This month is the one in which I live what happens after you leave. You were here, and surprise: I could’ve gotten used to you. Not your staying, because I know California isn’t all the way safe, isn’t home without also being a battlefield. But how close you were. The luxury of being in the same time zone: calling you at eight at night, and it still being eight at night when you answer. I think I was ready for that. I wasn’t ready to show you how far my fears could run, but they seemed to unspool endlessly on their own, I couldn’t contain my mess, I didn’t want anyone to know, but you saw it all anyway. You were so close to the places I hurt. I hurt you.
I bought a Groupon for a haircut and instantly regretted it. The last time was two or three years ago, when I got an undercut at a salon school, went home, found out how bad the acne on my scalp really was. Before that it’d been another two years, when I chopped it to my chin the day before I left San Francisco.
My hair is wavy and thick and a little frizzy. It does whatever the fuck it wants. It does not respond well to combing when it’s dry, the strands diffusing and zapping my hand with static. At my various jobs, it’s been read as unprofessional, sloppy, a sign of carelessness or incompetence—don’t I see myself? It agitates. To some people it looks like I’ve just been fucked and I want everybody to know. Though in reality no one who’s loved me has ever been able to run their fingers through. My hair is hella tangly.
I’ve long relied on something I told myself around the time I was old enough to refuse demands by my mom and grandmother to cut my hair: that it is the most beautiful thing about me. I clung to that idea long after it stopped being true. It never was, really. But I’d convinced myself. Because being who I am, being in the body I’m in, my habit has been to apologize for being alive.
Most days, I don’t all the way live in my body. Only right before I sleep and right after I wake up do I feel as though I have a body. That I’m in my body, am my body. But then I’m scrambling out of bed to catch the bus to work.
I thought today: you’re never gonna read the book I’m not done writing. Then: even if you were alive, you wouldn’t want to, and I wouldn’t want you to, either. Though we talked sometimes about my writing and though you would show me the comics you were working on and published, I never showed you any of my work. The one time you saw one of my performances, I was embarrassed that you’d been made to show up. Our relationship was just never like that. But I want you to at least have the option not to read my book.
This was funny until it wasn’t, then the laughing tipped over into crying. I was able to hold back the panic, not hyperventilate. I redid my eyeliner when I got back to my desk.
I still count the days. You’ve been alive longer than you’ve been dead. It will be this way for another thirty-nine years. The numerical fact will outlive how much I miss you. I already know this. Time will work for me, the way it has for so many who were left living.
It scares me to imagine what that might be like. How can I still love you when you’ll have become more story than person?
Ten days since I did that thing I said I’d never do. We were arguing. I was at a point in the script in which I’d usually shut the fuck up. This time I was beyond exhausted. I could tell her, let her know this part of my life, or I could go through the same conversation again in a year or two. However long it would take for shit to pile up and spill over again. It was past midnight and I was so sick of it all.
I wasn’t ready for you to forgive me. Both times you did. What I mean is I wasn’t ready for you to know me in the ways you came to know me, having seen how afraid and cruel I can be. You took on something heavy so you could love and forgive me. Having lived through this, I was able to tell her. It was scary as fuck but I didn’t try to manage her response. Just told her and let go the rest.
We drove past the exit to Redwood City in the dark and my throat was burning and somehow I thought about how you were awake and eating breakfast in another country but you’d made it so I could ask my mom to know me and love me.
As it turned out, all that was just one thread of a longer, way heavier conversation in which I had to return to measuring how raw her feelings were against how ready she would be to hear what I had to say. There was no clean resolution. But: for once, I was true. A few days later, she told me, again as adjacent to the larger issue, that she had searched her whole heart and found that she didn’t care who I loved, so long as the person loved me, treated me well.
Considering our history, this is so much.
This is the month of asking how I want someone to know me, if I’m ready to be known. I don’t think there will come a time when I’m not protecting myself. But I can imagine a time when I can live with what I say.
1. I still think of you.2. I stopped reading cards after Spock stopped speaking to me. Almost every day, I’d been breaking my own rules—don’t ask the cards for signs. Don’t ask them to tell you what someone is thinking. I couldn’t ask him if he’d stay, so I asked the cards. I thought the longer I could leave the question alone, the longer I could have him.3. Jose Garcia Villa tells the same story three times. Or it’s a single story in three chapters, only it feels like the same fucking story because he only changes incrementally.4. JGV describes David’s soft eyes and how Jack wanted to be a soldier and there you are. I close the book.5. The timbre of your voice when you explained yourself. I can’t stop thinking about her. I can’t do this to her again.6. The last day in June we sat in a booth at the Blackthorn and you described to me the entire plot of The Godfather. The last day in February we turned back from the mid-point of the bridge and you told me everything that happened in the second one. You asked me if I’d seen The Godfather. You’d forgotten that conversation. I asked you to tell me about Part II because it was a story you loved.7. Sad bastards know sad bastards.8. Are you ready. I wasn’t. I’m not.9. My belly was a dirty pool and your voice was bloody blossoming a red cloud in the water.10. I have thought about and spoken to at least three different women about being ready. I don’t know what that looks like or what that means anymore so I’ve given up. I’m just trying not to be so fucking afraid.
A conversation I was a part of recently:
Her (to my mom and me): Your English is very good! I’m sure you learned it before, in your country, right?
My mom: Yes, we did.
Her: Well English is a universal language…
Me: Yeah, colonialism, am I right?