What does loving someone feel like?

What does loving someone feel like?

I asked myself this. Again and again. I was younger, not much younger, and I hadn’t yet felt what my heart was capable of. I have learned something since then. It was accidental learning; it was unlessoned learning, it seems like it is a knowledge which landed on me suddenly and from somewhere else.

I’m glad it did. I’m better for it. I never wanted to spend the rest of my life wrapped in the skills I had acquired hiding from pain and abuse. They came in handy as I sat cross-legged in the backyard with my brother listening to police sirens blare by our front door. I became skilled at receding, at ignoring, at crying without caring I was crying, at feeling merciless, a merciless daughter refusing to blame a father, refusing to hate a mother, refusing to feel for fear of feeling the wrong things. I was skilled at saving my pain up until the right moment, so I was never crippled, so I could always succeed, or appear to succeed. I was skilled at surviving. Watching my brother just barely survive. I could turn my love for my father off as if it were tied to a switch because doing so helped me turn off the self-doubt and the self-hatred which he insisted I keep. And I am skilled today, at rerouting my own emotions, as if my neural pathways are railway tracks. It is so simple for me to pull a lever and welcome anger instead of sadness. Apathy instead of heartbreak. I am still skilled at that. There is a process for it. I wonder if the process is unique to me, or how many others can understand it. It is like a wave; it starts in the back of my head, and then moves forward to where my forehead is. This stops the crying. The wave moves down my neck, easing the tightness, and into my chest, easing my lungs. This stops the feeling. The process only takes two to three seconds. And then I talk and my voice is normal and clear; and then I walk and my hands are not shaking; and then I can choose exactly when to reverse the process and pay the price for doing it.

I believe that during the worst of it all I went months at a time washed out like this. I thought it was funny how easy it was to exist in this state, and I congratulated myself on it. I thought my face looked funny in the mirror, a hard line at my lips and even, unblinking eyes.

I had a recurring desire to scream my lungs out. But I could never find the right place. If I screamed in the streets the lights in the houses would turn on and someone would call the police. If I screamed in a field a jogger would try to save me and stop me. If I screamed in my house, in my school, in a restaurant, I would never get away with it. Sometimes I tried- they were silent screams filled with air. My fists would ball and my mouth would widen until my jaw popped and wouldn’t un-pop, and the veins in my neck would bulge over the sound of a whisper. Other times I indulged in half-formed, nervous screams which could be muffled by my pillow. I didn’t want to be found out. I only allowed myself one or two good shrieks, grinded out between my teeth; toes curling. And there was the one time I guess I left my body. The screams left my mouth without my permission, without my command. My aunt was in the car with me. She must have been afraid. But I only felt regret, afterwards, that my consciousness had returned and stopped me from continuing.

But I’ll tell you something. I found victory, years after that. I used my body to carry me across a spit of land onto the point of an island; step after step along the caldera, until I reached a small white church on the top of a hill. And in front of this church was a ledge and I climbed that ledge. And there was no one around; no one around for a mile, and more perfectly there was a strong wind which battered my body and made me fear for my life on the ledge above the water. And I stood there- I stood my ground against that wind while the sun was setting and turning my vision orange, wind, hair covering my eyes, turning my vision black, and I finally did scream my lungs out.

I screamed and whooped and shrieked and was not afraid that someone would hear me. I heard me. And it was a sound I had been wanting to release for almost my whole life. No one could take it away from me. Only the wind; which did, it swept the sound far out over the sea seconds after it passed through my ears. And I thank the wind for letting me hear every decibel, and for being wise enough to know they shouldn’t be allowed to linger. Below me I could see a town called Oia, and I screamed and screamed and wanted them to be afraid, wanted them to believe there was a banshee in their hills by their church far above their houses, wanted someone to turn from their work to listen for a still second, wondering if they had heard something in the air. I wanted the cars winding by the coast on the other side of the point to hear me and know they could do nothing to reach me.

And I’ll tell you something else. I found victory, a year before that, over my heartlessness. I fell in love for the first time. And that love was a physical feeling too, but unlike a wave. Like a dust, a light, a shimmering cloud of spores or particles. It is a different process. It starts somewhere near my ribcage and proceeds to fill my whole chest like a vessel. And then it collects, until it forms its own vortex, as in a wind tunnel, which grips my heart and pulls it towards my lover. And that’s what loving someone feels like, physically feels like, which I regard when I look in the mirror, and see my rounded lips and kind eyes smiling back at me.

My old skills are vestiges of a life before love; and I use them without meaning to in the same way that people check their doorsteps for dead people. And I hate the wave and how easy it is to feel everything being washed away. It is so much easier to live with resentment than disappointment. But now every time I turn my feelings off I am more and more afraid I will get stuck that way, or perhaps, the worst fear of all, that this is my natural state and that love is the learned behavior. But I know which one I pored over and cultivated. I know which one I practiced over and over it again. It makes it harder to get rid of. But now I know what the alternative is- now I’ve finally felt it. Unlearning this will be difficult. But I’m in luck. Unfeeling my love can only ever be impossible. /

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Sponge

Maybe I don’t care about anything

I told him

Because that bright spark of passion, that artist’s rebellion, that unfurling flower in your stomach that tells you, “create-” 

Was in everyone else’s garden

Across the white fence

Watched over by a painted gnome

And inaccessible to me.

I haven’t felt the need to do something

to create something beautiful and better

Since I don’t remember.

Since sophomore year when journalism seemed like a beacon in the dark sea of humanity

Since writing stories that made me feel like a poet

Weaving words in a way that meant something. 

I won’t blame my professors

or my boyfriend for distracting me.

And I’m not depressed or disinterested.

I still feel the thrill

of a voice onstage,

A warbling note or a word in a line of a poem that makes time stop air move makes me relish in the stillness of a moment

I still watch quietly

The crash bash bong brill shoot of a musical instrument

And fingers and mouths that I won’t ever understand

And minds that compose sounds and stories

That I wonder.

But I don’t wonder what I can achieve.

I don’t feel the siren call of a pen, anymore

I don’t want to channel art through me

Just in me.

And keep it safe and building like a dragon’s lair of gold

A reservoir of liquid shining metal that’s only mine and all the world’s

All that beauty.

But he said something about how that’s not all bad.

That maybe this doesn’t have to mean I’m empty.

He said, “maybe you have to take things in before you can put things out.”

Maybe I have to relearn to breathe before my lungs can remember how to produce melody.

Maybe this city is a hotspring

That will fill me

And rinse me

And gently turn my insides out like laundry on a hanging line

And scrub the trauma clean.

Heads and tails

Our kitchen sink was filled with bloody handcuffs.

I mean tomato juice.

From the vines that my mom grew in our backyard and the tomatoes my brother and I would pluck

And hurl at the roof of the gazebo.

They’d splat and jolt their way down the slope, mushy and perfectly funny.

My stairway was the one my brother fell down, after he was kicked.

I mean to say the sweeping spiral was padded in soft carpet

perfect for running toes on Christmas morning

And the feeling of flight as your mind lifted with possibility of a million glittering packages

Just before you rounded the bend.

My living room was for rocking on my haunches.

Because I had turned invisible.

Because he could not hear me see me feel me as inhabiting that word “daughter”

Who is a fragile thing, who shall be protected, who is a crying thing, to whom he should be gentle.

But daughter evanesced into object to hurl barbs at

An empty gunslinging

A desperate automated quickdraw drawing on anger so unquenchable it’s like it didn’t exist.

No roots.

Nothing to draw on.

No spaghetti dinners in the living room

No Christmas tree herding and frosted paned windows looking out on the world of lights like they were promising

My house was not promising.

Inside and out hands on both sides of the pane

It was a bear trap.

And the stranger stalking the downstairs was the steel sharp teeth.

I didn’t trust him when I hugged him

I hadn’t for a while.

And I wonder exactly when love left and emptied me.

The two houses made it more disparate,

two faces to a coin

But my brain tried in vain to flip over

And exist without the other side.

As it happens

When you try to rip yourself in half and purge every other week of your memory

Suck every other word of its truth like a pomegranate seed between your teeth

You get a tongue that is tired of probing.

You are left with a girl who is tired of remembering

And tired of thinking

And bleeding from the strings of the ripped flesh of each piece.

Semantics (daddy issues)

Have you ever heard of sexy that wasn’t also dark and sad?

That’s what I relied on, and a touch of reverse engineering

I’d add dark to my sad and, bippity boppity boo

wish to be sexy.

I don’t know if it ever really worked, ever gave me that leg up I thought it did. I was forcing them to feel for me so that maybe they’d feel something- I was grasping at straws before the barn set fire.

I saw it as my secret weapon, my stories, in a holster normal people would just call ‘daddy issues.’ But the way I could sum it up was always ‘family stuff:’

Family stuff because everyone else had a word for it, words I hated just on principal, because so many voices sang them back to me, words I never really believed even though they could’ve saved me.

And even now I feel it itching, creeping its way back up- I feel that current like re-entry it’s impossible to stop. But I stop. In the midst of whatever conversation I’m having with him,

and I think

“You are not that girl who overshares so they’ll feel sorry for you. You are not that girl who cries so that they’ll love you. Because pity earns you kisses but pity does not equal love, you are not a pity pity pity-ful you are not full of that anymore.” 

Family stuff was my identity, you see. It was my Common App essay, that bright shining trophy of a summary of a life and a being reduced to that holster that most normal people would just call ‘daddy issues.’

And yes, I do have daddy issues.

But recently I realized, am still realizing,

that maybe I also have me.