Beast

I was always that kid. You know, the one who, at five years old would consider the other children stupid because they couldn’t stand still during dance class. I’d roll my eyes and have conversations with grown ups. “Strange kid,” they’d say.

The kid who would practice day and night for perfection, stuck up swagger, frustrated and quitting when the class could never keep up.

Socializing was an excercise in frustration. Screw those kids who couldn’t sit still, didn’t try hard, had no discipline. I couldn’t understand them. I was always a monster, on the attack from the start. My version of playing was working.

In the spelling bee I took the trophy, in karate I took down kids twice my size. In dance they took me down the hill to the studios in Hollywood, because I had outgrown what my small town could offer.

I am not particularly brilliant, coordinated, or talented. The term “gifted” really belongs to my brother. I was none of those things, but what I have always been is an attacking, relentless beast.

My mom always says I was born smoking a cigar and barking orders. My preschool said I’d grow up to be an activities director on a cruise ship, organizing everybody and telling them what to do.

“Fools!” I thought, four years old and laughing. I’ll own the fucking boat.

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Kind

It is maybe too kind.

My phone rings at off hours, at all times. It says things like, “It’s been a while” from Tokyo and “U up?” from Los Angeles, and from Nashville it’s always, always “I just can’t forget.”. The singsong cadence of my name, smudges from clumsy fingers, “I miss you…” from all across the world.

Here, from my sedentary vantage point, I can see patterns. In my stillness, everything slows to a crawl. My brain humming, processing algorithms. I could tell this one why they’re calling long before they’ll ever admit it. I can save that one the embarrassment and just listen – urgent, quiet voices and the glow of a screen in the dark.

One wears it more openly than another, but it all translates the same:

I am lonely. Save me.

But I can’t. So I listen. It is maybe too kind.

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Too Late

I like when you call me too late.

When you tell me how just after dialing, you realize what a ridiculous hour it is to be calling just to ask me how my day was.

But I just like that you call me.

I have a strange affection for the way, after fifteen years, you still cannot tell me that you love me.

But you’ve learned to say “You know I do.”

And I know well enough.

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Measure

I know how to measure my value.

I measure in the centimeter sizes of fingerprints. In the shape your mouth makes.

I know how to measure my value.

I measure in closed fist gut punches, gas stoves, and permission slips.

I measure in the words “but” and “not that bad” and “I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it”. I measure in “but he was nice to us”’s and “we don’t want to get involved”’s and “what do you want from me”’s.

I measure my value in medicine and minutes in closets. I measure in days without roofs, the amount of whiskey in your glass, in the cost of a moving van. I measure in the voice memo you sent me by accident, laughing.

I know the sum of everything.

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Whole

I’m scanning the internet for a meme, a joke… something to express all of my fears as something light and silly, something laughable to get it off my chest…but there isn’t anything. I want a way to say it all out loud because I’ve been carrying it around for weeks, and I don’t know how to say what I need to say without feeling pathetic. But still, I can’t do this alone.

I feel hot, then cold, then numb. I’m tired and I have to lay down. I reach for a bottle of whiskey and tell myself that I’ll still be a woman when all of this is over. I run my fingers over my scars.

I never wanted my womanhood to be defined by sex and childbearing, but suddenly unable to do either, I find myself grappling with my value as a human. Will anybody want me? Do I have anything left to give? It was supposed to be a robotic surgery, picking through my muscles and nerves for adhesions, when suddenly the doctor sprung on me that the best option, really, the option I’d ultimately need, was a hysterectomy. The disease is already growing back, they said. Your organs will fail you anyway.

What?

Maybe this is a good thing. That’s what I tell myself, likely because I have to. Stay on the sunny side. Never again can someone claim they don’t want children, sucker me into a relationship, and then drop the bomb that I can’t fulfill their needs and they just thought I would change. One boyfriend knew three weeks in that kids were not an option with me, and he told me he didn’t want any. Then one night, in an ugly drunken slur I would come to know far too well, he told my best friend he had absolutely always wanted children. He just secretly believed I would change. When I left, he accused me in a torrent of scorn and sarcasm.

“I’m so sorry I wanted marriage and a family!”

Because my choices are valueless and less important than his. Because I must have never wanted to be married or have a family of my choosing. Because my body is perfect and functioning. Because any man has the right to demand pregnancy of a woman.

My friend Mia always calls it like it is. “ ‘Sorry I wanted marriage and a family‘? That’s a nice way of saying ‘Sorry I baited you into relationship based on a lie.’” She was right. She usually is.

I can’t change myself. I can’t change that I want to foster troubled kids before I’d ever feel the need to push one out of my body. I can’t change that my reproductive organs have been weaponized to devour the rest of my body. Auto immune diseases are a living nightmare. Your body betrays you, and mine is destroying itself.

Maybe men will have to want me for who I am after this.  Maybe the truth of my body will shut it all down. Maybe it’s a good thing.

This probably isn’t true. I suppose someone can still romance me, pretend they don’t want children, and then drop me a few years in. Even the lack of a uterus can’t put off a man on the hunt. I’ve heard the words, “You’re my dream girl.” enough times to make me shudder. I can’t be your dream, I’m just a person. How could someone who can’t have children be your dream girl if that’s what you’ve always wanted? I’m exhausted trying to carry around the fantasies projected onto me because I look good in blue jeans and tell witty jokes. I’m nobody’s dream girl. I’m a woman with scars and sight and perspective. I’m not damaged or broken, but I’ve seen some ugly things, and I’ve survived them. I’ve learned and I’ve grown and I’ve evolved into something wiser, quicker, stronger, and more assured. I have power and value beyond my ability to satisfy someone else’s needs. I sometimes falter, but I know this.

I’m better now. Happier. Free of constant shaming. Free of control. Of always being wrong to him, being told I have terrible morals and am making wrong choices. I’m free of not being allowed to hang out with my friends without retribution. Of being yelled at for scheduling my own doctor appointments without asking permission. I am free.

But I also wake up in the hospital bed alone. There is no one to sleep in the chair overnight. No one to hold me while I drift in and out, bandaged and bleeding, No one placing a stuffed animal in my arms and telling me they love me. Today, I am my strongest, fullest self I ever have been…

But in these moments, waiting for the terrible things that will help or hurt me, waiting for the days of liquid food and throwing up in garbage cans, waiting for my eighth, ninth, and tenth surgical scars… I am lonely.

They tell me I can’t wear my red lipstick in the OR, but I need to feel strong, more than just a piece of meat and a compilation of statistics, so I paint all of my nails black and shiny.

I am powerful, I tell myself.

When I wake up at 3am to take the two anti-microbial showers, I am strong.
When I can’t eat for days and have to drink a gallon of chalk, I am strong.
When I spend the days bleeding and sleeping, I am strong.

 
And when I wake up with no uterus, I’ll be alone. But alone with the smallest hope, the belief planted inside me that I have to hang on to – that I am still good enough, whole enough, to be loved.

Break Them, Lose Them, Leave Them

Lauren and I are decorating the tree.  We’re decorating the tree because it is December, because I’m a flexible Jew, and because Lauren is princessy enough to counteract all of my not caring about anything at all.  So we have a tree, and we’re putting pink tulle around it.  That’s how Lauren rolls.

I’m lucky to have her, and I’m glad she’s like this.  She gets me outside of myself sometimes, and I need that.  I pull out her snowmen, her angels and stars, and I smile.

“I almost got new ornaments this year,” I say, mostly to myself.

“Almost?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I wanted to get some, but then I thought, why bother?”

“What?”

“I mean, I move.  I just, I always move.”

“But.. that doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things.”

“Yeah, I know… I know… it’s just how I am with nice things.  I either break them, lose them, or have to leave them behind when I go… and then I’m just… I’m so sad… so I just don’t really bother with things at all anymore.”

The second it comes out of my mouth, I realize how bad it sounds.  But I’m just being realistic.  I’ve moved so many times that anything I can buy more cheaply than ship gets thrown out.  Anything I have to worry about breaking is a huge liability, and anything I can forget has already been left somewhere between Fort Lauderdale and Finland.

I’m embracing myself, I say. I’m just admitting that I suck at this.

But it’s more than that, if I’m being honest.  It’s more than that.  I’ve lived here for a year without a dresser or blinds.  Without a phone that isn’t shattered or pillowcases my old roommate’s cat didn’t chew.  One day I woke up and realized that I wasn’t ready to settle in because I still hadn’t been able to admit I’d ended up here.  I haven’t moved on.  Not in theory, not in life.  Not at all.

*****

People forget, and I try to forget, but I can’t.

TOSHIBA TRANSFERS II 1709

The word “bride” made me itchy. I couldn’t wear it, it didn’t fit.  I was terrible at ogling place settings and invitations.

Every sales clerk at every bridal store had pitched it the same.

“He’s English!” They’d squeal.  “You’re going to live in Barcelona!” They’d shriek.

“It’s a fairytale!”

And I would nod, awkwardly, with a white dress 6 sizes too big clipped to me with the big orange bridal store clamps I’ve discovered they use to strap the samples on you.  The dresses never felt right, but I loved him fiercely, and he and I were going to build the life I’d always thought was out of reach.

The engagement was, truthfully, a dream come true.  Embracing everything I’d ever wanted with the man who always made me laugh and kissed me like the world was ending.  No fear, side by side, traveling, living in a foreign country again.  He would grin, sweeping me around in his arms, making plans.  The first place he wanted to take me was Italy.  We’d take weekend trips to Istanbul and buy produce from the farmer’s market by my language school.  We’d live in a shoe box apartment in the Gothic district of Barcelona and give bike tours to tourists, and these would be the years we would talk about for the rest of our lives.

I remember his speech when I brought home the pamphlet for the language school, sighing with longing.

“Why don’t you just go?  You go to school and I’ll work.  You never let anyone do anything for you.  You don’t trust anyone to love you enough.  Let me do this for you… with you.”

And suddenly all the feelings I was never sure I’d have for anyone hit me breathless.  I wanted to marry him, and I knew it.

Three weeks later on one knee, he pushed his grandmother’s ring onto my finger.  Everything I never knew I wanted, I had.

It’s been fifteen months since everything came crashing to the ground.

How do I ever explain how piece by piece, everything fell apart?  The mindfuck of loving a man like him was that his lifelong entitlement and privilege was so complete, he couldn’t even understand why anyone would be upset that all of his promises were empty, and all of his stories were lies.  Every failure he’d ever had he was bailed out of by his wealthy parents.  Everything he’d ever achieved had been purchased for him.  The concept of consequences, that people hurt, that people cared, was lost on him.

When I gave notice at my job he was lying about filing our marriage license.  When I was breaking my lease he was lying about getting a job in Spain to support us.  We had planned to sell his house to purchase a home in Barcelona when it turned out – the house didn’t belong to him.  His parents were bankrolling the charade.  He’d attempt to get off on technicalities and I would angrily force the truth – none of those games mattered.  We were adults.  Trust mattered.  Respect mattered.  Responsibility mattered.  He shrank from me, deflated in realizing his grandiose claims of taking care of us were just an empty boast.  He fell off the grid for a week.  He claimed he didn’t have a phone charger but posted on social media.  I told him I didn’t care where he’d been or what he’d done.  It didn’t matter.  He was nothing to make a husband of.  He was nothing at all.

My job was gone, my home was gone, I had sold my car and spent out my savings on the wedding.  Everything I had worked so hard for my entire life was broken, wasted on this useless man, who thought nothing of what he had cost me. I thought that love meant finally trusting someone with something important, and when finally I opened up to it, I was stripped of everything I had.

In the wake of everything I lost, I collapsed in on myself.  I turned off my facebook, I didn’t return calls.  I cut out everyone who looked at me cross eyed or said an unkind word.  Nothing but a bundle of frayed threads, terrified that if you touch me, I’ll all but come unraveled.

I cried when I saw pictures of old friends together, and I burned the contract for my wedding venue.  I vowed never to lose so much to anyone, ever, ever again.

My dream of traveling the world with someone I loved was just that, a dream.  And looking behind at the wreckage of my life I feel that I can’t take on a single thing if I have to worry that it will be taken away from me, because I just don’t have the strength to watch another thing I love fall apart.  How could finally giving my trust, the best of myself, leave everything in pieces?

Everything I ever wanted broken, lost, and left behind.

***

A year later, after reassembling my life, my heart is still reeling from my losses.  I’ve been wandering through life in some sort of aimless haze, somehow all stuck together on the outside – I got a job, a car, and an apartment again – but hollow on the inside.  Cracked and empty.  I have trouble feeling anything.  These little activities with Lauren make me feel more human.  It’s Christmas, so we’re going to buy a tree topper.  It’s the thing to do.

Lauren and I are strolling aimlessly through the Culver City Target, picking out wrapping paper and buying trash bags.  We talk about the holiday and her latest job interview.  She turns to the wreaths and bows, and I, restless, veer off into the clearance ornaments that no one in the past month felt were worth $6.95.

My eyes feeling glassy, half in and half out of head, I pause to gather myself.  And that’s when I see it.  A little glittery globe.  A shiny promise of the planet.  I pick up the ornament and feel my heart warm with love and desire.  Enticed and enchanted, I hold it for a moment, and walk to the front of the store.

A discount ornament with flecks of dried hot glue, a ball of cheap glitter all over my clothes, and yet… it’s something.  I decide that I want something for the first time in a long time.  Suddenly strong enough to risk another loss.  In the flick of a heartbeat, something in me wakes up.  I am not whole yet, but I am healing.

I clutch the globe to my chest, intent on making it mine.  And though I promise myself to do my best not to break it, lose it, or leave it, I know that if my best leaves it shattered to pieces, or stranded in a suitcase in Belgium, my heart will learn to love something once again.

And in the mean time, I’ve got the world on a string.

You’re hurting me.

Some days I’m so angry, and they stick me with another needle, and another, and another, and I just grit my teeth and take it.

“Anything,” I tell myself, “anything to get well.”

Some days I just stay in my room, I forget to eat and I don’t shower, and I cry a lot.

I’ve had so many needles placed directly into my nerves, or up through my vagina and into my abdominal wall, that I now posses the horrifying knowledge of what those things are “supposed” to feel like.  I understand the difference between when the epidural goes in properly and when the needle strikes my spine.  I can tell a botched IV an hour before my arm swells and the nurses take me seriously.  I can feel when a physical therapist has gentle hands, and I can sense if you don’t care if you’re hurting me.  And some of you don’t.

A few weeks ago I went to to have some of my spinal nerves destroyed with radiofrequency generated heat.  I don’t want to hope because hope has hurt so much, but I come in anyway, grasping at straws.  They go to put the line in, and even though I know I have “good” veins – clear to see, close to the top of my skin – they try to place it in my hand and fail.  I grimace as they fish around; I’ve felt worse.  They pull the needle out and try again, only this time, they hit something.  I jump and cry out, two things I never, ever do, and I try to tell them.

“It’s wrong, something’s wrong!” I yell, and they keep sticking me.

“Take it out!  It’s wrong, I know it’s wrong, take it out of me!”  I’m practically screaming.

“Sometimes it just hurts more in your hands.”

Sure it does.  They don’t know me, and they don’t know if I have a low pain tolerance, or any idea what this is supposed to be like, but I do.  “It’s wrong.” I glare.  “Take it out of me.”

They do, and when I feel my heart rate start dropping back to something close to normal I ask for a glass of water.

“We’re going to have an IV in you.  We’re just about to hydrate you.”  The doctor says.

I can feel the heat behind my eyes as I look at him.  “That’s lovely, but I’m asking because I’m nauseous, so it’s get me a cup or have me vomit on your sterile table, your choice.”

A minute later I sip the water, tell them to try again, and bite down hard on my tongue.

They get it this time.

They wheel me over to the procedure room, where I’m drifting in and out, but not out enough that I can’t feel them yank my pants off.  I should be embarrassed, but everyone in Los Angeles has seen me naked and stuck me with a needle at this point.  There is nothing left to be ashamed of.  There is no pride left to lose.

Anesthesia does odd things to you.  I dream the same dream over and over, and in it, I am alone in a spotlight in a dark room, screaming out again and again,

“You’re hurting me!  You’re hurting me!”

But no one hears me.  Or if they do, they don’t believe.

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Snowflakes

I think it’s been about five years, and people still ask about you.

I think it’s been five years because I don’t count.  I’ve never counted.  I try not think about it at all.

When I do try to talk about you, I never know where to begin. The first time I saw you and we locked eyes across a common hall packed full of students too young to drink?  Or… your mouth pressed to mine on the balcony in that little town in Spain, high above the world or… that time you got down on one knee and pulled out your grandmother’s ring.

Everyone wants the story, and for once in my life, I don’t know what to say.

I knew you better, and I loved you harder, than anything before or since.  I’m still trying to write about you, where do I ever begin.

***

When we were living in New England, we raced to the top of the hill in the snow, only to have three busses pass us by and leave us shouting, cursing in the slush.  In the nine months I’ve lived here I have grown to hate blizzards, public transit, and the ever growing hole in my left boot that I still can’t afford to replace.

We stood there, growing later for work by the minute, shivering in the dull February morning.  I looked up into the grey sky, all doey eyed California girl, and remark to him on how the snow looks like little jagged chunks.  It only snowed once every other year or so when I was a child, I said. I’ve never really had the chance to see it closely.

He grins, feigning disbelief.  “My American baby,” he says, laughing.  I tell him to shut up as he hooks his arm around my back and draws me to him.

“Here.”

He scrapes my collar with his credit card, and holds it up for me.  I am twenty six years old.  I have never seen a snowflake.  I stare at it, all tiny and perfect as he holds me to him with his other arm – and I can feel him – warm in 10 degrees below zero, warm in the slush up our calves, warm through the two overcoats, three sweaters, and four shirts between us.

I am beaming.  I am full of love.

Windows

I want to go to his house and break all his windows.  I want to take everything that means anything to him, and curb stomp it into the ground.  I want to punch him in the stomach a thousand times, until he finally hurts as much as I do, and when he does he will cry out and say “Little bee, I had no idea, I’m so, so sorry.”

And he will remember he loves me.  He will will wrap his arms around me, we will cry together, and everything will be the same again.

But they won’t.

And they never, ever will.

Fall

I’ve been doing everything I possibly can not to write about you.

I shut down my computer.  I make more plans.  I thwart my own desire to write.

I don’t tell friends your name, I won’t introduce you.  I put your flowers on the coffee table and stuffed the hand written note into the top left drawer of my dresser. Then suddenly, in a moment of recklessness, yanked it out and put it in my purse.

Unbeknownst to you, for the last two weeks I’ve been carrying your words, your crooked k’s and i’s dotted far to the left, everywhere I go. I know I’m falling for you. I’m fighting it every step of the god damned way.

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