Thursday, February 7, 2019

to all the boys i've fucked before

You meet a boy at a wedding, at a bar, on an app, and he makes you laugh. You’re not quite sure if this is flirting or if this is friendship, but then he calls you beautiful and your heart becomes your stomach, you are all butterflies and burning because you think he’s beautiful, too.

You think about the last time a boy broke your heart, think back to the sadness that rooted itself inside your body, your brain. You believed, back then, that it would hurt less to dissolve your thumbs in lye. (You believe it now, still.) You remember your father’s attempt to soften the blow of that kiss-off: “Not everyone finds someone,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world.” 

He was right, after all. You have since healed and hardened, calcified to near-impenetrability. You have failed to find someone. What better way to ensure you never soften again than to aggressively believe in your own inadequacies? The ones that not only kept the boy at bay, but forced him on his way.

You realize now, two years later, that you never knew the color of that first boy’s eyes, the only ones you ever thought would matter, that your small, one-sided relationship spanned half-drunken nights in dimly lit bars, and it grates on you, that you could ever let yourself fall in love with someone you can’t paint an accurate picture of. That infatuation works so well at injecting color where the reality is all greyscale. 

But that was before, back when you thought you were falling for each other in tandem. That blindsiding realization – that mutual affection was never a viable reality – served no other purpose than to singe a hole in the middle of your chest. The time you’d spent together had felt volcanic – you sat there, burning coals between your legs, pouring hot wax on each other, careful to coat each strand of DNA. He realized, too late, that you weren’t enough, so he pulled away, stripping all the pieces of yourself that you had wanted to keep. 

You agree to friendship instead, but your all-encompassing Too Much-ness makes it impossible for him to love you and, in the end, even like you. That remains the hardest pill to swallow, that you could drive someone to the point of revulsion, that you could let yourself sink to the very depths of desperation and delusion, that you could lose yourself so fully in someone who looks at you with pity.

You learn, early on, that getting over someone isn't as easy as fucking someone else. You keep at it anyway, hoping to fade the memory of that lingering love with bouts of bad sex.

You push back on persistent thoughts about your ex-whatever-he-was, the pointless What Ifs you no longer force on your friends. You don't want them to leave you, too. They try to hammer home the necessity of reciprocation, but you replace their nails with marshmallows, accepting only fluff into the fleshy folds of your tiny mouse brain. "He's never going to want you.” "He's emotionally stunted.” "He's manipulative,” they say, buzzwords pinging clearer with each accompanying eye roll. "I know," you respond, and you do. "You're right, I'll stop."

You don't tell them when you text him.

Instead, you date. You don't date, you swipe right. Casual sex is good when you’re sad, best when you’re drunk. Your gynecologist gives you a numbing cream to help with the sometimes pain of penetration, but bringing Lidocaine on a first date feels like you’re jinxing yourself.

So, you drink. You don't love the taste of beer – like rat piss has been filtered through used trash bags and peppered with Raid – so you do shots of whiskey and try not to puke before you get back to his place.

You have meaningless sex with caricatures, not with people. You purposely forget their names. Men often want you to remember them, but they're hardly ever worth the brain space they take up. You think in moments instead, recognizing the impermanence of all these pointless meetings.

There was the writer with a mattress on his floor who forced you to watch one of his short films before you fucked. "Do you get it?" He asked, long after; the 27-year-old Bronx teacher who hated his students and also his life; the Philly native who didn't vote, has never voted, will never vote and doesn't care; the self-obsessed cartoonist who wrote his name in cum across your chest; the 36-year-old ginger who showed you photos of his ex; the 37-year-old French divorcee who cried right after sex; the violent sociopath with a knife in his bed who left bruises along your collarbone; the artist who promised you Coney Island, then found himself inside his ex weeks later; the musician; the waiter; the artist; the artist; the artist; the artist.

You don't screen men as intensely as you once did. "Catfish" is your favorite show; someday you’ll end up dead.

You remember all of this and snap back to the wedding, to the bar, to the app. By now you are equipped, you are smart enough to employ skepticism, to accept that this is the way the world works, this is the way the world works, that there is no fucking without, first, flattery, that things seldom progress beyond that, that you never demand they do. Someday you will not need to feel wanted. 

Men may not mind the softness of your body as much as you do, but feelings take it too far and you have far too many of them, so you keep them locked in a cage pressed flat behind your heart. You swallow the key, you bury it, beneath cynicism and denial, convinced it will be easier to say goodbye to someone so long as you never extend too much of a hello.

You are tired of learning from your mistakes, but now and then you let yourself toe the dangerous line of Maybe This Time, and you realize, out loud, how desperately you want someone to want you. 

But it doesn't happen. You accept that you cannot even trust what seems like a sure thing, that nothing in life is certain, men even less so, that you will never get to write your own happy ending, because even the next boy, the one who pursued you hardest, who texted you and texted you and texted you and texted you, the one who found the tiniest chink in your armor and encouraged you to be brave despite it all, realized you were not enough to fight for, that you are not the type of woman who inspires grand gestures, or even small ones. You were right to vacuum-seal yourself shut so long ago, that a mindless fuck is the only form of intimacy you will ever allow again.

You fear your legacy will be limited to photos of literal garbage and pigeons and rats, that you combat vulnerability too often with humor and self-deprecation, that it is easier to associate you with filth than with lightness, that you identify too strongly with the deeply unlovable. That you are no one’s One That Got Away because you have only ever been asked to leave. That your value is limited to the rejections you’ve suffered at the hands of unremarkable men. 

You live inside your past pain, that unrequited love, the first of his kind who’d ever really seen you, who made you feel like you were worth something beyond the bullshit in your brain, who bailed when he realized you were maybe better on paper, that he was searching for 'great' and in you he only ever found 'good,' the one who ultimately left you feeling convinced that maybe death was the better alternative to never seeing him again.

You no longer think warmly about that first boy, the one who took things when he wanted them, who knew you loved him and kissed you anyway, who told you you'd never be it for him, the only boy to ever get you off outside a bar, the one you shared fleeting moments of misinterpreted intimacy with, the only boy you've ever fallen in and out of love with, the one who made you believe your dad was right, that you are one of several someones who will never find their Great Love, and what a waste it is to have this brain and never be able to write it. 

You have stories and you have sex, both momentous and not, but the crux of it is this: You haven't written a single thing without him somewhere in the spelling. You pray someday you will, you hope this is the last of it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Cliffs Notes version: #MeToo, me three, me four, five, six, seven ate nine

I’ve written before about a personal experience involving sexual assault, how convoluted and confusing ignored consent can feel to women even after we’ve vocalized a shrugged off “No,” several times. I’m still not so sure what to call what happened to me that night, what name to give it, as though the proper, violent terminology may split open the soft parts of my skull, paralyzing me for good and for gone. I sometimes don’t think I’m capable of handling certain aspects of my own lived reality.

For all of my put-on self-respect and faux-strength, the truth is this: I still somehow default on defensive when I think of that night, as though the guy in question deserves understanding and compassion, like some of the blame — his inability to just fucking stop — really does fall to me. I don’t like to be conditioned this way, but it’s too painful to think in black-and-white when you can’t quite accept the totality of what the truth might mean just yet.

I rushed through a post about it for a writing workshop, surprised at how quickly the piece came together. I peppered it with humor before the big reveal, hoping it'd make anyone reading it feel similarly disarmed by the end. (And praise be to that monthly meet-up for helping me work through the worst parts of my short history.) It wasn’t the first time I’ve been violated and, comparatively, it wasn’t so bad — though perhaps it’s unfair to qualify any kind of abuse as Worse Than.

Almost immediately after I hit ‘post’ to my ugly and outdated blog, my inbox was flooded with texts from my women friends, some who I hadn’t spoken to in years. They worked on emotional overdrive at the outset, as women often do: “I’m so sorry that happened,” “What a piece of shit,” “Are you okay?” “I’ll kill him.”

It was overwhelming and, admittedly, too much, so I padded my responses with humor and feigned apathy, just the way I’d written my post, the way I often navigate the world. I felt deep pangs of regret then, wishing I could go back to where I lived before that public revelation of assault, wishing my mother could unlearn how unkind the world could sometimes be to her kid.

Only two of the many men in my life bothered to acknowledge I’d written anything at all — though I imagine Facebook’s dubious algorithm and a blanket indifference to my often lengthy walls of text may have had something to do with it, too.

One of them asked me about it directly, in person. He appeared concerned, and I felt guilty then, for inflicting this Major Moment on someone who didn’t need or want to know me so intimately. His face was soft and sad, and I felt bad, like it was my fault someone had voluntarily read something stupid I’d written. So I started in on the emotional recoup, on rebuilding the cement higher around my destroyed cell.

I deflected with bullshit nothings: “It happens to a lot of people, it’s not a big deal.” This has become my favorite diversion tactic — things could’ve gone worse and they have, for some. But he refused that narrative: “It does happen to a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay.” He was right, even if I never want to admit when men are right.

He told me he wasn’t sure how to feel by the end of my post, that I’d been seemingly flippant about something that, on paper, seemed textbook traumatic. I don’t remember the exact wording — I was as drunk at the time as I need to be these days when dealing with my darkest memories — so maybe I’m misremembering part of the conversation.

But I took those confused feelings as a compliment, as though my writing had successfully conveyed the warring narratives that fight to exist inside my brain when talking about this very specific instance of sexual violence. Because, even now, I have the same question he did back then — how the fuck am I supposed to feel about all this?

I think on it now and I feel like a coward. For the way I handled it when it happened, for the way I'm still writing about it now, for waiting until 1AM to post this. I feel guilty for feeling guilty, for making this so public, for making other people feel uncomfortable with my words.

I should make one thing clear, though: I don’t fault anyone who failed to reach out to me. Maybe you didn’t know or know what to say, maybe any contact would’ve seemed further invasive. I likely would’ve laughed it off, anyway, because I can only exhibit so much vulnerability before I shut down again. I am just as bad at endings at Stephen King is, so I guess I'll end this here. Just know that it happens and that it sucks.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

best friends means

I have applied one of my favorite Joan Didion quotes to several frivolous losses over the years — the time Zayn quit One Direction, the time One Direction disbanded, every time Harry Styles released a garbage piece of disappointing new solo music — because I so often shirk vulnerability, trade it in for a cheap laugh, instead.

But I’ll use it in earnest now, because — like Didion’s beloved Nancy — my best friend, Romeo, is dead. “I close the box and put it in a closet," she writes. "There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.”

There are things you should know that will likely change your reading of this, depending on your own personal levels of sympathy and compassion in regards to pets: Romeo was a cat. He was my cat. He lived with my family, but he was mine. I knew him for 12 years, which isn’t even half of my life but somehow feels like all of it.

Romeo – so sweet he eventually developed diabetes – was born atop a wood pile in New Jersey, a fact my mother has repeated often over the years. He was the last of his litter to be adopted, a truth I’ll never understand, that someone could look into his orb-like eyes, so innocent and good, and still leave without him. 

But lucky me, my mother’s weakness persisted, despite several declarations there'd be "No more pets!!!" I was 17 when Romy came home and there we were, instantly bonded. This backfired only one time, when he caught and mutilated a giant cockroach and presented it to my sleeping body, littering the sheets around me with tiny fragments of bug. "Here," he seemed to say. "I did this for you." It was traumatic, but it was proof: Romeo loved me most of all.

I spent the majority of my time at home with him, the most gentle thing I’d ever met. He was so opposite the way I’d come to know the world — volatile, hostile, bleak. Romeo was warm, affectionate, genuine, kind. Maybe this is boring human projection and he simply was. But he was the only member of my family I actively missed when I left for college. I know he missed me, too.

I knew Romeo was sick months before the illness showed itself to everyone else. There were subtle changes in his demeanor easy to miss if your entire world fails to revolve around your cat. I do not blame my family for this. After all, I am the one who brings him up on first dates, which is probably why there are so few second ones. 

He once weighed more than our Thanksgiving turkey, but then the cancer came on quick and he dwindled down to nothing. It is too easy to lift him now. 

I used to make a point of telling people we were meant to be buried, to ascend to whatever afterlife could possibly exist, together. This is dark and depressing and obsessive in a way that is, to so many, unhealthy and gross, but I meant it every time I said it, because I always hoped I'd die first. I was so sure Romeo had a good 8 years left in him, and I don't see myself living past 35. Without Romeo here with me, I don't really see a shift toward the positive coming anytime soon.

So it is that I say goodbye to my closest friend, my beloved Romy. I'm so sorry we couldn't save you. You were supposed to live forever.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

insert questionable robin thicke lyrics here

Tall brunette creatives with a penchant for self-inflicted poverty — the romantic kind of poor, reserved for artists with trust funds and parental enablement — and a tendency toward overt emotional instability and maladjustment once made my heart go pitter-patter at a speed that cruised violently close to cardiac arrest. But that was before I consciously went against type, after years of going no where, in an attempt to abandon infatuation and fall for real. I did, eventually, trip down love’s thankless, empty chasm, once I finally gave up the ghost, but this isn’t that story. And thank god it’s not — may I never unravel like that again.

This one takes place in a bar, by the water, and then in my bed. It was humid and early July when I agreed to meet a guy whose app location indicated he was 300 miles away. "Do you live on the moon?" I asked. "No," he said.

I’m not so sure I believe in serendipity, but he happened to suggest we get a drink at a bar on my block, so I took that as some sort of otherworldly sign: He sensed where I lived so maybe he was magic. It turns out instead that I am dangerously forthcoming on social media, but I found his invasive tendencies charming because he was beautiful, in print and in person.

We met and we drank; the conversation doesn’t matter. I only remember his name when I strain for it, nearly a full year later, but he was dreamy and impressive in the way men are dreamy and impressive when you've never been in love — he had that unyielding frenetic energy that acted as a me-magnet before I understood the limits and shortcomings of unhinged perma-passion. His hands were everywhere, all at once.

He brought me to the waterfront after I paid for our drinks, and he told me I was weird before he pulled up my Twitter account on his phone. I was unbothered by this mild revelation of light stalking, which he explained away with a wink and his hand on my thigh. He could have flayed me alive with a butter knife then, peeled off the thin top layer of my skin in one lengthy transparent sheet, and I would’ve stayed still for it all, if only he’d asked. His eyes were very green; I would never judge Ted Bundy's victims.

He made us listen to a Justin Bieber/Slipknot mashup, a song I haven't stopped talking about for more than six years. I would like "Psychosocial Baby" to be played at my wedding and again at my funeral, at all funerals, at every christening and baptism and wake. I want to watch New York City plummet into the ocean as Bieber's prepubescent vocals are superseded by Corey Taylor's guttural screams, the track blaring from the mega-speakers across the sea at Jersey’s Prudential Center. The song and its unofficial music video are seven minutes long, but we watched the whole thing together in erotic silence. I think quite often about who will take it hardest when I die.

Likely emboldened by that unencumbered sonic bliss and my clear willingness to ignore my own gut instinct to flee, my date then dove into a detailed plot description of Nekromantic, a 1987 German exploitation film where a man fucks corpses and bathes in his own cat’s blood to deal with the fact that his father killed his pet rabbit long ago. We all cope with trauma in different ways, after all. At one point, the male lead watches a horror movie which makes the film very meta and smart.

Before revealing its end to me, my date paused and laughed and then he kissed me, pulled me onto his lap and kept kissing me. I let him do this.

Would you like to know how Nekromantik ends? Well, OK, here: Our protagonist is an inconsolable necrophiliac who ultimately stabs himself just as he ejaculates one final time, which is very romantic. We should all be so lucky to die doing what we love most.

“I didn’t think you’d let me kiss you if I told you how the movie ended first,” my date told me later, though he was wrong. Someday I will not need to feel wanted.

We walked back to my apartment after making out on a bench I haven't sat on since. He held my hand the entire way home. I think that was my favorite part.

Things accelerated from there, once in my room. No one needs the gritty details, though I am inclined to give them anyway. He didn't have a condom, so he asked if I was on birth control and trusted when I told him yes. This is because women never lie.

I realized too late I didn’t want him to fuck me anymore, but I don’t always know how to say no. I found my voice that night, but it was too quiet in the end. It’s like he went deaf right before he pushed inside me, as though all the blood had rushed so far away from his face that it left a violent ringing in his ears loud enough to drown out my meager objections.

And it's important to note my NOs were weak and lifeless, coupled only with some tenuous physical protests that ultimately petered out. I felt like a 33-year-old cat, made of dust and molasses, and I probably looked worse, as I pawed pathetically at his hands. “No, no, it’s OK,” he mumbled, offering definitive proof of his newfound selective hearing. I did say some of those words, after all.

I gave in then, but it wasn't because he was strong or scary or mean — I still wanted him to like me; I didn't want him to leave.

What he wanted was an artisanal hot dog, he told me, moments after he came, and Crif Dogs was only open for another 20 minutes. When he left my apartment — "It was nice meeting you. I had fun," he noted — I checked their site and saw they’d closed an hour earlier.

Some stories don't have an ending, and this one lives eternally inside my brain, where the unsavory bits and pieces resurface when I'd like to remember them least. Whenever I retell it, I launch into writer-mode, editing the ending to avoid becoming a burden. I guess I'll have to stop talking about it now.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

in defense of the genre

I failed to tune in to One Love Manchester, Ariana Grande’s love letter benefit concert, upon its initial airing. That all-encompassing outpouring of love and support and togetherness felt too heavy when you already feel too much, especially when it seems as though the world is falling apart all around you in rapid succession. This attitude to remain unseeing, unknowing, and unaware of an event so steeped in unity seems counterintuitive to the whole point behind the movement, which was effective in several ways: Not only did Ariana raise millions of dollars for those affected by the May 22 bombings, but she managed to restore a small sliver of hope to anyone whose last laugh may have been snuffed out by that very particular attack on joy. That such violence was geared toward a subset of young listeners steeped in unencumbered bliss and innocence was not lost on me. But, unlike the thousands of fans in attendance, I opted out of remembering, at least for that first night.

It’s important to note, of course, that the world didn’t end the evening of the bombing — and barring a nuclear holocaust, it likely never will. Instead, the earth continues to spin as it always has, moving us all one rotation further into the future. This is the tangible power of gravity’s pull and, much like that centrifugal force, human perseverance runs parallel to it all: The defiant thousands who attended One Love Manchester, helmed by elite members of our current-day pop royalty, helped highlight the genre's unifying power and fans' refusal to fear, simply by showing up.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s ever paid attention to a full front row, often populated by weepy, exuberant teens (truly music's most unsung demographic). Pop shows — good pop shows — offer more than mere visual accompaniment to your favorite album. They are all-encompassing occasions of catharsis, a brief moment in time where outside worries are obliterated, and judgment dissipates into the ether.

This is true for fans of any genre, of course. Music is music, and its general power is unrelenting and undeniable. But pop is unique in the way it embraces the intricate particulars of vulnerability, all done in catchy singalong fashion. Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2015 release — a masterful homage to updated ’80s pop, full of yearning love songs, peppy synths and saxophone — is a perfect example of pop's ultimate thesis statement, reflective in its very title: EMOTION.

While it’s true that popular trends in music often take after whatever cultural climate reigns supreme at the time — which explains the melancholic tinge radio has embraced as of late — the power of pop lies largely in its ability to connect and unify, bringing with it a kind of untarnished, bubbly earnestness that doesn’t land quite as honestly elsewhere. Despite our society’s general shift toward malaise — apathy is the perceived “cool kid” emotion, after all — pop's transparency (the unabashed heartbreak that litters Taylor Swift's discography, the self-assuredness Beyonce preaches in the midst of romantic betrayal, the anthemic pull of every Sia single ever, Bruno Mars' sheer corniness, even Justin Bieber's sometimes uncomfortable religious embrace peppered throughout his sad-sackiest latest Purpose) coupled with its blatant cheese factor, remains near defiant in its rejection of coolness. There's a reason so many misfits have crowned Lady Gaga — a former theatre kid whose particular brand of hyperbolic weird is as polarizing as it is inclusive — as their leader.

Because despite what some music purists — often frothing at the mouth about the perceived shallowness of the entire genre — may believe, it's not just about mindless escapism. Good pop music is full of the kind of soaring melodrama we mistakenly explain away as youthful buoyancy, no longer acceptable once you hit your serious adult years. It's a shame we so often mistake numbness for maturity. We should, instead, take a page out of pop's playbook on how best to deal with the world around us and live our own truths: Fully and without apology.

I ultimately succumbed, days later, to my own curiosity and watched an online recording of One Love Manchester, and I came to realize what those in attendance knew all along: Of course a pop star would become a shining emblem of strength and fearlessness. Ariana not only helped the world cope with one act of overt brutality, but she defiantly fought back with the only type of response that has any real power against hate and fear: Through love and unity and strength and song.

This editorial originally appeared on iHeartRadio's Snapchat Discover Channel, but it has since vanished into thin air so here it will live for now