.

I start getting impulsive.

I make bad decisions to forget.

But: I’m trying.

I’m trying, so hard, to lead a life that says: I want better quality of life for all women.

And if I were to self-destruct, to totally self-annihilate, because I can’t get past some guy’s rejection of me due to a subconscious intimidation linked to sexism; because I can’t get past a sociopathic professor’s agenda to bully me into silence (to quit writing), and some people doubting my perception of this experience due to my gender and politics, then it would be an insult to all the women who went crazy and died because they lived during a time where their only options were to either comply, or self-destruct; when women’s desires and opinions really were 100% illegitimate, and completely repressed.

(Sylvia Plath killed herself to be taken seriously. So did Virginia Woolf.)

This is what I mean when I say:

I don’t have to be anything I don’t want to be.

I’ll take all the luck I can get, and right now my luck is this:

I am living during a time, and in country, where I don’t have to comply or self-destruct in order to be heard.

I have the power to transcend all these tiny prisons and become bigger than my circumstances.

This is the part where I start to believe in the significance of that gooey concept called:

Self-love.

This is the part where I regurgitate a self-love quote I found on the Internet:

“Stay away from people who make you feel like you’re difficult to love.”

Now I’m going to take a piece of negative criticism and turn it into a poem about self-awareness:

All the people who love you are beyond you.

They’re already out there.

Go there.

Part IV: Epilogue?
“You’re so free.” — “What does that even mean?”

This random forty-something-year-old man was giving me unsolicited advice at Applebees. He said, “Baby, cocaine’s bad for your soul.” And I was just like, “Yeah, duh, trust me. I know.” Then he bought me a plate of chicken wings and I bitched and laughed about my life. Eventually he said, “Don’t do cocaine anymore, you’re too free-spirited to sabotage yourself like that.” And I joked, “Or I’m just blonde and 24 and you’re forty, creep.” And he said, “Whatever, you’re still different. You’re smart, but you seem so free.”

Which: What does that even mean?

People say stuff like this to me a lot: “Cat’s a free bitch.” — “You’re the baddest.” — “You deserve to be free.” — “~Wild n’ Free~”

I’m learning to define what all this means within my own terms. And I’m slowly realizing that, to be “free”, and a girl, doesn’t mean you’re not afraid to dye your hair blue, or that you wear a lot of black and don’t give a shit when your mascara goes all over the place. It doesn’t mean you do tons of drugs and self-sabotage in the name of “rebellion”—that shit’s irrelevant to bad-assery, totally frivolous and temporary. It’s just teenage angst seeping into adulthood and distracting you from becoming whoever the hell you’re supposed to become. (Or, even worse, rendering the person you’re supposed to become impossible.)

Therefore, to be “free” and a girl means not falling into the same old traps. It means refusing to accept someone else’s watered down versions of you—mad girl, sad girl, good girl, bad girl—and defining who you are, for yourself.

It means forgiving yourself for being a complicated person with three dimensions.

Like—

You still exist when no one is looking!

You are not a ghost of yourself!

This is your only shot, and it’s real!

Don’t fuck yourself over; don’t let someone else bully you into fucking yourself over.

And, yes, in a sad paradoxical twist, being “free” as I’ve defined it means life is going to be more difficult for you; it means that, sometimes, not very many people are going to like you, or understand you. But you’ve got to push past that because—you deserve to be fulfilled. You deserve to look back on your life and know that you did everything you could to achieve the best quality of life imaginable.

We all do.

And if there’s any piece of wisdom I’ve gained from the brief moment in time where I forgot myself, and lost control of my life, it’s this:

I decide.

I decide whether or not to treat my own worth like a thing.

I decide what criticism I internalize.

I decide to move on from anyone who makes me feel like I’m not real.

And I’m going to be okay if okay’s what I want to be, because—

I’ve decided.

It’s Miserable and Magical: Our Twenties are Too Short to Hate Taylor Swift and Female Friendship (or Anything for that Matter)

“The only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”

 —Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Do you ever feel like certain people just sit around brainstorming new and interesting ways to break your heart? Because…

Same.

Okay, now that that’s out of my system: I’ve been listening to a lot of old school T-Swift lately, like, “Long Live” and “Dear John” and “Mean”. And I can’t lie, there’s something about every album prior to Red and 1989 that’s really endearing. Like, every track on Speak Now has this undertone that sounds a lot like: Na-na na-na boo boo. Just. I love how Taylor Swift seemed to have this quiet joke with herself, how I get this secret satisfaction whenever I listen to her play the banjo and sing: Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me / And all you’re ever gonna be is mean. It’s like she totally knew she was going to be on the cover of Time magazine one day—becoming the Yin to Lorde’s Yang, learning the definition of feminism from Lena Dunham, telling Apple how to write contracts, blowing shit up with super models…Just, girl knew what she was doing.

I imagine her being 20 when she first started saying it to herself: Fuck it. I don’t care whether or not you think I’m talented. I don’t care if you think I’m corny, or petty, or dumb. At least I say what I mean, and there are girls in the world who need that. So fuck it. I’m not writing for you. I’m writing for the ones who get it. Until finally, at age 26, she was saying it out loud to Chuck Klosterman, for GQ, “If you don’t get the joke, you don’t deserve to get the joke.”

I love her because there’s something about her spirit that’s totally indestructible and still, she’s sincere. I mean, I know she’s not perfect, or some kind of god, but I have a hard time believing a total bitch wrote the line, “your string of lights are still bright to me”, about Kanye West, and that’s that…

Anyway, I’m writing this because it’s been a rough couple of months and the number of times “Shake It Off” has stopped a crying spell dead in it’s tracks is an infinite one. And that kind of makes me want to write Taylor Swift a letter—that she’ll probably never read—expressing my insane gratitude like: Thank you for being a person. Because, driving around, listening to “Mean”, and just thinking, thinking, thinking…God. Just, so much has happened recently that has made me feel insane and kind of desperate, like I’m walking around with a limp, like everyone can see straight to the heart of all my weaknesses. And just, driving around, listening to Taylor Swift, it dawned on me: This past month I’ve felt invaded and used and a little broken, but the one thing I haven’t felt is lonely.

And the moment that clicked for me, I couldn’t be angry. I couldn’t even be sad. All I felt was grateful, just, this relentless appreciation for all the people who haven’t shied away from being a part of my life, like: Thank you. Thank you so much for being a person.

☁︎

“Guys, I just, really need to know that tomorrow is going to happen. Just tell me tomorrow is going to be a thing that happens to us all…” I’m clinging to the sofa, ripped out of my mind (sorry mom, sorry dad) and in the midst of an existential crisis—that I will later learn only lasted ten minutes and not ten hours—because, I’m an idiot who ate two squares of weed-chocolate that my friend brought back from Colorado. Like: Oh. Okay. I smoke weed, never. Guess I’ll stuff my face with it. Completely disregard all the times it’s convinced me that I’m a sociopath whose life is one giant rationalization. Forget all the times it’s made me worry about maybe wanting to stab my friends to death. It’ll be fine. Ttyl, Logic…

Reader, it was not fine.

What happened was not fine at all because what happened was my personality got turned inside out and I became the world’s most extrovert-iest extrovert. My every thought and anxiety was out in the open, totally against my will. Like, my mental system of checks and balances was all impaired, so I never got the private memo: Hey, maybe you shouldn’t admit that you’re worried about murdering these people that you love right now. Maybe you’re just kind of paranoid and need to keep that thought to yourself, save it for never…

“Just tell me that tomorrow is real and I’m not going to wake up with you guys’ blood on my hands.”

Of course, neither of my guy friends could stop laughing because they are both levelheaded people who don’t turn schizophrenic the moment marijuana hits their systems. However, they contained themselves long enough to give those affirmations that friends are supposed to give in moments of choco-pot meltdown:

“Cat, you’re fine. This is real, we’re real, tomorrow’s a thing…” one says, as the other adds, “You’re not about to be the first person to die from weed, and I’m pretty sure I could restrain you very easily if I had to. So. There’s no way you’re going to kill us.”

“I know, I’m just, I’m in a very dark place right now,” I say, as I slump sideways and tell myself lies that make me feel better, like: You’re not in hell.

“Edibles can be a hallucinatory experience,” chimes in the anonymous know-it-all who, earlier, I banished to outer space by deeming him: “Blue-Planet.” My explanation for the title being, “Because all the blue planets are far away, and that’s what I need you to be.” (See, I don’t know if it was because I was high or what, but he spoke in this aggressive tone of voice that sounded like an assault on my personal space. Every time he opened his mouth all I heard was: I think I know everything or I take myself very seriously, and I was not having it.)

The moment he speaks I sit up to shun him once more, “Blue-Planet.” (Mature, I know. But, like I said, my personality was inside out.)

My need to say every little thing that pops into my head is getting so bad that, eventually, I just start typing my every thought into the notepad on my iPhone: You don’t have to make everything you’re thinking right now show up on your mouth, like, what the fuck, stop. Stop looking like the Grinch when he decides to steal Christmas. Wow. Maybe you’re dumber than you thought, Catherine—yes; high-me calls me by my full name—but that’s okay, you’re still funny. Wow. Listen to you, rationalizing. You are a fucking crazy person. Calm yourself. Calllllllllllm yourself. Is this hell? Is this forever? Hell to me would be like that story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, with all the phallic symbols…I wonder what it’s like to live in a world where you look at people and all you see is something ugly…

I throw down my phone and start to express this sentiment out loud, “Guys, in my world…

“Here we go,” says my friend, biting down on his fist to keep from laughing.

“Like, everyone is beautiful, I mean, maybe not in the conventional sense but…I’m just wondering…do you think everyone who’s kind of nasty and cold and ultra critical without thinking—do you think those people just look at everyone and only see something ugly? Like everyone looks human to me at the very least, I feel bad for everyone…what’s it like to—”

“Cat, get the fuck out of here with your hippy-dippy bullshit.”

And like, for real though, this is why I hate pot: I become every cliché in the book, talking about planets, making myself the center of the galaxy, saying things like: God, I just love humanity.

We laugh and I roll back onto my side and close my eyes because—not to be anymore cliché than I already am—I feel like the room is melting, or, I’m convinced I’m on some kind of downward elevator tour, if that’s a thing, watching all my contradictions slide up past me, if that even makes sense. Thinking: Being this introverted makes me feel like I’m always sinking inside myself…I want to love but I don’t always love the best that I can. Just, everything in this world feels too connected for me—are other people actually comforted by their cellphones, and wifi signals, and Facebook pages? It all just makes me anxious; making a fucking phone call makes me anxious. And more than anything, I don’t like the idea of being known. I like corners, and personas, and—I think I’m terrified of being fully known and understood…maybe that’s why I gravitate toward people who are even more difficult to know and understand…

I sit back up and Blue-Planet asks,

“Did you expand your mind?”

I laugh because: How fucking predictable.

“No,” I say, my head spinning.

“You mean, you actually compressed?

“Yes. No. Leave me alone. I’m not doing this with you, Blue-Planet,” I say, as I lie back down again because: I’m not ready to deal with that know-it-all just yet. Even though he got to me, even though, now, I’m thinking: Ugh, fine. I’ll “expand”.

I think: God, I need to get better about letting things go. I need to understand that, in a lot of ways, I’m someone who is very much in love with the unknown and aloneness and, for this reason, my life is always going to be kind of sad—but not bad. It’s not bad. It’s never as bad as I think. Most of the time, the silver linings are real and so, it’s okay. Who I am is okay, and I should spend more time validating things outside of myself, and less time searching for validation inside myself…I can be an egomaniac. I want to be less of an egomaniac. Maybe all the rejection I deal with is less about me, and more about everything else and the way things are supposed to be; maybe I need to start looking at all the ones who understand…

I sit back up. Blue-Planet and a girl with a Bo-Peep voice are in an earnest conversation about tax policies, and “Fuck Donald Trump”, and I’m thinking: HOW ARE YOU BOTH SO NORMAL?! Right before I look beside me, at my friend, like: Shoot me. He looks back with a knowing smirk as he nods his head at Blue-Planet and the girl—they’re sitting directly across from us, mirroring us—before he says,

“Two complete opposite worlds are playing out right now.”

And I smile at him with all my teeth because he just read my fucking mind.

☁︎

I’m a really intense person, and I know that. I mean, in general, I’m pretty easygoing. But when it comes to my attachments to other people, and my will to get to know them, I’m really intense. And I understand that some people don’t understand this level of feeling, and for this reason they don’t accept me. I also understand that these people have every right to neither understand, nor accept me. Not everyone is for everyone, and that might be a jagged pill to swallow, but it’s reality. Like, the world is not here to accommodate anyone, and if I were to interpret this reality as: The world must hate me, then that’s a faulty outlook, and maybe I need to start sucking it the fuck up and start looking around at all the things left to love. Like, I just feel like we all get so caught up in getting attention, that we forget how to actually pay attention. And, ultimately, the former makes for a really unfulfilling life, while the latter means actually being present and appreciating our experiences for what they are.

I want to be someone who always does the latter, but I’ve been caught up in the former many, many, times. Because—it’s hard to be appreciative of a bad experience, to find the good in something that seems like a monumental waste of time. It’s hard to not be like: I know I learned a lot about the world and myself, but I really wish this had never fucking happened. It’s hard not to be bitter, like: What I wanted didn’t happen; the world didn’t pay attention to me like I imagined it would. And, confessedly, this mode of thinking has turned me into a selfish, unappreciative, bitch, more times than I can remember.

More specifically: When I feel very attached to a person who either has no desire to, or doesn’t have the ability to, match my intense feelings—I turn into a selfish, unappreciative, bitch.

For example, let’s get allegorical: A guy who I was seeing briefly, who I was 100% infatuated with, was teaching me how to long board. He held my hand and told me where to place my feet, he told me how to lean as a means of steering, and the moment I got the gist, I pounded the pavement and let go of his hand. I had the whole technique down for a few minutes, before I got nervous and hopped off.

I remember the first thing he said as he came running after me, “I didn’t expect you to go that fast on the first try.” And I remember feeling kind of pissed about it, like: What did you expect?! Me to keep holding your hand? To just hang around, leaning on you, pretending like I wanted to learn less than I did?

The night him and I stopped seeing each other for good, he said, “It’s impossible to not like you,” and I remember it ringing in my head like an insult, for months, because: Then why don’t you?

That weekend my mom found me all leaky-eyed in my room, furiously coloring in pictures of fish until they looked like fire. And knowing about my current heartbreak she said, “I want you to know something—you’re special, something about you has always been different, and sometimes—these guys—they just don’t want to be with someone who overshadows them; you have a very complicated personality…that’s hard for some people to accept, and you have to let it go. You have to remember how many people love you.”

And instead of appreciating the magnitude of what she’d said, instead of appreciating that I have a mother who contemplates the state of my heart enough to form judgments and conclusions about it, I felt bitter and angry for a long time. I kept wondering: Why? Why didn’t this one person want me? I ignored the most important thing:

Remember how many people love you.

☁︎

“Our minds are like Velcro to the bad things that get said to us,” is what a therapist said for three consecutive weeks before I stopped showing up. Every time she said it, I thought: Yeah, I know that. That’s not the point. Because, I was foolish enough to believe, at the time, I had a mind like Velcro to only the good things. And now, only in recent weeks, have I realized, I don’t; I don’t have a mind like Velcro to only the good things.

I realized this in its entirety, this weekend, when Satan (hyperbole, okay, relax) showed up in a backwards hat and tried to steal one of my best friends from me—like I said earlier: New and interesting ways to break a girl’s heart? Go for her friends! It felt like it took forever, but when I finally pried my friend away from him she said, “Cat, he says you’re jealous of me,” and the moment I heard that, I stopped listening, I said, “Really, I don’t care,” but she kept talking, “Actually, he said something kind of nice about you…”

But before she could finish, I booked it down the road because: I’m tired of knowing about him, and I’ve mastered the art of flight, I’m like, the best ever; I can literally run away from my problems. She kept calling my name, and I did not look back, because when I’m done, I’m done. He says you’re jealous of me: it was enough of a bad-thing to trump anything good, it was bad enough to stick to my mind like Velcro, because: No I’m fucking not…

Eventually, one of my guy-friends found me hiding in my car where I cried off my eyelashes and listed every bad thing I ever suspected someone had said about me, “I know, I’m probably actually crazy, and not the hot-kind, but the real-kind,” I sniffled, “And I can be obsessive, and I look into everything too much, to a point that’s paralyzing and kind of icky; annoying. But, really, I really love people, and I feel disappointed by the ones I choose to love, so often, because I don’t think I fake anything with them, or at least, I really hope not,” I sniffled again, “And then shit like this happens, and it’s like: What the fuck is wrong with me? I mean, I know I’m too sensitive, but it’s hard not to be when nine times out of ten, you feel taken advantage of. No one seems trustworthy, and still, I’m throwing that shit around all the time.”

He plucked my fallen eyelash from my cheek and flicked it out the car window before he said, “Cat, that’s what makes you so precious—in like, a rare way, not a condescending way.”

Then he said, “A lot of people are really fucking selfish, and I’m sure you’re selfish too, but, you’re one of the only people I know who makes any conscious effort not to be. Like, even when we were teenagers—I remember—you were never cruel in the immature and calculated ways a lot of us could be. I hope you know that.”

And when someone tells you something that validating about yourself, you hold onto it, you stop crying, you shut up about your petty problems, and you listen to “Shake It Off”.

☁︎

I think the times when I’ve felt driven to change some fundamental part of who I am were always when I felt so lonely that I had no choice other than to start asking myself: Why? Like, if I ever felt isolated from a group, or person, I’d eventually have no choice other than to start saying to myself: I’m not perfect. I can be an asshole just like anyone else. What have I done that might’ve made this happen? And, I think the most dramatic change I’ve ever made in myself was un-learning the preconceived notion that other women are threats to my individuality.

See, it pains me to admit this, but I used to be one of those assholes who said things like: “I like guys better than girls because girls are catty and jealous; they’re mean.”

Reader, I want you to understand something very important, statements like these always translate as: I hate myself for being a girl. Truly. That’s what it means, and that’s what I meant whenever I said it. And yes: the conception that girls are fucking catty and ruthless in the name of jealousy, or because of careless, uneducated, assumptions, has a world of truth to it. I know. I’ve experienced it. I think every girl, at one point or another, has experienced it. But that’s no excuse. That’s no excuse to be mean and unsympathetic to, or blindly judgmental of, other women—especially when you don’t know those other women on a personal level. It’s no excuse to make self-righteous generalizations that separate you from your gender, because like it or not, at the end of the day: You are a girl. And you probably have a lot of the same experiences as other girls. And you probably feel a little weird, and like something isn’t quite right, about some of those experiences—just. like. other. girls. And, honestly, it sucks to navigate this sexist world alone, so get off your high horse. The idea that this exception to the rule—that the “cool-happy-go-lucky-will-eat-dirt-for-the-guys” girl—exists is a myth, and you’re just as oppressed as the rest of us: Now, sit with us.

And I swear, the moment I understood this, the moment I made a conscious effort to understand my gender on a collective level: I was never as lonely as I used to be, ever again. I was open and not guarded with other girls. Female friendships happened like magic because: I finally understood what it meant to be a good friend to other women.

So, a word of advice: Always sacrifice male-attention for a friend’s emotions, always, always, always…

Because there has never been a time when I prioritized male-attention over a friend’s emotions that didn’t leave me lonely.

☁︎

So this really funny thing happened, where me and that friend—the one I ran away from—didn’t end up getting mad at each other. We actually wound up laughing because: the guy she used to like decided to be into me for a minute, and the guy I used to like decided to be into her for a minute, and we both wound up kind of betraying each other by mistake. Like: Whoops—that was stupid—sorry, girl.

The whole thing resulted in a conversation that went like this:

Her: I’m so sorry, I really thought I was doing you a solid by talking to him, and honestly—I can turn into the biggest asshole when I drink—I’m so, so, sorry. I know you’re really sensitive, and you have every right to feel hurt anyway. It’s unhealthy for you to know anything about him at this point; I shouldn’t of done that. Why did I do that?

Me: I’m so sorry, honestly, I just wasn’t thinking. I can be really oblivious to guys and their intentions, and I just, I really didn’t think—because you and I are friends—he would ever even consider pursuing something with me in a thousand years. I’m just stupid, because it was super obvious, and the whole time I was just thinking: Oh look, a new friend! I’m sorry; I don’t know why I didn’t realize what was happening.

Basically, we said “sorry” and “honestly” a shit ton, and then we both rejected those guys out-right in favor of laughing with each other because: Really, they believe our friendship is that fragile and frivolous?

☁︎

In Taylor Swift’s interview with GQ she said, “I honestly think my lack of female friendships in high school and middle school is why my female friendships are so important now…because I always wanted them.” And I remember thinking in response: Saaaaaame, girl. Just, I’m at this point in my life where I finally have the female friendships that I always dreamed of; female friends who say things like I love you, and I’m sorry, and are sincere.

Truly.

My. friends. are. so. special.

Mystical enchantresses of everything.

They all show me things about the world and myself that I know I would never be able to recognize on my own; they’re all better than me—emotionally generous in a way that I can never appreciate enough. You see, they protect my heart as if it were their own, and even more importantly, they tell me when I’m being an unappreciative bitch—they force me to have fun, even when it seems like everything’s falling apart.

Like, it’s just true: being a girl in her twenties feels exactly like the song “22”: Happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time / It’s miserable and magical… And when I was 22, and still naïve to just how cruel some guys can be, I remember, one night Emily A.—who hardly knew me at the time—saw tears welling up in my eyes (I cry a lot, in case you haven’t noticed) and she immediately snapped at me, “STOP IT,” the verbal equivalent to a slap in the face, “YOU STOP IT RIGHT NOW! I’M NOT DOING THAT WITH YOU TONIGHT! HE’S A PUSSY BITCH AND YOU’RE THE HOTTEST EVER! YOU’RE GOING TO LOOK THE OTHER WAY AND SMILE LIKE YOU’RE HAVING FUN BECAUSE I LOVE YOU AND EVERYBODY LOVES YOU!”

Then she grabbed me by the hand and pulled me into a taxi full of dudes who were impressed by my Sriracha to grilled cheese ratio and didn’t bother me when I fell asleep on their wet-dog and spaghetti scented couch. That night, I dreamt I was best friends with Lumpy Space Princess, until morning, when Emily woke me up by strumming on a guitar and singing, “WHOSE PANTS ARE THESE?” in a French accent. We both laughed so hard I couldn’t be sad anymore. And that’s just it—if there’s one thing Emily A. has taught me, it’s the art of not caring.

And then there’s Keri…

I am convinced that Keri singlehandedly kept me alive when I was 19, the year I was the most depressed and anxious I’ve ever been. She took aimless walks with me at three in the morning, she got me hot n’ spicies during a tornado warning, she watched me cry into a plate of eggs over absolutely nothing. And, for a time, she was the only person who made me genuinely happy, because, with her, nothing was ever boring—she was always ready to go, go go…to go stargazing, to smoke hookah after hours in a T-shirt shop, to walk on ice, to kick vodka bottles into the woods and scream, “I WANT TO BELIEVE!!!!!” after a weird green light appeared in the sky…

And, yes, we’ve gotten into ruthless fights before, fights like Marnie and Hannah from Girls. The kinds of fights where we both totally wanted to scream at each other, back and forth, “You’re the wound!” — “No, you’re the wound!” *chucks tooth brush* — *slams door* Until, finally, we’d get so envious of each other that we’d have to set each other free, because that’s the rule: If you love something… And then all the time we’d spend apart, we’d spend idealizing each other, until finally we wouldn’t be able to take it anymore, until finally someone would wind up saying: I’m sorry, I love you. And the other would respond: I’m so glad you said that…

Keri has taught me that it’s okay to be both happy and depressed; she’s taught me that it’s okay to be complicated, and to not apologize for it; to be a walking contradiction with no defined edges. She’s taught me how to say no to people who aren’t good for me, to say no to people who are only an insult to the strange and neurotic person that I am. And I love her, I love her for sharing a unique sadness with me, a sadness that left us laughing in her bed after a long night out, taking turns reciting Lorde lyrics in a vain attempt to cure our hangovers: You’re the only friend I need — Sharing beds like little kids — We’ll laugh until our ribs get tough — But that will never be enough…

Or there’s Emily B., who I woke up next to on a twin bed between a kitten and a Hot Wheels track, and when I looked over she was staring at the ceiling, musing about the latest dickhead, “Pretty sure he was conceived anally…” I buried my face into the pillow because, “REALLY THAT’S YOUR FIRST THOUGHT IN THE MORNING?!” and we laughed for ten minutes straight. We laughed down the hallway because, Why is there a toilet in the hallway? And we kept laughing through the doorway because, Why do I feel like we’re in an insane asylum? We laughed as we opened our eyes to a street that was too bright, and we giggled as I put the key into the ignition and said it once more, “Conceived anally. What the fuck is wrong with you?” Then we listened to “New Romantics” the whole way home and sang along to every word because we get it, we are the new romantics, we’re free and that’s what the best people in life are: The best people in life are free, goddammit. It’s so true! Emily B. has taught me to love recklessly in spite of being recklessly rejected, to wake up everyday and replace heartache with a punch line like: “Tell him you changed your number back to 1-800-YOU WISH…”

And Rachel, Rachel who I do basic bitch shit with, like going to Fredonia and realizing how jaded by life we are, because: QUAD NIGHT IS MAGICAL! *takes four shots of fireball* Rachel, who for Christmas, I gave one of those annoying home décor signs that says something cheesy like: Best friends are like stars…except, the one I gave her said something a little more applicable, it said: A good friend knows all your stories, but a best friend helps you write them. I swear, the moment I saw it I knew it belonged to her, because ever since we awkwardly got coffee together: This feels like a date. — I know, right? — How do girls make friends without being weird? — There should be an app for girl gangs, she has been present in all my essays, some smart thing she said always being the turning point…

Our conversations are the kind that last so long my mouth goes dry, and every time I walk away from her, I walk away enlightened. There’s so much I never would have realized without her, but I think the number one thing she’s taught me is this:

It’s not all in your head. I feel it, too.

☁︎

I have the line: You will never know why, tattooed on my rib. It’s from a Deerhunter song that’s all about letting go, which, I know, it’s ironic that I got a tattoo about letting go—

What hangs on longer than a tattoo?

Not a whole lot.

I know.

But, regardless, I got it because I want to remember to embrace what I can’t change, and what I don’t understand; to accept that not everyone will come with an explanation for why they are the way they are, and that’s okay. They don’t owe me that; the world doesn’t owe me that…

Getting to know someone is a gift; someone letting you into his or her life is a gift. And sometimes, you don’t get it from the people you want, or you don’t get to keep it, and more often than not, you never find out why, which is painful.

It always is.

I’ve always believed that: I want to know you, is the most vulnerable and romantic thing you can say to anyone, so, it’s painful when that desire isn’t matched. It’s painful when your OPEN sign’s flashing and someone chooses to walk right past you like: Nah, that place just isn’t for me. It’s painful, and it’s sad, but eventually—

You’ve got to let it go and remember how many people love you; you’ve got to remember how many people walk into your life and do more than just visit; you have to remember the ones who stay.

And my female friends (and some of the guy ones, too) are the ones who stay. They are the ones who accept me, even when I’m depressed, and angry, and eyebrow-less. They are the ones who haven’t shied away from being a part of my life because; they love me for what makes me foolish. They love me because my life is one vicious cycle of heartache and laughter, of kissing strangers and crying my eyelashes off. They love me for the ways that I love because it’s similar to all the ways that they love—recklessly and stupidly and hilariously…

They are the ones who keep my spirit indestructible; all the reasons I look like a love-struck emoji in pictures.

They are the ones who remind me, constantly: Never settle, unless you meet someone who walks in the room and knocks you the fuck out.

They’re the ones who, when I arrive morose and tired from the latest rejection, slap me in the face with the reality of what I deserve and don’t deserve, and then, all at once, make me laugh.

Just,

being close to them makes me remember who I am,

and when I look at them,

I don’t know how to feel anything but grateful,

like:

Thank you; thank you so much for never making me pretend to be less than I am.

IMG_5693 (1)

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!

I Got Attacked By a Demon in My Sleep (a.k.a. I’m an artsy millennial with a dream and a degree and no money and I hate corporate America and it’s all really stressing me out but #YOLO)

About a month ago, I woke up around 3 AM to find that I couldn’t breathe or move and one of ram man2-3my arms had gone completely numb. The whole thing felt like some crazy attack with no source—I was being attacked by nothing. However, that didn’t make the situation any less terrifying, and the entire time I had this desperate feeling like getting out of my room was my only chance of survival. Which—I know—makes 0 sense. No one dies from choking on air.

But regardless, with what felt like a last ditch effort, I somehow managed to drag my lifeless body from my bed. Then, I stood in total darkness, swaying for a good two minutes with my one numb arm flopping around and trying to catch my breath. (I imagine from a surveillance camera eye’s view this probably looked like some kind of attack from the other side. Like, I was that chick Katie from Paranormal Activity and this was the beginning stage of my possession—the one right before I start inexplicably watching my parents sleep for 3 hours every night in a trancelike state. This is all hypothetical, of course.)

Once I realized my lungs were working, still in my half-asleep state, I clawed my way through the house, switching on every light as I went, and made myself a bowl of Greek yogurt because…the subconscious wants what it wants after a long night of simulated near death experiences? I have no fucking clue.

But, after that, I went back to bed, and right before I fell completely asleep again I dreamt (hallucinated?) that I could see the silhouette of a large bulky man with the head of a ram staring at me sideways from across the room—like he was curious about me, or waiting for me…

Either way.

It. Was. So. Fucking. Creepy.

So the next day I decided to Google: Is it normal to wake up gasping for air?

The first link to pop up directed me to a question forum like Yahoo Answers, but sketchier, and I read a response that was like: OMG! I STARTED WAKING UP NOT ABLE TO BREATHE OR MOVE AND I’D HAVE THIS WEIRD DREAM ABOUT A SCARY DEMON THING CRUSHING MY CHEST. I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT INCUBUS ATTACKS UNTIL THIS HAPPENED BUT THEY ARE REAL!!!!! I SEARCHED THEM AND ALL THE IMAGES THAT CAME UP LOOK JUST LIKE THE THING I SAW ON MY CHEST! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!

God dammit! I thought.

Like, I just wanted to know if I should go see a doctor. But then my curiosity became unbearable, so I Googled: Incubus Attacks, and clicked on, Images. And I’ll admit, it was kind of jarring to find tons of depictions from different cultures, religions, and time periods, that all showed the exact same ram-man as the one in my dream.

I had always assumed that my “Ram-Man” nightmares had to do with being raised Christian and, from a psychological standpoint, were just a manifestation of my own, personal, childhood fears. I never once thought that this was a nightmare that thousands of people across time and space, from secular to various religious upbringings, had experienced. But after surfing the Internet, I found myself in a state of Google-induced paranoia that had me believing the Ram-Man was embedded in the human collective subconscious. I couldn’t decide if this made me feel better or worse, so I proceeded to educate myself in the ridiculous subject that is “Incubus Attacks” in hopes of finding a more practical explanation for my sleeping problems.

Apparently an Incubus Attack is when a person wakes up to find that they are being held down and sexually assaulted by a demon—this is my lazy, amateur, explanation, but—for real though—people actually believe in this shit.

One article I read was like: Ghost Sex: Could aliens be responsible? While another article went in a less speculative direction and was more reprimanding, saying verbatim: “If you’re reading this, you probably clicked on this link looking to learn more about Incubus Attacks for impure reasons. (You must stop making contact with the devil!) If you are one of these people, somebody sent you here—a TV show, a book, a singing sorcerer…” I promptly spit out my coffee—a singing sorcerer. Seems legit. And finally, one article went as far as slut-shaming my brain by saying: “Basically if a person has a loose mind, one prone to fantasize and lacking in self-discipline, then that person [deserves to be raped by a demon in her sleep.]”

Seriously? A loose mind. Like sorry I’m not boring, bitch.

Meanwhile Science was just like: Stress.

Stress, anxiety, mental illness, repressed memories…these are the real culprits behind sleep paralysis, otherwise known as “Incubus Attacks”, and the two groups most susceptible to these culprits are people in their twenties and the elderly—two stages in life when humans are most directly confronted with the unknown. Therefore it would make sense that sometimes, our waking minds, so overwhelmed with the reality of our impending futures or impending deaths, would conjure up a physical manifestation of everything we can’t explain—at least not yet.

The truth might be underwhelming, and infinitely less fantastical, but I went to college. I got a degree in Shakespeare and defamiliarization and carefully crafted sentences. I understand literary theory. I can’t watch a movie or read a book or even have a basic human interaction without turning it into some kind of analysis. I spent the past five years obtaining a $60,000 brain that I can’t afford and, who am I now?

A clumsy waitress at a yacht club for the overly privileged and mostly delusional; for all the pretend commodores of imaginary ships—people who would gladly have me thrown out to sea because, god forbid they receive one complimentary dessert instead of two. No wonder I wake up in the middle of the night completely convinced that I’m drowning. This cannot be your destiny. That is what the Ram-Man is trying to tell me. Wake up! He says. Do something! But I can’t move because he’s the unknown and he’s in the room and I don’t know what to make of him or anything.

☁︎

When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat? Seth of Chuck Palaniuk’s Invisible Monsters writes this thought on a shabby post card and sends it sailing through Seattle to nowhere in particular. And now I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s such a simple sentiment, but I can’t stop wondering: When did the future become a threat? It’s like I spent my entire childhood and adolescence promising myself: Someday, Someday… And now, Someday is To-day, and I’m still trying to figure out a game plan. Like, I haven’t even gotten to the putting-plans-into-action part yet, and it’s making me reckless in my decisions. Shit, everyone knows that recklessness rarely ever leads to success.

Or maybe it does.

I don’t know. It’s like this: Someday has become Today, and with Today I have this anxiety that, at any moment, it’ll turn into Yesterday. Yesterday meaning that, I blew it. Nothing turned out the way I’d hoped and I’m a total failure. So in some ways, I’m just like: I might as well be reckless. Why waste time building a bridge when I can just jump off one or, even better, burn one? I want the applause, the approval, of things that make me go…

And now I’m just quoting Lorde lyrics.

But I’ll get to the point. This is how I hope things turn out, this is the summary of my dream—Someday I make a living writing whatever I want. No one tells me what to do, at least not in terms of what to think or how to be. Nothing would ever be a demand, only a suggestion. People would trust and respect my opinion because my books, or whatever, would be good enough to entitle me to that kind of power…

Do you have any idea how bat shit crazy this “dream” is?

I’m pretty sure only 1% of the population ever actually gets lucky in terms of making a living solely from their art, and who knows what percent of that 1% is comprised of writers. (Even less than one percent, that’s for sure.) Meanwhile, I’m just a speck in the 99% that is my competition.

And despite all that, I still keep promising myself: Someday, someday, because writing is the only good thing I’ve got.

At times, it feels awesome. Like I have this secret weapon—I can turn anyone who ever hurt me into a story or a joke or a lesson. I can say everything I’ve ever wanted to say, with tact. Nobody can interrupt me. Nobody can put me down half way through. It feels awesome. It feels so, so, awesome—sometimes.

But most times, it just feels like some kind of affliction. Like I’ll never not write. I’ll never not think so much that I need to get it out of my head before it’s gone. I’ll never stop hoping what I write will matter someday while also understanding that nothing really matters and it’s selfish to hope to matter anyway. Simultaneously narcissistic and self-aware. Hopelessly hopeful. Idealistic to the point of delusion and self-loathing and everyone-else-loathing—This is what it means to be a writer.

It sucks because it’s lonely.

I feel like an alien.

I feel like the oldest girl in the world to still believe in magic.

Doesn’t anyone else feel that, or am I really the ridiculous person I pretend to believe I am?

☁︎

Is now a good time to say that I hate corporate America? Ever since I got my writing degree I’ve learned to hate capitalism more and more everyday because of what it does to people like me—Artsy kids who don’t come from rich families. I think Bret Easton Ellis created a kind of allegory for what happens to artsy-kids-with-no-money in his novel, American Psycho, when Patrick Batemen—a character embodiment of all things capitalist and money hungry—says this:

“I have no patience for revelations, for new beginnings, for things that take place beyond the realm of my immediate vision. A young girl, a freshman, I met in a bar in Cambridge my junior year at Harvard told me early one fall that ‘Life is full of endless possibilities.’ I tried valiantly not to choke on the beer nuts I was chewing while she gushed this kidney stone of wisdom, and I calmly washed them down with the rest of a Heineken, smiled and concentrated on the dart game that was going on in the corner. Needless to say, she did not live to see her sophomore year. That winter, her body was found floating in the Charles River, decapitated, her head hung from a tree on the bank, her hair knotted around a low hanging branch, three miles away.”

It took me 240 pages before I finally understood why I found American Psycho so unsettling, but then I came to this passage and I got it. I found the book unsettling because I’m the hopeful girl who winds up metaphorically dead and dismembered. I’m the one who talks about possibilities and what the world can be; I’m the girl who devotes her life to ideas instead of money, and winds up only ever being humored—washed down with a Heineken and confined to a 9 to 5, somewhere. Who cares. Money, money, money. Die. The world never gets better because the masses don’t really give a shit about what it’ll look like for our surviving generations.

For an idealistic girl like me, total realization of this truth feels like decapitation; like my body was just found headless in some river, never really experiencing life, just floating—just getting by—and not by choice.

Uuuuuuuuugh, I can’t help but worry my future is going to be some horrible corporate-devoted nightmare because, at this point in time, working for a corporation feels like my only option, like the only way I can ever make enough money to pay off my student loans. But settling for offices, call centers, break rooms, assembly lines…the redundancy, the blank walls, the cubicles, the recruiting propaganda that lies: This company is community and family oriented! Just makes me nauseous. It all makes me want to resign to a life spent living out of my car or off the grid. Is it too late to be raised by wolves?

I mean, I’ll admit, I used to think corporations weren’t so bad. I assumed anyone who had strong negative feelings about them was just kind of lazy and didn’t understand the concept of: Life isn’t fair. But recently I interviewed for a job at a major insurance company, and the more the interview went on, the less I wanted the job.

First of all, I’m convinced the HR person interviewing me was a cyborg; like I’m positive [insert major insurance company name here] just plugs her into a wall every night and downloads different policies and protocol into her system because she was fluent in business jargon and political correctness at a robotic level. Also, she never stopped smiling, which was disconcerting because it was obvious half way through the interview that I didn’t want the job and she wasn’t going to give it to me.

I put in less effort with every question and answer because it felt like everything I said had the potential to be, and inevitably would be, used against me. At one point, I made the mistake of saying that I didn’t mind constructive criticism and, as you can guess, the cyborg immediately pounced on this statement:

“Tell me,” she said, “About a time when your employer criticized you constructively.”

I remember pretending to think real hard before I said, “Gosh! You know! I can’t think of anything!” Then I thought: Can I go home now?

But after that, the cyborg went on to explain that [insert major insurance company] was a goal and performance based environment, “If you saw your name at the bottom of the results chart,” she said, “How would you handle that?”

And I said, “I would try to do better at my job…I’d ask my supervisor for tips on how to improve, and I’d make improvement a goal. I’d ensure that my results were better next time.”

When I finished talking, she looked kind of taken aback—like I’d just come out of a tourettes attack—and all I could think was: Shit-fuck! What do you want me to say?!?!

I’d kill myself.

If I saw my name at the bottom of the results chart I’d kill myself. I’d shoot myself right in front of it and repay the insurance gods by spewing chunks of my $60,000 brain all over the chart graphing my personal failure. Happy, Cyborg?!?!—Later I told my boyfriend this dramatic internal monologue, verbatim, and being the rational levelheaded person that he is, he said, “You could have just told her that your name would never end up at the bottom of the results chart.”

And all I could do was bury my face in a pillow and loathe him for being right. I should have just given her some bull-shit-too-good-to-be-honest response because that’s what job interviews, and corporations, are all about—bullshit.

For example, I have this ex-boyfriend who is a bullshit genius. Like one second he could be the corporate cyborg, saying things like, “The company, and the company. Here’s my action plan. Now let’s go air this thing out, come to an agreeance. I think we can hack it. Did I mention the company?” Then he could turn around and be a real person again, like, “What company? Oh. That’s just where I make bank off being good at bullshit.”

He’s going to be a millionaire someday. Isn’t that infuriating?

Well no. It’s not. I actually think the world, to a degree, needs people like that. Good bullshitters make the world go round. But my real issue is that, A.) It’s much, much, easier for this ok-with-bullshit type of person to be successful opposed to anyone else, and B.) I’m definitely not an ok-with-bullshit type of person. Like I just don’t think I could ever be so passionate about money that I’d be willing to spew bullshit for it. I’m too honest. I could never actually look that cyborg of [insert major insurance company] in the eye and say, “My name would never appear at the bottom of the results chart.” Because it’s a lie. I’m a shit salesperson! I’m a shit salesperson like I’m a shit bullshitter.

At the end of my interview with [insert major insurance company] the cyborg asked, “So, do you have any questions for me?”

And as she stared at me, expectantly, with her unblinking black hole blue eyes, all I wanted to ask was, “What happened to your soul?”

☁︎

“It’s all about who you know,” says the aspiring rap artist giving me unsolicited advice on creative writing at the bar. This is after I’ve told him that I have a degree in the exact thing he’s trying to school me in, so I’m impatient with his false confidence.

I say, “It’s also about talent and ambition, you know. I’ve been writing everyday since I was twelve…I got a degree in writing knowing it wouldn’t make me any money but at least I would have an incentive to write—which is the only way you get better…knowing the ‘right’ people can’t inspire a person to be that ambitious or naturally inclined to…”

He cut me off.

He doesn’t get what I mean because he’s not a real writer—he’s just a bored dude talking out his ass in a vain attempt to seem interesting because he’s got nothing to lose, and I don’t feel like a bitch saying that. I can tell the difference between someone who just wrote a cool sentence one day when they were high and a real artist—writing is the only thing I reserve my right to be this cocky about. The only subject in the world I feel comfortable interrupting people on and saying: I probably know more about this than you. I mean, I’mma let you finish but…

I swear I had a majority of this post already written before Kanye West gave his Video Vanguard Award acceptance speech at the VMAs. I had already written that I wanted to lead a life motivated by ideas instead of money, despite how “practical” other modes of being might seem, before he said,

“I will die for the arts, for what I believe in, and the art ain’t always going to be polite… I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow…But all I can say to my artists, my fellow artists: Just worry how you feel at the time…Just worry about how you feel… I’m confident. I believe in myself. We the millennials… This is a new mentality. We not going to control our kids with brands. We’re not going to teach low self-esteem and hate to our kids. We gonna teach our kids that they can be something. We’re going to teach our kids that they can stand up for themselves. We’re going to teach our kids to believe in themselves… I don’t know what I stand to lose after this. It don’t matter, though, because it ain’t about me, it’s about ideas… New ideas. People with ideas, people who believe in truth.”

And regardless of how rambling or confusing or weird his speech might have been, he meant something real by it, and it was refreshing to watch someone with such a diverse and massive platform be so unapologetically idealistic about the future of our generation; for someone of that caliber to express the same frustrations and sentiments I’ve been feeling and thinking for the past few months.

I’ll admit he lost me the moment he said he would be running for president—unless he wasn’t being serious, who knows—but up until that point, he had me.

It was admirable how he tried to explain himself, what was going through his mind when he interrupted Taylor Swift at the VMAs six years ago. How all he was trying to say was that he didn’t want to be a bullshitter. He just wanted to be honest. He was trying to say that art is about more than awards and competition and getting the most votes, about more than popularity and making money. That it’s about ideas, and how much an artist is willing to sacrifice in order to remain true to their ideas, even at the expense of popularity and success; about being a visionary first, and a good businessman second.

It’s not all about “who you know”.

☁︎

My favorite writing professor constantly told us, “You have to be ruthless.” Like: Don’t kid yourself. Be brutally honest. Always choose writing over anything else. Don’t apologize for believing you have a shot at this. Don’t be afraid to burn bridges for the only thing you’ve ever really wanted in life—to say something that will be taken seriously.

It’s a lot of pressure, actually having the nerve to believe in yourself—that lame bullshit cliché that millennials are so often accused of believing in too much.

But I can’t help it. I believe in it. All the time. To the point where, to actually tell people what I hope for—out loud—feels like admitting I still believe in magic. Like I’m seriously delusional, like: Hey, I’m twenty-three and I’m still walking around with this lame ass thing called a dream, and because I believe in my lame ass dream so much I will never, ever, allow myself be passionate about a corporate agenda, or brand names, or all-inclusive vacations, or starting a family, or even paying my student loans on time…fuuuuuuck!!!!!!!

 How am I ever going to be truly, fundamentally, happy if this one thing that I want never happens?

That’s the question waking me up in the middle of the night; that’s the pressure on my chest at 3AM; that’s the Ram-Man—the unknown—appearing by moonlight to jolt me awake and say: Get up! Do something—the future is switching from a promise to a threat!

And the more the future, my unknown, weighs down, the less certainty I have in who I am and what I’m here for. And when stress-induced sleep paralysis won’t let me rest in peace and I start to feel that ominous presence, that simulated attacker in the room, I just remind myself over and over: It’s a lie. It’s a lie. Then I think of my dad, who, on the days when I look defeated after serving shifts or failed interviews, takes a moment to say, “You’re an artist…Don’t settle for anything. Someday it’ll happen for you.”

And finally I fall back into my dreams because I’m a self-indulgent millennial and I believe what he says is true.

Getting Over Myself #MYSTRUGGLE What’s Yours?

I recently took the Myers-Briggs personality test and found out that I am an INFP.

What the fuck does that mean?

Yeah. That’s what I said too.

So I Googled the basic traits of INFPs, and I won’t bore you with the details of my personality, but everything I read seemed pretty accurate. So I kept reading until I came to a part in the article that basically said: INFPs comprise only 4% of the population, so no one will ever really understand you, and you’ll probably die alone.

I’ll admit, one half of me was like: Fuck yeah! I’m basically the Loch Ness Monster! While the other half of me was like: Oh. That’s depressing.

loch ness betch-1So, just to torture myself further, I decided to look up the INFP compatibility chart.

The chart was color coded, so personality types that were my ideal match showed up blue, and personalities that were a definite No showed up red, while all the in between-ers were green.

You can probably guess what happened.

Half my chart flared up red like: Fuck everyone! Apparently, my personality doesn’t get along with a whole lot of other personalities. When I compared my chart to everyone else’s, I found that theirs was dominated by lax shades of green, while mine was half red, and kind of green, with only two, very isolated, blue boxes.

I thought: God. Why am I such a difficult person to love?

I mean, I’ll admit, I’ve always preferred people on an individual basis. I’d rather have a few close friends, over a large social circle of acquaintances because I don’t trust group mentalities. Like, there’s just no fucking way that many education majors actually like wearing Uggs, and there’s definitely no way that many bro-dudes truly enjoy maintaining their Hitler Youth haircuts.

Or maybe they do. In which case, I’m sorry.

But my point is this: Jonestown. Scientology. Charles Manson. People who believe Kurt Cobain was a genius…

Like, seriously, fuck groups.

However, the complicated flipside of my deep aversion to groups is that I have always struggled with loneliness. I have always wanted, desperately, to belong somewhere, because I have this constant nagging feeling that I’m both too normal and too weird to actually fit in anywhere.

Now top this feeling off with a reckless need to be universally liked and you’ve located my problem: I want to be popular. I want to be the kind of girl who is un-hate-ably special.

It’s stupid. I want you to know that I know it’s stupid.

But I saw a picture of Taylor Swift in a swan floaty with her current boyfriend (Calvin who?) on Instagram and it had 2,059,243 likes. I remember wondering: What’s it like being that liked?

Of course I know there’s probably a shit ton of crazies who hate Taylor Swift so much that they want to chain her to a pipe in their basement, and god only knows what else. But, at the same time, I highly doubt the few thousand trolls who take a minute to dislike her videos on VEVO are keeping her up at night. Especially after she’s tucked in all four of her multi-platinum albums.

Like, I hate celebrities, and even I love Taylor Swift. So, seriously: What’s it like being that liked?

I think this is a question our generation is always subconsciously asking itself. With the rise of social media, and the phenomenon that is the selfie, there’s more pressure than ever to be liked. It’s no longer just the people we actually know that we’ve got to impress, but also a vast array of people who don’t really know us at all; our followers. (HOW CREEPY IS THAT SHIT WHEN YOU ACTUALLY THINK ABOUT IT?!?!)

This bizarre, narcissistic, cultural shift can be summarized nicely with a quote from John Green’s YA novel An Abundance of Katherines: “Famous is the new popular.”

When I read that line I remember thinking in response: You fucking bet it is.

Because the Internet and reality TV have made fame within everyone’s reach. All you really have to do is convince enough random-ass people to like you—something I’ve been vainly (stupidly) jumping through hoops trying to do for what feels like my entire life up until this point.

I swear to god.

Do you want know how much I have literally invested in being liked?

I mean—I wish I woke up beautiful and likable with smoky mystery girl eyes and an even complexion, but unfortunately, no. My acne has remained steadfast well into young adulthood, and I don’t have eyebrows. So it costs me anywhere from 40 to 60 dollars in cosmetics per month just to compensate for not being Beyoncé.

Then, on top of that, it costs me anywhere from 20 to 100 dollars a month (depending on my income) to run around clad in funky tights and ironic T-shirts because everybody likes an edgy girl with a wardrobe that keeps them on their toes.

Now let me note that 25 dollars is automatically sucked from my bank account every month to pay for a gym where I run on a treadmill like a lab rat testing the Kate Moss theory which says: Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. (If you’ve ever run 6 mph, for an hour, on a treadmill, then you know that Kate Moss is a fucking liar.) But according to our media, bony chicks are likeable chicks. And who am I to challenge supermodel authority? So I pay monthly to painfully trudge my way to a low BMI.

And, as if this weren’t enough already, add a 99-cent Afterlight app to the bill because likable bitches need 40+ Instagram filters. You think my features are really vivid enough to appear that smooth and glow-y beneath a standard flash? Think again.

Now hit me with at least ten shots of vodka at 5 dollars a glass so I can forget how much I fucking hate myself.

It took me years to realize that overcoming self-hatred doesn’t mean learning how to love yourself.

Really. As much as your Tumblr dashboard wants you to believe it does, it doesn’t.

Because, paradoxically, a lot of self-loathing people are actually pretty pleased with themselves. Seeing other people like little red boxes in a Myers-Briggs compatibility chart, it’s other people that self-loathing people can’t stand. Other people are the ones who won’t give them the recognition or the affection that, for whatever reason, they have the tenacity to believe they deserve.

No.

Overcoming self-hatred does not mean learning how to love yourself.

It means becoming aware of how your self-loathing affects the people around you; the people who give you their time and attention; the people who truly know and love you. Because they’re the ones you shit all over every time you hurt yourself. They’re the ones who wind up feeling like their love isn’t what it should be: Enough.

For the longest time, I didn’t get that.

I was just another monster crying, “More, more, more!” and wondering why everyone had turned into red boxes.

My initial lesson in overcoming self-hatred didn’t happen until I was nineteen.

One year and six months out of high school, I found myself talking to a guy at a party who had graduated two years before me. It was a pretty standard I’m-so-glad-high-school-is-over conversation. We talked about hating it, and everyone. But when I said: “Yeah. I don’t know, I just never felt like anyone really noticed me, or cared about me, so I just kind of embraced it.” He suddenly got real with me. He looked at me and said it dead straight: “Cat. Everybody saw you.”

I was pretty taken aback. I got defensive and retaliated with: “Yeah, but nobody wanted to know me.”

And the moment I said it I realized I was talking to a guy who had a drug dealer for a father and an institutionalized schizophrenic for a mother.

I was such a self-obsessed bitch.

I was a fucking cliché. The wayward woman who couldn’t see anything beyond her own self-induced depression—not one thing beyond the aftermath of the hurricane that was her own self-destruction.

Who the fuck was I to complain about anything?

Everyone was lonely in high school. Nobody really fit in.

How could I have ever possibly believed that this was a real problem?

The wayward woman is everywhere in fiction. Which is probably why (as an English major) I know her well. Honestly, I kind of love her. I mean. Everyone loves her. She’s a smart ass bad bitch of few words. She wears stockings and mini skirts. She stomps out cigarettes with her combat boots, and can’t make up her mind about anything. Then something bad happens to her as a result of her own indecision. And on top of all that, she’s lonely. She’s so goddam lonely…*eye roll*

In Leslie Jameson’s essay, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain”, she points out that we love to watch the wayward woman—the beautiful deviant woman—crash and burn at her own accord.

And it’s true.

I can think of at least three iconic wayward women off the top of my head: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Daisy Buchannan, Skins: Generation II’s Effy Stonem, and John Green’s Alaska Young.

What do these three fictional women have in common?

Everybody loved them, but they absolutely hated themselves.

Alaska Young probably killed herself, Effy Stonem tried, and Daisy Buchanan chose to run away with her belligerent asshole of husband—which is a kind of suicide. None of them were ever gentle with themselves, and it made them all very difficult, miserable, people to be around. Because, no matter what, what they had was never enough. And it showed.

I don’t mean to be harsh, but maybe these three women’s problems had nothing to do with being misunderstood or lonely. Maybe the real problem was that none of them knew how to take a minute to get the fuck over themselves and appreciate what they had.

Or maybe I’m just projecting—I’m probably just projecting—because I’ve recently realized that my greatest struggle has, and probably always will be, getting the fuck over myself. Because getting over myself means finally shutting the hell up about my petty problems and taking a minute to say thank you to… Life? The universe? The way things are? Whatever. It just means doing something that shows gratitude.

Because shit’s really not that bad for me: I have a button nose, straight teeth, a critical mind, a sense of humor, passion; a burning itch in my brain that drags me out of bed every morning and makes me do what I love despite the fact that in the end, I might be the only person who ever really gives a shit about it.

Regardless, I’m lucky. It took me forever to realize it, but I’m so lucky to live in a reality where that passionate feeling is possible, because so many don’t. So many live in a reality where survival is their lifelong struggle.

Not just hoping to be liked. Not just scribbling words down on a piece of paper and hoping somebody will like it. But hoping that they won’t starve, or someone won’t abuse them, or that they’ll wake up in a body opposite of the one they were born in, or that they won’t be the subject of a hate crime…

See, hope’s a real bitch to a lot of people. There are so many hopeless realities that I will never even have to struggle with—hardships that I’ll never even be able to comprehend. The least I can do is not be one more ungrateful bitch.

So I admit it: I’m lucky. And now, when I say my biggest struggle out loud, like: I wish more people liked me. I wish I was special. I might as well be saying: I once drove for forty-minutes with a Big Gulp between my legs because I overestimated the size of my cup holder, and the insides of my thighs went numb. #MyStruggle

Like, that’s just not a real problem. So what if half my compatibility chart lights up red like a Christmas tree, so what if I don’t have good people skills, or this weird made-up thing called likability. I’ve still got a whole lot.

And the fact that I can admit this, and the fact that I know my struggle is getting over myself, doesn’t mean that I’m no longer selfish, and it definitely doesn’t mean that I’m never ungrateful. But it does mean that I’m open.

Admitting my faults, and that I haven’t experienced everything—and I probably never will—has made me open to other people and their stories; their realities. I learned how to listen and understand; I became receptive to the struggles of others…

So here’s my major point: We get so caught up in our own problems that we forget how to listen when other people try opening up about theirs. Instead of making a true attempt at understanding, and making a hurting person feel heard, we turn it into a pissing contest of who’s been hurt worse; who’s got the harder life; who’s really earned that chip on their shoulder.

I don’t want to do that anymore; I don’t want any of us to do that anymore.

The Oxford English Dictionary defined “struggle” as: “A strong effort to continue to breathe.”

And I thought: Isn’t that just another way of defining the human condition?

Then, like a bag lady on a street corner, I answered my own question: Yeah. It is.

We’re all making a strong effort to “continue to breathe” everyday.

Of course some days are easier or harder than others…but it’s there. We all struggle. We all overcome things. We all fail to overcome things too. It’s just a matter of time. Nobody’s life is easy. It’s not really whether you fail or succeed that counts, it’s how you handle it. So.

What are you going to do about it?

Tell me and I’ll listen.

This post was written for my friend’s lifestyle brand Struggle & Co. Check out his site and share your struggle @ http://www.struggleandco.com/ or by using the hashtag #MYSTRUGGLE ☻