Love: Pain You Choose to Endure

I’ve had people claim they need me. More than once, whether repeated by the same individual or proposed by someone new. Over time, I realize that I’m a sucker for dramatic proclamations, all these facsimiles of love born from convenience and not the heart. Perhaps some part of me purposefully brings men into my life who are confused about their own desires. I need two hands to count the number of times I’ve been told they don’t normally open up, how surprised they are to have told me some secret of theirs. What I don’t need is a single limb to count how many have reciprocated the closeness I felt in hearing their stories, in seeing them vulnerable. I’m just a vector, it turns out. And for what precisely, I don’t know. I’ve just come to see myself as a halfway house, a place to rest as they search for themselves among whatever wreckage they’ve brought into their lives.

Once they put themselves together, they’ll move on. The art of letting go before they fall away is something I will never learn. And I will lose my footing, and I will break in places both known and unknown to me each time. Because love, at least for me, is nothing more than pain.

Dating

“I lead with it,” I said to Brian, my latest therapist. He was older than me, but I still thought of him as young: he only had a few inches on me, sometimes wore a bow tie, and met his wife on JDate. “When we get together the first time, I tell them I’m in recovery from Bulimia Nervosa. I’ll mention that I go to therapy or that I’m on medication for clinical depression.”

I had come to know Brian well enough to discover some of his tells. Whenever I said something that he found troubling, he’d purse his lips, creating what I came to call the “puffy duck face.” Usually I distracted myself from the difficulty of discussing my eating disorder frankly by focusing on his expression. This time, however, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to see him respond this way to my outlook on dating.

“You have to open up over time,” Brian said. “When you unload like that, you know what the guy is thinking? He’s wondering what else is waiting for him, should you continue to spend time together. I would recommend taking it slow…”

“I don’t care,” I interrupted. “Well, I don’t know. It’s not that, exactly. I just figure that this gives anyone who may get close to me a heads up. Like, they get the choice immediately to deal with my shit, or they can decide it’s a lot and leave. I don’t want to get rejected down the line for being honest.”

“They may leave you anyway,” Brian said.

“I know.” As much as I didn’t want to admit it, most of the people I dated – casually or with more serious interest – would be happy to obtain the perks of a mutually beneficial arrangement, but also categorize me as unfit for a genuine relationship.

I was the fun girl. And I’d be kept at a distance, at least until they found someone more suitable, so that I could remain just that. Any closer, and they would have to see that I was imperfect too – just in less socially acceptable ways than them.

Confessions of a Part-Time Alcoholic

The decision to drink until I passed out every night was not consciously made. No, this new lifestyle crept into my evening routine like a slug, gliding – albeit at a glacial pace – while concealed in gloom cast by a clouded mind. Eventually, instead of ambling to bed, I’d fall asleep on the couch, my fourth goblet of wine half drained. And when I started to sweat alcohol at the gym, I decided it was best to come home from work and attend to my box of Malbec rather than pursue what had once been my passion. Because restless but dreamless sleep mattered most now, even if I was becoming increasingly late for work.

I didn’t want to tell anyone that I was weak, and in my decision unintentionally became an embodiment of my own weaknesses. In recovery, you’re told that you’re only as sick as your secrets. But there’s so much that they don’t say, so many proverbs generated by an overwhelmed mind. There’s safety in silence; you can only be told you’re a slut if they know. Secrets, when revealed, are just a way to create problems. And not only for yourself. This is what I told myself when I switched to drinking hard cider, hoping I would better pace myself. (The only accomplishment I can lay claim to through this choice is gaining ten pounds faster than I could ever lose them.) So the sickness spread. I was only ever wrong.

One or the other, and I would have survived. But I lost a part of me twice in a span shorter than the life I went on to extinguish. As time went on, I didn’t heal. I couldn’t. These empty spaces grew larger, like the red ring surrounding an infected wound. The pain started small but swelled, til dime-sized lesions became as large as islands – all held within me, curdling my thoughts until they resembled pus.

I’m aware now of where silence got me. And as I put away the bottle, having come to understand that I will not passively die despite my expressed interest, I encounter nights that are both restless and sleepless. I wake up to myself talking, terrified of him or crying to you. Love for myself sleeps in the New Jersey sewage with our clump of cells I flushed all those months ago. It was gray, among all that red; given a few more months, it could’ve had a name. And my pride was torn from between my legs, that day I was reminded I don’t own my body. Like the lifeless sac that passed through me, I see him in my nightmares.

Now I wait, and in an unfamiliar development (that makes me yearn for the numbing effects of gin), wonder the course of my fate. Will I explode and die, my regret just a bloated corpse decomposing within me? Or will my body expel this half-formed shadow of life too? Someday, will I rejoin the living? Will I leave my night terrors behind so I can stop drinking and puking them away?

Only time will tell. But I hope that this new era is marked by healing and not by holes.

We’re Only As Sick As Our Secrets

I saw the cells you made in me floating in the toilet, reduced to a web of blood spun across the water’s surface. And I wondered when I saw that gray sac, when I felt the last of life’s potential pass through me, if care would ever greet the news of the fetus I expelled. Instead you sewed my mouth shut and met me with silence, your parting gift the dreams I dreamed in restless sleep of arachnids and children and the absence of color.

Happy Birthday

Because I’ve blocked my father’s number and his social media accounts, he now leaves me comments on a blog I use to host my half-finished prose and unrefined poetry. His latest offering is in keeping with his descent into schizophrenia:

Seeing one’s self as weak provokes the mind into its own (being planted by an embraced past; what one doesn’t let go of only creates one that knows its role) victim mentality… Don’t allow another’s weak guilt to imprison you.
Stand up, because you’re more intimidating than the weak $$$ that imprisons you. LET NO ONE’S NARRATIVES WRITE YOUR FUTURE!
~see your delusional daddy

I delete his response to a poem I wrote about my struggle with bulimia, about my fear of dying over a toilet or losing my teeth. (Writing can never fully explore the fears I face, or the nightmares I live with. I dream of my incisors falling out; I wonder when I’ll bite into an apple and find that my front tooth has finally become dislodged, the slow erosion of my gums eventuating in the inevitable.) I’m not sure what he means, yet the incoherence still disturbs me.

Victim mentality? I think. I am imprisoned, but not by guilt. And I am a victim. I’m tired of pretending I’m too strong to not be.

***

Home movies. Remember those? I sit in the basement of my step father’s house, the TV flickering to life as soon as I push the VHS into the tape player. I’ve picked the one labeled May 23rd – Amber’s Birthday. I’m turning thirteen in a few days. The choice feels appropriate.

My father stalks my mother with the video camera. This is how his home movie opens. He narrates using that voice, the one that’s more sinister and frightening than outright anger. Controlled contempt, I would later call it. A lash worse than all the times he slapped me. In the movie, he directs this verbal violence towards my mother. The image he portrays of her – fat and unkempt, her arms as wide as pillows, eating chocolate – is not enough to sate the part of him that feeds off pain.

“Look at the hippopotamus,” he says loudly enough that my mother’s head spins, “look as she grazes.” She brings her hand up towards the lens, her fingers and palm and sagging skin obscuring the view of our tiny kitchen.

Sharp cut. Now there’s me, a small child, my face red and wet. I’m wailing on the top bunk. I look like some soon to be victim, as if I were one of the dumb girls in the horror films my mother and I watched together. My father is Freddy Krueger, among the few – or perhaps the only – horror villains that emotionally tormented their prey before slaughtering them.

“Oh, why is the birthday girl crying?” He uses the same tone as before, when he deemed the woman that gave birth to me and his two other children a hippo.

When I think back to my birthday, I don’t remember why I was in tears. After all, I was only five years old.

Words Become Stories

i.

Absconded: responsibility to others is a burden you refuse to bear; you sat on no throne and thus owed nothing to the world you existed within.

Banalities: to fix the foundation of the every day, you mixed my blood and my sweat, and used the resulting substance like caulk to fill the holes.

Contusions: you left bruises deep enough to penetrate the bone.

Desire: yearning for existence, you demonstrated, was a sin greater than lust.

ii.

Stay, you said, in response to my need to leave. I couldn’t bear the limbo I occupied, or the shape my story took in your hands (the narrative bent like a coat hanger so you could bury it deep within the hollow space in me).

iii.

When I chose me, you turned to me a face as hard as stone. And so I returned my voice from your mouth with a written curse and set our history ablaze.