fixations of childhood, obsessions of adulthood

Do you remember when I was in middle school and so obsessed with John that I created an imaginary friend named Jay who looked just like him? He was like my mind’s replacement. I think I said he was twenty-three (much older than I was at the time but still tame, although inwardly I wished he were older) and had blond hair and green eyes, but I could never keep track of the eye color, so sometimes they were blue instead. I imagined he walked with me when I went out, and he slept beside me with one arm draped around me. I never thought I was starving for romantic affection, but I was, and desperate for a man to accept my obsession. I don’t know why. I don’t know when it started. Back when I was eight years old, I fell in love with a forty-year-old singer from American Idol, and I don’t think that was the first time. I loved the Doctor because he was nine hundred years old. I loved Motorcycle Man, the 33-year-old from my church. I was absolutely dumbstruck by every single male pastor and teacher and counselor I ever had, so I kept up with ten-page journal entries about every single one of them and I gazed at them, chest aching, from across the campfires of youth group retreats. I ought to burn all the journals I kept before ninth grade. At least after ninth grade I began to learn to hide my obsession.
At high school graduation, I proceeded down the line of teachers with outstretched hands to shake, and instead, I hugged all the ones I loved the most, and the one I’m too scared to name said “thank you for everything, Emily” and when I sat down I realized they could not see me the same way after this. In adulthood, everyone is the same. But the way I love men is divisive.

It is not eerie to be in a room, but it is somehow eerie to imagine a room in your mind with no inhabitants. On what plane does the room in your mind exist? How can you picture the way it lies suspended in memory? Why is the real lighting normal, but the lighting in your mind perturbing? In death, is that realm the one you explore forever? The realm in the mind, which closes in upon you from all sides like static, like darkness? There is no sunlight in your mind. There is no fresh air, no tactile sensation, every unsettling detail expanding infinitely in magnitude. It’s as if you have always existed — only stored in a corner of that memory space, preceding your birth, preceding the birth of time. You found physical form outside of it, and when you lose your physical form, that space is where you will return.

the latitude of memory

there is a version of me trapped in each memory like a snowglobe. me, thirteen, long hair in a ponytail, running across the beach where the water is just an inch deep because I love the way it splashes. me, eight, staring out the car window and thinking how strange it is I’ve only been on the earth for eight years and yet I feel like I have always been here. me, eleven, in New Mexico, on Christmas, staring at the luminarias lining the sidewalks. me, sixteen, listening to my writing instructor’s voice break. memory isn’t a continuous and chronological line, not even a line at all, and I don’t know if that’s what time is, either. my life is a room with no walls that holds a hundred thousand memories suspended in water. I jump from moment to moment out of order and everything else is just the space between.

when I write, I cast a line for God.

God would not give me all of this hope to choke on.
my death anxiety has stilled because every time death is mentioned I do not believe it’s real.
death will not come for me.
not in the way it comes for everyone else.
God will reveal the truth to me and finally, finally, I will understand how my joints fit into one another and how it is not cruel for God to flush the population of the planet down His toilet bowl.
there is nothing here that will tell me the truth.
God, God, God, one day God will stop the overflow of deceit by omission.
tell me. tell me, God!
tell me.
tell me why you boil me until my flesh is tender but do not consume me.
tell me why you pump fog into my skull until I am too tired to move.
tell me why you demand I follow you when you are nowhere in sight.
damn it. damn it. damn it.
how do I know the difference between my fear and your concern?
take it away. take it away. please, God.
take my fear away before I die.

green

you think it’s odd the first time you hang out with someone
and they sit on the arm of the couch instead of next to you.
or when they look you in the eye when you talk,
like they’re listening to you,
the way people think they should but generally don’t,
the way they should ask you questions and express curiosity
and notice all the little motions you make the very first time
you speak — he does all of that.

a hundred questions are unsettling because you’re not used to
people expressing so much interest in you.
and he is so consistently perceptive that
every time a silence comes because you’re uncertain
or you’re uncomfortable,
or you leave something out of a statement because you’re nervous,
he always notices.
he asks you to read him one of your poems, the second time you speak,
and you hand him your phone, but he says he wants
to hear you read it out loud. the whole time you’re reading
you’re drunk and you’re stumbling over your words and
you’re thinking you hate the sound of yourself talking and
when you’re done he’s quiet and then he says nothing about the poem
but rather, “you have a good reading voice,” as if he had read
your thoughts coming into your head like a teleprompter.

he finally sits next to you on the couch and when your knees touch
he asks if that’s okay. of course it’s okay, you’re thinking,
that’s too much, too much, you don’t need to ask,
“if it were a problem, I would say something, don’t worry.”
but he says he’ll ask anyway because he would hate to intrude.

every time you both consume media, he asks you what
you think of it. and every time politics come up, he asks
you your opinion. and every time you enter his house,
he asks you how you’re doing, and you realize you’d never heard
a single person in your life ask that question before he did
because none of them even knew they were asking it.

did anyone ever ask you a question at all
before he did?

he is so quick to express understanding that you’d think
he didn’t mean it. but he always means it.

the first time you kiss, it comes at 2am and he asks permission first.
what an odd thing to do, to ask consent for a kiss.
you never think to do something like that, but
he wouldn’t have it any other way. so you are given a moment
to think before it happens. it’s strange and vulnerable
and so open that you feel as if all the fog has been cleared from your mind.
“do you want to kiss me?” he asks, and after maybe a minute,
you ask, “do you want to kiss me?
and he says, “I’d like that.”
so you say “okay” and he kisses you.

and even after he’s put his tongue in your mouth, he asks permission
just to put his arm around you when you sit together on the couch.
it is so easy for him to read you.
when you’re nervous, he knows. but it takes time to understand
that he doesn’t mind.
all the layers of expectation you built up over your life
are peeled away. why is it that consent feels so strange for so long
before your identity comes back into focus?
this man’s never-ending questions tasted strange until you
realized he was looking for the nucleus of your character
that lay beneath your denial.
when he asks you permission, the difference in tone
between one “yes” and another becomes akin to black and white.
there is more you leave unsaid
than you ever knew.
he wants a “yes” from you that is as clear and sharp
and full of adventure as an infinity mirror.
he wants you, not a reluctant copy.

brainstorm on internalized misogyny

I grew up in a protestant church, and women in church aren’t at all encouraged to pursue theology or philosophy or anything like that, and they’re usually banned from teaching except in women’s groups. so people mostly just conveniently assumed that girls generally aren’t into that sort of thing. but I was! and I constantly asked questions. the female counselors didn’t know how to talk to me about it. they referred me to the male counselors, who were very interested in my questions. so it seemed like all of my productive conversations were with men. after a while, I think I just didn’t trust women enough to ask them questions, because women had never given me answers I was happy with. it wasn’t like they weren’t smart enough. they just… didn’t talk about theology or predestination or virtue. those subjects were confined to male circles only, like some unspoken rule. it was strange.

I went to a homeschool co-op until 8th grade, so I did a lot of reading. and the vast majority of classic literature, history books, old plays, etc. are written exclusively by men. men dominated the field of writing and philosophy for so long. and because I was so indoctrinated with religion for my entire goddamn childhood, I hardly read a single thing written by a woman. hardly a thing. everything I was passionate about was only taught to me by men. so I have this fucked up natural aversion to women, because I’m so used to only men sharing my interests! I hate it! and there are plenty of women involved in English and philosophy and religion and that sort of thing, and I’m constantly trying to seek them out, but I still notice this very subtle shift. I’m just not as interested in what women have to say. I’m a woman myself, but I still naturally equate female bodies/voices with not just physical weakness, butmental weakness. I’m so tired of it.

a lot of men try to tell you that there aren’t as many women in certain fields because women aren’t naturally inclined towards said fields. but I really, really don’t think that’s true. I really, really think that men have dominated those fields for so long that women just keep their passion inside and never share it because, without even realizing it, they don’t think women are good enough. and they don’t think they themselves are good enough.

I think that’s why I struggle with my gender identity, too. I just can’t figure out a way to identify with the female gender. I care less about my own physical strength than my mental strength. I do have body dysphoria, but I wonder if it has more to do with that mental gap than I thought. I don’t know why I have such a problem with being a woman. I think I consider myself weak because I’m a female. Somehow, if I were a man, my interests would be validated. My mind would make more sense. The women in the church sometimes thought I was only talking to male counselors because I had crushes on them. I did have crushes on them. But I didn’t experience sexual attraction at that age — at least not overt sexual attraction. I was just… more attracted to the men in my church because they radiated a sort of wisdom that the women didn’t. There are women in my life now, who I love, who would talk to me about religion and philosophy until the earth burned. But there’s this part of me that, God help me, just wishes they were men. What the fuck is up with that? I’m bisexual. I’m sexually attracted to women. This isn’t a matter of me just wishing I could have crushes on them or whatever. It’s deep. It’s a hatred of who I am. The fact that I’m a woman should have absolutely no bearing on my career choice or my passion. I can still study work from men who lived a thousand years ago. They aren’t going to stop me. They’re dead. But the aesthetic appeal of philosopher, of wise man? It’s all masculine. I want to be masculine. Not a man, but just as strong of will and of character. I can’t describe how much I hate that women are always assigned a submissive or a secondary role. Women aren’t supporting characters. God fucking damn it. God damn it.

Headfirst

I was a man in the beginning.
That’s how God should have made me.
I seduced another man, a man who saw my crimes and forgave them.
But when I met the other man,
The one with a shaved head,
I was a woman again.
And his crimes were worse than mine.
He fed me the meat of a human,
Cooked well and cut into cubes
With the consistency of pork.
I felt God run his gentle hands along
The top of my shoulders, and reach
Into my chest to squeeze my heart.
“You are damned. You always know
When you sin, and you do it anyway.”
Strange how conviction feels so cold,
Like He has finally abandoned you.
I was submissive to the man. I loved him.
Out of the mouth of my mind, a voice
Says everybody has unspeakable desires.
If one is a cannibal, isn’t he at least
Somewhat deserving of respect for his bravery?
He commits atrocities in the name of artistry.
That is worthy of admiration.
He faces damnation with no fear at all.
He turned on me, stole away my life,
And told me that if I left he would kill me.
I thought I could escape, but everything began
To drain away so quickly and I thought
That I loved him until he asked for my freedom of thought.
This is the hidden thought.
The goodness in anyone is worthless
Without corruption.