It’s strange, to look at yourself in a mirror, and not know what you look like.
I’d like to think that I understand. Of all days, of all times, now when I know better, when I’m better. But I wonder, if there’s some things you never know about yourself. Ever. If you spend your life burning through your time, trying to get where you’ll be ready, for understanding or realization. And it never happens- does it ever happen? Do we ever simply open our eyes one day, and just know?
I go days without looking at myself closely in the mirror. These are the same days that I sit in front of my old fashioned dresser and comb my hair for minutes together. It’s hip length, and tangles easy, so I used a fine toothed comb. Always over the left shoulder, and then half that time over the right, to get that one fluffy spot I can’t reach otherwise. It shines when I comb it. I take care of it.
I use three different lotions, for my face, body, and hands. I moisturize every morning and night, and always put lotion on my skin while watching a movie on Sundays. I try not to think of Silence of the Lambs when I do that. I always end up doing exactly that. The same, repetitive, calming motions every night. I stand in front of the mirror and moisturize my face, before I leave my ponytail loose, strip in front of the mirror, and get into bed.
I have three mirrors in my room.
And I have no fucking idea, what I look like.
I want to know. I fucking want, to fucking know, what I fucking look like. I’ve spent the first half of my life convinced that I was ugly, because that’s what I was taught, so earnestly, so utterly without a lack of certainty that I was ugly, ugly, ugly, that I’d never be loved. My version of rebellion was shouting at myself inside my head that I wasn’t. I wasn’t ugly, even if I wasn’t beautiful, and I was good enough. I wasn’t, I wasn’t, I wasn’t ugly. I told myself enough times to make up for every time that I was told the other.
And then I outgrew both. Those sets of understandings, of different halves of my lives. Because people came into my life who convinced me that I was both. That I was one, because I was the other. I was beautiful, because I was ugly. I was a good girl, I’m a good girl, because I can’t afford not to be. _She’s not pretty but she’s so nice!_ _I fell for you because you were sweeter than the other girls I knew. I thought that’d be enough. I’m sorry, I thought it’d be._ _My friend thinks I can do better. So I told him how intelligent you are_. _I Love you. I just can’t be with you. It’s just how things are._
And I don’t fucking blame you, any of you. Who didn’t see me any more clearly than I ever did. I don’t blame you because I don’t care anymore. You didn’t. You cared about your conveniences and your images and not about what it’d leave me with, when you trampled through my self image with your big muddy feet and out the same way. I didn’t know where I was going before, but I’m still more lost now.
I have no reason to be, now more than ever. I’m the closest to my ideal size I’ve ever been, have a good job, and a life ahead of me, with the chance to finally close a chapter of horrors I’d given up on leaving behind. But I’ve been so engrossed with eyeing what I want to escape, and that that walked away from me, that I never stopped to realize I had no idea who I was walking with. The face in the mirror that I wash with water, cleanse with Neutrogena, and pat dry, not rub, is a stranger, a stranger I can’t objectively decide is beautiful or ugly or completely nondescript, nothing at all. You’re too familiar for me to judge you one way or the other. You’re too alien to me for me to accept you, one way or the other. Who even are you? And when people call you beautiful, or ugly, or simply let their glances slide off your face… which one of them is lying? Do you even know?
Can you even know?
Why did you spend so much time working on your scars? You spent so much time on your arms to make up for cutting them open, hugging the scars close to compensate for making them, and then learning to love them, and all the time, you forgot to pay attention to your eyes, or your nose, or your lips, or anything people look at you, when they look at you. If they look at you.
Who the fuck are you?
Who are you?
I’ve never been afflicted by Writer’s Block. I never woke up and had a day that I couldn’t write a little more. A day where nothing happened that could provoke me to write. But all the same, my writing habits became disjointed and slowly, crippled to the point where I didn’t even want to think about writing. I’d mentally shove the idea or the inspiration along. Tomorrow, I’ll chronicle this tomorrow. And Tomorrow never comes. Because there’s no today that has ever stopped itself in time for the day before it.
The problem, I think, is Deja vu. And I don’t mean a flash of disconcerting recognition, that I’ve been in this very combination of place and time, that glitch in the matrix, so to speak. I think that the same things have been happening to me over and over again, with very little variation. And that’s slowly ingrained this indifference. Why should I write about this now? What purpose will it serve? It’s only going to happen again. It does, it always does. I go back home to the same house. I’m serving my sentence out bonded to the same slaver. The names and covers of books and authors change, but six hours a day, I sit at the same table I’ve been sitting at since I was eight. I wear the same clothes in nondescript succession, tie my hair the same way, mechanical movements and systematized behavior.
This is the pit. The pit of all things lost and forgotten, never to be rescued. I walk in circles. The same words are thrown in my direction, and I respond to them, because when I don’t, something worse will follow. I sit on the dining table, and eat – eat – subserviently. That means that you eat in intervals. You are not on that table to eat, but to serve food, serve water, run errands to and from the dining room, listen to an hour and half’s worth of sermonizing, and god help you if you don’t acquiesce to whatever is being discussed and whoever is being maligned. You listen to a steady stream of minutely honed observations, a calculation of all your short comings, all your perceived and apparent flaws and defects. You collect a list of things-to-do for till the next meal, where you’ll invariably be held accountable for them. You take all the abuse and all the anger and all the narcissism-tipped barbs thrown your way- and the food, that you have to be grateful for- and you swallow.
Three times a day, every day. When he’s not home, he calls home to make sure you don’t miss a dose. Venom needs to be administered just as carefully as medicine. You swallow it all.
And you become sick. The days and the nights become repetitive milestones on a road going nowhere. Some hours you have the patience to analyse what you’re seeing. Other times, you barely have the energy to keep your head out of the mire you’re sinking in. Occasionally you get enough time to indulge in a little philosophising, about the state of life, the meaning of it, the whys and hows of the tangible and perceived world that exists outside your cage/bubble. You experience it as though through a semi-permeable membrane. But you can’t swim through. Or even look in that direction too long. You’re not allowed to.
At a certain point, a life like that is little more than a lab record. The Adventures of Two Mice Being Experimented Upon in a Glass Box. Running on a fixed wheel, eventually the most stalwart of your dreams begin to gasp for air. You slow down, reserve your energy for the barest of essential tasks that you must do. You account for every iota of mental and emotional energy, and bury the rest deep inside, for when you can afford to feel, without consequence.
You stop hoping for things to change. You stop dreaming.
You stop writing.
That’s why I stopped writing. It began to feel like a lie I was telling myself. Lies of love and lies of better days to come, even though good things were happening to me, they washed off the minute I set foot back into my pit. It has a gravity of its own and I fight it, but the words escape it with more difficulty these days. Just as I do.
I hope to get out with the rest of my sanity. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve given up on all possibilities of justice here, for karma or the law or the fucking Flying Spaghetti Monster to teach the keepers of the pit a lesson. I don’t care, I just want to get out with what’s left of me, and what I can still write.
And even if I don’t make it, I’m going to keep pushing my words out with my back to the last wall. Or I’ll try, anyway.
Here’s hoping, for some form of escape.
Can you be nostalgic for a time that you never lived?
Now, I understand completely how gauche it is to use a link and reference of this level of recognition for a pigdin little piece, but bear with me. I’d been meaning to write for this song for a while now, and the prompt for today gave me the push I needed.
It’s a curious bit of happenstance, really. I was on my way to the library, in a vaguely unsettled frame of mind, and Wind of Change by the Scorpions was the first song on my playlist. I ended up listening to it on repeat, because it was making me feel mournful but hopeful, which is a good thing to take away from a bad morning. After having listened to it eight times times, plus one time right outside, I walked into the library to finish my book.
I was three chapters into Erben der Erinnerung by Philip Meinhold, which was the only perspective book on the Holocaust I’d found in our German library. It’s a singularly stark and stirring description from a man examining three generations’ worth of emotional inheritance. The lack of delicate handling of the theme and his prose create an almost tangible atmosphere around the reader, and I’m bad at separating myself from words to begin with. I kept reading and would have taken too much away from it, had the last chapter not included a sudden mention of Wind of Change by the Scorpions, and the importance of remembering your own place, too.
Naturally, I was floored. It’s a decently sized coincidence that I spend all morning binge-listening to a song, and it happens to show up again a few hours later, at the back of a book that would have left me disturbed. I was sitting there, staring at the book like a foreign entity, when a loud CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! alarm went off, and we were herded out for a fire drill. I walked out into the garden clutching the book, for all purposes yanked rudely out of a fugue state. Everyone was chattering excitedly as we waited in the wintry sunlight for the all clear, and I leaned against the embankment, watching the girl next to me gesticulate wildly, with a mini-extinguisher tucked under her elbow. It woke me up for five minutes, and ten minutes later the effect of the book receded somewhat more….. but why should it have had that effect at all?
Can we be nostalgic for a time we didn’t know? Millenials who are moved to tears by Toto’s Africa, or every Rock lover in his teens who swears by the unchallenged greatness of AC/DC- what are they nostalgic for? “They don’t make music like this anymore”. You’ll read the same refrain under every music video on YouTube from ten to fifty years old. But what do you want? How do you plead allegiance and understanding to a world even your parents didn’t exist in?
And yet, I’d be loathe to call it pretentiousness, because it isn’t. We want to feel understood. We want to feel belonging, in a place or time where it feels as though what we are feeling reverberates with everyone. That wanting fuels this nostalgia, this ache and unsettledness, sense of unhappiness, that had I been born in this time, or had these places/people/events existed as they do in this bit of recording, we would have been happy. And while that is testament to how much music can evoke, I’ll blame our own unreality a little, too.
Or at least, mine. Being enthralled is one thing. Being adrift, another. After a point, it’s not the burden of creativity but the sheer inability to cut the umbilical to a world that doesn’t exist anymore. We are in the here and now. And it’s often ugly and unbearable, but this is where we exist. There isn’t any refuge in an imaginary world. But there is respite, and I’m grateful for it.
It’s hard to walk away completely unfeeling, when you read descriptions of such horrors. Of pain that has saturated generations, of children born angry for an injustice their parents haven’t known. A world away from all this, even dipping your toes leaves you walking stained for a little while.
But walk away. We cannot look to a future when we inflict the past upon ourselves repeatedly. And there’s still hope. There’s a wind of change coming yet.
This road does not exist
The houses long burnt down
Someone wrote of the cracked bones
Embedded in the ground
Trees have grown over the paths
Rain took the remains
Yet I stand and stare at what was
And come away stained
What lives here has already endured
a hundred years, will live a thousand more
There are traces of words in every inch
Handprints on the walls and floors
My fingers know the stories here
Hieroglyphs, stick figures, seeds,
Unfathomable as an alien landscape
Unblinkingly there, like a wound that bleeds
Again, and again
I hum to the refrain
I don’t know this language
Of a world that is ashes
But I’ll cry for them, because
we all speak pain.
We all speak pain.
Strip away every known.
Clean off the bone
Past the skin but
leave the poetry
wash the words away
Dull the clarity
Take the lessons
-spare the sins
They have no meaning.
that knife edge balance
of what I have and
what it takes
Snip, snip, all the habits
Remove the wings
Bind the fingers
Stitch the lips into closing,
I take every bit of I from me
But who am I then?
Chalk white on grass green
Stains on socks, ankle deep
Slick, wet, slip and fall
Feint if you’ve been touched at all
False move, halfback
pay your due
Center forward’s rushing you
Set up, Stopper, wingers in
Charge, set up the ball again
Three naught and rack
Slip down the table
Home field advantage
But still the wave, still the hands
Roaring voices from the stands
Loyalties to strangers’ blood and
Waving flags from No Man’s Lands
Allegiance is a choice
Like few others, like end lines
Once you cross it, you don’t switch
Scorch or scorn, clear or collide
Some fealties are wrought in stone
Like this one: You’ll Never Walk Alone
For Day Sixteen of NaMPoWriMo, I decided to take the easy route and write an unabashed love letter to Liverpool FC. And why not, too. Once upon a time, a little girl started watching football because of them, and never switched teams, or favorite sports. ❤
The grey canal empties
sluggishly into the backwaters
meandering beyond the third balcony
on the seventh floor. The wind
smells like forgotten fish
and sometimes like jasmine
My neighbour smells like that, too.
Voices carry from the parking lot. Sharp
tones cut through the general clamour of
traffic and jackdaws. My father is flirting
with the cook. She’s repulsed, but she
needs this job. We watch till we can’t.
The ocean is very close, the salt taste
lingers in my room, I can’t resist the urge
to let the ocean into my room
when I’m so close. Every evening I let it
roll onto my tongue.
The water stays murky.
The sky doesn’t care
Colours wash over my face
They smell of sunset
I forget sometimes, that there is no end to hate.
I don’t like that word. Hate. It implies weight. It is a burden. It is a two-edged sword that you cut yourself on, when you hold it. Like a snake that’s poisonous from the non-bitey butt end too.
Hate is important. It gives you reason. At the very blind white hot rage edges of sanity, when anger consumes you and your nerves are spitting fire trying to hold your composure, it’s Hate that sustains you, not love. Love comes later, to be sure. But in that moment, hate is very, very important.
My father was talking to a person who’d visited our house for the very first time today. By means of introducing me, he said, “This is my oldest daughter. I’m going to hire a driver for her soon, to take her to a park so that she can run. Look at how fat she is.” The man stared at the ground, embarassed and mumbling that I wasn’t all thaaat fat. I stared at my beast of a father, beyond a boiling fury and yet, completely still. In that moment, I realised that I was always find reason to hate him more. Hate. With a singularity and purity that I only have for one other thing in my life: Love.
I love me. I love this whole utterly fucked, unspeakably glorious and splendid world I live in. I love the sunsets in the third balcony on the seventh floor, even if they reflect prism-like over a brackish and smelly stream. I love my friends who forget me, I love my friends who don’t, I love my battered family units, I love that wonder who holds my heart, I love books and words and music and -me. I love me. Madly so, because they and we and he and I deserve it.
And I hate him. He deserves it.
Day Twelve of NaPoWriMo. I’ve written a Haibun for the prompt, with prose, followed by a Haiku, that briefest of forms I seem to shake hands with only every NaPoWriMo.
Did I forget to say, I love you all too?
And man, do you deserve it!