Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Odds and Ends

I used to have visions. Strange and often disturbing images would suddenly arise in my mind. The summer after I graduated high school I would be driving along and be overtaken by the mental picture of my car wrapped around a tree, my body smashed between the car's metallic side panel and the bark. I could almost feel the scraping sensation.

Another recurring image was of my naked body hanging in a black space. My wrists were bound, the binding hung on a giant metal hook suspended from a chain. The space around my pale white body was blank, and my imagination never bothered to dream up what the chain was hanging from or where I might fall if the binding should break. It wasn't hell. It was a void. The point of the image seemed to be the feeling of being stretched to the limit, being acted upon by the opposing forces of the hook and gravity. It didn't seem to matter where I would fall. Falling wasn't the fear.

The image would just come at the oddest moments. Being plagued by the sudden onslaught of disturbing images that one cannot then let go is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I have no other symptoms, but I wondered for years if I had it because the number and strength of the images was so great. I could be walking down a flight of stairs and have a flash of myself falling face first, the impact pushing my teeth up into my head. Some images were like that--describing a possible catastrophic experience that might occur while going about the mundane. Others were like the hanging--elaborate, jarring and symbolic dreams.

I have had occasion recently to visit a ghost. Actually, the only occasion I've had for such a thing was pure nosiness which I like to dress up as curiosity. It's the ghost of myself when I was in my early 20's. That's what got me thinking about all of these visions I used to have. The vision of my car wrapped around a tree was a recurring theme that specific summer because at the time I wanted to die. The image of me hanging from a hook? It's tied to a time in my life when I felt conflicted. Not mildly conflicted about which major to choose or which boy to date, but seriously conflicted about whether I wanted to follow the self-destruction all the way down or pull myself back up. Ultimately I chose to do the work--the work everyone does when they grow up, but with a little extra credit because I'd fallen so far behind on my studies. I was born with the handicap of an extra appendage of crazy. Maturing is a natural process, and most people do it almost effortlessly. They experience a few hard lessons and learn them because humans have a natural inclination to save themselves. But some people are born with a nagging feeling that they're not quite sure they're worth the saving. Some people are born with the knowledge that they probably are, but they can't escape the feeling that they might be wrong.

I don't even know what it's like to be that way anymore. While visiting the ghost, I'm struck by two very disparate emotions. I'm grateful I've gotten past all of that. I'm glad that my default setting is no longer emotional turmoil. But I also miss it. The wildness of it. The sheer exhilaration of feeling something over every single event, a single sentence uttered by another person capable of sending me into flights of rage, fancy or depression. But I suppose the biggest difference between me now and me then is that now I can miss something and know that I don't want it back. Quite a bit of my insanity was due to a need to reconcile everything. If I had a feeling, I had to act on it until the outcome was satisfactory, shove it in someone else's face until they worked it out for me, or labor over it until I exhausted myself and became paralyzed with doubt or regret. It's a hard way to live. Now nothing has a box, and everything is neater. Cleanup is simpler. Messes just don't even get made half the time. And that which I cannot reconcile in an instant I simply leave alone. Things that would've become overwhelming dramas in the past are minor skirmishes at best now. My mind went from a fist clenched tight to unfurled and occasionally half curled.

The other day I was telling my boyfriend that I'm actually kind of sad that I will soon be leaving waitressing behind. I got my dream job. This should be the last thing to lament. But after getting so many things on track, waitressing feels like the last link to my old self. An old self I purposefully changed into a new self. I feel like I want to have a funeral or something. A funeral where the eulogies would contain remembrances like, "She always ended up with her dress over her head," or, "She was always drunkenly crying at parties." I haven't done that in a long time, but waitressing represented my former life as a complete fuck up. It has represented the part of me that never wanted to take on responsibilities because I never thought I was deserving of them. No commitments. I could quit at any time. Guilt-free.

In letting go of so many made-up meanings, life means more now than it ever did. Old visions have been replaced by a new reality. And as I let her go, at least I know where I can find her if I ever want to go visit.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Missing Persons

About four weeks ago I lost my phone.

To be more accurate, I woke up to discover that I'd left my phone sitting dangerously close to my fountain drink on the coffee table, and the condensation from said drink had bled all over said coffee table, enveloping my phone its destructive moisture.

That's the longer, more dramatic way of saying I lost my phone.

Apparently, when you get a new phone, your old phone has to be able to stay on in order to transfer all your old numbers into your new phone. So along with losing my phone, I'd lost all my old numbers as well. No matter. I would simply put up a notice on Facebook announcing my dilema and asking all my friends to text me their digits.

I think I've managed to get a whopping 5 of those old numbers back in the ensuing weeks.

I'm a loner by nature. If you watch me, you'll see I'm mostly observing. I tire quickly of too many people, and I usually cut out early. At the very least I'll recede into the shadows. I feel a little sad about all my lost numbers, but something stops me short when I think about reaching out directly to the few people who never responded to my mass call.

I think perhaps it's better I just let them go.

When I was a kid, I used to circle the blacktop alone at recess. I would walk around the perimeter thinking, singing songs only I could really hear, lost someplace else. I had one friend. I don't even really remember what we did together. Mostly I just remember being alone. I liked it. And I could provide the myriad reasons why I pushed myself to gather all those phone numbers and ritualistically hang on to them long after each of those relationships had simply ceased to exist in real time and space for no apparent reason, but I already did that. Years ago. With my therapist. To tell those stories now feels kind of silly.

Besides, they're the same reasons anybody does anything outside of his or her character. Shame.

I couldn't think of how to explain the shame in any way that didn't sound trite until last night while watching an episode from season one of Mad Men. In the episode, Don Draper's long lost brother shows up out of the blue wanting to rekindle the relationship they'd lost many years before. The brother, Adam, had no one left in the world. Don, wanting to shut the door on his past completely, gave Adam money instead of a relationship and asked him to never come back. I cried. I cried because Adam seemed to be a tacked-on person, a person who was floating alone through a life where no relationship ever really stuck. And I cried because I realized that for so much of my early life I felt the same way. Tacked-on. Was I a loner by nature, or was I a loner because I'd become comfortable with the fact that I received no empathy or understanding from my peers and would have to take care of myself? I don't say that with any anger, and I don't point to a lack of understanding as proof that I am somehow more complex or genius than anyone else. I was simply an anxious and inward person, and I couldn't ever seem to properly translate my insides to those on my outsides.

So I set out to surround myself with people to prove that I was okay.

Yesterday my boyfriend asked me how I knew the person to whom he was sending an e-mail inquiring about a job. I replied that I knew him through an ex and old friend. As soon as I said that old friend's name--one of the many old friends whose numbers are now gone--I felt a pang of nostalgia and loss. It would be easy enough to contact him directly through e-mail, but something stops me. While I will always think very highly of this person, we just don't have any reason to continue having a regular relationship. I feel that pang of nostalgia and loss whenever I think of any of all the people I've lost--when I pass the places I used to party with people who now seem like strangers, when I think about the days working with a team of like-minded individuals who've now been flung to the farthest corners of the country. I was at a bar where I used to work the other day having dinner when I ran into one of the old regulars. I used to sit for hours with this person and drink. We used to make plans to go to the strip club together. We had each other's phone numbers. And standing there talking to him, I couldn't even remember why.

The other day a new friend and I were talking about age. He said that growing up meant being able to recognize that life sucks and being okay with that. And in a way I think he was right. At some point we have to recognize that more ends are untied than tied, and we'll never be able to tie them all up. There are people who at different points in my life have made it clear they felt abandoned by me, but my disappearance was never an easy thing. It felt cold, but what was the alternative? A constant stream of messages implying that we should make plans to catch up soon--plans we never make, let alone keep?

I don't think I've been able to translate how all of this makes me feel properly. This piece feels messy, mostly because this situation feels messy. I think about different people as I drive through this city and see monuments to excellent evenings and lost, lazy days. I think about me when I was 18, 20, 21, 25, 27. I think about the people I knew when I was 18, 20, 21, 25, 27. I think about the feelings I had at those times in my life that will probably never be replicated--and I think about how they've been replaced with new feelings. I cannot square all of these things away, and I relish that feeling of not being able to completely put my finger on where everything goes. Almost all of the people I've lost just slipped away. There was no catalyst for an ending. There wasn't even an ending. Just a slow fade and then the screen goes dark.

Until they occasionally pop up in my Facebook feed.

I don't want to give the impression that all relationships lack permanence. There are people I just seem to keep on knowing. There are people who I seem to know in my bones. There are people I can lose track of for a few months but always know. Whenever we talk it's as if we were always right there. I suppose my messy feelings about everyone else come from a desire to keep them special. I used to fear being forgotten more than anything else in the world, and I don't want anyone I've ever cared about to feel that way.

So I guess I'll just have to always remember, at least a little bit. Even if I can't call any of them to tell them I do.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Cutter

I bought the cheap razors.
I was busy passing from one place
I call home to another place I call
home, and I had no time to stop.
I took what I could find.
I am shocked—I thought I would slide
the blade smoothly across my skin
and see the blood pool up in one great tear.
Instead it makes my skin bubble
and bleed. It causes bumps
on the tender insides of my labia.
The gleaming edge turns my legs
into jaggedly hacked meat, throwaway
scraps from the butcher’s table.
Why do I buy them?
I’m sure I have time enough to find
razors that don’t scrape open older
wounds only freshly closed. Razors
with guards that leave my lips smooth,
unblemished. Blades that will make him
swoon when he slowly slips himself
inside of me. But this torturous sting,
this shame, this embarrassed, searing
lack of sense is comforting. It has been
with me since my first day.
I’m now so comfortable with slinging the blade
against myself I forget myself and
slide it from stem to stern,
slice open my sternum, lace my fingers
through my ribs like a speculum,
popping myself open, strings of thick
blood hanging between my bones
as trails of spit from a kiss.
Dirt and ash seep from my veins
until they run clean red.
The steam from the bath ritualistically
cleanses my chest cavity newly emptied.
I hardly remember the baby I killed,
and I emerge from the bath beautiful
as a woman should be.