We accept saltwater taffy when what we want is salted pork, accept the Willamette River when what we want is the Pacific Ocean, accept the flush of red towels against the white bathroom walls when what we want is the flish-flash of robins’ breasts against the green of spring trees. A bite of something is better than no bite at all. Seeing something in nothing is better than being blinded to the beautiful everything all around.
Hey, guess what? I was wrong. I’ll say it again: I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Or I was right, but my timing was off. I raised my hand too soon. The teacher hadn’t finished talking. I didn’t hear the rest of the question.
Here’s the thing: everyone wants to believe Snow White’s prince will come, that Cinderella can be resurrected from the ashes, that Rapunzel’s savior might figure out how to climb her rope of hair. Everyone wants to put her faith in that, for me, so she can say that life is for the few, the other, the unordinary. Everyone wants to root for my love story so no one has to justify her own, so she can live her contented existence, telling herself this life is how it’s supposed to be, for her. She isn’t one of the tortured, fairy-tale chosen.
I am ruminating, and you don’t like it. But guess what? I’m not someone who can have mud thrown on her, wash it off, and walk away. I have to sit down in the filth, parse out what is dirt and what is water, try to figure out why this happened and how much I was to blame. I have to scrape it off with my nails, rub the mess into the fabric of my clothing. I have to lick it from my fingers and taste it on my tongue. After all, it will forever be a part of who I am. I have to get it inside of me somehow.
To discover what I want, first I must discover what I don’t want, and vice versa. But that doesn’t mean I’ll then get what I want. Sometimes, what I don’t want clings to my person like dead second skin, while what I do want is ripped from my hands like knuckles yanked from bone–pop, pop, pop. And then, I must decide what to do with this thickened skin, these useless fingers. I must decide if what I want is still worth wanting, even if it seems to have been stolen forever, even if I can’t conceive of a way I will ever get it back, or if I do, how I will ever be able to feel it through my exoskeleton, how I will ever be able to hold it in my broken palms.
I’m hurting. I’ll say it again: I’m hurting, hurting, hurting. I’m not sorry if it makes you uncomfortable. I’m not sorry if you think it’s putting too much weight on things, if the way I lean into life is deeper than yours, if the way I hear God speaking is too loud for your soft ears. If the way I grasp the ordinary as amazing, the mundane as sacred, the commonplace-everyday-just-deal-with-it as miraculous-magnificent-will-never-be-the-same-again–if that makes no sense to you, I am sorry for that. Because that means you fancy yourself bigger than you are, and at the same time, not nearly large enough to take up as much space in this world as you ought.
Here’s another thing: the mornings were pink, and now they’re gray. The nights were purple, and now they’re gray. The geese were flying, and now they’re resting, land-bound, silent. But this is winter. The seasons will change. Today, dozens or maybe hundreds of geese flew over me as I drove to work in the gray, flew over me after I’d accepted that I may never see them fly again, flew over me like the bluebirds in fairy tales that lead lost princesses back to their castles. That’s the world I live in, even now. I am not sorry for that.
I’m listening. Even after all of this, I’m listening, even now. Kafka said, “From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.” I’ve opened the dam. I’ve unblocked the canals and channels, the rivulets and streams. Let the river rush in. Let the ocean wash in, too, if there’s room enough for it.
Here’s something else: I wanted this thing. It lived in my heart. It was the size of a button, and I felt it all my life. All my life, I tried to ignore it, tried not to feel the edges as it spun and spun inside me, pushed its way into ventricles and atriums, asserted itself among blood cells, red and white. One day, I could ignore it no longer. It just happened, like that, and I took a paring knife to my chest, began to dig the button out. It hurt. It hurt a lot. It took a long, long time. I wanted to stop, but I didn’t. I had to go through layers of flesh, but I got it, and I held it, and it was mine.
It was mine, and then, I gave it to you. You held it, then gave it back. It wasn’t yours, you told me. It felt like yours. So then I had it again, and I didn’t know what to do with it. This pulling it out hadn’t gone so well. I took the knife and sliced my chest back open, shoved the button back inside. I took a needle, took some thread, and stitched it up the way I’d closed the tear in my legwarmers–clumsily, without knowledge or skill, my ineptitude so evident I could see the shoddy repair work a mile away.
But here’s the other thing–in the time it lived outside of me, with you, that thing had gotten bigger. It was bigger than the hole that used to hold it, and it kept popping out, bumping the needle, snapping the thread. No matter how many times I doubled, tripled, quadrupled the stitches, it wouldn’t stay in. Well, I thought. There it is. I put down the needle, put down the thread, took out this thing, again, and held it in my hands, again. It was still mine. Bloody and stupid and battered, but still mine. It didn’t want to live inside of me but to be kept out in the open, where it would be exposed and wrecked and rejected, but maybe, ultimately, find its home.
For days and days now, every time I leave the house, I rearrange my route to go past the river. Why? Because it’s always moving, even when it appears to be lying still. Maybe, if I see it enough, it will move me, too.
Have you heard of self-fulfilling prophecy? You should look it up.
And what’s the rest of the question? My brain could pitch for hours and not come up with the right dependent clause.
And my heart? It has an empty space now, that hole the removing of this thing created, a gap that split wide when you ripped out what we’d formed. A gash to be filled, a cut to be healed, a rift I thought I’d never learn to live with, and I am. I said you wouldn’t break me. I lied.